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Question DetailsAsked on 7/6/2015

Can a whole house filtration system totally remove the taste and rotten egg smell from Sulfur?

Looking to build a house that has to have a well. I know sulfur is nearby, and was told that this would not be an issue because a whole house filtration system would be put in. Not sure if this totally removes it or just reduces the smell.

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2 Answers


I would not count on total removal, just reduction to hopefully not significantly objectionable levels for bathing and washing - in a large percentage of areas with sulfur taste in the water people end up using either a point-of-use reverse osmosis unit at the ktichen sink for "clean" water (this after passing through a whole-house water treatment system); or install a bottled water dispenser - which with modern units can dispense both chilled and room temp and heated water.

Here is a response I wrote but the AL system went down for maintenance before I could post it, so I stored in Word until I could post it here - so it does not recognize the font correctly - sorry about the shout-out font result.

IF the whole house filtration system is designed and maintained right, can remove almost all detectable taste - but typically at the price of pretty high maintenance. The problem is that charcoal filtration and reverse osmosis systems can remove the smell and taste, but tend to clog up quickly with the iron and/or manganese that is commonly associated with it, unless you are talking being in a raw sulfur-producing area (generally along the TX/LA/MS Gulf Coast area in the US) or an area where raw hydrogen sulfide gas is coming from petroleum field contamination, though that generally also introduces filtration/osmosis system-ruining hydrocarbons.

There are a number of systems available - I would talk to neighbors about what they use and like and who their service provider is (and how serious their issue is), and perhaps the local water department or county Ag agent or State Water or Geologist office about that problem type in your area. And Google for water quality reports and articles for your area.

A good deal of the system design will depend also on whether the sulfur is native sulfur in the water, formed by iron/manganese bacteria growing in the well (which can be somewhat mitigated by the well design at times), or formed in the pipes by bacterial growth there. Bacterial growth calls for a clorination module usually as well as a resin contacter extraction tank, whereas actual elemental sulfur (like from sulferous natural gas or raw sulfur deposits contaminating the water) is commonly removed with magnesium dioxide or similar contacter tank - so your water treatment system can sometimes in extreme cases (commonly in oilfields) run up to 3-7 different tank units in your system to remove sediment, "hardness" (dissolved minerals), salt, iron, sulfur, organic contaminants including dissolved oils, etc

Different types of systems require different size units too - sometimes it can fit under the kitchen sink, other times takes 500-1000 gallon storage tank to hold the water while processing and to hold it for a needed retention time for the processing to complete itself.

Solutions, which for your issue generally have to be designed for your particular type of source, can include high-volume aeration systems, chlorination (especially for iron or manganese bacteria caused sulfur taste), sand and ion-exchange resin / filtration systems, ionization systems, or pure engineered filter units like reverse osmosis.

Unfortunately, off the shelf units commonly do not do the job entirely, especially with respect to taste, so it is very common to have a conventional whole-house water treatment/filtration system which cleans up the worst of it and removes the components in the water that plug up or can penetrate filters, but also have a high-purity filtration or reverse osmosis system at the kitchen faucet or an in-kitchen bottled-water dispenser for cooking and drinking use and use bottled water for other drinking/tooth brushing use. It is common for your problem to need a general "water softener" system (with petroleum product pre-stripping component if needed) plus a specific aeration or chlorination or similar module to remove hardness and to pre-clean the water for a final polishing unit which removes the sulfur taste/smell. However, to remove it down to the point of being essentially non-detectable is highly likely to require either an expensive reverse osmosis unit, or frequent changes of carbon filters or elements in a carbon filtration unit.

This latter carbon filter/reverse osmosis unit is commonly only installed in the drinking/cooking water part of the system, with shower/tub and toilets being only primary treated. In higher-end homes separate piping for the bathroom sinks is also connected to the final treatment system. For cooking water treatment if you want to use hot water for that (as opposed to drawing cold water and heating it in the cooking) that sometimes means either a small separate hot water heater (commonly on-demand tankless type as sink) or a parallel filtration/reverse osmosis system on that part of the hot water line. For this reason, usually only the kitchen sink cold water is treated that way, with the hot water being used for dishwashing but not cooking.

Depending on how nasty your water is and how much sulfur taste or oil sheen gets through your primary system, dishwasher and/or clothes washer might also be run off the final filtering system, which significantly affects its design capacity by an order of magnitude in some cases.

The tough thing you are going to have is establishing the standards for the system or for the water quality in such a way that a third party could easily determine if the finished product does or does not meet the contract criteria. The contractor/developer will not like a contract that says if you do not like the smell or taste of the water you can back out of the deal or make him put in a more refined system - he is going to want either a specified system in the contract (his preference), or at worst a specific water quality performance standard to meet which can be provne by lab testing (at typically a couple to a few hundred dollars a pop).

And BTW - just meeting commonly accepted drinking water standards does NOT mean your water cannot be stinky or taste bad - it has to be terribly bad (by most people's standards) to fail the EPA water quality standards, which allow pretty significant taste, smell, and oil sheens in basins and tubs without failing the test - because color, taste, and odor unless pretty severe are considered optional components to standard water quality tests - they generally do not have (except to a greater extent in California) strict numeric allowable limits like there are for a lot of other components.

A Civil Engineering firm that deals in drinking water quality issues or runs a water quality lab can clarify your specific case, as can maybe (for free, for a preliminary starting point) your local cooperative extension service or local/state water quality agency (commonly Department of Environmental Conservation or Health Department deals with water quality issues) if you are in an area where this is a common problem.

I would NOT just go to water treatment companies and believe their hype unless they give you an iron-clad satisfaction guaranteed or money back warranty - and good luck finding that !

Having lived in several areas with this sort of issue (iron bacteria or sulfur and/or oil in the water) I would recommend you assume, when looking at cost, that you will end up with bottled water or a reverse osmosis system for final potable/drinking water. And look at the system cost versus that option too - in bad water areas it is commonly cheaper to treat the water to just the level needed for acceptable body/clothes washing, and use small bottles of water for drinking and tooth brushing, maybe a nukeable larger container for hot water for final hair conditioning, and a commercial bottled water company like Arrowhead or such with a water dispenser for kitchen water use for cooking and such, because you commonly end up there anyway even after spending many thousands on an expensive filtration or RO system - plus of course those have fairly high ongoing maintenance costs for replacement of the filter media.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD


BTW - here is a pretty readable article on sulfurerous water treatment FYI -

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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