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What Causes Rust in My Drinking Water? (and how to fix it)

Updated: | Published:

Rusty water from old galvanized pipes
Rusty water from old galvanized pipes

Is your home's drinking water rust-colored or rusty tasting? Do you have rust-colored stains around all your faucets?

In this article, we will look at the main causes of rust in drinking water and how to fix it.

We'll also discuss the permanent solution to rusty water caused by old galvanized pipes in your plumbing: a complete repipe (our specialty). We'll outline the typical costs of replacing galvanized plumbing and explain the process involved.

How Does Rust Get In My Drinking Water?

We'll start with some very basic chemistry. Rust is the common term for red iron oxide. Iron oxide is formed when iron reacts with oxygen and water, and is prevalent in the natural environment.

Rust can enter your water supply before it even reaches your home. If you are on a well system that draws water from mineral rich earth - there's a good chance it will have detectable iron oxide in it. The municipal water supply to your home could also have rust in it - either because of the water's original water source, or because the municipal plumbing system has rusted pipes somewhere along the distribution lines.

Galvanized pipe full of rust
Galvanized pipe full of rust

Old galvanized pipes and old hot water heaters are the most common sources of rust in your home's internal plumbing. Any plumbing component made of iron or steel (iron is an element in steel) will rust when exposed to water and oxygen, eventually causing discoloration and a rusty taste in your water.

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How To Remove Rust From My Drinking Water

Rusty drinking water is not considered a hazard to your health. However, it can discolor your clothes, sinks, and showers, which can make your water taste very unpleasant. Here are methods for removing rust from your drinking water, for these common rusty water sources:

1) Rusty Well or Municipal Supply Water

If water is already rusty before it enters your home's plumbing, your best solution is to install a whole home filtration system. These filters are installed by specialists near where the water enters your home. There are many types of filtration systems: they can be tailored to not only remove iron oxide, but other contaminants and chemicals as well.

2) Rusty Old Hot Water Heater Tanks

Hot water heater tanks are designed to last 8-12 years. Hot water tanks have several internal components made of steel, including the tank itself.

When new, hot water tanks are fitted with an anode made of a sacrificial metal. It is called "sacrificial" because the anode will attract the corrosive elements in the water away from any exposed steel. Once the anode is fully consumed, then the steel components will start to rust at an accelerated rate.

Corroded heating element from a water heater
Corroded heating element from a water heater

Regular servicing of your hot water heater (tank flushing & replacing the anodes) can extend its life. However, once you start seeing discolored, rusty water - it is time to replace it. While the rust may be unpleasant, the bigger risk is that your hot water tank suffers a failure and starts leaking.

3) Galvanized Plumbing That Has Rusted Internally

If your home still has galvanized plumbing, it will almost certainly have rusted a significant amount internally.

The internal rust will not only make your water taste rusty - but is also likely clogging your pipes and reducing your water flow. Thinning pipe walls may also be reducing the pipe thickness, increasing the risk of pipe failure and leaks.

Rusty pipe leaking under a slab
Rusty pipe leaking under a slab

There is no fix for rusty galvanized pipe, other than replacing it. We've written several articles covering a range of galvanized plumbing topics, including:

Expanding on the third point above - "repair vs repipe" - replacing your galvanized pipe in a piecemeal fashion over time will cost you more, and be more disruptive vs doing it all at once. Get a free quote to replace your galvanized pipe.

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Get A Quote To Replace Rusty Galvanized Pipes

Here at Repipe Specialists, we've fully replaced galvanized plumbing in thousands of homes across the USA with modern PEX tubing or copper pipe, stopping rust in your drinking water at the source. We continually get positive customer feedback from customers about their whole home repipe experience. We often exceed their expectations on:

  • Speed: Our repipe crews typically complete a repipe in a day, returning on another day for wall patching.
  • Convenience: Through our One-Stop Repipe™ Process, we handle everything from permits, to wall patching, to inspections.
  • Cleanliness: Our crews are trained to protect your home while working (we cover all surfaces with protective sheeting), and to clean up fully at the end of each day.
  • Peace of Mind: Repipe Specialists is a fully licensed plumber in every state we operate in, and we back all of our repipes with a lifetime warranty.
  • Financing programs: To help take the sting out of unplanned repipe expenses, we offer several financing programs.
  • Price: As a specialist that performs hundreds of repipes a week, we can deliver high-quality repipes at a lower cost vs generalist plumbers. We have an article that covers repipe cost factors in detail. Our quotes typically range from $4,500 to $15,000 depending on the size and complexity of your project.

Schedule a free in-home consult, and a local estimator will explain all your repipe options and provide you with a written, fixed price quote. Replace your galvanized pipes and enjoy clean, rust-free drinking water.

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About Repipe Specialists

Expert Repiping at an Affordable Cost

Since our founding in 1991, we've been completing residential and multi-family building repipes to the highest standard.

With over 75,000 repipes completed, we've perfected our One Stop Repipe™ process: providing you with a high quality and convenient repipe experience while offering significant savings compared to traditional plumbers - plus, our work is guaranteed for life.

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