Brown, red, orange, or yellow water is usually caused by rust. The different colors can be attributed to varying chemical oxidation states of the iron (rust) and by varying concentrations of the rust in the water. There are two major sources that can cause water to be rusty:
• The water mains, or
• The water pipes in your home or building.
Rusty water occurs from sediment in the pipes or rust from the inside walls of the water mains. The rust can be disturbed and temporarily suspended in water with unusual water flows from water main breaks, maintenance, or by hydrant use. This discolored water is not a health threat. When the water is discolored it is recommended to either not wash laundry or to use a rust stain remover or regular detergent but not chlorine bleach as it will react with the iron to form a permanent stain.
The other major cause of brown, red, orange or yellow water is rusty water pipes in your home or building. If old, rusty pipes are discoloring your water, consult a licensed plumber. Water that is being discolored by rusty pipes is not a health hazard; however, it is an indication that the pipes are corroding and they can eventually leak.
The first step in solving a rusty water problem is to distinguish if the problem is located in your home or building or if it is in the water supply. The following are some common characteristics of a water main disturbance:
• The water was clear earlier but suddenly became discolored.
• Only the cold water is discolored.
• The water is discolored at all of the water faucets in your home and does not clear or improve after the water has been run for several minutes.
Some common characteristics of a corrosion problem in your home or building include:
• The water is discolored every morning or when first used after several hours of disuse.
• The water clears after it has run for a few minutes.
• The discoloration is only at one or several faucets, but not all of them.
• The discoloration is only in the hot water.
It is hard to predict when rusty water will clear up because every situation is different. If the color occurs due to a water main issue it may take four to eight hours to clear. If the color is due to water pipes in your home or building, run the water until it is clear.