5 Common Causes of Brown Tap Water (& How to Fix Them!)

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What does it mean if you have brown water coming from your taps, and how can you fix the issue?

In our 10+ years of treating contaminated and discolored water, we’ve found that these are the most common reasons for brown tap water.

why is my water brown

🚱 Cause 1: A Disturbance In The Water Main

If you get your water from a municipal supplier, the most likely cause of brown water from your taps is a disturbance in the water main.

❓What Causes The Problem?

Some of the possible causes of main water line disturbances are:

  • A burst pipe
  • Pipe repair or replacement work
  • Routine flushing of main water pipes
  • Water system tapped into by a fire service (via a fire hydrant)
  • Opening and closing valves

Disturbances in water mains are more common than you might think- in fact, research indicates that water utilities in the U.S. experience approximately 250,000-300,000 main breaks every year.

Any of these issues could cause the flow of water in the mains system to reduce or stop altogether, then suddenly increase as the water is switched back on or can get through the pipe again.

This can stir up the sediment, minerals, or rust that have accumulated in the pipes over time, and the presence of these contaminants will change the color of the water from your tap.

These problems are usually temporary and should clear up within the same day or within a few weeks, depending on the nature of the issue.

✅ How To Resolve

In most cases, you should be able to resolve this issue by flushing your water. Open all the faucets in your home and let them run for five minutes.

Check the color of your water. If the issue at the mains system has been resolved, after the initial disturbance of sediment, your water should run clear once more.

You can also contact your city’s utility provider or check online for information to determine the cause of the issue and check whether you’ve been issued a boil water notice.

If you routinely experience brown water due to water main disturbances, consider installing a whole-house water filter system that will address the problem contaminants.

tap water brown

💢 Cause 2: A Corroded Or Rusted Plumbing Pipe

If you have an old plumbing system in your home, it’s possible that corrosion and rusting of your pipes over time are causing the water from your tap to run brown.

❓What Causes The Problem?

There are a few reasons why your home’s water pipes might be corroding, including wear and tear from aging, and damage from acidic or hard water. The type of material used in the pipes can also influence corrosion. For instance, galvanized steel pipes are highly susceptible to corrosion over time.

You’re especially likely to have corroding pipes if you notice brown water coming from your faucets first thing in the morning, after water has sat in your plumbing all night.

The change in water flow as you switch on your faucets may disturb the pipes and dislodge the rust and metals, pulling them into the water and turning it brown.

✅ How To Resolve

To get rid of brown water caused by corroding pipes, try flushing your plumbing pipes until the water runs clear. But if your pipes are very corroded, you should look beyond a short-term solution.

Ask a local plumber to visit your home and inspect your pipes. They might need to replace a section of your plumbing system if they discover rust or corrosion.

Replacing your plumbing can cost thousands of dollars. If you’re after a more affordable solution, install a point-of-use water filtration system to remove the brown-causing contaminants from your drinking water.

Related: Why does my water leave a red residue?

Checking main water pipe in home

♨️ Cause 3: Rust, Corrosion, Or Scale In Hot Water Heater

Your home’s water lines aren’t the only potential source of corrosion or rusting. Rusty water could also be caused by corrosion inside your hot water heater.

❓What Causes The Problem?

There are a few reasons why your hot water heater might corrode, including the presence of sediment in your water supply, a depleted anode rod, and very high heating temperatures.

Hard water, which the USGS estimates to affect around 85% of homes in America, is another common cause of corrosion in a hot water heater.

This corrosion may cause small rust and sediment particles to enter your hot water supply, giving it a brown color.

✅ How To Resolve

First, to find out whether or not your hot water heater is to blame for your brown water supply, determine whether brown water is coming from your hot or cold water faucets.

If only your hot tap water is discolored, you probably have an issue in your water heater.

You can resolve most issues by draining and refilling the heater, or replacing the anode rod, depending on the cause of the corrosion. You might need to get your water heater inspected by a professional plumber.

If your heater has degraded or rusted significantly, it may need replacing entirely to prevent damage to your hot water plumbing system.

You can also protect your heater from mineral deposits and limescale damage by installing a water softener at your home’s POE.

Man installing new water heater anode

🪨 Cause 4: Naturally Occurring Metal & Mineral Contamination

Well water isn’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or filtered and disinfected before it enters your home. It’s possible that certain well water contaminants could be the reason why you have discolored water.

❓What Causes The Problem?

Excess iron, manganese, sediments, and tannins can all turn your water various shades of brown, red, orange, or yellow. These impurities enter well water as it seeps through the earth into the aquifer.

A sudden change in your water appearance could be due to changes to your water table, which is often associated with periods of drought or excess rainfall.

If you have brown tap water constantly, rather than the water only running brown when you first turn on your faucets, the contaminants in your water supply are probably to blame.

✅ How To Resolve

The best way to eliminate brown water caused by well water contamination is to install a suitable water treatment system.

Studies have linked various well water contaminants to cancer, neurological issues, reproductive effects, and gastrointestinal illness, so removing these contaminants goes beyond the desire to improve your water’s aesthetics.

Test your water to find out what it contains. Different water treatment systems target different contaminants, so you want to accurately identify the cause of your discolored water so you can best resolve the issue.

Here are some water treatment systems to consider:

Water TreatmentContaminants
Dedicated iron filter – such as an injection/oxidation systemIron and manganese
Sediment filterExcess sediment in your water supply
Dedicated tannins filterDiscoloration is caused by tannins
Water softenerCalcium, magnesium, and low levels of iron
Whole house filter installation

🔧 Cause 5: Problems With Existing Water Treatment

Already have existing water treatment equipment installed? It’s possible that this equipment might not be operating correctly, causing brown water to be delivered to your faucets.

❓What Causes The Problem?

There are a few reasons why your water treatment equipment might be performing inadequately, including:

  • You haven’t performed the correct maintenance (e.g. replacing the filter cartridges or filter media in a water filtration system)
  • The equipment isn’t designed to handle the volume, water pressure, or quality of water it’s been used with
  • The equipment has degraded, allowing trapped contaminants to leach back into your water supply

✅ How To Resolve

Check that you’ve performed all the necessary maintenance and that the equipment is working as it should.

Also make sure that the system you’ve installed can handle the contaminants that are responsible for your brown water discoloration. For instance, a whole-house carbon filter won’t make a difference to your water’s iron levels.

Floating particles in brown water from tap

📑 Final Word

We wrote this article because we wanted to provide a clear, to-the-point resource for folks who want to determine the cause of brown water, and what to do about it. Hopefully, we’ve given you the information you need to figure out why brown water is coming from your faucets, and how you can best resolve the issue.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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