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We’re all familiar with the smell of chlorine. It lingers around swimming pools and hangs in the air after a bathroom cleaning session.
But if you can smell chlorine in your drinking water, there’s a chance that you’re dealing with an abnormal problem.
In this guide, I’ll be sharing the reasons why your water might smell like chlorine, and how to resolve the issue as quickly and simply as possible.
🚰 Why Tap Water Smells Like Bleach
The smell of bleach in tap water is most probably caused by high levels of chlorine.
While it’s unlikely that your bleach-smelling water is dangerous to drink, if it tastes or smells unpleasant, it can be off-putting for you.
Some of the most common reasons for a bleach smell in water are:
1. Public Water Chlorination
According to the EPA’s Surface Water Treatment Rules, all public water systems must disinfect their water, usually with chlorine or chloramine, before it can be sent to people’s homes. This is to reduce the risk of illness-causing pathogens, such as Legionella and Cryptosporidium.
If our water wasn’t disinfected, we’d have a high likelihood of getting sick from drinking it. Water treatment is essential – but is there such thing as too much chlorination?
Free chlorine levels are usually around 0.2 – 2.0 parts per million (ppm) in municipal water supplies.
Depending on your local public water system’s treatment method, your water’s chlorine levels could reach 5.0 ppm.
2. Municipal Water Shock Chlorination
There are occasions when your municipal water supplier will need to shock the public system with a chemical treatment. A disinfectant like bleach is typically used for this job.
If there has been a bacteria scare, or a storm or flooding has caused potential contamination, using higher-than-normal concentrations of chlorine will eliminate any pathogens that have made it into your water.
Shock chlorination will result in water that tastes and smells like bleach for a short period of time. Eventually, after a day or two, your water should go back to smelling normal.
If you want to speed up this process, run water through all the faucets in your home for 5-10 minutes, or until the bleach odor goes away.
3. Chlorine Interaction With Organic Materials
Over time, organic materials like algae, bacteria and fungi can grow inside water supply lines. When these materials combine, they form a slimy matter called biofilm.
The free chlorine that’s added to your water as a disinfectant will merge with these materials, which causes it to release byproducts known as trihalomethanes (THMs). The quantity of organic materials in your water will determine the quantity and type of THMs produced, and how strong the bleach odor is.
If the problem is in your plumbing, running your faucet for a few minutes should get rid of the smell. If the odor lingers, it’s likely that the problem is in the pipes leading to your home, and there’s very little you can do about that.
4. Well Water Chemical Injection/ Shock Chlorination
Finally, if you own a private well system and use a chemical injection filter to eliminate bacteria and other pathogens, the chlorine odor could come from this filter itself.
Getting your well water treated is essential. But not all disinfection options will make your water smell like bleach.
A UV light water purifier system can kill waterborne pathogens without adding chemicals to your water.
Shock chlorinating your well will also cause a temporary chlorine smell in your water. As with public water shock chlorination, this odor should dissipate after 48 hours.
🤔 What Should I Do When My Tap Water Smells Like Chlorine?
Test Your Water
If your tap water smells of chlorine, you should first determine whether it’s safe to drink. Order an at-home water test or arrange for a sample of your water to be tested by a certified laboratory.
Up to 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or ppm of chlorine is considered safe in our drinking water. In these small amounts, chlorine isn’t thought to be harmful to your health. That’s why it’s common to find trace amounts of chlorine in public water systems.
Store Water In Your Fridge
If you can’t stand the taste of your water, but testing shows there’s less than 2 ppm of chlorine present, you could remove some of the chlorine with evaporation.
Fill a pitcher with cold water from your faucet. Put it in your refrigerator and leave for at least two hours. You should find that the smell of bleach dissipates in this time. Leaving your water overnight will have an even better effect.
Of course, this technique will only be handy if you remember to fill the pitcher a few hours before you want to drink from it.
Contact Your Local Authority
If you’ve found more than 4 ppm of chlorine in your water, contact your water utility company and inform them of the issue. I would recommend sharing the CDC’s fact sheet for chlorine in public drinking water as your reference.
Owners and operators of public water systems are legally obliged to ensure the safety of the water they supply. However, there’s nothing much you can do if your complaint isn’t picked up on.
It’s possible that your tap water might not contain dangerous levels of chlorine, but it might still smell of bleach. It’s your decision whether you decide to take action against this chlorine or not. Just because it’s safe to drink, it doesn’t mean you should have to put up with the bleach smell.
If you’re dealing with more chlorine than this, you may want to remove it from your water.
✔️ Removing Chlorine From Drinking Water
You can remove chlorine from your drinking water with a number of different at-home water filters, including reverse osmosis, distillation, carbon filters, and chemical neutralization.
Reverse osmosis is one of the most effective methods for removing chlorine taste and odor. A reverse osmosis system uses several filtration stages, and a semi-permeable membrane, to remove harmful contaminants as small as 0.0005 microns.
Distillation is another highly effective chlorine removal technique. A distiller boils, evaporates and condenses water, leaving chlorine and other contaminants behind in the boiling chamber.
Certain carbon filters, such as activated carbon, can also remove chlorine from water. Using the process of adsorption, these filters trap chemical impurities across their large surface area.
Chemicals such as potassium metabisulfite can be used to neutralize chlorine in tap water. Potassium metabisulfite evaporates after neutralizing chlorine, so you won’t be swapping one chemical for another.
👉 For more information on at-home chlorine removal, my Ultimate Guide for Removing Chlorine from Drinking Water covers all the bases.