Stinky Well Water? What Causes It and How to Solve It

Well water can be some of the freshest, purest water around. But when the well suffers some kind of contamination, that water can become unpleasantly stinky! If this ever happens to you, you will need to know what the possible causes of that stinky water are so they can be fixed.

If you suffer from stinky well water, refer to the list below and see which problem best matches your situation. 

  1. Rotten egg smell: This normally comes from hydrogen sulfide gas, which can be naturally occurring or can be produced by sulfur bacteria in the groundwater, the well itself or the plumbing system in the house. This stinky egg smell is not harmful, but it’s a safe bet that no one wants to drink this water! 
  2. Oily, musty smell: Alternately, the water could smell swampy or like sewage, petroleum, cucumber, or rotten vegetation. All these smells can be the result of iron bacteria in your well. This bacteria combines iron or manganese with oxygen to form a slimy, rusty-looking material. This material sticks to the insides of pipes in the plumbing system, eventually blocking them. 
  3. Sewage smell: As above, this could come from iron bacteria or hydrogen sulfide gas. However, it could also come from sewage contamination of the well! In this situation, the septic system and nearby sewage systems must be checked for any failure. Heavy rains, snowmelt or flooding can also wash sewage and microorganisms into the well. 
  4. Metallic smell: Generally, a metallic smell results from the presence of high levels of metals like iron, copper, lead, manganese, zinc, or other metallic minerals in the well. These metals can make their way into well water from groundwater that passes through these mineral deposits. However, older household pipes may also permit the leaching of metals into the water, especially if the water is low pH.

What to Do About Bacteria in Your Well

If you have sulfur bacteria or iron bacteria in your well, it’s necessary to disinfect the well. In most cases, disinfection should be preceded by a thorough cleaning by a licensed well contractor. When bacteria have become well-established in a well, it is likely to take more than just disinfection to eliminate it. 

Physical removal of bacteria can involve removing and cleaning all pumping equipment followed by scrubbing the well casing with brushes. Follow this cleaning with chemical disinfection. 

Fixing Sewage Contamination of a Well

If sewage has infiltrated your well, the well will need to be thoroughly disinfected. If the pump is working, start it and run it until the water runs clear. Obtain a disinfection kit specifically designed for household wells and follow the directions carefully. Add the chlorination agent to the well and rinse the sides of the well thoroughly. 

Let the chlorination agent remain in the system for 12 hours then run the water until the smell disappears. Two weeks later, get a post-treatment test done on your water quality. 

During this time, do not rely on the well water for drinking or cooking water. 

If there was any flaw in the well that permitted sewage to enter, this flaw should be repaired at the same time. 

Eliminating Metallic Smells

Getting dissolved metals out of well water will involve adding a filtration system designed for this purpose. Either activated carbon filtration or a reverse osmosis system will remove dissolved metals from well water. Depending on which metals are present in water, it may require more than one type of filtration to completely remove metals and their smells. Consult a filtration company that offers several types of systems to find out which system is best for your well. 

Testing Your Water to Determine the Cause of Smells

Your detective work to find out what is causing the smell should start with an accurate water test from a professional lab. Once you have the results, you can consult with local filtration companies to design the perfect solution for your home. 

Check out ETR Laboratories’ water tests to find the right test for your situation. Our water tests look for 32 different minerals and metals, plus bacteria and other attributes such as alkalinity, ammonia, sediment, tannins and more. If you have trouble choosing the right test, call us at (800) 344-9977.