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Why does my water smell like fish?

Fish in a glass

Key facts: 

  • A fishy smell can be caused by some elements like Barium or Cadmium metals.
  • Chloramine is a compound of chlorine and ammonia used to disinfect public water sources. Unfortunately, it can cause an unwanted fishy odor in your water.
  • You may notice an increase in smells like this during the summertime because algae blooms are more prevalent in lakes and water reservoirs when in direct sunlight and in warm water.
  • The long term solution to this smell will likely have to come from your local water supplier.

Have you noticed your water smells like fish?

An unwanted smell coming from your drinking water is often the sign of bigger issues plaguing your tap or pipes. If you are noticing a fish smell in your water, this is likely due to naturally occurring organic material that has found its way into your water source. Often this smell does not signify the presence of a harmful contaminant, but it could indicate that your drinking water is not the cleanest and should be inspected to restore it to its purest state.

What Causes The Smell?

The main reason for an odd or fishy smell coming from your tap water is the presence of naturally occurring, organic material found in your water source. Barium is a metal that exists in mineral ores and can seep into wells and pipes causing a foul smell in your drinking water. Cadmium is another metal that finds its way into pipes through industrial waste or fertilizer contamination.

Another cause of this fish smell is the combination of chlorine and ammonia which together create a compound called Chloramine. This is often used to disinfect public water sources and can sometimes produce an unpleasant aroma in your water.

Finally, if you’re noticing the smell in the summertime, it is likely being caused by algal blooms. Lakes and reservoirs often see an increase in algae blooming on the surface of the water when there is plenty of warmth and direct sunlight. Although water treatment plants rid the water of the algae, the particles that cause the fishy smell can sometimes be detected by people who are overly sensitive to musty or mildew like smells. The presence of these particles don’t pose any direct threat to your health, but it is still a good idea to alert your water company of the issue to get more information and understand if it’s a known issue.

What Should You Do?

Because the smell is commonly caused by organic material in your pipes or well, there is little you can do yourself to fix the issue. You can try flushing your pipes to rid them of any debris or loose contaminants that may be causing the issue, but the problem likely requires a more complex solution. A professional may recommend increasing chlorine levels in your water source or well to balance out the influx of organic material.

For most people, drinking water comes from a public water company and you can give them a call to discuss the issue with them directly. However, if you use a private well, you will have to call a specialist that can come to inspect your well.

To test if the smell is coming from your well or your pipes use this trick: pour a glass of tap water and go into the other room. Swirl the glass around a few times and then take a whif. If you can’t detect the fishy smell, it is likely coming from organic material in your pipes rather than contamination from your well.

Cleaning Your Drinking Water

The smell in your water is probably harmless, but can be irritating to put up with. Many carbon or UV filtered water coolers can reduce the presence of bacteria or contaminants and may improve the smell of your water in the short term. Waterlogic offers many bottleless water cooler options for your office. Take a look at our water dispenser range or request your quote for a water cooler.