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Rotten Egg Smell From Water Heater: Why It Happens & How To Fix It

man experiencing the "rotten egg problem" in austin

Does your shower smell like rotten eggs? What about your sinks, or your laundry room? Does it come on strong—especially when the hot water is on? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you likely have the infamous “rotten egg problem.” What is this problem and why does your water smell like rotten eggs? Follow along as we explain exactly what it is, how it’s caused, and what you can do to fix it.

Why Your Water Smells Like Rotten Eggs

If you live in a city (like Austin) that gets especially hard water—or you get your water directly from a well—it’s extremely likely that you have trace amounts of sulfur-bacteria in your water. While you won’t smell it or taste it when the water is cold or lukewarm, you’ll often smell it when the hot water is on. Here’s why: Water rusts metal. That’s as true for rain water left on your bike outside as it is for water inside your hot water tank. The reason your iron-lined water heater doesn’t corrode despite being full of hot water is because each and every tank-filled water heater comes with an anode rod. These rods take on the bulk of the corrosion that would otherwise ‘attack’ your tank, so that your tank lasts longer.

What’s with the smell? While many people assume it’s the sulfur-bacteria itself that creates the smell of rotten eggs, it’s actually the bacteria reacting to the aluminum and/or magnesium in the anode rod of your water heater.

How Not to Fix the Problem

Many people seem to think that because it’s the sulfur-bacteria in your water reacting to your anode rod, simply removing their anode rod will fix the problem. Of course, not only will this void your water heater’s warranty, but decreases its life dramatically. Remember: it’s the anode rod that protects your water heater from corrosion.

Another misconception is that you should replace an aluminum anode rod with a magnesium anode rod, or vice versa. Unfortunately, both methods are ineffective as they can both react with the bacteria in your tank, creating the smell.

The Right Way to Fix A Smelly Water Heater

The tried and true way to remove the “rotten eggs smell” from your hot water tank is to replace your water heater’s anode rod with a zinc-aluminum rod. While the aluminum will fight against corrosion, the zinc will combat the reaction that creates the rotten egg smell.

A quick word about water softeners

Keep in mind: If you have a water softener installed, a zinc-aluminum rod may not fix the problem entirely. Water softeners can contribute even more to the smelly water problem, and often require an even more powerful solution to fix.

Get Clean, Odorless Water Today!

Want to remove that funky, foul-smelling sulfur-rich stink from your water? Want to ensure it never happens again? With Stan’s, you can!

Our experienced Austin plumbers can install your new anode rod correctly and safely*, as well as perform a full system flush to remove any and all traces of the smell.

Contact us to schedule your water heater repair in Austin today!

*Keep in mind: Removing a water heater anode rod is very difficult, since they tend to be installed securely inside water heater tanks, often below several components that will need to be removed first—using special plumbing tools—before you can access it. Moreover, because water heaters use water, electricity, and natural gas, it’s important that you work with an experienced Austin plumber who can perform any kind of hot water maintenance, repair, or replacement, both correctly and safely.