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  • September 08, 2022 7 min read

    Why Does My Water Softener Smell Bad?

    why does my water softener smell bad

    A water softener is a great addition to have, especially if you receive hard water to your home. However, water softener tanks come with their own unique set of challenges,  No matter the manufacturer, any water softener tank may start to smell bad if it becomes infested with sulfur bacteria. This type of bacteria is attracted to the sodium found in water softener tanks. As the bacteria develops, hydrogen sulfide gas is released as refuse, resulting in the rotten egg odor.

    Any water softener tank, regardless of the manufacturer, can begin to smell bad if it becomes infested with sulfur bacteria. Sulfur bacteria is attracted to sodium in water softener tanks. As the bacteria grow, hydrogen sulfide gas is released as a waste product, hence the rotten egg odor.

    This issue is best resolved by regular, thorough cleaning. We recommend a water treatment professional service and clean your softener and brine tank at least once a year. A professional can take the necessary steps to kill the hydrogen sulfide and rid your tank of the terrible odor.

    If the water has been treated by a water softener, there are many cases where the foul odor continues to persist. Perhaps the water entering your home is high in sulfur, iron, or hydrogen sulfide, which requires additional filtration. High levels of these minerals are common in rural areas.

    How do you know if your water softener is bad?

    Many of these water quality issues can be addressed easily if the composition of your water supply is understood before any water treatment systems are installed. A simple over the counter water testing kit can give you a rough idea of what you’re dealing with, but a laboratory test will be more accurate. Once you understand your water quality issue, you can make more informed decisions on the water treatment systems that you will need. 

    Water smells: It’s a problem that can occur with no warning. Water that smells can have a negative impact on our drinking and personal hygiene habits. Here are a variety of different scents — like rotten eggs — you may be smelling out of the faucet:

    • Sewage

    The sewage smell you’re experiencing can be caused by several factors. It could be the bacteria left by food and soap in your drain. The scent from the bacteria is actually a gas that originates in the drain and makes its way up to the faucet resulting in your water acquiring a dirty smell.

    Another reason your water smells like sewage could be the hot water heater’s temperature is too low. Were you away from home for a long period of time and shut it off in fear of pipes bursting? The smell could be originating from the bacteria that harvested itself in the lower temperatures while the hot water heater was turned down. The bacteria isn’t harmful to you, but the smell can become quite pungent.

    Another cause could be the result of hydrogen sulfide entering the water supply.

    • Musty

    If your water smells musty, it could be from erosion in your water pipes. The metal decaying from the pipes could affect the smell. Generally, the smell is the worst thing that can happen if your water is musty. But if it lingers and becomes stronger, a bigger problem may be on your hands.

    • Sulfur

    Your water smells like sulfur because of the presence of sulfur bacteria or hydrogen sulfide. Sulfur bacteria thrives in oxygen-deficient environments such as plumbing systems. The bacteria then feasts on decomposing organic matter. This leads to the creation of hydrogen sulfide, which becomes trapped in the plumbing system. As soon as you notice this nasty smell, it's time to carry out effective brine tank cleaning and sanitizing procedures.

    • Metal

    There is always a possibility that lead is in the water. Most cities stopped using lead piping in the 1920s due to its toxicity. However, it took until 1986 for lead pipes to become banned in national plumbing codes. If you have a home that was built before 1986, you could be in danger.

    If you suspect lead is why your water smells like metal, you can request a water test from your city’s water treatment center. If the test doesn’t show there’s lead in the water but the smell endures, turn to a filtration system that can reduce the smell and taste from the water.

    • Fishy

    Naturally occurring organic compounds could be the culprit. The compounds we’re talking about here are barium and cadmium. Barium appears naturally when mineral ore seeps into groundwater. Cadmium, while organic, enters water supplies through industry runoff such as fertilizer.

    You can also point your finger at excessive levels of chloramines. It takes a lot for these compounds to actually affect you or make you sick, so the threat level is relatively low.

    The worst case scenario is that the fishy smell is coming from harmful algae blooms in the water. When this happens, residents receiving water from the infected distribution center are told not to drink, cook or bathe with the water. There isn’t much you can do other than wait it out.

    • Water turn colour:

    Brown water in your water softener's salt or brine tank is caused by one of two things:

    • Dirt from the salt accumulating over time
    • Too much rust in the feed supply

    Cleaning out the tank is the best way to fix this problem. A standard water softener should be cleaned every year and needs to be cleaned no longer than every five years. Waiting this long is risky, and should not be put off unless absolutely necessary.

    Our professional staff always reiterates the importance of having your water tested before installing a water softening system. While you may save money by purchasing and installing a water softener you purchase at a hardware or department store, you may end up with a problem on your hands due to issues in your water that were not properly addressed from the get-go. A professional technician can test your water and make the necessary recommendations for adequate treatment.

    How do you know if your water softener is bad?

    Even after your water has been treated by a water softener, your water might still have an unpleasant odor. In many cases, we find that the water coming into the home is high in sulfur, iron or hydrogen sulfide (not sulfur bacteria aforementioned) and additional filtration is needed. A pre-filter can be installed in front of the water conditioner (or other water softener) to properly treat what’s in the water. High levels of sulfur, iron and hydrogen sulfide are fairly common in rural areas.

    It is scenarios such as this that make us want to reiterate the importance of having your water properly tested prior to installing a water softener/conditioner. While it may be less costly (up front) to purchase and install a softener from a big box store, you may end up with a headache on your hands because some of the constituents in your water were not properly addressed from the beginning. A water treatment professional can test your water and make recommendations for proper treatment.

    How To Clean a Water Softener Tank

    If the water chemistry is not to blame, the problem can usually be traced to your water softener tank. In fact, this is the best place to check first unless you have experienced water quality issues in the past Ideally, it is best to schedule a water softener cleaning a few months in advance. The reason for this is that it will allow enough time for the salt to drop down within the tank to avoid wasting good salt.

    Step #1 Shut off the water intake by turning the bypass valve.

    Step #2 Empty any remaining salt and water of the tank. For this, you can use a shop-vac or siphon and scope everything out into a bucket using a cup.


    Step #3 After you have all of the salt and water removed, take a look at the bottom of the tank to see if you have a brine grid sitting at the base of the tank. If so, remove that and set it aside in a safe place. Next, take a bucket full of clean, warm water and dump it into the tank. Use a sponge or soft bristle brush to wash it all over the inside of the tank. Once finished, remove the water.

    Step #4 Add a new bucket of clean, warm water to the tank along with a generous amount of dish soap. Now, use a sponge or soft bristle brush and completely wipe down the entire interior of the tank.

    Step #5 Dump out the soapy water and thoroughly rinse the inside of the tank with clean water. A garden hose works great for this.

    Step #6 Fill the tank with 2 to 3 gallons of water and add about 1/4 cup of household bleach. Stir the mixture around inside of the tank and let it sit between 15 to 20 minutes. The bleach will help sanitize the tank and kill any organisms that might be growing.

    Step #7 Safely remove and dispose of the bleach water, and then once again take a garden hose and thoroughly rinse out the inside of the tank. If you removed a brine grid, you could now put it back in where you found it. You can now turn the bypass valve back on.

    Step #8 Add a new bag of salt to the tank and a bucket of clean water to help dissolve the salt. Wait about 4 hours before you regenerate the tank.

    Bottom Line

    You can also go a step further and take action in your own home by installing a water filter. Aquatell has several options to help filter your water and chase away pungent smells preventing you from using your home’s supply.

    One of the main ways that it can benefit a home is that it reduces the amount of hard water spots. These are the spots that are on dishes and shower walls that can be a real pain to remove. A soft water system treats the water that is coming into the house with rock salt and leaves the water with a much smoother texture. A secondary benefit is the way that it feels on a person. When you take a shower with a soft water system your skin will be less dried out and will be easier to rinse the soap off. Water softeners need to be installed properly as well as maintained to keep them running properly. 

    Get some advice from a local water treatment professional; they will understand your local water conditions and they will know which water treatment systems work best in your area.