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Can Brown Water Hurt You?

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Brian
03.12.13

If you’ve ever turned on the faucet first thing in the morning and been greeted by a steady flow of murky, brown water, you know that it’s a less-than-pleasant experience. It’s also a little confusing. Where did this brown water come from? Is it here to stay? Can you brush your teeth with it, or do you have to sport morning-breath today?

All good questions. Here are our best answers.  

Will the brown water kill me?

Nope. Brown or discolored water is generally caused by rust or sediment build-up, which isn’t harmful to drink. So rest easy, you can safely brush your teeth and drink the brown water (even though it’s a little gross).

Is it harmful to anything else?

Yes. Your laundry! Specifically your whites, which are more susceptible to stains than your colored loads. Avoid running your washing machine if brown water is coming out of your pipes. And definitely avoid using chlorine-based bleach, which will react with the rust and create a laundry disaster. If the brown water arrives mid-cycle, simply wash your clothes again once the rust is gone (it may be helpful to add a rust-stain remover to the load).

Where did this brown visitor come from?

It could be a few things. If your house uses municipal water, sediment and rust can be mixed into the system when a fire hydrant is used or a water main breaks (which is common during the winter). If this is the case, the sediment will usually dissipate within a few hours. Brown water can also be caused by rust inside the pipes of older houses. If you often have brown water first thing in the morning, or only in certain faucets, rusty pipes are probably responsible.

How do I get rid of brown water?

If the issue is caused by outside activity (like a water main break), the problem will usually go away in a few hours. If it doesn’t, contact your local water utility and let them know – they’ll generally be able to help you out. If the brown water is coming from your pipes, the only way to completely remove the problem is to replace the pipes, which is expensive. Since the rust won’t harm your health, and the discoloration usually goes away throughout the day, it may be in your best interest to let the brown water be! But, if you truly can’t stand it, have a professional plumber assess the situation.  

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