Why Is Dirty Water Coming Out of My Faucets?

dirty water coming out of faucet

If brown or rust-colored water has just started coming out of your faucets, you’re probably thinking what most people would: “Oh no, is there a problem with my pipes?” The good news is that suddenly “bouts” of dirty water aren’t uncommon, and they don’t always involve an astronomical plumbing repair.

Below, we’ll explain the typical causes behind water that goes from clean to dirty in a home and what the best course of action usually is in each scenario.


1. The city is performing maintenance on municipal water lines.

This is the most common cause behind water that suddenly goes from clean to dirty. Your home gets water through a pipe called the water main line. This pipe is connected to one of your town or community’s municipal water lines.

Over time, particles like rust, dirt, and sediment collect along municipal water line walls. Normally, water just flows over them. However, when the city performs maintenance, this can create a pressure change that kicks up all those particles into the water supply. As a result, those particles can travel from the city water line to your water main line and end up in the water you use at home.

Fortunately, this problem clears up on its own in a few hours. The only thing you need to do is avoid using hot water so that the water inside your water heater can stay clean.

2. Your water main line has cracked.

Any water that your household uses gets to your home through your water main line. If you water main line breaks, this can allow soil to get into your water supply and make the water dirty.

Water main lines can break for several reasons: age, shifting soil, earthquakes, invasive tree roots, etc. Fixing your water line is most likely going to involve some excavation, so it’s best to involve a licensed plumber. This will help ensure that any work done is up to code and less likely to damage other areas of your property.

3. Your tank water heater needs a new sacrificial anode rod.

Does dirty water come out only when you’re using hot water? Then the problem most likely has to do with your water heater. The first place to look is the sacrificial anode rod.

The sacrificial anode rod protects your tank water heater’s interior from rusting by corroding in its place. Depending on your water quality, these metallic rods can last three to five years before the metal is basically eaten up. Once that happens, the inside of your tank will start to corrode, and pieces of rust can flake off and discolor your water.

Replacing a sacrificial anode rod can be a DIY job, but you need to be sure to buy the correct type for your water heater, along with installing it properly. If you’re worried about performing the replacement incorrectly, a plumber can also do it for you.

4. Your tank water heater needs to be replaced.

If a tank water heater is extremely old or has gone too long without a sacrificial anode rod replacement, it can have extensive corrosion problems. So much rust can form on the interior tank walls that flakes of rust can start infiltrating a home’s hot water supply. This can give the water an orange or reddish color.

Rusty tank walls create an additional issue: the metal can become extremely brittle, which makes it prone to breaking and leaking. Once your water heater tank starts leaking, there is no long-term way to repair it, so you will need to replace your entire water heater.

5. Your home has corroding galvanized steel pipes.

This problem is more common in older homes. Many homes built before the 1960s have water supply pipes made out of galvanized steel. Now that so many decades have passed, the pipes’ protective zinc coating has worn off, allowing them to start corroding on the inside.

As rust builds up inside the pipes, it can start to discolor your water. It also restricts your pipes’ diameter, which can lead to water pressure problems and make the pipes at a higher risk for bursting and leaking. Before a major leak makes an emergency repair necessary, consult a plumber to see what kind of repiping options would be best for your budget, water quality, and the climate you live in.

At Green Planet Plumbing & Sewer, LLC, we pride ourselves on quality plumbing repairs and installations throughout Seattle and the surrounding areas. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (206) 207-7625 or contact us online!

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