rusty water in bathtub

Why Is My Faucet Water Suddenly Dirty?

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Have you turned on the faucet to discover that the water coming out is murky brown, a rusty orange-red color, or full of little particles? Don’t panic just yet. While sometimes dirty water does indicate a problem with your home’s plumbing, there could be other factors at play.

When a home’s water suddenly becomes dirty, the cause is typically one of these things:

  • City maintenance on local plumbing systems
  • Corrosion in your tank water heater
  • Aging plumbing pipes
  • A broken water main line

We’ll explain each of these situations in detail below and talk about when to involve a professional plumber.


1. City maintenance on local plumbing systems

Every so often, your city needs to perform maintenance on its water lines. The problem is that city water lines can build up a lot of particles, such as sediment, dirt, and rust. The pressure changes created during city plumbing maintenance can disturb these particles and stir them up into the water supply.

As a result, those particles can travel from city water lines to your water supply line. Then, when you turn on the water, you may see dirty water with all those particles coming out. You might also notice an initial “sputter” or interrupted flow when you first turn on the water.

Here’s the good news: this problem will go away on its own, most likely in a few hours or less. Until the problem goes away, refrain from using your water heater so that you can keep the water inside of it as clean as possible.

To prevent future water quality problems of this nature (that are out of your control), you may want to consider installing a point-of-entry water filtration system for your home. Typically, this type of system is installed in your home’s basement and filters all the water coming into your home from the water main line.

2. Corrosion in your tank water heater

Your water heater would rust completely through in short order if it weren’t for two key features:

  • A glass lining on the tank’s interior
  • The sacrificial anode rod

The sacrificial anode rod is a rod made of zinc, magnesium, or aluminum inside your water heater’s tank. Because zinc, magnesium, and aluminum are materials that corrode faster than the other metals in your water heater, the rod ends up attracting the forces that cause corrosion. Essentially, the rod “sacrifices” itself by corroding so that the rest of your water heater won’t.

However, these rods only last 3 to 5 years, and once they wear out, your water heater can start to corrode. This can cause flakes of rust to enter your hot water supply. The telltale sign of this problem is orange- or red-tinged water coming out of a faucet when the hot water is turned on.

If you have some plumbing prowess, it is possible to find the right sacrificial anode rod replacement and replace it yourself. This is also a task that a plumber can easily perform for you. If replacing the rod does not solve the problem, your water heater may have a severe corrosion issue, which could make it prone to leaks. In that situation, it’s generally best to start looking for a new water heater before a major leak occurs.

3. Aging plumbing pipes

If you own a home built before the 1960s, its water supply pipes might be made out of galvanized steel. Galvanized steel pipes were designed with a protective zinc coating to keep the metal from corroding. Unfortunately, that coating wears off as the pipes age, and the corrosion on these pipes begins on the inside, where you can’t see it.

As rust starts to build up on a pipe’s interior, pieces can flake off into your water supply, giving the water that comes out of your faucet a reddish or orangish tinge. In this instance, it’s best to involve a plumber to repipe your home with a more durable material.

4. A broken water main line

Your water main line is an underground pipe that connects your home to your city’s water lines. Even though a water main line can last a long time, sometimes they can break due to problems like earth movements, shifting soil, or invasive tree roots. When this happens, soil can start infiltrating your otherwise clean water supply.

When your water line breaks, you’ll need to contact a plumber to repair or replace the pipe. This will most likely involve excavation—digging into the ground to perform the repair or replacement.

No job is too big or too small for the friendly Columbus plumbers at The Rooter Works Plumbing and Drains! Don’t hesitate to contact us onlineor give us a call at (614) 412-3324">(614) 412-3324 to see how we can help you.