Smell It? Taste It?

[ Water Quality - See It?]

Smell and taste are categorized together since those two senses are dependent upon each other for an accurate characterization of an issue. With smell or taste issues, the first step is to determine if the problem exists in the public water supply or in your plumbing. If the public water supply is causing the odor, you will experience the odor from the cold water at every water faucet, and it will not fade as the water runs.

If the source of the odor is in your plumbing, most commonly the drains, you will experience the odor in only one or several, but not all, of the faucets. If the problem goes away after running the water for a few minutes, the cause is somewhere in your plumbing.

When you detect an odor in your tap water, we ask that you perform what we call a “glass test” at the faucet where you first noticed the odor.

  1. Run the cold water tap for one minute.
  2. Get a clean glass.
  3. Fill and rinse twice with cold tap water.
  4. Fill the glass a third time and turn off the faucet.
  5. Step away from the sink, into an adjacent room. This helps eliminate the possibility of mistaking odors from your drain for odors in your water.
  6. Smell the water in the glass and characterize the odor, if any. Please see the descriptions below to identify the odor you are detecting.


Chlorine/ Chemical / Medicinal Odor

If the odor is medicinal, it is most likely the chloramine (also called total chlorine) that Louisville Water uses to disinfect the water to ensure that it is safe to drink. This is similar to what is used for disinfecting swimming pools, but the total chlorine level in our drinking water is a fraction of what is found in pools and spas. Still, you may occasionally detect the smell of chlorine in your water. This odor may be particularly strong in the shower since chlorine is released to the air more rapidly when mixed with hot water. 

Foul / Sulfur / Rotten Egg / Sewage Odor

Sulfur, rotten egg , or sewage smells can often be due to bacteria in sink drain traps. You can verify this by following the “glass test” above. You’ll only smell the odor over the sink, but not in the glass. This smell can be resolved through the following options.

  • Fill the sink with hot water and a few tablespoons of bleach. Allow that mixture to flush through the drain trap. You can also add a few tablespoons to the drain trap at bedtime and let it stand through the night. Do not run the water until morning to give the bleach time to kill the bacteria in the drain. This may take more than one application.
  • Heat a pot of water or vinegar almost to a boil, and then pour half down the drain. Wait for a few minutes, rinse pipes with cold water, and then pour the remaining hot water or vinegar down the drain.
  • Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by two cups of hot vinegar. Let sit for one hour, then flush the drain with hot tap water.
  • If the previous steps do not help, you may need to disassemble the drain trap and clean it out. If you are not comfortable doing this, call a licensed plumber.

Alternatively, if the glass test indicates the odor is coming from the water, determine if it is happening with your cold or hot water.

  • If the odor is coming from the COLD water in the glass, please call Customer Service at 502.583.6610 to report the issue.
  • If the odor is coming only from the HOT water, we recommend that you contact a licensed plumber.

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Swampy / Fishy / Earthy / Musty / Moldy / Grassy Odor

Algae blooms on the Ohio River during summer months can sometimes cause these odors. It can be exacerbated by living on a dead-end water main,found in some cul-de-sacs. If you are experiencing this, and believe that you live on a dead-end main please call Customer Service at 502.583.6610 to report the issue. To learn more about algae blooms, read this from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Gasoline, Turpentine, or Organic Solvent Odor

If you smell gasoline or an organic solvent odor in the cold water, call Customer Service immediately at 502.583.6610 to report this issue. This problem is rare and potentially serious. Refrain from using the water until speaking with a Water Quality Specialist.

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Taste

Plastic/Latex/Chalky

If you detect an odor characteristic of plastics/latex or chalk, and you are located in a project zone where new water mains are being installed, please call Customer Service at 502.583.6610 to report the issue. To see if you are in an active project zone, check here.

If you haven’t found a description of the issue you are experiencing, please report the issue to Customer Service at 502.583.6610.

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COVID-19 and Taste/Smell Issues

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been learned about the human health impacts of the virus. A common symptom of the disease is temporary or sustained loss of taste (anosmia) and/or smell (dysgeusia). According to research, a small percentage of infected individuals have persistent smell and taste issues, including anosmia, hyposmia (reduced smell), and parosmia (distorted smell). Recovering COVID-19 patients have noted on and off taste and smell issues as well as the distortion of taste and smell many months after initial onset of symptoms.

Public drinking water utilities have reported hearing from customers in the past year who are experiencing unusual taste or odor issues. The complaints do not fit within a typical diagnostic process and may not be replicable. Some of these tastes and odors for drinking water utilities have included the following:

  • Chemical, bleachy, rubbing alcohol
  • Musty, rotten, earthy, burnt
  • Other odd smells (coffee, urine, etc.)

If you experienced loss of taste and/or smell with COVID-19 and have been experiencing sustained issues with smell or water in your household, contact your physician for further evaluation.

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Flushing After 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:

  1. 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).
  2. After this faucet runs clear, flush all other COLD water household faucets.
  3. 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.

If you experience yellow, brown, or red water for more than 24 hours please call Customer Service at 502.583.6610.

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