Will a Water Softener Remove Sulfur Smell? (What to Know)

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Water softeners might be the best solution for hard water, but how are they at getting rid of the sulfur smell in water?

In this guide, we’ve answered the question, “Will a water softener remove sulfur smell?”

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • The most common cause of a rotten egg smell in your water is hydrogen sulfide. If only your hot water smells like rotten eggs, you might have an issue with your water heater.
  • A water softener won’t get rid of the sulfur smell in your water – and sulfur might clog the softener resin and reduce its softening capacity.
  • The best way to remove sulfur odors is to install an oxidation system that’s capable of removing hydrogen sulfide. You might also need to replace your water heater.

🤔 Do Water Softeners Remove Sulfur?

No, water softeners don’t remove sulfur and won’t get rid of the rotten egg odor in your water.

To understand why water softeners don’t remove sulfur, we need to look at how they work.

Water softener systems use a process called ion exchange. When hard water flows through the mineral tank, the hardness minerals in the water are attracted to the opposite charge of the resin beads.

The hardness ions stick to the resin, and equal amounts of sodium are released into the water to balance out its charge. This process is known as ion exchange, and sodium softened water leaves the tank.

The ion exchange process only works to remove hardness minerals, and low levels of a few other contaminants, like iron and copper.

A water softener can’t effectively remove hydrogen sulfide (the cause of the sulfur smell) from your water because it isn’t a charged mineral that attracts to the resin bed in the same manner as calcium and magnesium.

That’s why you’ll need to find a dedicated treatment system to remove this contaminant from your water.

Using softened water from a water softener system

🧐 Can You Use A Water Softener To Treat Sulfur Contaminated Water?

Yes, you can use a water softener to treat water that’s contaminated with sulfur bacteria or hydrogen sulfide gas. However, we strongly recommend against softening your water without some form of pre-treatment.

The last thing you want is for the hydrogen sulfide to build up in your water softening resin. Not only will this contaminant potentially cause extreme sulfur odors due to an accumulation of foul-smelling gas in the softener tank; it may also permanently damage the resin and reduce its softening effects.

Remember, water softeners are only designed to treat hardness minerals. That means they can effectively flush these minerals out of the resin during softening.

Other contaminants, like sulfur, might foul the resin and stay there. When the softener regenerates, some of the sulfur might be removed, but a good portion will remain in the resin.

Over time, as the sulfur accumulates in the resin, the resin’s softening capacity will reduce, resulting in reduced softening efficiency and causing gaps in soft water production.

👃 Where Does The Sulfur Smell Come From?

So, ordinary household water softeners don’t remove sulfur or get rid of the rotten egg odor in your water.

The good news is that there are other solutions to treat sulfur odors and stop your water from smelling like eggs – but first, you need to understand the cause.

There are a few different reasons why your water might have an eggy smell:

Decaying Sulfur In The Ground

If your hot and cold water has a rotten egg smell, it’s probably due to decaying sulfur in the ground. Many groundwater wells have issues with rotten egg sulfur smells due to sulfur in the rocks and soils surrounding the aquifer.

Sulfur Bacteria In Your Plumbing System

Your water might also contain sulfur-reducing bacteria from your plumbing system, which “breathe out” hydrogen sulfide, resulting in a strong sulfur odor. You’ll probably notice that the smell is strongest after a period of not using your plumbing, such as first thing in the morning, as this bacteria may accumulate in your plumbing overnight.

If you only notice sulfur smells in your hot water, it might be that sulfur bacteria has built up in your hot water heater tank. It’s difficult to quickly flush out all the hydrogen sulfide gas from your water heater because the tank holds such a lot of water.

Sulfur bacteria buildup in hot water heater tank

🔂 Alternatives To Water Softeners For Rotten Eggs Smell In Water

If you have even mild problems with sulfur bacteria or hydrogen sulfide gas in your water, a water softener is not the treatment solution that will address them.

There are a few different ways to address the sulfur water smell in your well and plumbing system, depending on the source of the smell.

Let’s take a look at some of the available options.

Water Heater Maintenance

Your water heater might produce hydrogen sulfide gas if sulfate is reacting with the water heater anode, typically when it is a magnesium rod. In this case, replacing the anode rod with a zinc or aluminum rod should significantly help with the sulfur odor in your hot water.

You can also buy a water heater odor killer and add it to the tank. However, if the anode rod is the reason why your water smells like rotten eggs, the problem will return until you treat the cause.

Chemical Injection & Filtration

If you have hydrogen sulfide dissolved in your source water that’s affecting the smell of your cold or hot water, you may need to employ a long-term solution.

A chemical injection system using chlorine or hydrogen peroxide should work well to remove this contaminant from your water. A highly-capable hydrogen peroxide injection system can remove up to 30 PPM of hydrogen sulfide gas from your water – much more than you’re likely to find in your well.

Chemical injection systems come with a carbon filter, which removes the chemical from your water once it’s done its job. Carbon filters also reduce poor tastes and odors, so they should further reduce the sulfur odor in your water.

Us water systems matrixx infusion system and control head

Air Injection & Filtration

If your water contains both iron and sulfur bacteria and you’ve noticed rust staining in your plumbing and fixtures, an air injection and filtration system is the best solution.

This system primarily targets iron, and the best models can remove 20 PPM+ of this contaminant, alongside 5-7 PPM of sulfur.

As a chemical-free method, air injection is better for folks who want to minimize maintenance and avoid adding anything hazardous to their water, but it doesn’t treat very high levels of hydrogen sulfide as effectively.

Well Shocking

Very bad cases of hydrogen sulfide smells might only be resolved by shocking your well with chlorine bleach (known as shock chlorination). Chlorine bleach reacts with hydrogen sulfide, oxidizing it and eliminating the smell of rotten eggs.

👨‍🔧 Our ultimate guide on how to shock a well should come in useful if you need to try this method.

📖 How To Know What’s Causing Your Water To Smell Like Rotten Eggs

You can’t treat your water for bad sulfur smells until you know what’s causing these smells in the first place.

If only your hot water has a bad smell, ask your plumber to take a look at your water heater. They can tell you whether or not you have a problem with sulfur or iron bacteria in the heating tank.

If your hot and cold water smell like rotten eggs, you’re probably dealing with dissolved hydrogen sulfide. If it corrodes your iron and steel pipes, sulfur forms ferrous sulfide, which gives water a black tinge. Ferrous sulfide in your water may stain your copper and brass utensils, blacken silverware, and discolor your plumbing fixtures.

Look out for black stains on surfaces that come into contact with water in your home. But if you’re still not sure, a water test will tell you everything you need to know.

📑 Final Word

If your water smells like sulfur, don’t assume that a water softening solution is the best solution.

Even moderate hydrogen sulfide levels may build up in your water softener, worsening the smell and compromising the softener’s performance.

If only the hot water in your home smells like rotten eggs, you probably need to fix or treat your water heater. For cold water with an eggy smell, work out whether you need to shock your well (one-off chlorination) or install a chemical injection system (continuous chlorination).

  • 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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