Why My Water Tastes Bad: Chlorine, Chloramine, Disinfection Byproducts
While most people talk about chlorinated tap water, a growing number of municipalities are implementing an alternative disinfectant - chloramine – in place of chlorine. This article on chloramine vs. chlorine discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both disinfectants, why municipalities are switching to chloramine, and what this means from a water filtration standpoint.
Chlorine: The Original Method For Tap Water Disinfection
Chlorine was the original disinfectant used in US municipalities, with Jersey City being the first city to implement a chlorine-based system in 1908. Still today, chlorine remains the primary disinfectant in the majority of municipalities in the US, because of its effectiveness and low cost. While tap water disinfection using chlorine has a long track record, there are two major downsides to using chlorine as a disinfectant altogether.
- Chlorine is volatile and can escape from tap water as it travels through water mains, which can eliminate the “chlorine residual.” Without residual chlorine, water becomes more susceptible to microbial growth.
- Chlorine can react with naturally-occurring organic compounds, creating what are known as disinfection by-products (DBPs) which are associated with kidney and liver problems.
Chloramine: A 'New' Alternative to Chlorine
Chloramine is an alternative disinfectant that has gained popularity with a growing number of municipalities (including Washington, DC) because it directly addresses the two major problems with chlorine-based disinfection.
- Chloramine is less volatile than chlorine, so it stays in the water longer than chlorine, which ensures that all areas of the distribution network are properly disinfected.
- As the EPA began to learn about the toxicity of DBPs, they began searching for an alternative disinfectant for chlorine. Chloramine is less reactive with naturally-occurring organic matter, so it produces lesser amounts of DBPs.
Despite these advantages, chloramine isn’t without its own shortcomings. For example, when a municipality switches over to a chloramine-based system to comply with DBP regulations, the level of pipe corrosion inhibitor needs to be increased, because chloramine-treated water is more corrosive than chlorine-treated water. Washington, DC did not properly do this when they switched over to a chloramine-based disinfection system in the early 2000s, and the city underwent a 5-year lead contamination crisis where more than 42,000 children under the age of 2 were exposed to high levels of lead, putting them under great health risk.
Even when pipe corrosion is properly accounted for, chloramine must be removed from the water when it is being used for dialysis, aquariums, baking, and even craft brewing (maybe you didn't burn your mash after all!).
What Can I Do to Remove Chlorine & Chloramine From My Tap Water?
Removing chlorine and chloramine from water involve different methods.
Fortunately, chlorine is very easy to remove from tap water to improve the taste. For example, if you fill a water jug and leave it in your fridge uncapped, within a day or two, the chlorine will volatilize and go away. Common filtration pitchers, refrigerator pitchers, and under sink filtration systems are also good for removing chlorine from water and the bad taste associated with it.
Chloramine, on the other hand is much harder to filter, and most “big name” water filters are not designed to remove it. A special type of activated carbon, called catalytic carbon, is the best type of filtration media for removing chloramine from water. High quality water filters that use catalytic carbon in their filter formulation also offer broad protection against other contaminants in drinking water.
If you have any questions about chlorine or chloramine, we encourage you to take advantage of Hydroviv’s “Help No Matter What” approach to technical support, even if you have no desire to purchase a Hydroviv system. This free service can be reached by emailing email@example.com, or by using the live chat window.
Why Does My Drinking Water Taste Bad?
If you're unhappy with the taste or smell of your home's tap water, chances are the culprit is either chlorine, chloramine, disinfection byproducts, or sulfur. Bad tasting water is one of the leading reasons people turn to bottled water, which unfortunately results in billions of plastic bottles being thrown away each year. Luckily, all 4 of these chemicals can be effectively removed with the right filter. Here are a few things to know about each chemical and what you can do to get great-tasting water right from your tap.
Most municipal utility providers (roughly 80%) disinfect their drinking water with chlorine to protect against water-borne diseases. While chlorine is effective at getting rid of nasty biological contamination, and is safe to drink, it gives your water that swimming pool smell and an unpleasant taste.
As an alternative to chlorine, a growing number of municipalities are upgrading their water treatment facilities to use chloramine as the primary disinfectant, in an attempt to minimize the formation of disinfection byproducts (see below). While this is a good thing, chloramine is harder to filter from water than chlorine, so people in cities like Washington, D.C., Houston, San Francisco, and Denver, among many others, typically find that inexpensive filters don't make their water taste as good as they were hoping.
Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs):
Disinfection Byproducts or DBPs are a class of chemicals formed when chlorine-based disinfectants react with naturally occurring organic compounds. These byproducts not only make water taste and smell bad, they can also be bad for your health. Most inexpensive filters do not do a good job removing them.
The unmistakable “rotten egg” smell found in some water isn't typically harmful, but it does make water unpleasant to drink and bathe with. Homes that draw from wells frequently have sulfur issues. The culprit is a volatile sulfur-based chemical called Hydrogen Sulfide that, luckily, can be easily removed with a Hydroviv under-sink or shower filter.
Learn more about Hydroviv's personalized water filter products.
5 Drinking Water Contaminants You Should Know
If you’re new to water quality and filtration, you may be overwhelmed by all the available information. EPA regulates close to 100 chemicals in drinking water and there are thousands more that are currently being monitored or studied. Here’s a practical list of 5 of the most significant contaminants in drinking water that are not effectively addressed by most common pitcher filters.
At Hydroviv, we look at location-specific water quality data for each customer to determine whether these chemicals, and thousands of others, are present in your area and at what concentrations. We then create a custom filter with materials designed to target and remove each containment resulting in a filter that works better for longer. Hydroviv is the only company that optimizes your filter for your water supply.
Lead contamination is one of the most common problems in drinking water. Lead enters the water supply as water passes through older, lead-containing plumbing. Buildings in major cities and older homes often have lead service pipes that connect water mains to residential plumbing. Additionally, plumbing in homes built before 1986 typically also have lead-containing solder. Lead levels can be exasperated when municipal corrosion controls fail (what happened in Flint, Michigan) or when water sits stagnant in pipes.
Lead exposure has been linked to childhood development delays, decreases in neurological function and behavior issues. No "safe" level of lead has been identified, and The American Academy of Pediatrics is advocating for a lead limit that is 15 times lower than the current federal standard.
Who’s at risk: Lead contamination is a problem in all major U.S. cities, but there have been significant issues reported recently in Newark, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Chicago, Boston, and New York City. Learn more>
Chromium-6 (also known as hexavalent chromium, chrome 6), the cancer-causing chemical made famous by the Hollywood blockbuster Erin Brockovich, is commonly discharged in wastewater from industries such as steel, electroplating, leather tanning, and textile manufacturing. Despite a recent resurgence in media attention, Chromium-6 is still not well regulated.
Who’s at risk: Chromium-6 contaminates drinking water all over the U.S. Abnormally high levels have been detected in cities including Madison (WI), Phoenix, Tucson, Norman (OK), Houston, Stockton (CA), Riverside (CA), and Honolulu. Learn more>
3. PFAS (Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances)
PFAS are a category of unregulated chemicals that are starting to be referred to as "forever chemicals” in the media. PFAS are used in a number of consumer products including Scotchgard, Teflon, food wrappers, non-stick pans, and stain-repellent fabrics. PFAS are also the primary ingredient in firefighting foam, so it readily contaminants groundwater in areas where firefighters train and on military bases. A 2018 study by the CDC linked exposure to PFAS with an increased risk of cancer, lowered fertility rates, increased cholesterol, and developmental issues in infants and young children.
Who’s at risk: Unfortunately, there's new, troubling data coming in every day about widespread PFAS contamination. Because of this, every filter we sell provides broad protection against PFAS. Learn more>
Arsenic is a naturally-occurring but highly toxic heavy metal that leaches into groundwater from surrounding bedrock. Arsenic has been linked to multiple cancers and other systemic diseases. Unfortunately, regulatory limits for arsenic in drinking water are very loose, primarily, as EPA has stated, because removing it at the municipal lever is cost prohibitive.
Who’s at risk: Areas of the country with high arsenic levels in groundwater include Maine, Texas and huge swaths of the Southwest. Learn more>
Most municipalities around the country use chlorine to disinfect their local water supply, but some, including our hometown of Washington, D.C., use chloramine. While both are safe at the levels used, neither taste very good. Most common filters are designed to remove only chlorine, but Hydroviv’s system is tailored to match whichever is used in your hometown, giving you the best-tasting results.
Who’s at risk: Check your municipality’s water report to see if your city uses chlorine or chloramine. While chlorine is the original, low-cost disinfectant, many municipalities are switching to chloramine. Learn more>
Learn more about Hydroviv's personalized water filter products.