In much of the Western world, we take our access to our water for granted, but even here, contaminants can make their way into your town’s drinking water reservoirs and piping. These can range from very mild inconveniences, like a slightly weird taste, up to a poisonous level.

Contacting a local water-testing service is a good idea if you’re worried as some of these can be undetectable by our senses, but some of the likely contaminants can be detected by taste or smell.

Salty Taste

We all know that saltwater, like ocean water, is not safe to drink. If you are tasting a salty flavor to your water, it could be caused by elements such as magnesium or potassium making their way into your water supply. However, if you live near an ocean there may be ocean water leaking or seeping into the water reservoirs.

Metallic Taste

If your water is giving you a more metallic taste, the problems can often stem from the piping itself. If the piping is made of copper or iron, as is very common, they may be leaching into the water and causing that flavor to it. While not immediately dangerous, you should definitely have your water tested to determine how to resolve the issue. Metals like manganese or zinc may also cause a similar problem, though piping made from these materials is uncommon.

Chemical Taste

A chemical taste can be the results of chlorine in the water. While this is not uncommon to be used to clean tap-water, if it tastes really strong to you, it may have come into contact with other organic materials in the water piping. If you notice this problem, get your water tested and report the issue to your local water provider.

Moldy or Fishy Odors

There are many types of bacteria or plant matter which may cause a smell like this, where the smell is obviously organic. These contaminants can be present inside your sink drain so if you are only smelling it when you are at the sink, you can test it by pouring a glass of water and letting it sit away from the sink. If you come back to it and it smells fine, then the problem is likely in your sink drain and you may need to apply a cleaner of some kind to get rid of the material causing the smell.

Rotten Egg Odor

A rotten egg smell can be very similar to the smell of sulfur degrading. This may be similar to the bacteria in your sink problem described above and the same methods can be used to identify if the problem is the sink or the water. But your hot water tank may have sulfide components degrading. Call a plumber to inspect your hot water tank, and if it’s neither of those, do not use the water and call your local health agency to report it.

Gasoline or Fuel Odors

If you notice these, do not use the water. Underground storage tanks may leak to allow those contaminants to seep into your water supply. Report this to the appropriate health authorities as soon as possible.

Test Regularly

Water is an invaluable part of our lives and making sure that we are using safe water for our washing and drinking is incredibly important. While your problems might be solved by simply adding a filter to your home’s plumbing, identifying a more pressing issue can save lives in your community. So, keep that in mind whenever you taste or smell anything “off” in your water system, and regularly test your water to be safe from contaminants. Remember, not all containments have an odor or taste, so make regular water testing part of your home maintenance routine.