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The Drinking Water Taste Guide

The Drinking Water Taste Guide


Why does your water taste funny or bad? Whether it’s salty, moldy, or metallic tasting–the flavor of your water can tell you a lot about what’s in it. let our guide help you understand. 

The exact cause of water tastes can often be challenging to determine. Therefore, we have created a handy guide to help you identify and treat common causes of household water tastes, as well as what to do about it. Read on to help find possible culprits behind all of the following common water tastes:

  • Moldy or musty
  • Bleach
  • Bitter or medicinal
  • Metallic 
  • Rotten eggs
  • Salty
  • Sweet

Why Does My Water Taste Like Mold or Must?

We often think of water as “pure“ and “fresh”–so when it tastes moldy and musty, it is pretty easy to deduce that something isn’t right.

Algal Bloom

One of the most common reasons for a moldy taste flowing from your tap is an algal bloom in the source water. Blooms are more frequent in the springtime, so you may notice musty or moldy water around that time of year. Municipal water is treated with disinfectant, so the algae will be eliminated before it gets to you tap–but the unpleasant (albeit harmless) taste may linger. 

Learn more about algal blooms

Bacterial Growth

Bacterial growth within your water system can also cause a moldy flavor. This is frequently from harmless iron-related bacteria, but keep an eye out if the musty taste is accompanied with a rotten egg smell.

Learn more about bacterial growth

If your water tastes moldy, these tests can help identify the culprit:

Total Microbiology Screen Water Test: This all-inclusive pathogen and microbiological screening provides identification and enumeration of thousands of species of bacteria, protozoa, algae and more in water.

Why Does My Water Taste Like Bleach?

If your water tastes like bleach, it is probably due to elevated levels of chlorine–a chemical added to 98% of U.S. public water systems as a disinfectant.


Small amounts (levels below 4 mg/L) of added chlorine are not harmful to your health. However, chlorine can be smelled (and often tasted) at just 1 mg/L. If your tap water’s bleach/chlorine taste is particularly strong, it may be due to your water supplier distributes water over vast distances and needs to add extra chlorine in order to keep the water clean over the longer travel time.

Learn about chlorine in water

If your water taste like bleach you can try these measures to improve the taste:

  • Boiling your tap water for 5 minutes
  • Chilling your water in the refrigerator
  • Using an activated carbon filter
  • Why Does My Water Taste Bitter or Medicinal?

    Bitterness is most often attributed to copper in the water–usually from the corrosion of copper plumbing. 


    Copper causes health issues–like stomach cramps or intestinal pain–at levels above 60 mg/L. However, it is rare that copper concentration ever reaches this level, particularly because people can both taste and smell  copper in their water at just 1.3 mg/L. This lower level still may have impacts, albeit aesthetic ones. For example, copper in your shower water can potentially add a green tinge to light colored hair.

    Total Dissolved Solids

    Another possible cause for a bitter or medicinal taste in your tap water is an elevated level of total dissolved solids (TDS). These dissolved minerals can cause an off-putting taste, especially if they are mostly sulfates. TDS may also induce a laxative effect in humans who are new to drinking water with higher-than-normal levels of dissolved minerals.

    Learn more about TDS

    Why Does My Water Taste Metallic?

    Iron, zinc, and manganese can all cause a metal taste in your drinking water. 


    While iron and manganese naturally occur in water sources, zinc may enter your tap water when galvanized plumbing corrodes. At high levels, zinc may cause nausea or vomiting. Such a concentration would be far above the threshold where people would tolerate taking a sip.

    In sum, the levels of zinc in drinking water may cause a taste, but is not known to have health impacts because when it is in drinking water (which people stand to drink), the concentrations are too low to cause health effects.

    Iron and Manganese

    When there are elevated levels of iron and manganese in drinking water, they can cause aesthetic impacts such as staining laundry, plumbing, and fixtures.  They can also build up in water heaters, which may need to be drained in order to remove the mineral deposits. 

    Why Does My Water Taste Like Rotten Eggs?

    The taste of rotten eggs is about as unpleasant as it gets. While it can be quite alarming, a rotten egg (i.e. sulfur) taste and smell is not generally a health hazard–especially at levels commonly found in tap water.


    This is because at even well below dangerous levels, the taste and smell would be so offensive that most people couldn’t palate it. The causes of this off-putting taste are sulfates or hydrogen sulfide gas. For more information about these two forms of sulfur–check out our “everything-you-need-to-know” guide to sulfur!

    Ways to remove the taste of rotten eggs from your tap water include:

    DIY Water Test

    Why Does My Water Taste Like Salty?

    If your water tastes salty like the ocean, the most likely reason is that it contains a high concentration of chloride ions.

    Chloride Ions

    You’ve definitely heard of sodium chloride (it’s your everyday table salt: NaCl), but other commonly occurring chlorides are potassium chloride (KCl) or calcium chloride (CaCl). Common causes for elevated chloride levels may be due to:

    • Seawater entering your local water supply
    • Industrial waste entering the water supply
    • Melting snow and rain carry road salt into local reservoirs


    While chloride ions are the most likely culprit if your water tastes salty, sulfates may also be to blame. Because many sulfates occur naturally in certain soil and rocks, and as groundwater moves through the earth, these sulfates can make their way into the local water supply. 


    Finally, if sewage enters the water supply, sodium and chloride levels can spike, causing your tap water to taste salty.

    Water with a salty taste is not only unpleasant to drink, it can damage your pipes. Salty tasting water is not likely hazardous to humans, but in some cases it can cause diarrhea. People who are on reduced-sodium diets may want to take extra-precautions.

    Why Does My Water Taste Sweet?

    Oftentimes this is due to a high concentration of naturally occurring minerals–such as calcium or iron. Sweetness may also be attributed to an imbalance in your water’s alkaline or pH levels.

    Common methods to tackle a sweet taste or odor include:

  • Aeration
  • Activated carbon filters
  • Neutralization (for pH adjustment)

    Talk to a Tap Score Expert

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