Does Your Water Taste Sweet? Here are 8 Possible Causes
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Candy, soda, lemonade–we expect sweetness from treats like these. But the water flowing from our taps? Certainly not. Plain water should be tasteless. Yet, you might have noticed that your tap water has a slightly sweet flavor, which can be puzzling and even off-putting.
There are a few reasons your water might taste sweet; some are harmless, and some potentially signal an underlying issue that needs immediate attention. This article explores some common causes so you can finally get to the bottom of this dilemma.
1. Your water contains chlorine.
If your water comes from a municipality, your local water provider may have added chlorine to the water to kill microorganisms that can cause various dangerous waterborne diseases. You may have also disinfected your well water with chlorine to achieve similar results.
However, chlorine can give the water a table-sugar-like sweet taste at low concentrations. Conversely, excess chlorine can make water taste bitter, metallic, or like bleach. The taste and odor of chlorine in water can also vary depending on temperature, pH, chemicals, and other factors.
How to Remove Chlorine from Your Tap Water
There are various ways to strip chlorine from your drinking water, like boiling it for 5-10 minutes or allowing it to sit in a container for 8 to 12 hours to allow the chlorine gas to dissipate. However, installing an activated carbon water filter is the most practical option.
As water passes through the filter, the carbon absorbs and traps the chlorine molecules and other contaminants, leaving you with cleaner, fresher-tasting water. Just make sure to look for filters certified to reduce chlorine.
2. Your water has a high mineral content.
One of the most common reasons for sweet-tasting tap water is the presence of certain dissolved minerals in the water supply. As water journeys through soil and rock, it picks up minerals like calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonates, making the water “hard.” This explains why well water, which commonly contains higher levels of minerals, usually has a naturally sweeter taste than municipal water.
Aside from clogging pipes, staining fixtures, and irritating skin and hair, mineral ions can impart a sweet, almost salty flavor in the water when levels get too high. Essentially, these ions suppress the perception of other tastes like sourness and bitterness, creating a sweet sensation on your tongue by comparison. Receptors for sweetness are also sensitive to metallic tastes, so some people may perceive this same sweet flavor due to the minerals stimulating the same taste receptors on the tongue responsible for detecting sweetness.
Many people describe this sweetness as chalky or mineral-like. Soft water, on the other hand, has fewer dissolved solids and tends to taste more neutral and refreshing.
How to Remove Excess Minerals from Your Tap Water
First, you’ll need to determine if your water contains excess minerals. This might mean calling your local water provider and asking about any recent changes or issues with the water supply in your area.
Also, consider requesting a copy of their most recent water quality report. This document typically includes information about the hardness of the water, concentrations of specific contaminants, etc. Water hardness is expressed in milligrams per liter (mg/L), parts per million (ppm), or grains per gallon (gpg).
We recommend enlisting a local state-certified laboratory to test your water for a more precise overview of your water quality. There, experts will evaluate your water sample, provide valuable insights into the condition of the water, and recommend filtration solutions based on its chemistry. An advanced water test kit can cost over $100, depending on the scope of testing and the number of parameters being analyzed. But for the level of testing and accuracy offered, it’s certainly worth it.
If high mineral content is identified as the cause, installing a water softener may help reduce the levels of calcium and magnesium, which can contribute to water hardness and the associated sweet taste. As a bonus, softening your water will also prevent limescale buildup in appliances and around faucets and help keep your hair and skin looking and feeling healthier out of the shower.
3. You’re on medication or have a health condition.
Sometimes, a persistent sweet taste in water may not be due to the water itself but an underlying medical condition secretly altering how you perceive the taste–particularly your sensitivity to sweetness. These include:
- Medications: Certain life-saving medications like antibiotics that treat infections and specific pills for allergies and blood pressure can alter your sense of taste. Harvard Health Publishing says, “They usually do this by directly affecting taste receptors, changing the way the taste buds send and receive nerve impulses, or changing the amount or chemical composition of saliva.”
- Diabetes and other metabolic problems: Diabetes–where your blood sugar levels are higher than average–can influence how you perceive different tastes. So, if you have this condition, you might find that foods and drinks, including water, taste sweeter or less sweet than they are. The same goes for other metabolic issues like ketosis or a thyroid disorder.
- Hyperglycemia: Even if you don’t have diabetes, your blood glucose level may still be elevated due to hyperglycemia, which can also affect taste perception.
- Infection: According to Medical News Today, “Even simple infections, such as a cold, flu, or sinus infection, may cause the saliva to have more glucose in it.” This is because infections that affect the airways can interfere with how the brain responds to the taste senses. Glucose is a type of sugar that may cause a sweet taste in the mouth.
What to Do If Your Medication or Health Condition is Making Your Water Taste Sweet
If you have a medical condition or are taking medication and suspect it’s causing the sweet taste in your water, consult with your doctor immediately. They will most likely perform a physical exam in addition to diagnostic tests and ask about your medical history or any medications you are on. Once the cause of the unusual taste is determined, they will help you find a working treatment plan to keep your symptoms in check.
4. You have a hormone imbalance.
Hormonal imbalances may be to blame for a range of unwanted outcomes from fatigue and weight gain to itchy skin and low mood—and even sweet-tasting water.
Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in the endocrine system and released into the bloodstream. An imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little hormone.
Our perception of flavors relies heavily on a complex interplay between our taste buds and hormone signals in the body. When these hormones are out of balance, it can distort taste sensations from bitter to salty to sweet. This helps explain why hormone issues like pregnancy and menopause often come with noticeably altered senses of taste.
Specifically, estrogen often influences how the taste receptors on the tongue and brain interpret different flavors. For instance, the rapid increase in estrogen during the first trimester of pregnancy, followed by a steep drop before birth, may alter how the taste buds perceive different tastes.
Many pregnant women suddenly find that formerly savory foods like eggs trigger an unusual sugary sensation. The result is plain water suddenly registering untraceable sweet flavors without containing sugar. This is because the receptors meant to identify sour or salty flavors somehow wrongly trigger a sensation of sweetness instead.
How to Treat a Hormone Imbalance
If you suspect a hormone issue, make an appointment with your doctor, as the Cleveland Clinic recommends. They can check for underlying conditions like thyroid disorders, menopause, or diabetes that might be causing hormone fluctuations. Blood tests help pinpoint if levels are too high or low.
Aside from medical treatment, your provider may recommend specific lifestyle changes to help manage a hormonal imbalance, such as managing your stress levels and getting routine exercise.
5. You have a plumbing issue.
That odd, sweet taste in your water isn’t always an issue of chlorine, hard water, or a medical condition. It may be due to the pipes carrying water into and throughout your home.
Over time, water (especially when acidic) can slowly eat away at old metal pipes from the inside, causing them to corrode and leach tiny rust flakes into the water as it journeys to your tap. This is most common with iron, copper, lead, and galvanized steel pipes. Once dissolved, these bits of rust can alter the taste of the water. Some reports suggest that lead pipes, in particular, give water a sweet flavor.
Modern plastic pipes might seem safer, but they have problems, too. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process take time to fade, so new pipes can temporarily impact the taste of the water. Furthermore, PVC and PEX plastic pipes have tiny holes throughout them.
Extended contact with gasoline, oils, and solvents can cause the chemicals to absorb into these pore spaces and transfer to the water as it flows along or sits stagnant for long periods. Then, when you drink from the tap, you may notice that the water has a slightly sweet flavor.
How to Address Sweet-Tasting Water Caused By A Plumbing Issue
First, run the tap for five minutes to flush out the plumbing system. Turn on all the cold water taps to full. The high water flow rate through your home’s main supply line may help loosen particles and eliminate any mineral build-up in the system.
6. Biofilm has built up inside your pipes.
Biofilms are slimy layers of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Usually, this biofilm forms in low-flow, moist environments like inside pipes and other plumbing fixtures. It may dislodge from the pipe walls into the water as it travels to your faucets.
According to Phys.org, “A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.S. has found that a certain type of bacteria [found in biofilm] produces compounds that cause sweet taste receptors in the sinuses to activate.”
When these bacteria react with certain organic materials in the water, they metabolize and produce substances, including exopolysaccharides and other organics, that can impart a sweet flavor when dissolved.
How to Prevent Biofilm Buildup in Pipes and Fixtures
Flushing your plumbing system may help prevent biofilm formation and the sweet taste they can impart to drinking water. Shock chlorination is also another excellent option. It involves flushing high chlorine levels through your water system and allowing enough contact time to eradicate microbes and hinder their growth. Some also recommend driving food-grade hydrogen peroxide through pipes to disrupt and help control biofilms.
7. Your tap water is contaminated.
Occasionally, your water may be tainted with ethanol, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, or glycolic acid. Not only are some of these chemicals toxic, but one or more may be responsible for your water tasting sweet.
These industrial chemicals usually come from nearby factories, gas stations, airports, or car shops that have spilled them. But no matter their origin, a sudden sweet taste likely indicates their presence in your drinking water. Many of them have a sweet taste, so the water that contains them may also have the same sweet taste, depending on the concentration of each chemical.
How to Treat Contaminated Water
If you and your neighbors notice a weird, sweet flavor, contact your local water utility or health department to have it tested and treated as necessary. Otherwise, we suggest you have your water tested at a certified laboratory in your area and invest in a water filtration system to remove the contaminants if detected.
8. You ate something before drinking the water.
Believe it or not, the foods, beverages, gum, or candy you consume can temporarily alter how you perceive the taste of water. Ingredients like sugar, citric acid, ascorbic acid, salt, and artificial sweeteners can desensitize your taste buds or coat your mouth. This distortion lasts for up to an hour after eating or drinking.
During this time, plain water can strike your taste receptors as unpleasantly sweet. Even unsweetened tea, black coffee, vegetables, and bread may seem to leave a sweet residue on your palate. Dental hygiene products like mouthwash and sugary gum have a similar impact.
Before blaming your health or water quality, wait a few hours, and the sweet sensation in your mouth will likely disappear.
What To Do When Your Water Tastes Sweet
Although we’ve already shared some helpful tips on addressing the various causes of sweet-tasting water, the following is a general rule of thumb if you don’t see your issue in this article. So, here are some steps to fix tap water that tastes sweet:
Find out what’s causing the sweetness.
Sweet taste can be caused by various factors, as discussed earlier. Try to discount one of these at a time to identify the source.
Test your water.
Although a sweet taste in water isn’t always an issue with the water itself, it’s worth finding out if yours is an exception. So, test the water to identify any potential issues. You can purchase a water testing kit online or contact a laboratory or other professional to test the water.
If your water comes from a municipality, the EPA requires your local water authority to publish test results periodically. Remember that these tests are only accurate for the water at the treatment plant. The water quality may change as it journeys through pipes to your faucet, so consider testing the water again.
Install a home water treatment system.
Consider installing a home water filter system if your water tests positive for contaminants like bacteria, heavy metals, chemicals, etc. These devices are designed to eliminate toxins from water, enhancing its taste, smell, appearance, and overall quality. Your water treatment options include whole-house activated carbon water filters, under-counter reverse osmosis systems, UV water purification systems, sediment filters, pH neutralizers, and water softeners.
Learn more: The Best Water Filtration Systems for Your Home
Clean your household plumbing.
A slight syrupy flavor in your water might mean it’s time to clean your plumbing system properly. Corrosion and bacteria hiding in your pipes can sneak unwanted tastes into your water, so you want to flush the system regularly to prevent buildup and contamination.
Here’s a quick guide on how to clean and flush your plumbing system:
- Shut off the water supply to your home. This ensures water doesn’t flow through the system while you clean and flush it.
- Open every faucet inside and outside your house and let all the water drain out.
- If you have a water heater, shut it off and attach a hose to the bottom drain valve. Open the valve so all the water empties.
- Turn the water heater back on and let it fill with fresh water.
- Go to your highest faucet, like in an upstairs bathroom. Please turn it on and let the water run until it starts feeling colder, signaling that the hot water is being removed. Repeat this process for all faucets, starting from the highest to the lowest.
- Remove and scrub aerator screens on faucets to clean out sediment, mineral buildup, or other gunk.
- If you already have a water filter system, replace the filters after flushing.
- Turn the main valve back on and let the water circulate through the plumbing system. Check for leaks as pressure returns.
Contact your local water provider.
If your neighbors also have an issue with sweet-tasting water flowing from their taps, the problem may come from the public water source. So, contact your local water provider to address the issue. Water quality issues like high mineral content are common if you’re on well water. So, ensure your water is tested and install a quality water filter and softener to target and remove the offending contaminants and minerals and prevent such issues.
A sweet flavor likely isn’t something you expect from your drinking water, but it can happen now and then. It isn’t always the water itself that is sweet, but perhaps you ate something before drinking it, or you’re on medication or have a health condition that changes your perception of taste, causing food and even water to taste different.
As for the water itself, things like chlorine, a high mineral content, plumbing issues, etc., can give the water a slightly sweet taste. That’s why it’s essential to test your water to determine the culprit and install a home water treatment system, depending on the test results. Also, consider flushing your plumbing system to clear any corrosion or buildup.
But if you still have issues with your water tasting sweet despite taking these measures, consult a doctor to rule out any serious health issues and contact your local water provider to see if it’s a problem with the public water source.