Home / See It
The following series of issues relate to discoloration or particles you can easily see when filling up your glass, bathtub, or toilet.
Discolored water on the cold water line can result from both controlled and uncontrolled events in the water distribution system. This can include main breaks, use of fire hydrants for fire fighting, water main flushing efforts, and other normal system operations. Plumbing inside your home or office can also be the cause of discolored water. This is especially true if you consistently see slight discoloration each morning when you first turn on the tap.
If you have discolored water, a main break, or other situation in your area that has resulted in your drinking water being discolored, the best thing you can do is flush your plumbing. Please follow the following instructions:
Flushing After a Discolored Water Event
As noted in this tool, there are times where our crews do work in an area and disturb sediment in the water main. This may cause temporary discolored water in your home. If you noticed discolored water, follow these steps:
- Flush the COLD water faucet in the bathtub (or elsewhere that has individual hot and cold knobs – you do NOT want to pull from the hot water faucet).
- After this faucet runs clear, flush all other COLD water household faucets.
- If discolored water has been drawn into the water heater, it may continue to be discolored until the discoloration has either been flushed out by use or has settled. You may need to flush your water heater. If so, please follow your water heater manual or call a licensed plumber.
Please view the below information to determine the likely cause of your discoloration issue.
If you experience yellow, brown, or red water for more than 24 hours, please call Customer Service at (502) 583-6610.
Choose the issue you're experiencing
Brown, Orange, or Yellow Water on First Draw
If you regularly turn on your faucet and have a short period of brown or yellow water before clearing up, this could indicate an internal plumbing problem in your house. Many houses have galvanized iron pipe or galvanized fixtures. These have zinc coatings inside, and when the zinc coating wears thin, the water comes in contact with bare iron causing it to become discolored. The longer the water stays static in the pipes, the more discolored it will become. That is why this problem is usually noticeable the first time you turn on the tap in the morning.
Flush the line for a minute or so and the water should become clear. Iron poses no health risk when consumed. Iron is an essential nutrient and is only considered an aesthetic issue.
Light yellow to dark, reddish brown water is typically caused by a disturbance of sediments in the water main. The discoloration is primarily due to dissolved iron that occurs naturally in all water systems. This dissolved iron can be stirred up due to various activities, including:
- Planned cleaning of the water main to remove pipeline sediments in your area
- Entities such as fire departments opening or closing of a water hydrant for pressure testing
- Pipeline repair work (or construction activity) in the area can also contribute.
Iron is an aesthetic issue and is not an indicator that the water is unsafe or that the integrity of the water main has been compromised. We always maintain a disinfectant residual to ensure that the water is safe for household use, including cooking and drinking. If you experience this type of discolored water, make sure to run the cold water tap until it runs clear and clear the lines to your laundry facility to prevent articles of clothing from becoming stained.
Please call Customer Service at (502) 583-6610 to report any discoloration that has not cleared within a few hours.
Black or Gray Water
When water appears gray or black, it is typically caused by a disturbance of manganese sediment in the pipeline. Manganese is a naturally occurring sediment and is an aesthetic issue. The presence of manganese sediment is not an indicator that the water is unsafe or that the integrity of the water main has been compromised. A disinfectant residual is always maintained to ensure that the water is safe for household use, including cooking and drinking. If you experience this type of discolored water, make sure to run the cold water tap until it runs clear and clear the lines to your laundry facility to prevent articles of clothing from becoming stained.
Please call Customer Service at (502) 583-6610 to report any discoloration lasting longer than 24 hours with internal flushing or clears but returns every few days.
Cloudy, Foamy, or Milky Water
Cloudy, foamy, or milky-looking water is usually caused by tiny air bubbles. This phenomenon is called entrained air and does not affect the quality of your water. The water is perfectly safe to drink. This is most common in the winter. Why? When water temperatures are cold (<50ᵒF), extra oxygen molecules are readily accepted by the water molecule (H2O).
The water and air are then held under pressure in your water pipes, much like a bottle of soda. When you turn on your tap, the pressure is released, causing the bubbles to appear, just as removing the cap from a soda bottle causes the soda to fizz. If you allow a glass of water to stand for a few minutes, the cloudiness will begin to clear at the bottom and rise to the top.
Having blue water is very uncommon and is usually the result of a couple of things. If your water supply was recently turned off, a condition may have been created in which water from the toilet tank was siphoned back into the plumbing of your house. If you use blue disinfectant in your toilet, it can cause discoloration of your tap water. These disinfectants contain chemicals that may pose health hazards if ingested or touched. Flush your plumbing by opening each tap until the water runs clear. Do not drink this water.
Blue water can also be an indicator of copper corrosion. This is most common in establishments that have soda fountains. If you have soda fountains with carbonation and are experiencing blue water, blue ice, or if customers are describing bitter tasting water or upset stomachs in your establishment, shut down the soda fountains immediately and contact your beverage supplier.
Please call Customer Service immediately at (502) 583-6610 to report this issue.
Standing water, such as in a white bathtub, will sometimes appear to have a greenish tint to it. Fluorescent lighting can also give the water a green appearance. To test this, fill a white bucket with water and take it outside, there should be no color visible in natural light.
If the water still appears green, please call Customer Service at (502) 583-6610.
The pink/red/orange discoloration that you see on bathroom fixtures, grout, and shower curtains come from a biofilm of the bacteria Serratia marcescens and is often mistakenly called “pink mold.” Serratia is an airborne bacterium and cannot survive in the water supply itself. It thrives in moist areas, such as a showers, and feeds on mineral deposits, toothpaste residue, and soap scum.
Serratia can be removed with a little elbow grease. Mix a quarter-cup baking soda and a tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Using a soft bristle brush, loosen the patches of biofilm and rinse them away. You should take precautions to minimize your exposure to the bacteria by wearing gloves and protective glasses.
Make sure to also disinfect the area and kill any remaining bacteria colonies to prevent it from reestablishing. An antibacterial cleaner with bleach is recommended for killing any bacteria left behind. Spray the cleaner on the areas and allow contact time of at least 10 minutes. Using another soft bristle brush, scrub all surfaces and rinse. This process may need to be repeated every few days until all the colonies are removed.
Particles or Solids
Black particles typically come from three common sources: a broken water filter, a degrading faucet washer or gasket, or a disintegrating black rubber flexible supply line hose (for a water heater, washing machine, or kitchen faucet, etc.).
If the particles are very hard, similar in size and shape, and look like large coffee grounds, they are probably granular activated carbon (GAC) particles from the inside of a GAC water filter that you have installed.
Action: Replace the filter cartridge or consult with the manufacturer or the vendor who sold it to you.
If the particles are solid but rubbery in texture, they could be pieces of an old disintegrating faucet washer or gasket. If this is the problem, the particles would likely only be present at one faucet, and which may also be leaky.
Action: Replace the faucet washers and the packing at the ends of the supply lines.
If the particles are small black particles that can be easily smeared between two fingers, or have a tar like consistency, they are probably from the inside of a flexible hose connected to the water heater or connecting supply lines to faucet lines under sinks. These black rubber hoses are covered with a braided stainless-steel mesh. Over time, the chloramine in the water causes the rubber to break down.
Action: The flexible line will need to be replaced. We recommend that you contact a licensed plumber to assure that all fixtures meet local plumbing codes.
Brown or Orange Particles
Brown or orange particles can be rust particles that have broken off the inside of your private water pipes or water mains and may appear with brown, orange, or yellow water. These particles can also come from aging or failing water heaters. The particles are very hard, irregular in size and shape, and can be several different colors (including black). This type of sediment is an aesthetic issue and not considered a health hazard.
A malfunctioning water softener can also be a common source of brown or orange particles in tap water. In this case, the particles will be uniform in size, typically the size of fish eggs, are brown or orange, and feel spherical if rubbed between your fingers. These microbeads are contained within the water softener unit by a thin membrane that can deteriorate and break over time. This can release millions of these microbeads into your water lines.
Action: If you can locate the bypass valve of your softener, you can temporarily resolve the issue until you can call your service agent for repairs. If the device is not in use, you will want to make sure there is no hookup to your internal plumbing – even if the device is unplugged, it can affect your water quality.
White or tan particles in the water usually come from internal plumbing. These fragments are called pipe scale, which is a combination of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. Calcium and magnesium carbonates are naturally occurring minerals and are not a health hazard. These particles are typically small. These particles can also be present after melting ice in water. The change in temperature from normal cold tap to ice to water again leads the calcium carbonate to precipitate out of solution and appear as flakes. It is not a health hazard.
The water heater can be another source for white or tan particles. As the water is heated, calcium and magnesium carbonates can precipitate out of the water, forming white or tan sand-like deposits. As you use the hot water, these minerals can be carried along. To keep mineral deposits from accumulating in the water heater, follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions of your water heater.
If the white particles are clogging the aerators of faucets, shower heads, and appliances, they could also be coming from the water heater. A water heater contains a plastic dip tube that takes the cold incoming water to the bottom of the tank. As the tube ages, it can disintegrate, sending white particles throughout the hot water lines. These particles are brittle and vary in size and shape.
They can look like chips, shards, or even plastic strips. Contact the manufacturer of your water heater for more information on your particular model. The model and serial numbers are found on the manufacturer’s label stuck to the outside of the water heater tank.
Action: We recommend that you contact a licensed plumber to assure that your water heater is functioning properly.
Scale or White Residue
The scale or sediment left behind on fixtures, white surfaces, and pots after water evaporates are calcium and magnesium carbonates. These deposits may appear green, blue, or brown, having been colored by tiny amounts of the metals found in your water pipes or fixtures. These are naturally occurring minerals and do not pose a health hazard.
Carbonate deposits can be dissolved with white vinegar, which is an acid. Alternatively, dishwasher deposits can be minimized by using a commercial conditioner, by using liquid detergents, and by using the air-dry feature instead of the power-dry setting on your dishwasher. Some recommend using white vinegar to clean dishwashers every so often, but there is some concern of it being too acidic for internal parts. Always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations before using commercial products on your appliance.