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4 Reasons for Brown Hot Water & Solutions

Scott Winfield
Last Updated on
by Scott Winfield

Why is my hot water brown all of a sudden? Brown hot water is typically the result of rust and sediment buildup at the bottom of your water heater. It could also be a sign of water supply contamination.

Here’s a tabular view of causes & solution:

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 Gathered at the Bottom of Water Heater Can Cause Brown Hot Water

Like many household appliances, water heaters need to be routinely maintained to function properly. Failing to do so may cause minerals and other sediments to build up within the heater. 

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

The most common sediment deposit found in residential water heaters is calcium carbonate. Sediments like calcium carbonate can damage a water heater over time if not routinely maintained. One quick solution is to flush the tank each year to prevent excessive scaling.

The flushing process involves turning off the heat source, be it electric or gas, and then draining the water tank.

How To Flush a Hot Water Heater

  1. Shut off the heat source. If it’s an electric water heater, turn off the electric switch. If it’s gas, put it in pilot mode.
  2. Turn off the cold water valve and connect a hose to the drain valve. Place the other end of the hose outside, in the bathtub, or on the floor.
  3. Turn on hot water at the faucet and open the drain valve. Allow the water to drain through the hose until the tank is empty.

Ensure that the drained water runs clear once you’re done flushing the heater. Then, you can refill your empty tank with water from the cold water supply.

2. Corroding Water Heater Can Make the Hot Water Brown

A rusting or corroding water heater is another reason for brown hot water. If you aren’t practicing regular maintenance, you may be unaware of the rapid deterioration of your heater. Typically, water heaters serviced routinely can have a lifespan of about 15 years or more.

Corroding pipe

When there’s noticeable rust on the outside of the heater, it will likely rust or corrode inside as well. It’s only a matter of time before it gives out on you. Unfortunately, if rust is the culprit, the best solution is to completely replace the water heater.

Once replaced, establish a schedule for routine maintenance. Keep an eye on the heater for any signs of rust—the sooner you notice it, the better.

Identifying Corrosion

If you’re unsure whether your water heater is corroding, here are a few things to look for:

  • Rusting valves and pipe fittings
  • Leaking water tank
  • Rusting connection pipes.

If you identify corrosion as the main cause, contact a professional to have a look and replace the heater.

3. Old Galvanized Pipes Can Turn Hot Water Brown

Galvanized pipes have a zinc coating to prevent rusting. Plumbing systems in homes built before the 1980s are more likely to have galvanized pipes.

Old Galvanized Pipes

Over time, the pipes rust from excessive water exposure, resulting in brown tap water. The easiest way to figure out if you have galvanized pipes is to check both hot and cold water since galvanized pipes affect both temperatures. If the cold water is discolored as well, then you can eliminate the two causes above and call a plumber to check out the condition of the pipes.

The permanent remedy is to replace the old galvanized pipes with erosion-resistant PVC pipes.

4. Brown Hot Water Might Be a Sign Of Water Supply Contamination

Although the Safe Drinking Water Act protects tap water quality, contaminated water supply is still a problem in many cities.

Brown water flowing from a faucet

Here are other common signs of water supply contamination:

How Concerned Should You Be?

You should be very concerned, as clean water is a must for many aspects of our daily lives: cooking, cleaning, bathing, drinking, and washing hands. Sometimes, brown hot water takes care of itself, but it’s not always the case. 

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.

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.

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 might give you a bit of a rash. That’s especially the case if you’re already sensitive to it.

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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.
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