What Causes Brown Tap Water? What You Can Do to Fix It

by Jay | Updated on October 22nd, 2022

It can be concerning to have brown water in your toilet and sink. However, it may be more prevalent than you believe. Here are some of the most typical causes of this disturbing issue.

Have you ever noticed that your tap water went from clean and clear to muddy overnight, with discolored water coming from your faucet? You might be startled to learn that changes in water clarity can occur almost instantly.

faucet brown water

What is it anyway?

When there is an excess of salt or minerals in the tap, it appears rusty brown, yellowish, or reddish. Iron and manganese are the most prevalent discoloring minerals found in water.

Tiny metallic mineral deposits enter the water stream from a variety of sources. These minerals are responsible for the water’s hue, rusty appearance, and disagreeable tastes or odors.

If you notice a change in the color of your water, you must determine the cause as quickly as possible. Here are some possible perpetrators:

The pressure in your city’s water lines has shifted.

Changes in the pressure of the water running through the pipes can stir up the filth, rust particles, and silt that coat the inside of city water lines, from water main breaks to routine maintenance like cleaning. Unfortunately, as our country’s water system ages, these disruptions will become more regular. As a result, incidents involving city water can happen quickly.

If your water suddenly turns murky on the same day and your home’s faucets have discolored water flowing out, the problem is most likely caused by a pressure change in your city’s water lines.

These issues usually resolve themselves within a few hours, although sometimes it can take many days to return to normal. In transitory instances like this, we recommend not using hot water, if possible, to avoid drawing the tainted water into your water heater.

What can you do about it?

If discolored water is a persistent issue in your community, you should consider installing a filter like our ToxinShield.

The photo of the city water main above was shot after the city’s water lines were flushed routinely, and it took several hours for the water to return to normal. If you utilize city water and are experiencing discoloration, flushing the lines is the most likely culprit.

Your home’s older water lines are corroding.

Many homes built before 1960 have galvanized steel water lines. As these water lines age, rusty silt can accumulate, which can be seen when you turn on your faucet. If the discolored water is only present at one or a few taps (but not all of them), or if your water is discolored every morning but clears after a few minutes, the problem is most likely with your home’s water pipes.

What can you do about it?

A point-of-use treatment system will ensure that your drinking water is clean, clear, and delicious.

The water table has been altered by periods of heavy rain or drought.

Many homeowners who get their water from a private well know they have iron concerns, but harsh weather can produce changes in the water table that would startle even the most experienced well owner. In many situations, the fluctuation is so significant that existing water treatment technology cannot deal with the excess iron.

What can you do about it?

Suppose you have discolored water due to inclement weather. In that case, we recommend using a robust iron removal product like IronShield, which can handle up to 10ppm of iron (typically, water softeners only treat up to 2 or 3 ppm).

In times of drought, there is a high water demand.

Some cities get their drinking water from surface rivers and streams. During drought, when water is in short supply, fresh surface water will mix with sediment from the river bottom, resulting in murky water at your tap.

What can you do about it?

Suppose you observe that your faucets provide discolored water simultaneously yearly (usually in the fall, after the water volume has decreased throughout the summer). In that case, you should consider installing a sediment filter like SedimentShield.

The filtration apparatus isn’t working properly.

While it is uncommon, some small communities may have colored water simply because their water treatment equipment was not intended to handle the required volume or the equipment needs repair.

What can you do about it?

If what you’re observing does not fit with any of the other scenarios described above, you should contact your city to find out what’s happening. If the issue persists, installing a whole-home filter such as Toxin Shield will keep your water pure and clear.

Other reasons

New water supply

One of the most typical causes of changes in water quality is adding a new water source, such as a reservoir or river. Experts believe that a shift in source caused both the present Flint lead catastrophe and a similar disaster in Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s.

The switch can change the properties of the water or disturb its flow, both of which can influence the appearance, taste, odor, and healthfulness of your water.

Organic substance

Dirt and other natural sediments settle at the bottom of water delivery lines. So if something causes the water to move through the pipes, such as a water main break, increased service demand, or even firefighting, the faster flow might stir up the sediment and cause your water to appear yellow or brown.


Extra air trapped in or moving through water can cause it to appear milky white or hazy.

Pollution in the upstream

Rainwater can wash toxins into the surface water or groundwater that feeds your tap, such as pesticides in agricultural districts, fracking waste, or highway motor oil.

Only hot water

If brown water only flows from your hot water faucets, it could be due to rust and sediment in your water heater. Water heaters typically have a 10- to 15-year lifespan. If your water heater is in this range and your hot water is frequently brown, it may be time to replace it.

The water in the toilet is brown.

The main cause of brown discoloration is iron in the water. It could indicate that your old galvanized pipes are rusting or that your water supply is high in iron compounds. Iron isn’t harmful to your health in and of itself, but it stains the sides of the tank and discolors the water.

How to repair It

You know where to begin now that you know what caused your rusty water discoloration in the first place:

If all of your hot and cold water suddenly turns brown.

…Contact your water supply company. Something likely happened to a water main or a local fire hydrant. It’s also likely that the city is performing maintenance on the pipe system and accidentally stirred up some sediment.

Inform the water company’s customer service about your rusty water and inquire whether any maintenance is taking place in your region. They should be able to tell you when your water will clear up again or what they’re doing to resolve the issue. Then all you have to do is wait–hopefully not too long!

If your entire supply of hot water is tainted.

…Try draining and flushing the tank of your water heater. Over time, sediment accumulates in all water heaters. It is recommended that the tank be drained and flushed at least twice a year. Sediment buildup is not just harmful to your water but also one of the leading causes of water heater leaks.

If you recently flushed the tank or had your heater installed, you may have a more serious problem that requires the assistance of a professional. Too much sediment buildup can permanently harm your water heater or, in rare and extreme cases, cause it to explode!

If your cold water is only discolored while coming from a few faucets.

Begin by running those faucets at full force for about 20 minutes or until the water is completely clean. A little quantity of rust may occasionally dislodge from the inner walls of a pipe and infiltrate the water supply. If the issue is small, running the water should remove the rust and clear the water.

However, if your water still looks rusty after running it, or if the problem returns immediately after you flush the rust, it could be due to rusted pipes.

When there is too much corrosion or rust on the pipe walls of your home’s water supply pipes, minerals will constantly seep into your water, making it look nasty. Therefore, if you have a corroded or rusty pipe, you should have it deep cleaned or replaced as soon as possible before it causes further damage.

Is brown water harmful or dangerous?

In a nutshell, no.

Most people have had brown tap water at some point in their lives. So don’t be concerned; it’s not a significant health issue.

But it’s more than just a little annoyance. It can harm both your clothes and your fixtures. An excess of iron causes the brown water you’re seeing. Iron is a widespread, naturally occurring element in soil, and it is found in your drinking water but at much lower concentrations. Berkeley Wellness states:

“While rusty water may appear and taste unpleasant and stain sinks and clothing, it poses no health risk. People with hemochromatosis may be an exception, a rare condition that produces excess iron deposition in body organs.”

Even if brown water is not toxic or harmful, we do not recommend drinking it. For one thing, it tastes metallic, as one might imagine. It also appears to be filthy.

You can still shower with it, though it may not be a pleasant experience; if the problem persists, get some bottled water to drink. If the brown water does not clean up within a few hours, it has progressed beyond a mere annoyance. You almost certainly have a leak caused by a rusty plumbing pipe. And this can be dangerous.

Rusted water in your pipes serves as a breeding habitat for various germs. Rust accumulation can also corrode and crack plumbing pipes, exposing your water supply to airborne pollutants. In addition, leaking pipes can cause mold and mildew to grow in houses, posing a serious health risk.

Furthermore, brown water stains are washed in hot water on the sink, toilets, showers, and clothing. This is because minerals like iron adhere to practically every surface they come into contact with.

Even clean water can develop stains if it remains in a tub or toilet for an extended period. In addition, iron levels as low as 0.3 parts per million can create stains. So if 0.3 parts per million don’t seem like a lot, that’s because it isn’t.

There are several methods for removing iron stains, including hot water mixed with dishwashing soap, baking soda, or vinegar. However, you don’t want to be doing it all the time. Instead, you want to address the issue at its root.

However, before you hire a plumber, you should first evaluate whether the problem is temporary or not.

Is it safe to drink brown tap water?

It is not a good idea to assume that brown or other discolored tap water is safe to drink.

While brown tap water is usually neither hazardous nor dangerous, it can have an unpleasant flavor, smell awful, and appear unappealing.

Furthermore, its discoloration could suggest other potentially dangerous issues. For example, if the problem is a rusted pipe, this could indicate that lead is present in your water, which can cause various health issues.

If the brown water is the consequence of faulty pipes in your home, it can cause leaks, moisture, and ultimately mold and mildew, all of which are dangerous to your health and can harm your property.

How long does it take for brown water to go away?

These issues usually resolve themselves within a few hours, although sometimes it can take many days to return to normal. In transitory instances like this, we recommend not using hot water, if possible, to avoid drawing the tainted water into your water heater.


You should contact your local plumber, whether a city issue, water heater, or filter system, and you have done what we’ve mentioned here.


Jay is a health and wellness enthusiast with expertise in water quality and nutrition. As a knowledgeable advocate for holistic well-being, Jay successfully manages Type 2 Diabetes through informed lifestyle choices. Committed to sharing reliable and authoritative insights, Jay combines firsthand experience with a passion for enhancing health."