Why Is My Water Brown? (4 Causes & Solutions)

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

We’ve shared everything you need to know in this guide.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Brown water is usually a result of minerals, sediment, and rust altering the water’s color.
  • These impurities could enter your water supply due to a disturbance in the water main, corroding pipes, or natural contamination of your water.
  • You can resolve brown water by flushing your pipes, replacing your plumbing, or installing a water filtration system.

🚱 4 Causes Of Brown Water & How To Resolve

Below, we’ve shared the four most likely causes of brown water, and how to resolve each of these issues.

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.

A few incidents could lead to a disruption of sediment in the water delivery pipes in your local area. These include:

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

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, changing 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: Flush Your Pipes

In most cases, you should be able to resolve a brown water issue caused 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.

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 is causing the water from your tap to run brown.

This is especially likely if you notice brown water coming from your faucets first thing in the morning, after water has sat in the pipes 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: Replace Your Plumbing

How do you get rid of brown water caused by an issue with your home’s water pipes?

As with the first issue, you should be able to resolve this issue by 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 recommend replacing a certain section of your plumbing system if they discover rusty pipes or signs of corrosion.

Rust and corrosion can eventually crack plumbing pipes and lead to leaks. So, while replacing your plumbing is an expensive job, it’s better than the potential damage you might have to fix as a result of leaking pipes.

Plus, rusty water might also contain bacteria, since rust in your pipes creates a breeding ground for these potentially dangerous microorganisms. Old pipes also run the risk of containing lead, which is a highly toxic contaminant that poses a major health hazard in 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.

In this case, you’ll have clear water coming out of your cold water taps, and brown water coming out of your hot taps.

There’s less of a water quality concern when only your hot water turns brown, but rust and corroded metals could still have unwanted aesthetic effects in your home, including staining of surfaces and clogging of pipes and fixtures.

✅ How To Resolve: Drain Or Replace Your Heater

First, to find out whether or not your hot water heater is to blame for your brown water supply, determine whether the discolored water comes 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 as outlined in your user manual. You might need to get your water heater inspected by a professional plumber if you have concerns about its performance.

If your hot water heater has degraded or rusted significantly, you should look into replacing your heater entirely to prevent rust and sediments from breaking off from the heater and damaging your hot water plumbing system.

Man installing new water heater anode

Cause 4: Naturally Occurring Metal & Mineral Contamination

The three above issues are the most likely cause of residential brown water – but what if you own a private well?

Since well water isn’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency or filtered and disinfected before it enters your home, it’s possible that certain well water contaminants could be the cause of the brown coloring.

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 well aquifer.

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: Install A Water Filter

Mineral deposits and metals in your water aren’t typically dangerous in trace amounts. Still, you probably don’t want to drink rusty water, since excess iron and manganese can impair your water’s taste.

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

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

Already have existing water treatment equipment installed? Check that you’ve performed all the necessary maintenance and that the equipment is working as it should. Brown water could suggest that you need to replace a filter or fix a problem in the system.

Whole house filter installation

🤔 Is Brown Tap Water Dangerous?

The most common contaminants that cause water to turn brown, like sediment, iron, manganese, tannins, and other minerals and metals, aren’t usually dangerous. So, drinking water that’s brown is usually safe.

However, your municipal supplier may issue a boil water notice for a few hours to a few days after a disturbance in the water mains as a precautionary measure, since the elevated presence of certain contaminants may also indicate the presence of bacteria.

Follow your water utility’s instructions and boil your drinking water when you’re advised to. If the source of the problem is in your own home, conduct a water test to determine the exact cause of contamination and rule out the presence of dangerous microorganisms.

Floating particles in brown water from tap

📑 Final Word

Brown water usually isn’t a cause for concern, and, in homes that receive municipal water, the problem will usually clear within a few hours.

You can contact your water utility or check online to see if the cause of the problem (such as the use of a fire hydrant, adjacent construction, or repairs due to main breaks) has been identified by the water supplier. You could also ask your neighbors if they’re experiencing the same problem to help you pinpoint the cause.

If you think a rusty pipe or fixture in your own home has caused your rusty water, and you’re also experiencing issues with water pressure or flow, contact a professional plumber to provide expert diagnosis and recommendations.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    Jennifer is a seasoned water treatment expert with over 18 years of experience in the industry, dedicated to improving water quality for clients across the USA and around the world. Her passion for helping others and extensive networking skills have led her to hold leadership positions in organizations like the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Home Builders Association. Jennifer is currently a managing partner at Redbird Water of West Texas, where she specializes in providing water filtration and solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial clients.

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