When you have sulfur water in your home, you know it right away – the smell is unmistakable. If you have copper pipes in your house, you have even more incentive to solve the problem, because you need to avoid letting the sulfur water damage them.
Sulfur water is created when your water supply has an elevated number of sulfur bacteria in it. These naturally occurring bacteria occur most often in rural areas, where they feed on rotting vegetation. They produce hydrogen sulfide gas as a waste product. The gas dissolves in water, giving it the characteristic odor of rotten eggs. If the sulfur smell comes only from hot water, then the bacteria are just inside your hot water heater tank rather than in your entire water supply.
Sulfur water doesn't present any health dangers to you and your family. It smells terrible, so you won't want to drink it or use it for washing, but it won't hurt you. The same is not true for any copper pipes in your home's plumbing system. Sulfur water discolors copper pipes. Over time, it can also cause corrosion. Sulfur water rarely does more damage than surface discoloration before the water is treated.
Getting rid of the sulfur water protects your copper pipes from damage. If the sulfur bacteria are in your entire water supply, you'll need to install a chlorine filter. Chlorine precipitates sulfur out of your water system, keeping it away from copper pipes. For sulfur bacteria in your hot water only, raise the temperature on your hot water heater to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave it there for five to six hours. The superheated water kills the bacteria. Lower the temperature back down to normal levels, and drain the contaminated water from the tank.
If you install a chlorination system on your water supply, monitor the filter and clean or change it regularly to keep sulfur levels low. If you kill sulfur bacteria in your hot water heater, stay alert for their return. Once they appear in a unit, they often become a recurring problem. As long as you increase the unit's temperature and kill them as soon as they appear, they won't produce enough sulfur water to damage your copper pipes.