8 Causes of Brown Toilet Water and How to Fix It

Updated July 9th, 2024

Does murky brown water greet you every time you lift your toilet seat? The fact that you’re reading this article tells us this is most likely the case. Perhaps you reached to flush because you assumed someone had forgotten. But, to your surprise, brown water kept flowing into the bowl. How is this even possible?

Rest assured; no one poured coffee or iced tea in the toilet tank—or at least, we hope not. Instead, it could be a problem with your pipes, plumbing fixtures, water supply, or potentially something more serious. In this article, we’ll explore eight possible reasons behind this strange occurrence and provide simple, practical solutions to help you restore your toilet water to its sparkling, clean state.

What Causes Brown Water in Toilets?

If you’ve noticed the water in your toilet is brown, it could be due to any of the following reasons:

1. Rusty Pipes

Sometimes, brown water in toilets doesn’t come from the toilets themselves but rather from rusty pipes. Over time, pipes and plumbing fixtures can corrode, causing rust to form inside them. As water flows through these rusty pipes and fixtures, it can pick up small rust particles, discoloring the water. When the water reaches your toilet bowl, that strange brown hue appears.

So, how do you fix it? A good start is to identify the corroded pipes. If your home was constructed before 1986, it likely contains metal pipes such as copper, cast iron, and galvanized steel prone to rust after decades of use. Then again, even if your home’s piping system is lead-free, lead can leach into the water as it travels through millions of lead service lines to your home. When these pipes are exposed to water with high acidity or low mineral content, or the water sits too long inside them, it may corrode the pipes, leaching lead from them and discoloring the water flowing to your taps and inside your toilets.

The Solution

If you’ve discovered rusty pipes are the culprit, open several cold faucets inside your home and let them run for about 15 minutes. This will help flush out excess rust from the pipes. However, a more practical but costlier solution is to replace the entire plumbing system, as it eliminates the source of the rust—assuming the issue lies in your home’s plumbing and not the municipal water infrastructure. A professional plumber can assess the extent of the corrosion and install new pipes where necessary. If you suspect it is a neighborhood-wide problem, consult your neighbors and contact the municipal water authority.

Learn more: America’s Aging Water Pipes: Is Your Tap Water at Risk? | How Lead in Water Affects Children and Adults

2. Old Toilet Parts

Over time, essential toilet components like the flapper and fill valve can deteriorate or become faulty. A worn-out flapper can no longer seal properly, allowing water to trickle into the bowl continuously. If the flapper material breaks down, it can introduce rust or debris into the water, resulting in brown discoloration. Similarly, a faulty fill valve may allow impurities from the water supply to enter the tank. Don’t worry, though. Fixing this problem is relatively easy.

The Solution

Replacing old toilet parts with new ones will prevent further contamination and restore the toilet’s functionality.

3. Excess Minerals

Excess minerals in your water supply might be the reason behind that brown color. Common culprits include iron and manganese. When the water enters your toilet tank and sits for some time, these minerals can precipitate and form deposits, resulting in a brown tint. Higher amounts not only make your water taste metallic but also leave a brown sticky slime inside the toilet bowl and tank. If not addressed quickly, this residue can clog, corrode, and stain plumbing fixtures, pipes, and appliances, increase bacterial infestation, cause unpleasant tastes and odors, etc.

Hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, can also contribute to brown water. Hard water, commonly found in areas with high mineral content, can leave deposits in your plumbing system and toilet fixtures. These deposits can affect the appearance of the water and contribute to the brown color.

The Solution

The first step to tackling excess minerals in water is to determine the amount in the water. A water test kit, available online, can evaluate the different minerals and contaminants in your water supply. Once the specific concentrations are established, you can devise a plan to deal with them.

SpringWell Water Softener

One easy way to handle iron and manganese is to soak the tank, bowl, and toilet components overnight with white vinegar to break down the mineral buildup. For hard water, consider installing a water softener or using descaling agents to remove calcium, magnesium, and other hardness-causing minerals to prevent brown water issues.

Related: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances | Is Your Water Causing Orange Hair? Iron Could Be The Culprit!

4. Clogged Pipes

Dealing with a clogged pipe can be a real headache. But, unfortunately, it’s another possible reason for that brown water in your toilet. Clogs can occur due to toilet paper, waste that doesn’t break down quickly, a buildup of so-called flushable wipes (which aren’t always as flushable as they claim to be), and even years of residue accumulating in the pipes. Below, we’ll help you navigate this plumbing predicament.

The Solution

To determine if a clogged pipe is to blame, check if the other toilets in your home are also experiencing the brown water issue. If they’re flowing clear, you can breathe a sigh of relief and scratch clogged pipes off the list of suspects. However, if you start noticing changes in water flow and pressure, detect strange odors wafting from your toilet, or experience frustratingly slow draining, chances are your pipes are clogged and causing the brown water dilemma.

If a clogged pipe is indeed the case, you’ll need to act swiftly to get it fixed, as the pressure in the water pipe can build up and potentially lead to cracks or even an expensive pipe breakage. Usually, it’s best to call a professional plumber to work their magic. They’ll likely run a plumbing snake—a long, flexible wire that can navigate through drains and pipes—to remove the clog or use a pipe camera to pinpoint the issue’s exact location. However, if the clog seems closer to your toilet, you can give it a few good plunges to see if that will clear the blockage. If that doesn’t work, you might need to call a plumber.

Related: 6 Things You Should Never Pour Down the Drain | 7 Reasons Your Home Has Low Water Pressure & How to Fix It

5. A Lack of Toilet Cleaning

Have you been delaying cleaning your toilet bowl regularly or putting it off altogether? If so, that could explain the brown color in your toilet water. Allowing days or weeks to pass without thoroughly cleaning your toilet bowl can cause mold, bacteria, and brown deposits to form inside the bowl and tank. When these deposits mix with the incoming clean water during flushing, they give the water a brownish tint.

The Solution

Fortunately, the solution is pretty straightforward. Grab a toilet brush and a bathroom cleaner (or toilet bowl solution), and scrub diligently. Pay close attention to areas around the rim where water flows into the bowl. If the water in the toilet goes from brown to clear due to your cleaning efforts, then the problem is resolved. If not, try the solutions below.

Related: What Causes Pink Bathroom Slime, and How Do I Remove It?

6. Municipal Work or Water Source Issues

Occasionally, brown water in toilets can be a temporary issue caused by maintenance work carried out by your water provider. During such work, sediments or rust may be stirred up in the pipes, leading to temporary discoloration. Similarly, changes in the water source, such as heavy rainfall or algae blooms, can affect water quality.

The Solution

In most cases, these issues are temporary. However, if the problem persists or poses health concerns, we recommend contacting your water provider for further guidance. Installing a whole-house water filtration system can be particularly useful during such disruptions in water quality. This system is designed to remove sediment, rust, dirt, and other contaminants that may surface during these periods, ensuring that the water you use throughout your home remains clean and clear.

Related: How Hurricanes Can Affect Drinking Water Quality

7. Sewer Line Issues

If your sewer line gets blocked, it can hinder wastewater flow. This means backups can occur, potentially causing the wastewater to mix with the incoming clean water supply. And the result? Brown-looking water in your toilet bowl. You might also have to deal with the unpleasant odors that come hand in hand with sewage and other contaminants.

The Solution

It’s best to leave sewer line issues to the pros. A skilled plumber can thoroughly inspect your sewer line, identify the root cause of the problem, and proceed with the necessary repairs. Again, sewer line problems require professional attention. Attempting to tackle them yourself can lead to further complications and mess.

Related: The Dangers of Sewage In Drinking Water

8. Corroded Well

If your water comes from a well, and you’re noticing brown water not only in your toilets but also from your faucets, there’s a good chance that rust or corrosion lurking inside that well is to blame.

Corrosion can affect various well components, including pipes, pumps, and casing. When these components deteriorate, they introduce rust into the water supply, leading to unsightly brown water in your toilets. Additionally, certain minerals like iron and manganese, naturally occurring in some water sources, can gradually accumulate over time and contribute to discoloration, giving your water that unpleasant brown hue.

The Solution

To confirm whether corrosion in your well is causing the issue, collect a water sample directly from the well and carefully inspect it for the classic signs of brown well water. Look out for dust, sediment buildup, or thick, slimy water consistency, as these can serve as indicators. If you suspect your well is old or compromised, we highly recommend contacting a water treatment specialist for their expertise. Better yet, consider having the well tested to ensure it complies with the regulations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Specifically designed filters for wells, such as the Springwell Whole House Well Water Filter, excel at removing rust particles and other common contaminants in well water. This particular Springwell Water Filter incorporates cutting-edge technologies and advanced features to filter all the water entering your home thoroughly.

It efficiently eliminates up to 8 parts per million (ppm) of hydrogen sulfide, up to 7 ppm of iron, and one ppm of manganese. The system requires minimal maintenance, and you can set it to perform a daily backwash to remove accumulated contaminants and replenish the filter media bed. The regeneration process also introduces a fresh air pocket into the system, eliminating any lingering sulfur smell you may have experienced.

Related: Buying a House with a Well System? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Final Thoughts

Nothing’s more frustrating than lifting the toilet seat to find a bowl of brown, murky water. You try flushing it, but brown water keeps flowing. Sometimes, it may be rust inside your pipes, municipal water system, or even within your well. Other times, it may be clogged pipes, water system maintenance, etc. But no matter what the cause is, it always helps to have a water filtration system to prevent contaminants from reaching your faucets and into your drinking glass. A whole-house water filter treats all the water entering your home, blocking sediment, chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants from invading your water supply and wreaking havoc on your health and home.

To learn more about Springwell’s top-quality water filtration systems, don’t hesitate to contact us at 800-589-5592 or via chat.