Source of Rusty Water
Home Improvement

How to Find the Source of Rusty Water


Seeing rusty water from your tap is more than just visually unappealing; it brings health and plumbing safety concerns.

Understanding its cause and solutions might seem daunting. This article aims to clarify the science behind rusty water, providing a systematic process to identify its source and offering actionable remediation strategies.

Furthermore, we’ll discuss preventive measures to protect your plumbing from future rust issues. Let’s enhance your plumbing safety and ensure clear water flow every time you turn on the tap.

Understanding Rusty Water

Rusty water is generally a result of oxidised iron particles, a process known as hydrolysis. This occurs when iron comes into contact with both oxygen and water, forming hydrated iron oxide or rust. The rust gives the water its distinctive reddish-brown colour.

Iron contamination can arise from various sources. It could be from your home’s ageing iron pipes, seepage from the soil into well water, or even from an outdated municipal water supply infrastructure.

While typically not harmful if consumed, rusty water can cause practical problems. It can give the water a metallic taste and stain fixtures and laundry.

Additionally, rust corrosion can compromise your plumbing system’s integrity. Health-wise, in rare instances, consuming water with high iron content over a long period can lead to iron overload, a serious health condition.

However, the main issue with rusty water is that it often signals underlying plumbing issues that require attention.

Conducting a Visual Inspection

A visual inspection serves as the preliminary step in diagnosing the issue of rusty water. This process involves running water from each tap in your house and observing its colour.

If the rusty colour is visible in all taps, it suggests the problem might be with the main supply. However, if only a specific tap displays rusty water, it narrows down the issue to a particular section of your plumbing or fixture. It’s also important to note the time when the discolouration occurs – rusty water in the morning or after a period of disuse might also point to internal pipe corrosion.

Checking the Water Heater

If you only notice rusty water when you’re running the hot tap, this could indicate a potential issue with your water heater. This is often traced back to the build-up of sediment accumulated over time at the bottom of the heater.

This sediment primarily consists of minerals present in water, which can corrode and rust – a problem typically seen in older heaters. These minerals tend to settle at the bottom of the heater when they are heated, especially in areas known for hard water, leading to rust formation over time.

If you wish to establish whether your water heater is causing the issue, try expelling a few buckets of hot water from the unit. If the water coming out has a rusty colour, it’s a good indication that your heater might need to be professionally inspected.

Dealing with water heaters can be a complex and sometimes fairly dangerous task, requiring some expertise, so it’s usually a good idea to call a professional plumber.

Periodically flushing your water heater prevents the build-up of sediment and extends its lifespan, so it’s good to make that a regular routine.

Assessing the Pipes

Frequently, rusty water is a harbinger of ageing iron pipes succumbing to corrosion. Houses older than 20 years, retaining their original plumbing, may require pipe assessment. Visible signs of corrosion can include discolouration or flaking.

However, as most of your plumbing is concealed behind walls, it could necessitate the services of a professional plumber for a comprehensive evaluation and potential pipe replacement.

Water Quality Testing

Performing a water quality test is key to identifying whether your local supply is the origin of your rusty water.

Both DIY kits and professional services are available for this purpose. The procedure usually involves collecting a water sample from the tap showing the most signs of rust.

This sample then goes through various tests, potentially including a reaction with certain reagents or lab analysis.

Iron, amongst other potential contaminants, can be detected via a method known as colourimetry. This process involves a colour change proportionate to the iron concentration, indicating the presence of iron or iron bacteria.

While not harmful, these microorganisms can cause unpleasant tastes and odours and potentially clog pipes.

Knowing how to test water quality and interpreting the results is a crucial, hands-on skill. This know-how ensures you can confidently manage your water health, which plays a direct role in maintaining your family’s well-being and preserving your plumbing system’s longevity.

External Factors

External factors might also play a role in the occurrence of rusty water. Construction activities near your water supply lines can unsettle sediments, while a sudden alteration in the water flow direction can cause rust to dislodge and discolour the water.

Furthermore, seasonal fluctuations can affect water quality factors, with increased temperatures accelerating rusting rates, especially in iron pipes.

Consulting with Professionals Plumbers

Though there are many DIY methods available, there’s no substitute for the skills of an expert plumber when dealing with complex plumbing issues.

These experts, equipped with specialised tools and years of experience, can comprehensively examine your plumbing system, including hard-to-reach places, and accurately identify the exact cause of the rusty water.

Whether it’s corroded pipes, a malfunctioning water heater, or other problems, licensed plumbers can propose and implement the most effective solutions.

But the role of a reliable plumber doesn’t stop at just resolving the issue – they also provide invaluable advice on preventive measures, helping to ensure the long-term intactness of your plumbing system and the quality of your water.

Taking Preventive Measures

In the long run, preventive measures can save you from recurring issues with rusty water and protect your plumbing and health.

You might consider the installation of a water softener, which reduces the mineral content in the water that often contributes to rust and scale build-up.

Additionally, a filtration system can help remove suspended iron particles before they have a chance to oxidise and cause rust.

Regularly scheduled maintenance is another critical preventive measure. This enables early detection and repair of potential issues before they escalate, ensuring the durability and longevity of your water heater and plumbing system.

Remember, maintenance is not just about repairing but proactively preventing problems.

From a broader perspective, understanding the dynamics of your water, such as its pH and hardness, is beneficial.

These factors can influence the rate of corrosion in your pipes and appliances. Having this knowledge helps you choose the most appropriate treatment methods and preventive strategies tailored to your unique circumstances.


Rusty water can be unsettling, but it’s usually more of a nuisance than a health hazard. However, it is a sign that something needs attention in your plumbing system.

From conducting visual checks to consulting with an expert plumber, there are several steps you can take to identify the source of rusty water. Preventive measures can also protect your plumbing system, ensuring clean, clear water flows from your taps.

Remember, your home’s plumbing is a crucial infrastructure that requires care, and any signs of trouble, like rusty water, should never be ignored.

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