Why Does My Drinking Water Taste Like Metal?
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When you turn on your faucet, you expect fresh, great-tasting water to come gushing out, as it usually does. But perhaps you’ve been noticing a metallic flavor in the water lately—like old pennies had been marinating in it overnight. The taste may have been so overwhelming that you couldn’t even force yourself to drink the water, let alone use it for cooking or baking.
Understandably, you may be curious about what could be causing this strange metallic taste and how to get rid of it. If so, this article explores:
- The common culprits behind metal-flavored water.
- The potential health risks of drinking metallic water.
- Simple and effective solutions for getting your water to taste fresh again.
Stick around as we delve into these and other relevant topics.
What’s Causing that Metallic Taste in My Water?
Why does my drinking water taste like metal? It’s a question many homeowners grapple with after discovering their drinking water has lost its pure, neutral flavor and now tastes like it’s been mixed with metal powder.
There may be a few reasons for this strange metallic taste, many of which depend on where your water comes from and the materials used in your plumbing system.
Let’s look at some of the most common causes:
1. Old Rusty City Pipes or Older Residential Plumbing
City water in America typically travels through an extensive distribution system to reach our homes. This network comprises miles of underground metal pipes, many installed as early as the 1800s, with little to no repairs or replacements. Fast-forward to today; some are old, worn out, and deteriorating rapidly.
As acidic water (i.e., water with a pH below 7) comes into contact with these pipes for prolonged periods, they start to rust even quicker, causing them to dissolve metals like lead, copper, zinc, and iron into the water supply. This phenomenon, known as leaching, directly introduces bits of metal into your water as the water travels to your home. This might explain why your drinking water tastes metallic.
Your household plumbing may also be the culprit. If your home was built before 1981, chances are your water tastes like metal. That’s because most older houses in America were constructed with pipes made from iron, copper, or galvanized steel, with a maximum lifespan of 80–100 years.
Typically, a layer of zinc was added to these steel pipes to extend their lifespan. But as you probably know, zinc often contains some lead and iron. Over time, water passing through a home’s plumbing system can corrode the galvanized pipe wall. The zinc interior may then degrade into small deposits of iron and other metals, which settle or dissolve in the water, potentially giving it a metallic taste.
2. Low pH Levels
The pH of your water could also be the reason for the metallic taste. PH ranges from 0-14, with seven being neutral. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity and the more metallic the water likely will taste.
Purified water usually has a pH of 6.5-8, giving it a nice, mild flavor. But sometimes, the water’s pH decreases for various reasons, potentially dropping into more acidic territory below 6.5, where it becomes corrosive. As the pH falls, hydrogen ions in the water wear away the metal pipes and plumbing components and dissolve materials like iron, manganese, lead, copper, and zinc. These metals can then leach into your drinking water supply and give the water a metallic flavor.
But even if the metals haven’t started leaching yet, the increased acidity imparts an unpleasant taste by activating more of your acid-sensing receptors on your taste buds, according to this study. The water may not have a flavor, but your taste buds may translate the water’s excess acidity into a sour, metallic taste.
3. High Metal Content
Another likely reason for that hint of metal in your water is the presence of certain trace metals. These metals are primarily found in well water and are notorious for giving water a metallic taste.
Groundwater is likely to taste more metallic than surface water because it comes from underground. As the water journeys through layers of soil, sand, minerals, and rocks, it picks up various naturally occurring metals. These include iron, manganese, copper, and zinc, many of which can impart their undesirable metal-like flavors in the water.
Besides, groundwater isn’t treated with the same processes (or at all) as city water. As a result, metals are more likely to get left behind and, by extension, the lingering metallic taste. Many cities get their water from unprotected wells, so these residents are more likely to consume water that tastes metallic.
4. High Chlorine Levels
Another potential cause of metallic-tasting tap water? The disinfectants are added during water treatment. Compounds like chlorine and chloramine are often added to public water supplies to kill disease-causing microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasites. While this helps make water safer to drink, these harsh chemical disinfectants can dissolve metals from pipes and plumbing and cause the water to taste metallic over time.
5. Certain Health Conditions
Sometimes, the metallic taste doesn’t come from the water itself but from a health condition that changes how you perceive the water’s flavor. According to Mayo Clinic, the following health problems could be responsible for that lingering metallic taste:
- Poor oral hygiene: Not prioritizing your oral health can lead to gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth infections, which can cause a metallic taste.
- Prescription drugs and over-the-counter vitamins or medicines: Certain medications, such as antibiotics (e.g., clarithromycin, metronidazole, tetracycline), antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and others, can cause a metallic taste as a side effect. Similarly, prenatal vitamins, iron, or calcium supplements could be the cause. Multivitamins with copper, zinc, or chromium can also leave a metallic flavor.
- Indigestion: Heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion are known to make certain beverages taste metallic—and water is no exception.
- Infections: Colds, sinus, upper respiratory infections, tooth infections, and other infections can lead to a metallic taste, which should disappear once you’re better.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to a metallic flavor, which may be temporary and resolve after childbirth.
- Allergies: While less common, specific allergies and underlying medical conditions can also be associated with a metallic taste in the mouth.
Is It Safe to Drink Water That Tastes Like Metal?
If your water tastes metallic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unsafe to drink—although it can hinder your daily hydration. It all depends on what’s causing the metallic flavor. Certain metals in water are tied to severe health problems.
Let’s explore the dangers of a few of these metal elements:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s no safe level of lead in water—which should give you an idea of how toxic it is. Children are especially vulnerable to the destructive effects of lead, as their tiny bodies absorb more of the metal than adults, and their young developing brains may get permanent damage more easily.
It’s truly heartbreaking, considering that children in roughly 4 million households across the country are exposed to lead. Adults aren’t immune either, especially pregnant women who pass that lead straight to their unborn babies.
Like lead pipes, copper pipes, and other components can leach dangerous amounts of the metal into drinking water. While small quantities of copper are considered safe—and even essential for health, too much of it can lead to short-term symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, headaches, abdominal cramps, blood in your vomit, and weakness.
Prolonged exposure to high copper levels is linked to brain damage, liver damage or failure, kidney problems, heart failure, abnormalities in red blood cells, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Those with certain genetic conditions make it harder for the body to absorb copper properly, putting them at a higher risk of these symptoms when drinking water with excess copper levels.
Over time, corrosive water can break down the protective zinc coating inside galvanized steel pipes, allowing iron to leach into the water. In most cases, this iron gives water a metallic flavor and causes unsightly rust-colored stains on surfaces.
Similar to copper, some dietary iron is healthy. However, excess iron consumed through contaminated water can lead to various health problems, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and even organ damage over time, depending on the level and length of exposure.
Learn more: How to Remove Iron from Your Private Well Water
What Should I Do If My Water Tastes Like Metal?
So, your drinking water tastes metallic. What do you do about it? First, you’ll want to find an alternative water source that provides clean, great-tasting water, then pinpoint the underlying cause and take steps to address it.
Below, we provide some tips to help you get to the bottom of that metal-flavored-water dilemma and how to treat it:
1. Test Your Water
Start by having your water tested, as it will provide valuable insights into whether metals, chlorine, a pH shift, or other water quality issues are altering the water’s flavor. Testing can also help determine if specific contaminants exceed recommended health guidelines.
Why is this important? Because certain heavy metals pose higher risks to pregnant mothers, infants, children, and those with compromised immune systems. If anyone from these groups drinks your water, it’s essential to know the exact contaminant levels in your water supply—and testing your water is the only way to achieve that.
Water testing is typically inexpensive or even free through your local water utility. You can also find local water testing laboratories on the EPA website.
2. Flush Your Pipes and Faucets
As explained earlier, water—especially when it’s chlorinated or has a low pH—can interact with the metals in galvanized steel, lead, brass, and copper pipes and fittings. The longer water sits stagnant in your home’s plumbing; the more metals can slowly leach into the water from the pipe walls and joints. Over time, this can give the water an unpleasant metallic flavor.
You can clear out the stagnant water accumulating the metals by running taps for 15-30 seconds before using the water for drinking or cooking. Flushing brings in fresh water from the main supply line entering your house, thus minimizing contact time with your home’s internal plumbing and the associated metal contamination behind the “off” tastes.
3. Clean Your Faucet Aerators
At the tip of your faucets are small screens known as aerators. They mix air into the flowing water to prevent splashing and help ensure a smooth stream when you turn on the tap. Unfortunately, metal particles can become trapped in these faucet aerators. As they build up, they eventually dislodge when you turn the faucet on, releasing high concentrations of metals into the water and imparting a foul, metallic taste.
So, remove and clean or replace your faucet aerators every few months to prevent metals and other debris from accumulating. You can manually unscrew and remove the aerators to access the trapped gunk inside. Once removed, soak them in white vinegar and scrub them clean with an old toothbrush. You’ll likely see visible particulates flushed out, perhaps including tiny flecks of metal, possibly from corroding pipes. After cleaning the aerator, reinstall or install a new one to prevent this metallic debris from dislodging into your water every time you use the tap.
4. Drink Cold Water
Only use water from your cold tap for drinking, cooking, or making baby formula. Heat drives chemical reactions faster. So, more metals leach into your water supply when hot water sits in pipes and fittings for extended periods. If you need to drink water, avoid using water that has gone through home heaters or boilers, as they can concentrate these harmful contaminants to sometimes vastly more dangerous levels.
5. Install a Water Filter
Filtering your drinking water reduces the amount of dissolved metals, sediment, chlorine byproducts, and other contaminants affecting the water’s taste. Under counter water filter systems are an excellent choice if you only want filtered water in your kitchen faucet and not in your bathrooms or elsewhere. Usually, under sink systems use reverse osmosis to eliminate many metals and chemicals from water, including lead, mercury, fluoride, arsenic, aluminum, iron, chlorine, chloramine, herbicides, pesticides, chlorine byproducts, and more.
Metal-tasting water is common in many households, especially on wells or older metal plumbing. While drinking water that tastes metallic isn’t always harmful, you risk ingesting metals and other contaminants that could harm your health.
If you want to ensure your water is clean and tastes great, we recommend installing a water filter system to remove heavy metals from your water supply. For a list of reliable, high-performance water filters, please see our list of the best water filters for your home.
If you want to learn more about water contamination, treatment, and other relevant subjects, our blog provides a diverse range of articles that explore different areas.