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Smelly water. Black water. Rotten-egg odor. Showering in the sewer.

If you have these issues, you've come to the right place. We know what causes these situations and offer several solutions for them. Usually it's the water heater, but there are other culprits, and we know them, too, as well as how to tell which is which.

The Cause of Rotten-Egg Odor

The most common cause of smelly water is anaerobic bacteria that exist in some water and react with sulfur and the magnesium and aluminum sacrificial anodes that come with most water heaters to produce hydrogen sulfide gas, making the classic rotten egg odor. The problem is most common in well systems, either private or municipal.

Softening can make smelly water much worse. Some people blame the manufacturer and demand solutions under the warranty. But it has nothing to do with how a heater was made, just water conditions in some places. While there ARE solutions, it's up to the user to implement them.

What Not to Do to Get Rid of Smelly Hot Water

Plumbers and other techs sometimes tell people to remove the sacrificial anodes from their water heaters as a solution to smelly water. That does take away the odor, but oftentimes it will also cause your water heater to rust out. The anode is a key part of a heater's rust protection. There is a reason why removing an anode voids all the manufacturers' warranties.

Additionally, people have been told to replace a magnesium anode with an aluminum one. Don't. Pure aluminum causes as much odor as magnesium.

This Won't Fix Stinky Water Forever, But It's a Start

A temporary, but immediate solution is a couple of pints of drugstore peroxide. Shut off the cold water valve to your water heater, open a hot faucet somewhere in the house to relieve pressure, drain some water from the tank, open the plumbing on one side, and pour in one pint per 20 gallons.

Photo of bottle of drugstore-strength hydrogen peroxide

Close everything up, turn on the cold water again, and let some water run from all spigots and taps. The odor will stay away up to 10 days, then it will returnn.

Use peroxide, not chlorine bleach. Bothl work, but peroxide is much safer.

And make sure it's really the hot water that smells. There are places where there is so much sulfur in the water that both hot and cold water smell. Applying these procedures won't solve that. But if the water smells like rotten eggs, and you can smell it at every hot fixture, then this solution will usually work.

The Complete Fix, in Most Cases ...

Most of the time, replacing the standard magnesium or aluminum anode rod with an aluminum/zinc alloy anode will solve the problem. The zinc is a key ingredient, since pure aluminum anodes will also reek to high heaven. Also, some people use the terms aluminum and aluminum/zinc interchangeably. If you do that, you may not get the right product to solve the problem.

smelly water solutions
Solid hex-head aluminum/zinc anode rod
SKU1 Price: $47
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Flexible hex-head aluminum/zinc anode rod
Price: $49
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Solid combo aluminum/zinc anode rod
SKU3 Price: $51
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Flexible combo aluminum/zinc
SKU4 Price: $54
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Corro-Protec powered anode for residential water heaters that have hex-head anode rods.
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SKU5 for heaters of 10-39 gallons, Price: $150
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SKU6 for heaters of 40-89 gallons, Price: $151
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SKU7 for heaters of 90-120 gallons, Price: $160
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Corro-Protec powered anode for heaters that have combo anodes, such as most Bradford White tanks and some A.O. Smiths and States.
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SKU8 for heaters of 40-80 gallons, Price: $170,
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Brass ball valve, tee and nipples to facilitate adding hydrogen peroxide to water heaters that often sit idle.
SKU9 Price: $80
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Consultation: If in doubt, let us help. If you need a product and buy it from us within 10 days, we'll refund the fee.
SKU10 Price: $40
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For most folks, an aluminum/zinc anode is the cheapest fix for this problem and we suggest that you to try it first before considering the alternatives -- unless you soften your water.

Most people know remarkably little about their water heaters and that includes which type of anode they have. We suggest that you buy a consultation with us and we'll help you figure that part out. If we recommend a product and you buy it from us within 10 days, we'll refund the fee. It's not impossible, however, that you need NO product but just to make some simple adjustment. There is more than one cause for these odors, and we know most of them.

... But, If You Have Softened Water

We have had a few people buy an aluminum/zinc anode and the odor didn't go away. That makes everybody unhappy. We like solving problems, not just selling stuff. Some of those cases were in unsoftened water, but most involved water softeners. Softening can speed up anode consumption by increasing the conductivity of the water. That can increase the amount of hydrogen sulfide gas produced.

Some of these people thought that the anode had some secret ingredient that had been used up. But it's nothing like that. If one aluminum/zinc anode fails to solve odor issues, the next one won't do any better.

So we also offer powered anode rods. A sacrificial anode creates an electrical reaction inside a water heater as it corrodes. Technically, ions are flowing from the anode to exposed tank steel. A powered anode does that by feeding electricity into the tank. Since there is no magnesium or aluminum, there's no smell. We don't recommend them for everybody, though, because they're more expensive than sacrificial anodes. But they are permanent: they aren't sacrificial, so they don't get used up.

Another important point: powered anodes are not odor-eaters. They merely function to protect a water heater without creating any odor. So don't think it will fix anything other than rotten-egg odor. Another important point is that if you buy one from us and still have odor, we'll help you figure out what causes it. We don't think our competitors do that. We're pretty good at that.

About Anodes, Powered Anodes and Water Heaters

All anodes protect something from corroding. Here, with steel, we call that rusting. Don't lose sight of the fact that even if you're buying an anode for odor, it needs to protect the tank or the tank will rust.

We sell Corro-Protec's powered anode (SKU5, 6 and 7) made in Canada. Corro's has a short, rigid electrode. Use it for all water heaters with hex anodes, which is most of them. The different models are for heaters of different sizes.

Use SKU8 for heaters with combo anodes, such as Bradford White.

And worth mentioning again: Once in awhile aluminum/zinc anodes fail to resolve odor issues in unsoftened water, but mostly they work. It's a little bit of a gamble. We could tell everybody to buy a powered anode, but they're pricey. This is your choice, your gamble. Most people will win the bet, but it's your decision.

Now, If You Have a Vacation Cabin...

... When a heater sits idle a long time, the water can stagnate and cause the same odor, but with a different solution. Click here to learn about the Peroxide Fix.

Issues With Aluminum

We have some concerns about too much aluminum. Those issues are exactly the same with aluminum/zinc anodes, which are about 92 percent aluminum. So if you install an aluminum/zinc anode, get in the habit of running the cold water for a few seconds before drinking it or cooking with it. That will flush out any aluminum-laden water from the water heater that has cooled off in the piping since the last use.

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