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When it comes to water, most Americans, including residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, are extremely fortunate. In other parts of the world, clean water is not something that can be taken for granted. Here, we turn a faucet and expect sparkling clear water to flow for our cooking, cleaning, bathing, and drinking. So it’s surprising and distressing when you open a tap and reddish-brown, rusty-looking water comes out.

Why is my tap water rusty?

There are many reasons why tap water might appear rusty. It is always possible that there is a city-wide issue, but that’s probably not what’s going on at your home. While the recent problems in Flint, Michigan have been in the headlines, the fact is that, these days, contamination of a public water supply is a relatively rare occurrence in the United States. You can feel confident that, if a similar emergency happens where you live, you’ll know about it. You will almost certainly receive warnings and instructions from public health officials through multiple channels. Instead, the cause of your issue is more likely one of these three scenarios:

All the hot and cold water is rusty.

Even if all of your hot and cold water suddenly goes rusty, the problem is not likely contamination at your water source. It’s more likely a water main break or an issue with a nearby fire hydrant. Many cities have infrastructures dating back decades or even centuries and components sometimes fail.

Only cold water is discolored, and only when you use certain faucets.

In this situation, the problem is likely with a particular water supply pipe in your home. While the pipes in modern homes are generally made of PVC and other plastics, copper tubing and galvanized steel are commonly found in older homes. Rusty water is often a sign that these materials have reached the end of their lifespans.

Only hot water is rusty, and you notice it throughout the house.

If only the hot or cold water has gone brown, the problem is more likely closer to your home. When it’s the hot water, the culprit is often sediment or rust building up in an older hot water tank. This is yet another reason to consider upgrading to a tankless hot water system.

Is rusty tap water dangerous?

While it wouldn’t be appropriate to answer that question conclusively without knowing details about your particular situation, we can offer reassurance. Rusty water isn’t typically dangerous. The Environmental Protection Agency carefully regulates our nation’s water supply, keeping it free from dangerous chemicals like arsenic and lead. Also, as we discussed recently on our blog, the Dallas-Fort Worth water supply is particularly clean and well-treated.

Nonetheless, while that rusty water might not cause long-lasting harm, it can lead to less urgent issues like allergic reactions, stained clothing, and foul odor. You’re going to want to have it dealt with.

Can my family bathe in rusty tap water?

For most people who don’t have sensitive skin, showering or bathing in rusty water once or twice probably won’t cause health problems but, really, who would want to? There’s nothing enjoyable about it and you really can’t be sure of possible long-term effects. Get help resolving the issue promptly.

Can we drink rusty tap water?

In short: maybe. Without knowing why your tap water is rusty, it’s not a great idea to ingest it. Plus, it probably smells and tastes gross. Don’t take a chance. Drink and cook with bottled water until your water is clear again.

filling glass of water - Horizon Plumbing

How to check for rusty tap water

If you notice discolored water flowing from your faucet, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to determine whether the problem is the hot water, the cold water, or both. Here’s how to do this:

First, get four clear drinking glasses. Next, without allowing the water to flow and possibly flush the pipes, fill one glass only from the hot water tap and another only from the cold water tap. Check both glasses for odor or discoloration. Compare them to each other.

Next, see if the problem clears up after the water flows. Turn the hot water faucet on and let the water run for two minutes, then fill the third glass. Finally, let the cold water flow for two minutes and fill the fourth glass. Make observations and comparisons. Write down some notes so that you have information to share when speaking with a plumber.

Should I call a professional about my rusty tap water?

There are a few steps you can take before calling a plumbing company about your rusty tap water. If the hot and cold water everywhere in your home has suddenly turned brown, you should call your water utility. It’s possible that there’s an issue at a hydrant or main, or that routine maintenance has caused a temporary issue. Running the water for a few minutes should resolve the problem.

If only your hot water is discolored and you have a hot water tank, you can try flushing and draining the tank. This is not a particularly difficult process for skilled DIYers, but there are many steps involved. If you are not entirely confident in your abilities, call us for help.

If it’s only the cold water that’s rusty, run the water for a few minutes and see what happens. It’s possible that a bit of rust loosened in one of the pipes, and that allowing the water to flow will take care of the problem. If it doesn’t, you’re probably dealing with a rusted or corroded pipe. Don’t put off dealing with the problem. Get professional help ASAP. Damaged pipes are more likely to leak, causing a bigger problem and higher expense down the road.

Are you still seeing or smelling rusty water despite having tried the steps above?

Your plumber is here to help. The professionals at Horizon Plumbing are experts at fixing problems related to rusty water and everything else about your home’s water systems. Schedule your free consultation today.

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