Why is My Water Brown All of a Sudden?

Brown discolored water isn’t exactly what you want to see coming out of the taps in your home when you open. It’s a clear indication that something is amiss if you can’t get clear, non-cloudy water. While it may send you into a panic, brown water could signify a host of issues that you may need to attend to as soon as possible.

Why is my water brown all of a sudden?

  • One of the most common causes of brown water is rust and corrosion in your pipes. If you live in a home that was built in the 1970s or earlier, your pipe system may be made of galvanized iron/steel pipes which can rust or corrode as time goes by. As a result, iron and manganese find their way into the water, giving it the rusty-brown color.
  • If you haven’t used your faucet for a long stretch, you may notice that your water is brown – this is because of dried sediment in your pipes.
  • Another reason why your tap water is brown may be sediment and mineral buildup inside your heater. This is especially likely if the hot water is discolored. Sometimes brown water can be caused by disturbances in the municipal water supply caused by flushing fire hydrants, water testing, or pipe issues. 

When you turn on your water supply, you naturally expect a flow of clean, clear water. Brown water is not only unsightly but may also be unsuitable for use. Before trying to find a solution, you need to find out what’s causing the discoloration. Read on to discover some common causes of brown water.

What is the reason for brown water?

1. Rust and corrosion in the pipes

Pipe systems in older homes are sometimes made of galvanized iron pipes. As time goes by, these pipes can start to rust or corrode. When this happens, rust particles can break off and enter the water supply giving it an orange-brown appearance. If you notice the discolored water is coming from all the faucets in your home, then the problem is likely in the water main. Flakes of darkly colored material in the water can also indicate the corrosion of lead service pipes, especially if you live in a property that was built before the 1970s.

If discolored water is a recurring issue because of the outdated pipes in your plumbing solution, the most effective solution may be to either repipe the interior plumbing or have a new water line put in place using improved materials.

2. You haven’t used your faucet for a long stretch

If you just got back home after being away for a long time, or you turn on a faucet in a bathroom that hasn’t been used for a long stretch, the brown water coming from your tap may be an indication of dried sediment from the pipes when the water evaporated. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern – let the water run for some time and it will likely clear.

3. Sediment and mineral buildup in your water heater

Sediment and mineral build-up is one of the most common causes of brown hot water. Sediment is solid material often found in water that has settled at the bottom of the water heater tank. When water is heated, naturally occuring minerals like magnesium and calcium form into scale particles that accumulate in your water heater tank over time. Both mineral and sediment can cause the discoloration of hot water. In addition, both of these materials can affect the functionality of your water heater, reducing its heating efficiency and eventually ruining the appliance if left untreated.

To prevent these problems, consider flushing the hot water heater’s tank. This requires draining all the water from the affected tank and running clean water through the system to flush out any lingering sediments and minerals. In many cases, regular flushing may be all it takes to resolve issues with brown hot water.

It’s worth noting that solid mineral buildup that has been present for decades can be difficult to remove, plus it might restrict water flow and reduce heater performance. In such cases, the most fitting solution may be to replace the heater. 

4. Disturbance of naturally occurring material

Dirt and other naturally occurring material tend to enter freshwater lines and settle along the bottom of the pipe. Sudden changes in water pressure or faster movement of water through water pipes (such as the fire brigade putting a heavy demand on it) can cause the water supply to temporarily deplete and the settled sediment to be stirred up. In this case, your water supply should go back to being clear after a short period. 

5. An unexpected disturbance in the municipal water supply

Sometimes brown water can be caused by disturbances in the municipal water supply due to fine sediment in the mains getting stirred up by routine maintenance, water testing, flushing fire hydrants, or pipe construction/repairs. Disturbed sediment usually settles within a couple of hours, and you can pinpoint this as the culprit if the flow of water from your faucet clears up on its own. To get rid of any lingering sediment, open all the faucets and allow them to run for several minutes. 

6. New municipal water source

A switch to a different water supply, reservoir, or river can give the water a different look. In some cases, a change in water source can also be linked to water contamination. If you have concerns, you might want to consider getting a whole-house water treatment system.

7. Naturally occurring substances that cause discoloration

There are certain strains of bacteria that can find their way into your water supply and cause discoloration. These iron-reducing bacteria break down the iron present in water by oxidizing it. The byproduct of this process is what may be causing the brown discoloration in your water supply. This issue can often be sorted out by adding chlorine to the water to get rid of the bacteria.

If you have a municipal water supply, you may not have to worry about these iron-oxidizing bacteria discoloring your water. They are more commonly found in smaller water sources such as wells.

8. Fragmentation of low-quality bronze alloys in valves

Bronze is commonly used to make water pumps and their parts. With continued use, bronze valves can disintegrate and contaminate the water flowing through your plumbing system. These bronze deposits can cause your water to turn brown and rusty.

9. Water system pollution

If you rely on a groundwater system and you notice brown water all of a sudden, there’s a chance that chemicals may have been washed into your system by rainwater. Some of the chemicals that may discolor your groundwater include motor oil and pesticides.

10. Increased demand of water during a drought period

Some cities source their water from surface streams and rivers. In extended periods of drought when water is in high demand, the fresh surface water will mix with sediment and debris from the river bottom and deliver brown water to your faucet.

11. Malfunctioning filtration system

While this is a rare occurrence, some areas might experience brown water because the water treatment equipment is not up to standard to handle the volume of water supply, or the equipment is old and/or worn out.

12. Change in the water table

Periods of high rains or drought may cause fluctuations in your water table. In some cases, these changes can be so severe that the existing water treatment won’t be able to remove the excess minerals that are stirred up. The presence of minerals like iron can cause discoloration of water.

Is brown water safe to use?

Can you drink brown water?

When you experience brown water, one of your first concerns may be whether it’s safe to drink. In many cases, naturally occurring minerals are the cause of brown water. While brown water is not usually severely harmful or poisonous, it can smell bad, have an unpleasant taste, and aesthetically not look too appealing.

In addition, water discoloration could indicate other issues which could be potentially dangerous. If the cause of brown water is a rusty pipe, it can be a sign of lead presence in your water which can cause symptoms of lead poisoning. Similarly, if brown water is due to an overload of iron in your water supply, drinking it can lead to hemochromatosis, a severe condition that can damage your body organs. It’s best to wait until the water clears before drinking it or buy bottled water in the meantime. 

Can you shower/bathe using brown water?

Brown bath/shower water can cause damage to your skin cells especially if it has excessive iron and magnesium. There, you’ll want to avoid showering/bathing with brown water until you’ve found a solution.

Can you use brown water to do laundry?

Brown water is very damaging to laundry, especially white or bright-colored loads which are more susceptible to staining. Discolored water can also stain your fixtures if used over a prolonged period.

Final thoughts

Discoloration can range from a light straw-brown color to a dark, mudlike brown. You may also notice tiny particles or bits in the water. A variety of things may be causing this – corrosion of service pipes, internal plumbing issues, disturbance of settled deposits, and so on. Depending on the reason for discoloration, there are several different ways to deal with the issue, including calling a plumber.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author, and she enjoys traveling, reading, and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC.

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