What Causes Brown Water in Pipes?
As we all know, water is supposed to be colorless. Brown water from your pipes is therefore a sign that everything is not alright.
So, why is the water in your pipes brown and what can you do to fix it? Is brown water in the pipes an emergency? I will answer all those questions in this post.
Brown water in pipes is caused by corroded water pipes when rust particles flake off and dissolve in the water. Flushing or repair of water systems by your city water department as well as testing of water hydrants will also stir and blow minerals and sediments towards residential areas resulting in brown water.
In most cases, brown water is not restricted to your home but the entire neighborhood. This is usually as a result of the city working on the water lines, or when there is a problem with the water supply mains.
To get rid of brown water in your pipes, turn on one faucet and leave it running for about 20 minutes. The water should clear but if it doesn’t, call your city water department and let them know of the problem.
If you still have old galvanized steel pipes in your house, they could be badly corroded resulting in brown water when the rust (iron oxide) dissolves in the water. Replacing them with PEX or copper pipes is expensive but will solve the problem.
If you notice brown water from a faucet for a few seconds then it clears, corroded water pipes is the problem. The standing water inside the water pipes dissolves the rust resulting in brown water which disappears once the standing water in the pipe has been drawn.
Brown water is not harmful/dangerous since it only contains a high concentration of minerals but it is disgusting and tastes metallic. It will also stain your clothes and porcelain fixtures like sinks, toilets and tubs.
If brown water is only present in your hot water faucets but the cold water faucets have clear water, you have a lot of sediment in your water heater. The solution for this problem is to flush your water heater and if it is too old have it replaced.
Why You Have Brown Water From Your Faucets
Let us now look at why you have brown water in your pipes in more details.
What you may not know is that the water flowing to your house contains minerals like iron and manganese. They are however unnoticeable and your water will therefore always look clear.
These minerals will over time settle at the bottom of the water pipes and form a layer of sediment. This is especially the case with the main water service line which connects your house to the city water supply line at the street.
The sediment will also form along the city’s water supply lines and will remain there unless disturbed.
By disturbance, I mean a change of water pressure (speed) or a change in direction of water flow. When that happens, the minerals will be re-suspended and dissolve in the water resulting in the formation of brown water.
So, what causes the disturbance in water pipes (changes in direction of flow or speed)?
1. Water Leak
If the water pipe is leaking, there will be a change of direction in the flow of water resulting in the lifting off of the sediment from the bottom of the pipe.
The mineral sediment will mix with water and flow to your faucets and hence the brown water. Again, the leak can be within your home or out in the city’s water pipes.
Checking if there is a water leak in your house is easy. You just need to locate the water meter and check if the leak detector is spinning when no water is being used in the house. More on that in this post.
2. Repairs and Maintenance
Your city water department will perform regular maintenance of water systems some of which are planned while others are emergencies.
These repairs and maintenance activities involves cleaning water tanks, flushing of water pipes, repairing leaking pipes as well as testing of fire hydrants.
Most of these activities will cause the water to flow faster than usual (especially when flushing water pipes or testing hydrants). The result of that is that the sediment at the bottom of the water pipes will be stirred up and mixed with water and you will definitely have brown water when you turn on your faucets.
3. Corroded Pipes
Galvanized steel pipes were the pipes of choice when lead stopped being used in house plumbing. The steel pipes were coated with zinc to prevent them from rusting.
With time however, the zinc coating would peel off (especially inside the pipe) exposing the steel to oxygen and when that happens corrosion is inevitable.
If water stays inside a corroded pipe for a long time, the brown rust will flake off and dissolve in the water to form brown water.
When you notice that the water from a certain faucet is brown for a few seconds after you turn it on, this is usually the problem.
4. Old Water Heater
The same way minerals settle at the bottom of the water pipes is the same way they settle at the bottom of a water heater tank.
Apart from brown water, another sign that your water heater has mineral sediment at the bottom is when there are cracking and knocking noises coming from it.
In an old water heater, the internal glass lining can wear out subjecting the body of the water heater to corrosions. This together with the sediment at the bottom of the tank could be reason you hot water is brown.
How Do I get Rid of Brown Water from My Pipes?
Follow the following steps to get rid of brown water from your pipes:
1. Turn on a Faucet for about 20 Minutes
If you have checked and confirmed that there is no leak in your property, start by turning on one faucet and leave it running for about 20 minutes. Sometimes the water will clear after about 10 or 15 minutes.
If the water does not clear however, you will need to call your local city/town water department and inform them of the problem. They will probably flush their lines and get rid of the mineral sediments.
2. Replace the Water Pipes
If you have been noticing brown water for a few seconds after turning on a faucet, the problem is definitely your water pipes. You will need to replace the old steel pipes with copper or PEX pipes.
Even if you have copper or PEX pipes in your house, there is a high chance that your main service line from the street to the house is made from galvanized steel which is old and corroded.
Replacing it with a plastic pipe will surely fix the problem. Repiping your house is an expensive undertaking but in this case it is the only way out. A corroded pipe will actually start to leak if not fixed/replaced.
3. Flush the Water Heater
Flushing a water heater involves the draining out of water completely from the tank and in the process removing the sediment settling at the bottom of the tank. You don’t need a plumber to flush a water heater.
For water heaters that are too old (more than 10 years old) and which are also are not regularly flushed, a replacement is the best and long-term solution. For more information on when to replace your water heater check out this post.
4. Install an Ion Exchange Water Softener
Brown water from a well is mostly caused by iron but could also be caused by tannins or silt. Tannins are naturally occurring material found in decaying matter and peaty soil.
The best way to know why your well water is brown is to have a professional come over and test it. They will also recommend the best solution for the problem.
A salt-based water softener will in most cases get rid of the brown water from your well through a process known as ion exchange.
Usually, this process is used to soften water which is also caused by minerals like iron, manganese and calcium but it will also help get rid of the brown water. The water softener also comes with a filter to remove the silt.