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5 Reasons Why Your Tap Water is Brown

Scott Winfield
Written by Scott Winfield
Last Updated on

Turning on the faucet and expecting clean, clear water is something we all take for granted. But what if, instead of sparkling clarity, you’re met with an unsettling brownish hue?

Brown water is often a result of contamination with rust, sediment, or other impurities. The usual causes include corroded pipes, plumbing repairs, and sediment buildup. It’s actually a common occurrence in US states with poor water infrastructure.

5 Reasons Why Your Tap Water is Brown

Here, we’ll explore the five main reasons for brown tap water: rust in corroded pipes, routine plumbing repairs, sediment accumulation, water flow surges, and a change in your water source. We’ll offer solutions to help you ensure your water is clean and safe.

Why Is My Water Brown?

The main cause of brown tap water is rust. When water flows through corroded water pipes, its moisture reacts with the iron from the old pipes, resulting in rust. Rust particles that detach from the pipes’ walls give your tap water that reddish-brown color.

1. Rust in Corroded Water Pipes

Corroded Water Pipes

One of the most common reasons for brown tap water is rust in corroded water pipes. Over time, pipes, especially older ones made of galvanized steel, can corrode and leach rust, lead, iron, or manganese into your water, giving it a brownish tint. This is particularly true for homes with plumbing systems installed before the 1980s, where galvanized pipes were the norm.

Rust forms when iron reacts with oxygen in the presence of water, creating iron oxide. This rust can flake off into your water supply, leading to discoloration. Additionally, damaged pipes can allow dirt and debris to enter the plumbing system, further contaminating your water.

Solution to rust from corroded pipes:

If you suspect your pipes are the issue, it’s necessary to have a professional plumber inspect your plumbing system. They can identify the source of the corrosion and recommend the best course of action. In some cases, this might mean replacing a single problematic pipe.

However, if the corrosion is widespread, you may need to overhaul your entire plumbing system. While this can be costly, it’s vital to ensure your water is clean and safe.

2. Routine Plumbing Repairs

Routine Repairs
Routine Repairs

Routine plumbing repairs, whether inside your home or at the water source, can also lead to temporary brown water. During repairs, dirt or cleaning agents might enter the pipes, causing discoloration.

Although flushing the system is a standard procedure after repairs, it doesn’t always remove all contaminants.

Solution to routine plumbing repairs:

Check with your neighbors to see if they’re experiencing the same issue. If they are, the problem might be with the municipal water supply.

In such cases, you should contact your local authority to request an inspection. They can determine if the issue lies with the municipal pipes or the water source and take appropriate action to rectify it.

3. Sediment Accumulation (At Source or In Transit)

Sediment Accumulation (At Source or In Transit)
Sediment Accumulation (At Source or In Transit)

Accumulation of sediment can be another common reason why your tap water may be brown. It can occur at two major points: at the source and during transit via water pipes.

Sediment that builds up at these stages mixes with your water and causes discoloration. This can happen if the water supplier’s filtration system fails or if the pipes haven’t been maintained regularly.

Solution to sediment accumulation:

Try turning on all your taps and letting the water run for at least 20 minutes. This can help flush out the sediment. If the problem persists, contact your water supplier for further assistance.

Regular maintenance and occasional flushing of your pipes can also help prevent sediment buildup.

4. Water Flow Surge

Brown, dirty water flowing from tap
Brown, dirty water flowing from tap

A sudden surge in water flow can dislodge sediment that has settled in your pipes, turning your water brown. This discoloration will mostly be temporary and go away once the heavy flow reduces.

This can occur due to increased water flow by your supplier or when nearby fire hydrants are used by emergency services.

Solution to water flow surge:

In most cases, the discoloration will clear up once the water flow returns to normal. If you notice this happening frequently, it might be worth discussing with your water supplier to understand the underlying cause and find a long-term solution.

5. Change in Water Source

Change in Water Source

Occasionally, water suppliers may switch sources to meet high demand. Different sources can have varying levels of natural minerals and sediment, which might not be fully filtered out, causing temporary discoloration.

Solution to changes in the water source:

If you notice a change in your water’s color coinciding with a change in water source, contact your water supplier. They can provide information on the new source and any steps being taken to address the discoloration.

Finding the real cause and its solution can help you tackle brown tap water issues effectively, ensuring your tap water remains clear and safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to get rid of brown water?

The average cost of removing brown water in the U.S. can range from $500 to $3,000, depending on the preferred filtration system. However, if the source of the problem is a damaged piping system that needs to be replaced, the cost will most likely be significantly higher.
In any case, you should consult with a qualified service provider to get an accurate estimate.

How long does it take for brown water to go away?

The time required to clear brown water depends on the severity of the problem.
Major repair works involving the source and piping network can take days or weeks, while minor fixes like appliance repairs and pipe fixture replacement might only take a few hours.
However, more often than not, the water clears within 30 minutes to a few hours after the repairs—as soon as the problematic water is flushed through the system.

Is brown water safe to drink?

The safety of brown water depends on the type of contaminants. If the problem is caused by iron and manganese, it might be safe but not advisable to drink as the metallic taste won’t be pleasant.
The human body relies a lot on iron and can safely absorb the necessary amounts. However, iron in water may pose a significant health risk in individuals with hemochromatosis genetic disorders.
Individuals who are predisposed to this disorder lack the ability to regulate their body’s optimal iron absorption. Therefore, the iron from brown water, which is deposited in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, can lead to organ failure.
On the other hand, if the brownness is only caused by dirt and debris, the water might be safe to drink as the EPA classifies these as aesthetic, cosmetic, and technical impurities that pose no health risks. It’s still recommended to remove these particles by filtering or boiling the water as an extra precaution.
If contaminants like lead or asbestos are present, the water can pose a serious health risk when consumed.
All things considered, there’s no way for you to easily determine what type of contaminants your water contains. So, it’s best if you don’t drink it before identifying and addressing the cause of the problem.

Is it okay to bathe in brown water?

Bathing in brown water might be unpleasant due to its bad smell. In some cases, too much dirt and debris may be present in it, which may make you feel unclean, defeating the purpose of bathing altogether.
Having covered the aesthetic aspect, bathing in brown water doesn’t pose significant health risks, aside from the possibility of causing dryness, acne, eczema, or wrinkles.
Additionally, if your water is contaminated, its hardness has probably increased. Hard water has a tendency to increase hair and skin dryness, cause hair color to fade, and overall irritate your scalp and skin. In this case, using a water softener can improve the bathing experience.

Final Word

Brown water can be caused by several factors, including damaged, corroded, or rusted piping, municipal repair work, sediment overaccumulation, an unprecedented flow surge, or a change in the water source.

While it’s often not a serious health risk, it’s necessary to address the issue promptly to ensure your water is clean and safe.

In the end, you might need to change the entire piping system of your house or consult professionals and the local authorities to help tackle the problem.

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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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