Cloudy tap water can stem from multiple causes, such as dirty filters and aerators, municipal supply, or clogged lines. Figuring it out should allow you to implement a fix.
Fixing your cloudy tap water might be a matter of a few minutes of work cleaning the aerator. On the other hand, it might necessitate installing a water filter. In either case, clearing up your tap water is likely relatively easy, if not always cheap.
Can Cloud Water from Faucet Make You Sick?
Cloudy water might be okay to drink, but it might not. However, there are some links between turbidity (cloudiness) and the potential of water causing gastrointestinal illness or distress. Cloudy water might be caused by lime buildup. It almost certainly means there are contaminates. And, in some cases, those contaminants can cause diarrhea, upset stomach, and other distress. In addition, if your water is cloudy, it’s more likely to be raw rather than processed water. This means it’s more likely to contain potentially dangerous bugs such as norovirus, which can make you seriously ill.
If you’re sourcing your water from a municipal supply, the good news is that the buildup is likely related to lime and mineral deposits. Water has likely been treated and then become contaminated, either in the municipal supply, in the pipes, or in your own plumbing and fixtures.
On the other hand, if your water is only cloudy for a few minutes, it’s unlikely to make you sick. In fact, this very common problem is most likely caused by hot water entering cold pipes. Here, harmless gasses build up in the water and then dissolve as the water is aerated. This causes the water to become milky. If you run the taps for a few minutes, your water will clear up again. Some people prefer to do this to avoid using white water. However, you might not want to waste water like that. Either drinking or using the cloudy water is unlikely to make you sick. Therefore, you can go ahead and do so.
On the other hand, if you’re uncertain about your water quality, it’s always a good idea to get it checked. Professional water checks are often free and will normally only take a few minutes of your time. In fact, many municipalities offer water testing services through the city hall.
Why is My Tap Water Cloudy?
If your tap water is cloudy, there are a lot of different answers. However, most of them depend on checking the conditions and ruling out problems. Worst case scenario, you can usually have your water quality tested for free by the city.
All Taps Are Cloudy
If all of your taps run cloudy, your water issue is almost certainly a municipal water issue. However, you can check for sure by asking your neighbors. If they also have cloudy water, you know for sure. This is a city issue, and you can file a complaint with the city. If the neighbors have clear water, the issue might stem with your central water supply. However, you’re not actually allowed to maintain or clean this on your own. You’ll have to request someone from the city or from your water utility provider to check and resolve the issue.
One or Some Faucets are Cloudy
In this case, your water supply is likely contaminated by dirty pipes, aerators, etc. In this case, it’s a good idea to walk around the house and to check how many faucets run cloudy. For example, if all faucets on the same line run cloudy, you might have a line issue. If just one faucet is cloudy, it might be the filter or the aerator. In either case, resolving the solution is likely relatively simple.
Water Runs Cloudy and then Clear
If your hot or cold water runs cloudy and then clear, you might have one of two problems. For example, the most common cause of getting milky water when you turn on the taps is actually air bubbles. These are caused by an aerator or a hot water heater. With the hot water heater, the warm water bubbles. The bubbles contain gasses, which release into the water as the bubbles pop – creating a brief milky appearance. So, if your water clears up, you might not have a problem and there might not be a fix.
On the other hand, brief cloudiness in water might relate to lime and scale buildup in the pipes. However, this is an easy check. For example, if you fill a glass with water, what happens? If you let it sit for 5 minutes does the cloudiness go away? Or does the water remain cloudy? Does sediment settle to the bottom of the glass? How much? If there’s sediment, you definitely have buildup in your pipes.
Why is My Hot Water Cloudy?
Hot water might run cloudy for two major reasons, exactly mapped to the reasons above. The first is that hot water can bubble as it exits the hot water heater. Here, the difference in temperature between the hot water and the cold pipes will cause bubbles. This is the most common reason for cloudy hot water from the taps. You can fill a glass full of hot water and wait to see. If it clears up with no sediment, the milky tap water is just escaping gas.
On the other hand, if your hot water heater is full of sediment, you probably want to flush it out. Sediment and lime buildup can accelerate hot water heater corrosion and eventual failure. Using a cleaning solution is important to prolong the life of your heater. That’s especially important if you live in an area with hard water. In this case, you might have to hire a professional to do the work. That’s especially true if you have a warranty. Servicing a hot water heater or boiler yourself could actually void your warranty. In addition, many boilers come with free maintenance for the first few years after you buy them.
5 Simple Ways to Fix Cloudy Water
Fixing cloudy tap water means figuring out what’s wrong. From there, you can easily take steps to fix the problem.
Insulate Your Pipes
If you’re having issues with bubbles from the hot or cold water, the issue likely stems from the difference in temperature between the water entering the pipes and the pipes. This cloudy water is harmless and you can drink it. However, it can be unpleasant. In this case, you can insulate the pipes between the hot water and the tap in question. That will help the pipes to stay warm enough to avoid bubbling when you run warmer water through them. However, it can be costly to do. You’ll also want to ensure that if you do it yourself, you use insulation rated for hot pipes, otherwise you might inadvertently create a fire hazard. If you only have white water coming from the taps during the winter, insulation will definitely fix the problem.
Check the Pipes
Open up the wall cavity to expose the pipes between the hot water heater and the affected taps. Measure the length of pipe you need to insulate.
Purchase pipe sleeves made with polyethylene or neoprene foam.
Install the Sleeves
Install the sleeves on the pipes. If you have a gas water heater, keep the sleeves at least 6 inches from the flue.
Clean the Aerator
Your faucet aerator is the simple screw-on fitting on the front of most faucets. You might see it as a strainer or a small mesh over the top of the faucet.
Take off the Aerator
In most cases, you can simply twist and pull it out. However, it may be stuck. Lime buildup will make it significantly harder to get off. Make sure the faucet is dry, use a tea towel to increase grip, and twist. If that doesn’t work, you may want to remove the full faucet. However, once you have it off, make sure you pull the outer cap and the inner tube out of the faucet.
Clean the Aerator
Soak the aerator in vinegar and baking soda overnight, clean them with a toothbrush, and make sure there’s no debris or buildup inside.
Replace the Aerator
Once the aerator is cleaned, put it back.
Flush the Pipes
You can choose to flush pipes with a chemical reagent designed for the purpose. However, you might also want to contact a professional plumber to do this for you. The decision should rest on budget, the side of the home, the age of the pipes, and how frequently they’ve been cleaned in the past. In many cases, you might also be forced to choose a professional cleaner, because not every area allows individuals to manually flush their own pipes. Why? It introduces a lot of additional chemicals to your drinking water lines. If you don’t fully rinse and clean the pipes out afterwards, you could be introducing toxins into your water supply. So, if you do choose to flush your pipes, make sure you’re taking the safe route and following the instructions on the package to the letter.
- Purchase a chemical pipe cleaner
- Follow the instructions on the bottle. Most require placement inside the water reservoir, pump, or at the water mains at the start of the house.
- Fully rinse the system after the stated amount of time on the bottle.
Flush the Boiler or Hot Water Heater
If you flush the boiler or hot water heater, you almost always want to hire a professional. However, it’s more likely that you can find over the counter solutions for flushing your boiler than your pipes. Why? Your boiler is a contained system, you can more easily distribute chemicals through it, and you can more easily flush it out. In this case, you should be prepared to not have hot water for anywhere from 24 hours to 3+ days.
- Buy a chemical flushing agent. Some are one step, most are 2 or even 3 steps.
- Follow the instructions on the bottle. In most cases, this will involve adding the cleaning agent to the boiler, with the boiler turned off.
- Fully flush the tank by running water from all hot water pipes with the boiler turned on. Follow any flushing instructions from the bottle.
If your white tap water is a municipal issue, you might not be able to fix it directly. Instead, you can choose to install filtration. This solution can range from inexpensive with a faucet filter to several thousand dollars for a professional filtration system. Your options will likely depend on your area, the extent of the water contamination, and what type of water filtration system you want.
These screw over the top of a faucet and will filter out some sediment and will clear up your water. However, they impact one tap only and may not purify your water enough to remove contaminants if you’re actually using raw water. In addition, they will not solve issues with water bubbles in your line.
Under Sink Filters
These include 1-5+ stage filtration systems you attach to your water line under the sink. Here, water is forced to move through each filter stage, effectively removing sediment and other impurities. This is highly likely to clear up your water for that tap. However, they can also cost in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Whole-House Filtration System
Installing a whole-house filtration system means contacting a professional plumber to have them install a multi-stage filtration system between the water mains and your home. This will cost several thousand dollars (typically $3,000-$10,000+) depending on your area, how hard the water is, and what kind of filtration is necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you still have questions about why your hot or cold tap water might be running cloudy, the following FAQ should help.
What does it mean when your hot water is cloudy?
Normally it means the pipes are colder than the hot water. If you run the water for a few minutes, the problem should go away. This relates to gas buildup in the line, caused by the sudden change of temperature. However, your hot water heater might also have sediment buildup or another issue. If your water doesn’t clear up quickly or glasses have sediment in them, you might want to flush the tank.
Why is cloudy water coming from only one faucet?
Chances are you have a clogged aerator. On the other hand, you might have a lot of sediment buildup in that line. Take it apart and clean it to be sure.
Why is my water cloudy after installing a water softener?
A new filter will always cause water to be cloudy because the filter is full of air. However, you shouldn’t have film or sediment in a glass. Try filling up a glass. If it clears within about 30 seconds, you just have a bubble issue. This will naturally go away as water penetrates the filter and the air bubbles are pushed out.
Your tap water might be white or cloudy for a number of reasons. The most common reason in many homes is simply air bubbles. However, you might have problems with sedimentation and lime buildup. Assessing the issue or asking a plumber to inspect your pipes is the best way to decide what to do about it.