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Why is my water reddish-brown?

If you have noticed that your tap water has taken on a reddish-brown tint, it can be alarming. Discolored water can occur for several reasons, most of which are harmless but still off-putting. Here are the most common causes of reddish-brown water and what you can do about it.

Rusty Pipes

The most common reason for reddish-brown water is corroded or rusty pipes. As metal pipes age, they can begin to rust from the inside out. As water flows through these pipes, small particles of rust break off and flow into your home’s plumbing system. Old cast iron pipes are the most prone to rusting, but steel and galvanized iron pipes can also corrode over time.

In addition to a reddish-brown color, you may notice rusty water has a metallic taste. Rust itself is harmless, but can cause staining of sinks, bathtubs, and laundry. The level of particulates can also potentially clog plumbing fixtures over time.

Replacing old piping is the best way to resolve a chronic rust issue, but flushing your water lines can provide temporary relief. Turn on all your faucets and run the water for several minutes to clear out any rust particles. Installing a whole house water filter can also remove rust and other sediment from your water.

Disturbed Pipes

If your utility company or a contractor has recently been doing underground work near your home, it could stir up sediment in the water mains. Construction, water main replacements, water meter installations, and fire hydrant flushing can all loosen iron particulates that then flow into homes. It may take a day or two for the water to run clear again after such work is completed.

Notify your water company if discoloration persists for more than a day or two after construction work. The utility provider can flush the mains serving your area to help clear up any remaining sediment.

Well Issues

If your home is on a private well, several issues could cause brownish water:

  • Loose sediment – Particles of iron, manganese, or other minerals can make water appear brown or red. Pumping and flushing the well can help clean out buildup.
  • Low water levels – During periods of drought, sediment can get stirred up as water levels drop. Check that your well has adequate recharge after winter rains.
  • Bacterial growth – Iron bacteria and sulfur bacteria can create reddish brown staining. Shock chlorination kills bacteria and cleans well walls.

A well professional can inspect your well system and recommend treatment if an issue is identified. Annual testing ensures your well water is free of bacteria and proper mineral levels.

Water Main Break

If a water main in the street breaks, it can cause temporary discoloration. The sudden pressure change stirs up sediment and iron particles in the pipes. After the break is repaired, run your faucets until the water runs clear again. Only use cold water taps when flushing discolored water to avoid pulling sediment into your hot water heater.

Contact your water provider if water fails to clear up after flushing for 10-15 minutes. The utility can flush mains and isolate your home if needed. Though unpleasant, water discolored from a water main break is not a health hazard.

Internal Plumbing Leak

In some cases, reddish brown water originating in your home may signal an issue with your internal plumbing. Rusty water from only one faucet points to corrosion in the line serving that fixture. And discolored water accompanied by lower than normal water pressure could mean a leaking pipe inside a wall or under your home.

Have a plumber inspect your system for leaks if you notice localized rusty water or pressure loss. Repipe any corroded lines to prevent ongoing issues. Depending on the severity of the leaks, you may need water damage repair as well.

Iron or Manganese in Source Water

Some water sources naturally contain higher levels of iron and manganese minerals that can cause a red, brown, or black tint. This issue is most common in wells but can also occur with public water supplies.

Municipalities treat water to control iron and manganese, but some can still reach your taps. On public water, contact the utility if you notice persistent discoloration, as an adjustment to treatment processes may help.

For well owners, installing an iron filter can remove up to 99% of iron and manganese. Oxidizing filters use a compressed air injection system to bind particles into larger clusters that are then filtered out.

Galvanized Pipes

Galvanized steel pipes were commonly installed in homes built before 1960. As they age, the zinc coating inside these pipes wears away, exposing the underlying steel. This allows rusting to occur. In addition, chemical reactions between the exposed steel and minerals in the water create black deposits that can dislodge and discolor water.

Replacing galvanized supply lines with copper or PEX piping will resolve this issue and also improve water flow. Consult with a plumber to determine if partial or full re-pipe of your home is necessary.

Industrial Pollution

In very rare cases, reddish-brown water could result from industrial contamination of drinking water sources. Runoff from mining, manufacturing, and construction can introduce iron sediments into rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers.

Municipal water treatment removes these sediments, but an unexpected spill or surge of pollution could overwhelm the system. Contact your water utility immediately if you see widespread reddish-brown water in your community, as a contamination event requires urgent response.

Follow any boil water or conservation advisories issued by authorities until the source water has been treated and tested as safe again after the pollution event.

Lead Pipes

While not a direct cause of discolored water, lead pipes can contribute to reddish-brown water by corroding and releasing particulate lead into your water. If your home has lead service lines or interior lead plumbing, it’s important to have your water tested for lead.

Replacement of lead pipes is recommended. In the meantime, use cold water for drinking and cooking to limit corrosion. Run water until clear before use to flush out sediment. Consider installing a lead-certified water filter.

When to Be Concerned

In most cases, temporary discoloration of water from construction, main breaks, or loose sediment is not dangerous. However, if water does not run clear after extended flushing, contact your water provider or plumber to have your system inspected and tested.

Seek immediate medical attention if you or family members experience sudden nausea, diarrhea, or other symptoms during an unexplained water discoloration event. While unlikely, severe contamination could potentially carry bacteria or toxins.

Improving Water Quality

For ongoing issues with rusty, brown water, here are steps you can take:

  • Flush pipes by running all taps for 5-10 minutes to clear sediment
  • Have old corroded pipes replaced with copper or plastic piping
  • Consider a water softener if mineral deposits are an issue
  • Install point-of-use water filtration at affected taps
  • Use a whole house filtration system to remove particles
  • Test well water annually and treat any bacteria or mineral issues

While alarming at first glance, reddish-brown or rust colored water is usually not a health risk. In most cases, flushing the pipes or addressing isolated plumbing corrosion will help return your water to full clarity. But if the issue persists, have your water tested and inspected by professionals.


Discolored water can seem concerning, but in most cases it is not dangerous and there are steps you can take to clear it up. Pay attention to when it happens and at which taps to help identify the source. Notify your utility provider if the issue affects your whole home and community. With the right diagnosis and treatment, you can restore your water to its normal color and quality.

Cause Appearance Locations Solutions
Rusty pipes Reddish-brown All taps Replace pipes, install filters
Disturbed mains Reddish-brown All taps Wait for flushing, notify utility
Well issues Reddish-brown Well water taps Shock chlorination, check water levels
Water main break Reddish-brown All taps Wait for repair, flush pipes
Internal leak Reddish-brown One or few taps Plumbing inspection and repair
Iron/manganese Reddish-brown All taps Contact utility or install filters
Galvanized pipes Black or brown All taps Re-pipe plumbing
Pollution Reddish-brown All taps Contact utility, follow advisories