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At its best, rusty water in your home can be a nuisance, but at its worst, it can mean a pretty costly problem. Generally speaking, rusty water isn’t considered hazardous to your health, but it can be annoying and inconvenient. It can make your water smell, cause skin rashes, and even stain your clothing, not to mention that it just looks unappealing. It can be unnerving to look into your cup right before you take a long swig only to see gritty, reddish-brown water swirling around. Worse yet is looking down at your feet in the shower and wondering where all of that color came from!

What to Do About Rusty Water

(Pixabay / stevepb)

Your water may take on a rust-colored tinge if it has a lot of tiny minerals and iron particles present. There are a couple of reasons why you might have rusty water. Fortunately, depending on which reason is affecting you, there are a few things you can do.

If only the hot water is rusty, check on your water heater.

There are two main causes for rust in your water heater: a broken glass shield and naturally-occurring sediment. Inside of your water heater, there is usually a glass shield that prevents the outer metal wall from coming in contact with any water. If that shield cracks, water can reach the outer wall and start corroding it, which results in rust in your water.

If your shield isn’t broken, but you still have rust in your water, it’s probably due to naturally occurring sediment in the water. As the water gets pumped into your water heater, it often has minuscule particulates that come along for the ride. Since the sediment is heavier than the water, it settles in the bottom of your water heater, but it gets stirred up whenever new water is pumped into the tank. In addition to coloring your water, if there’s too much sediment, it could mean that you run out of hot water faster than you should because the sediment is taking up so much space at the bottom of the heater.

To fix the problem of rust in your water heater, you need to flush out the heater entirely. You can do this by turning off the water to your water heater, turning on a hot water faucet inside of your house to keep the pressure stable, and then opening the drain on your water heater. Make sure that you have some kind of basin or tub to catch all of the running water. The movement of the water leaving the water heater through its drain should pull a lot of the sediment out, but you probably won’t be done on the first go-round. Insert a long, thin brush into the drain and scrub around on the bottom of the water heater to loosen up more sediment and rust, and then attach a garden hose to the drain to flush out the water heater again. Do this several times, and your water should start running clear.

If it’s not your water heater, it may be your pipes.

If your home is older, you might run into rusty water originating in your pipes. Try turning on
three to four cold water faucets full blast for about 15 minutes. If your water isn’t running clear at this point, wait a half-hour, and try the process again. If that fails to solve the problem, you may want to talk to an experienced plumber about your options for replacing pipes within your home.

If both hot and cold turn brown suddenly, it’s probably not a problem originating at your house.

The majority of rusty water is caused by outside influences, and most are only temporary. The first thing you should do is call your water supply company and ask them if they know of any disturbances. These could come in the form of a water main breakage, someone using a fire hydrant, or the supply company doing some maintenance. There could also be a problem on a construction site nearby or street sweeping operations happening in the area. Your water supply company should be able to tell you what’s happening and how long you can expect to see rusty water in your pipes.

What if you can’t determine the problem?

If your pipes and water heater are in tip-top shape and the water supply company doesn’t know of any disturbances in your area, your next course of action is to call an experienced plumber. They will be able to assess the quality of your pipes both inside and outside of your home and give you a plan of action to correct the problem.