Using Your Senses
Smell the water. You can determine a great deal about the quality of your water by tuning in to your senses. Even if a professional water engineer were to come test your water quality, they would be sure to smell, taste, and visually examine the water. Test the quality of your water through your senses, first, by giving it a good smell.
Bleach smell – This likely occurs from the chlorine your local treatment plant must add to your water to make it safe. This scent often dissipates if the water is exposed to air for a little while. Alternatively, you can purchase a home water filter to get rid of it. Generally, a bleach smell is not harmful.
Rotten-egg smell – This sulfurous smell usually indicates a growth of bacteria. First, pour a glass of water and bring it to another part of the house, wait a few minutes, and then smell it. If the water no longer smells, then the bacteria is growing inside your drain and should be cleaned. If the water still smells strongly of rotten egg (and if this occurs with both hot and cold water), contact your local municipality.
Musty or earthy smell – This smell is likely the result of organic matter decaying. Once again, this could either be inside your drain or in the water itself. Although this smell may be bothersome, it is most likely harmless.
Taste the water. Use your taste buds to determine the quality of your water. First of all, if your water tastes very foul, spit it out! If your tap water has a metallic taste, this can be caused by either low pH levels, or excess minerals in your water supply (potentially due to rusty pipes). If your water taste like bleach, it could be an excess of chlorine. And if your water tastes salty, this could indicate the presence of chloride ions or sulfates, which could be caused by industrial waste or irrigation drainage. If the taste of your water offends you, contact your local municipality, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Check for cloudiness and particles. Hold a glass of water up to the light and look for floating particles or general cloudiness. Brown, orange, or red particles can be caused by rust in pipes or fixtures. Black particles can come from the hoses that your water runs through (chlorine in the water can deteriorate these hoses over time). White or tan particles (or general cloudiness) can indicate excess calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate in your water. If you notice excess cloudiness or particulate matter in your water, contact your local municipality, or the EPA.
Examine the color. Begin examining the color of your water by first allowing the water to run for a few minutes. (This will clear any build up from standing water in your fixtures). Then hold a glass of water up to the light. Brown, murky, or otherwise discolored water can be caused by a few factors: a new water source for your area, upstream pollution, or rusty pipes. If the color of your water seems wrong to you, contact your local municipality, or the EPA.
Check your pipes for corrosion or build-up. If your pipes have a great deal of corrosion or mineral build-up, it means that excess rust or other minerals have been getting into your water. There are a few ways you look for corrosion or build-up around your house. If your pipes have a great deal of build-up, have them looked over by a professional plumber and contact your local municipality.
If your pipes are above ground, look for any areas that leak or have blue and/or white sediment.
If your pipes are harder to get to, look inside your toilet bowl for rust, or around the base of your toilet for blue stains.
If you are having any plumbing work done, ask to see inside a cut portion of your pipe. Look for blue, white, or rust-colored build-up.