View Full Version : OT: Water that stinks

12-31-2008, 01:20 AM
I very recently installed a new water heater as part of my system upgrade with the well water preheat apparatus. For the last few weeks we have had a problem that has become absolutely intolerable. The hot water smells like something died in it, the rich aroma of rotten eggs which is especially noticeable when taking a shower.

I did some research and it turns out that the problem is being caused by the new water heater. Most water heaters contain a long magnesium anode rod that is installed in a fitting at the top of the tank. It is meant to act as a sacrificial anode to prevent corrosion of the actual tank. However, if your water is hard as ours is and contains sulphates as ours does then a reaction will take place that produces hydrogen sulphide gas. This dissolves in the water and is released into the air from the water. Boy, does it ever stink.

The solution is to remove the anode rod and replace the plug in the top of the tank. With very hard water the water is alkaline and will form a deposit on the walls of the tank that actually protect it from corrosion anyway. The anode rod is only required for acid water conditions. I took the rod out tonight after having to make a special 1 1/16" socket using my CNC mill. What a pain! Whoever installed that part must think it is responsible for holding the Earth in orbit. I had to not only make a socket to fit but it took a three foot cheater to break it loose. It would have been nice if they had included a warning tag to inform me about this possibility. Fortunately there was just barely enough room over the tank to remove the anode.

The upside to this problem is that I now have a 5/8" 3 foot long magnesium rod with only minor corrosion to play with.

12-31-2008, 01:40 AM
Had the same problem but in reverse, no rod cam with the new hot water tank, same unbelievably tight plug though, was not sure I was even going to get it out. The rod cost another $47 (Then) :(

Magnesium machines beautifully.

Doc Nickel
12-31-2008, 01:47 AM
Just keep in mind the rods usually (but not always) have a core wire, so that uneven erosion of the anode doesn't eventually cause it to fall into pieces.

But other than that, it's basically pure mag. They make great DIY camp firestarters.


12-31-2008, 01:53 AM
They make great DIY camp firestarters.

That too :D

I did a machining job with magnesium some time back and kept all the cuttings, burns real hot, I have heard , don't know if true, that it burns hotter the the sun.

12-31-2008, 01:56 AM
I can sympathize with your plight Evan, went through the same thing a long time ago. What a stench, you don't even want to take a bath in it never mind get any in your mouth when you brush your teeth!

I'm glad to see they haven't lowered the torque requirements for that frigging anode. I believe I used a 1" torque multiplier wrench for freeing that sob from the tank. If I remember right the biggest hurdle was securing the tank so that I wouldn't rip the plumbing off of it. :D

Doc Nickel
12-31-2008, 02:44 AM
[...] I have heard , don't know if true, that it burns hotter the the sun.

-Um, not true. Not even close. :)

Magnesium burns at several thousand degrees- hot, yes, but the sun is in the millions.


12-31-2008, 02:46 AM
-Um, not true. Not even close. :)

Magnesium burns at several thousand degrees- hot, yes, but the sun is in the millions.

Well that's pretty close :D

EDIT: According to Wikipedia, it burns at 4000F

12-31-2008, 03:12 AM
The sun's surface is 5800K or about 10,000 degrees, F.

12-31-2008, 05:08 AM
However, the surface temperature of a sunspot is around 4000K and the maximum adiabatic flame temperature of a magnesium flame is about 3600C. Convert to Kelvin and that is about 3900K. Pretty close.

Well, this morning will be the acid test, so to speak, when wife takes her shower. No stink=happy wife.

Speaking of acid, the H2S gas combines with dissolved oxygen in the water to create H2SO4 which is sulphuric acid. It can quickly cause heavy damage to metal plumbing.

12-31-2008, 06:16 AM
As it seems to be topical to complain about water quality and how tough it is etc. etc. just by pure co-incidence, two "On topic" emails came in about an hour ago within ten minutes of each other.

Here they are - just as I received them.

Happy watering.

An Interesting fact of life brought to you free!

As Ben Franklin said:
"In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria".

In a number of carefully controlled trials, scientists have
demonstrated that if we drink 1 liter of water each day, at the end of the year we would have absorbed more than 1 kilo of Escherichia coli, (E. coli) - bacteria found in feces.

In other words, we are consuming 1 kilo of poop.

However, we do NOT run that risk when drinking wine & beer (or tequila, rum, whiskey or other liquor) because alcohol has to go through a purification process of boiling, filtering and/or fermenting.

Remember: Water = Poop, Wine = Health

Therefore, it's better to drink wine and talk stupid, than to drink water and be full of ****.

There is no need to thank me for this valuable information: I'm doing it as a public service.

Subject: Very interesting history lesson!

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

Here are some facts about England in the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour.

Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.

Hence the saying: "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water".

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.

Hence the saying: "It's raining cats and dogs".

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung
over the top afforded some protection.

That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt.

Hence the saying, Dirt poor.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in
the entranceway.

Hence the saying about a thresh hold.

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold
overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while.

Hence the rhyme, "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old".

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon.

They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat".

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years
or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the "upper crust".

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the
family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up.

Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave... When reopening these coffins, some of the coffins were found to have scratch marks on the
inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to
listen for the bell.

Thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a ... "dead ringer".

And that's the truth. Now, whoever said History was boring ! ! !

Educate someone. Share these facts with a friend.

12-31-2008, 06:52 AM
Had that problem when I lived in the San Joaquin Valley in Ca..

STINKY... We Drank only Bottled Water... and during a Shower the Smell was terrible..

Glad I Live Up Here Now, Only Sweet tasting Hard Water to Deal with.

Lot Of Build up in Water Heater, but that is easy to Clean Out...

Water Softener is an option, but You Have it Handled ..

John Stevenson
12-31-2008, 07:06 AM
Turn some fresh shavings off a magnesium bar, scrunch up in your hand to fine shavings and throw it over the shoulder of someone welding, Torker ? :D

Causes a right hoot.................


12-31-2008, 07:47 AM
My compliments to Evan on his diagnosis. Sure took me a lot longer to figure it out. Our problem in this area started when they changed the chemistry of the anode. We used a 3/4" air impact to loosen them. A large bolt cutter solved the anode length problem. We just put the fitting back in with the anode removed. The bad news is that you can't get to the anode on the new water heaters. Here the reaction is actually micro organisms feeding on the anode. In sevier cases we installed a chlorinator. In less sevier cases we just used perodic chlorination of the water well. In our basic water chemestry tank failures were almost unheard of.

Doc Nickel
12-31-2008, 07:50 AM
The sun's surface is 5800K or about 10,000 degrees, F.

-High school was a long time ago. :D The core temperature is in the millions- it'd have to be, else the fusion couldn't take place. (Well, that and the pressure, etc.)

But speaking of magnesium, I have a few small pieces I've been "saving" for a special project... But I have yet to run across a project I need magnesium for. It's a bit lighter than aluminum, sure, but I don't have any RC cars or RC planes or balloon-lofted toys where a few grams make a difference.

So what should I use it for? I mean, in what sort of small home-shop type jobs would I need mag instead of aluminum?

Not that I need to use this stuff up or anything. :D


12-31-2008, 08:52 AM
I haven't given it any thought yet but I suspect I will think of something to use it for besides making extraordinarily bright lights that scare the neighbours.

Interesting thing about the sun, the corona, or atmosphere, has a temperature over a million degrees. While this was noted a long time ago we still don't know why it is so. As for the visible surface of the sun called the photosphere, it is a good approximation of a vacuum near the top of the visible surface. Even hundreds of kilometers deep it is no denser than our atmosphere. When we look at the sun with a telescope using a nickel filter or H Alpha filter we see massive granulation cells (turbulence features). They are not flat surface features because the sun has no surface. We can see several hundred kilometers into the sun before the plasma density becomes high enough to absorb most photons. It is for this reason that the solar disc is observed to have darkened limbs. Light emitted from the sun mostly originates below the visible "surface" and on the limbs must take a longer path through the plasma to reach us.

12-31-2008, 09:03 AM
So what should I use it for? I mean, in what sort of small home-shop type jobs would I need mag instead of aluminum?

You use it for sounding hi-Tech like Billet.
Yes, I made this from Magnesium Billet, how cool is that :D

12-31-2008, 09:06 AM
The engine covers on my Honda XL250 motorcycle were cast magnesium. I never knew why this material was chosen for an application where cast aluminum would have been appropriate.

John Stevenson
12-31-2008, 09:07 AM
I have 6 bars here 2- 1/2" diameter by 36" long delivered in error for T6.
They redelivered the T6 but never collected the Electron as we call it here and that was about 12 years ago.
Only useful thing i have ever made out of it was 4 hubcaps for a vintage Alvis and there must be 5 1/2 bars here somewhere

12-31-2008, 09:13 AM
Aostling, I believe the covers were likely die cast this is where magnesium has advantages over aluminum.

12-31-2008, 09:14 AM
Just to add some real machining content here is a picture of the socket I made.


BTW Ken, your parts are in the mail.

12-31-2008, 09:57 AM
BTW Ken, your parts are in the mail.

Nice, I will let you know when they arrive.

12-31-2008, 12:15 PM
Success! Wife says the water smells normal. She also says the pressure is higher and the water is hotter. Funny, I didn't adjust those items. :D

Liger Zero
12-31-2008, 12:17 PM
Success! Wife says the water smells normal. She also says the pressure is higher and the water is hotter. Funny, I didn't adjust those items. :D

Maybe you bumped the valve or the thermo when you were wrenching? :)

12-31-2008, 12:35 PM
Impossible. I have the old insulation jacket from the old heater wrapped around the new heater. I have to remove it to access those controls, which I did not. :)

12-31-2008, 01:35 PM
Probably an increase in flow which would give the illusion of an increase in pressure.

12-31-2008, 01:39 PM
More likely an increase in shower enjoyment.

12-31-2008, 03:47 PM
'Increase in shower enjoyment'- our water here is good, drinkable directly from the tap, but there was a filter installed inline with the incoming from the street. It was a bear to open this up, but when I did get it open I found no filter inside. Long story short, I intalled a filter and found that it was nicer to shower with filtered water.

Magnesium- I had a bar of it with my camping supplies, and one day we were out, had a fire going, drinking beer- there I am quietly filing away on the piece of magnesium. (yes, I had a file in my kit as well as vice grips, etc). Anyway I got a good pile of it, went up to the fire and said a few words of mumbo jumbo into the smoke and tossed the handful in. Needles to say I couldn't see well for several minutes after that-

12-31-2008, 04:16 PM
Why would you need a filter? Chilliwack is said to have the purest water in North America. The aquifer runs through a giant natural gravel and sand filter bed for miles before it is pumped up.

12-31-2008, 10:27 PM
Why would you need a filter? Chilliwack is said to have the purest water in North America. The aquifer runs through a giant natural gravel and sand filter bed for miles before it is pumped up.

A sediment filter is a good idea on any municipal water system.The minute a line breaks somewhere sand and rust end up in the water.

That ends up in the ice maker,toliet valves and dishwasher inlet screens stopping them solid.

This happened to me two years ago.Took the better part of a day to clean everything out.

12-31-2008, 10:35 PM
Evan - I just changed the water heater in my second home over in Oroville, eastern WA, and the water there is quite hard as is yours. I didn't check the anode of the old one but since the water is softened prior to heating there's not doubt it was long gone. After reading your post I did some searching and nobody recommends removing the anode as that will cause early failure of the tank. What is your take on that? I'm considering a powered anode rather than the standard version.

It will be interesting to see what the water smells like after us being away for a few weeks - it had no problem with smell after two weeks of operation.

01-01-2009, 02:20 AM
The anode in mine is more corroded than I thought. I knocked the rod over this evening and about .050" of crud fell off exposing bare metal. At that rate the anode would have lasted perhaps another 2 to 3 months at most.

So, my take on it is that somebody doesn't have a clue what happens with hard water. The old tank wasn't leaking and it is at least 30 years old. If it had an anode it is surely gone by now. Alkali water does not eat steel and does not transport Fe so the tank will not dissolve. Acid water does attack iron and that is what the anodic protection system is meant to deal with. Cities tend to have acid water. The people who design these thing tend to live in cities. City people tend to be absolutely clueless about what happens outside a city. They think the entire planet looks like downtown. Any place that doesn't is some sort of theme park.

As it happens you can replace the magnesium rod with aluminum if you insist on having anodic protection. It will not generate H2S.

Also, whether it will stink or not depends on whether your water contains sulphates. Not all hard water does.

01-01-2009, 10:09 AM
Evan, your success MAY be transitory, and I will attempt to explain. It is a bit involved, so please bear with me. In most hard water containing sulphates, there occurs also an organism: desuphovibrio desuphuricans. It is an obligate anerobe and therefore not very active. It is the basis for MOST of the "rotten egg" complaints in domestic water systems. It tends to thrive in the bottom of hot water tanks, where it reduces suphate ion and produces H2S, which reacts with water to form suphurOUS acid, which attacks most metal surfaces, particularly iron. When tanks are manufactured, they are "glass lined" by firing a vitrious frit in an oven. this process produces a NEARLY impervious coating. The process does leave pinholes, and the anode is installed in the tank to provide protection to the pinholes which, in a perfect world, it would do for years. Enter the plumber. The CORRECT way to hook up a water tank, is to install insulbushings, (originally nylon, ) between the copper pipe and the steel tank to prevent galvanic attack on the tank threads. The plumber had either never heard of insulbushings or did not believe in them and it was faster to just use a 3/4x1/2 galvanized bushing or a 3/4x 3/4 NPTx solder fitting. Either of these he installed with a good -sized pipe wrench, which in most cases crazed the glass lining a little bit--but not to worry, the anode will protect it. Remember that you used a 3-foot cheater bar?
Once the organism goes to work, it rapidly destroys the anode, and then begins on the tank. This can be demonstrated by draining some water from the bottom of the tank--it will run black from iron suphide particles. The tank is doomed, it is only a matter of time.
Ontario Hydro paid for extensive research into this particular problem back in the '60s. Municipal Utilities were big time renters of hot water tanks, and "smelly water" complaints caused them no end of grief. They found two things: 1) Water softeners caused the total and rapid consuption of the anodes and that they did no good. Their cure was to provide stone-lined rental tanks to people with water softeners. 2) there was NO evidence that the anode contributed to the production of H2S. For it to happen, the magnesium would have to reduce the sulphate ion, and in the environment within a domestic hot water tank there was not enough energy to drive the reaction.
There was one other circumstance that guaranteed that this was not a problem-Everdur hot water tanks-but most people could not/would not afford them.
If you have permanently solved your problem, GREAT. If it recurs, I recommend that you install an ultraviolet sterilizer on your well supply,assuming that you have virtually no iron in your supply. If you do have iron present then, as we say in Quebec, "that is another pair of sleeves!"

01-01-2009, 11:20 AM
there was NO evidence that the anode contributed to the production of H2S. For it to happen, the magnesium would have to reduce the sulphate ion, and in the environment within a domestic hot water tank there was not enough energy to drive the reaction.

I just typed a long reply adressing various of your points. I accidentally hit ctrl-n and deleted it so here is the short version.

The primary diagnostic is that the smell only occurs in the hot water. If bacteria from the well are responsible then it will also occur when the cold water is heated.

From a report by:


Public Health Service

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Hydrogen sulfide may occur naturally in well water, and can be formed in hot water heaters, giving household hot tap water an unpleasant odor. Formation of hydrogen sulfide can occur by the reduction of sulfates in the water by sulfur bacteria, which can thrive in the warm environment of the hot water heater, or by reaction with the magnesium anode in the hot water heater tank (MDH 2004).

There is no biological activity in our well water. I have done bacterial assays and have found nothing. I am well accquainted with the appropriate techniques. We live at the top of a hill in a sparsely populated area and our well is 350 feet deep. Bacterial contamination is very unlikely and the evidence does not support it.

The tank is doomed, it is only a matter of time.

Well, yes. The Earth is doomed too and it's only a matter of time.

The old tank was about 30 years old as is the pressure tank. Neither leak.

Optics Curmudgeon
01-01-2009, 01:52 PM
Can't comment on stink or tank rot, but I've seen the result of hard well water on (in) a water heater. Our last house was in rural New Jersey and I had the lower element in our electric water heater go open. When I removed it I found the tank had 12 inches of mineral chips on the bottom, the minerals would build up on the heating elements until they were about .062 inch thick or so, then crack and fall off. Years of this happening had built up quite a deposit in the bottom of the tank. The bottom element was overheating from being buried in the stuff. I got quite a bit of it to flush out of the element hole, but that didn't solve the problem in the long run. Just one of the little things we had to put up with to live there.


01-01-2009, 03:07 PM
Evan - you will loose your warranty. As far as removing the rod, use an impact wrench, air or electric. No need to make a new plug. Just cut off the rod where it connects to the plug and use the top part as your new plug.

01-01-2009, 04:09 PM
As for your next tank lasting 30 years...don't count on it. We live in a 10 year old house and I just had my water heater start leaking a month or so ago. It was a bad month for appliances in the Carpenter houshold, but I won't bore you with that. In any case, because of its location, it was one of the high-efficiency, power vented models and cost way too much to replace. I hope the next one lasts longer, but I am not holding my breath. In short, if a coating on the surface of the inside of the heater were adequate, then the porcelain coating that they come with should make them last forever. Its inert and more importantly is glazed and far less porus. Its not, however, perfect.

We live in Limestone Township here in Illinois, with lots of limestone in the ground and our water is *very* hard. Don't count on that preventing galvanic action. They make an aluminum anode rod that supposedly does not have the same problems with the H2S gas and the bacterium that create it.



01-01-2009, 05:22 PM
Not all hard water is the same. How much corrosion is or is not caused very much depends on what is in the water. Our water has dissolved iron in it so there is little chance it will attack the iron in the tank. The water is already loaded with iron ions.

This tank appears to have a plastic liner rather than ceramic. Depending on how that is implemented it could last a very long time.

01-01-2009, 05:36 PM
On the subject of installing water heaters, this particular idiot got the heater in place and then began removing the plastic thread protectors on the inlet and outlet nipples. Except those are not protectors! Yup - I screwed one up completely and had to cut it off flush. The tank was too tall for me to see inside the nipple, and I'm so used to such things coming with protectors, and the previous one had none, so...

You live, you learn.

A.K. Boomer
01-16-2009, 10:05 AM
I tried to read through all of this but have to work today --- So, my Bro put in his new tank and has a problem, the water doesnt stink BUT every time he comes home and uses the hot water for the first time in hours he get a big blast of air out of the H.W. faucet -------- Im thinking microbe's ? I guess it could be chemical --- his old heater didnt do this -- they are both electric...

01-16-2009, 10:16 AM
Same as what happened with our tank. Every time it sat for a while it would accumulate a large amount of gas from the corrosion. If it is corroding because of a different element in the water it won't stink but will still evolve gasses.

BTW, the problem is still gone with our tank.

01-16-2009, 10:32 AM
My new electric water isn't gassing to the point of belching but the hot water does have a lot of gas in it. It's cloudy when it comes out of the tank and after a few moments that dissipates in the basin. That is new with the new heater.