What’s floating in my tap water?
You’ve noticed little flakes or other particulate matter floating in your water glass or bathtub, and you’re worried that, whatever they are, they might be dangerous to your family’s health. Take a closer look to figure out what’s going on.
How to identify what those particles are.
The easiest way to identify the particles is figure out what color they are. Usually, they are one of the following colors:
- White or Tan Particles — These are probably calcium or magnesium carbonate, common minerals that occur naturally in hard water. They can also flush through your plumbing from your water heater.
- Brown or Orange Particles — These particles are usually dirt, sand, or rust. If you have well water, they are likely dirt or sand from your well. If they are hard and irregular shaped, they could be rust from the pipes in your home or the municipal water mains. Brown flakes could also be a symptom of a malfunctioning water softener.
- Black Particles — Black specks typically indicate something in your system needs repair. Small, hard particles likely come from an old or malfunctioning water filter. Solid, rubbery particles indicate a degrading faucet washer or gasket. Tar-like particles that smear between your fingers point to a disintegrating supply line hose.
Are these particles hazardous to my health?
The good news is, none of these particles pose any serious health risk, though hard water minerals can result in dry, itchy skin.
Particles can indicate a risk to your home.
- White and tan particles are hard water minerals, and they can build up over time in your pipes, and especially in your hot water heater. Mineral deposits could shorten your water heater’s life significantly, and clog your pipes.
- Brown and orange particles can also damage your pipes. They also cause foul smelling and tasting water.
- Black particles are a warning sign that something is going wrong in your system, and should be diagnosed and repaired quickly.
How to get rid of particles in your water
- Removing white or tan particles will require one or both of the following solutions, and both require professional intervention:
- Install a water softener.
- Repair or service your water heater.
- To remove brown or orange particles, it will depend on their source:
- Dirt and sand from a gravel well can be removed by replacing the screen; from a sandstone well, you can replace the liner.
- Rust removal requires a professional to address the issue. If the rust is in your pipes, as indicated when you run hot water, you’ll need to hire a plumber. If it’s from your city water main, report the issue to your local water department.
- Getting rid of black particles may also require a professional to diagnose and remediate the issue, though a confident do-it-yourselfer can replace washers, gaskets, and supply lines on their own if they wish.