Seeing brown water, that resembles coffee, come out of your faucet is never a pleasant experience. But it happens more frequently than it has to.
First, the most common reason, is rust coming from the water heater. The water doesn’t usually stay brown for long periods of time but it can clog aerators and cause damage to plumbing valves such as tub valve cartridges, dishwasher filters, ice maker valves/filters and toilet fill valves. We mention ice maker valve/filters because many years ago, before refrigerator water dispensers were common, plumbers tied the ice maker line into the hot water piping.
Second, a section of galvanized piping may be present somewhere in your piping system. Some older homes, and even some newer homes, may have sections of galvanized piping. Galvanized pipe, even though it was used a lot in the mid 1900s, rusts and shouldn’t be used for water lines in the 2000s. So make sure your plumber doesn’t use galvanized pipe or fittings on any water line (water heaters and hose bibs are 2 common places we find galvanized piping).
Third, debris from the utility company’s main water line. Sometimes the local fire department flushes fire hydrants and sometimes the water company has to repair main utility water lines. This process breaks debris free from the pipe walls of the municipal main water line and that debris can flow into your home’s piping system. Often water will be brownish and typically clears up within a day or two. But this debris can get trapped in your faucet aerators, foul your toilet fill valve, and lodge in other plumbing valves.
The main way to prevent rust from entering your water lines is to flush your water heater annually. Water heaters also produce scale which is not good for your plumbing system either. Tank water heaters have a steel tank, which rusts over time. If this rust is allowed to build up in the tank, it will eventually spread into your water piping and move on to your faucets/fixtures.
The other easy way to help prevent rust and brown water is to make sure your “plumber” doesn’t use galvanized piping or galvanized fittings for any water supply line such as water heaters and hose bibs. I put plumber in quotes because a reputable plumber will never use galvanized pipe or fittings for any potable water application.
If you know the city is flushing fire hydrants or if the water company has performed a main line pipe repair nearby, try flushing your front hose bib for a little while before using any water indoors. Hopefully this will keep the rusty water from entering your home’s piping. If you notice brown water at a faucet, run a tub for a bit since most tub spouts don’t have an aerator. Also, remove and clean your faucet aerators to remove any debris.
We hope we’ve shed a little light on the causes of brown water coming out of your faucets/fixtures and how to try to fix the problem.