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4 Reasons for Brown Hot Water & Solutions

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

Have you ever turned on the tap and been surprised by brown hot water? It’s not just an eyesore! It can be a sign of underlying issues with your water heater or your plumbing system.

Rust, sediment buildup, or water supply contamination are often the main culprits for this scenario.

4 Reasons for Brown Hot Water & Solutions

Here, we’ll explore the most common causes of brown hot water and how to address them.

Before diving in, you can quickly overview the main brown hot water causes and solutions:

Brown Hot Water CauseSignSolution
Sediments in water heaterVisible sediments at the bottom and walls of the heaterFlush the water heater
Corroding water heaterRust outside and inside the heaterGet a new water heater
Old Galvanized PipesBrown water in cold and hot water faucetsReplaces water pipes in the whole house
Water supply contaminationIron taste & odor, Thick & slimy water, Stained clothes during laundryGet an iron filter system (Our recommendation: Springwell ULTRA)

1. Sediments at the Bottom of Your Water Heater

Sediments Gathered at the Bottom of Water Heater
Sediments Gathered at the Bottom of Water Heater

Over time, minerals from your water, like calcium carbonate, can accumulate at the bottom of your tank. If you don’t keep an eye on it, this sediment can cause a host of problems, including brown hot water.

Water heaters need regular maintenance to function properly. When you don’t flush out the tank, sediment can build up and discolor your water.

How To Flush a Hot Water Heater

Flushing your water heater once a year can prevent this issue.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

  1. Turn off the heat source: For electric heaters, switch off the power. For gas heaters, set it to pilot mode.
  2. Shut off the cold water valve: This stops more water from entering the tank.
  3. Connect a hose to the drain valve: Place the other end outside, in a bathtub, or on the floor drain.
  4. Open the drain valve: Turn on the hot water at a nearby faucet and let the tank drain until empty.
  5. Check the water: Ensure the water runs clear before refilling the tank.

Regularly flush your water heater and you’ll be able to keep your water clean and extend the life of your water heater. It’s a small task that makes a big difference.

2. Corroding Water Heater

Corroding pipe

Another common reason for brown hot water is a corroding water heater. If you notice rust on the outside of your heater, it’s likely corroding on the inside as well.

Water heaters, like any other appliance, wear out over time. Regular maintenance can help, but if rust has already set in, it’s a sign that the heater is on its last legs. Typically, water heaters serviced routinely can have a lifespan of about 15 years or more.

Unfortunately, if your water heater is rusting, the best solution is to completely replace it.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Look for signs of corrosion: Check for rusting valves, pipe fittings, and connection pipes. Also, look for any leaks around the tank.
  2. Consult a professional: If you spot any rust or leaks, it’s time to call a professional. They can confirm the issue and recommend a replacement water heater.

After replacing your water heater, establish a schedule for routine maintenance. Regular check-ups can help catch issues early and extend the lifespan of your new heater.

Keep an eye on your water heater and address rust early to avoid the hassle of brown hot water and ensure a reliable supply of clean, hot water.

3. Old Galvanized Pipes

Old Galvanized Pipes

Sometimes, brown hot water isn’t your water heater’s fault—it could be your pipes. Plumbing systems in homes built before the 1980s are more likely to have galvanized pipes, which can rust over time.

Galvanized pipes are coated with zinc to prevent rusting, but over the years, this coating wears down, resulting in brown tap water.

If you suspect your pipes are the problem, apply the following steps:

  1. Check both your hot and cold water: If both are discolored, it’s likely your pipes. This helps you rule out other causes, like a corroding water heater.
  2. Call a plumber: Have a professional inspect your pipes. They can confirm if galvanized pipes are causing the issue.
  3. Replace old pipes: The best long-term solution is to replace galvanized pipes with more durable materials, like PVC or copper.

Replacing your old pipes can be a big job, but it’s worth it for clean water. Modern materials resist corrosion and will keep your water clean for years to come.

4. Water Supply Contamination

Brown water flowing from a faucet

Your water heater and piping system aren’t always the reason for brown hot water—the problem might be contamination in your water supply. Although the Safe Drinking Water Act sets the standards for tap water quality, contaminated water is still a problem in many cities.

Contaminants can enter the water supply for various reasons, including broken water mains, construction, or local water treatment issues.

If you suspect water supply contamination, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the signs: Besides brown water, look for other signs of contamination like cloudy water, yellow water, a chlorine smell, or a metallic taste.
  2. Contact your water provider: Report the issue to your local water utility. They can provide information on any known problems and let you know what steps are being taken to resolve them.
  3. Use a water filter: In the meantime, use a water filter certified to remove contaminants. This can provide an extra layer of protection for drinking and cooking water.

Stay informed about your local water quality. Regularly check for updates from your water provider and consider annual water testing, especially if you use well water.

How Concerned Should You Be?

Usually, brown hot water takes care of itself. When this isn’t the case, you should investigate the root cause. Clean water is a must for many aspects of our daily lives: cooking, cleaning, bathing, drinking, and washing hands.

In rural areas where the water is supplied by a well, brown well water poses an even bigger problem as there might be more to it than rusty heater or water supply contamination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is brown hot water safe to drink?

No, brown hot water isn’t safe to drink. Never consume it. Even if the reason is as simple as excess iron or calcium carbonate, they’re still quite dangerous, and the after-effects aren’t worth the risk. Always avoid drinking discolored water and investigate the cause.

Is brown hot water safe for bathing?

Though unappealing, brown hot water may be less harmful to bathe and shower in. Do note that high levels of iron or sediments in water can cause skin irritation or rashes, especially if you have sensitive skin, so it’s still best to resolve the issue quickly.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
  1. Had brown water coming from my hot water heater that was only 23 months old. Replaced the anode rod, it was severely pitted. .

    Water came back brown again .

    Replaced the hot water heater and now within two days i have brown water again and this only happens on the hot water side.

    This house is 9 years old and it has all new pex lines

  2. It’s essential to be aware of water quality and the factors that can affect it. This article provides valuable information for homeowners and tenants to address and prevent such problems. Keep up the good work in educating the public about water safety!

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