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Contaminants in Water and Other Issues


It’s always important to think about your water quality, but there are times when you definitely want to keep it more top of mind. Maybe you’ve just moved into a new home and want to make sure your water is up to par. Perhaps you noticed your water is cloudy or has an off taste or odor. You also could be one of the millions of North Americans who use a private well water in your home, which means you’re more likely to issues than municipal water users.

Despite a drinking water supply that’s among the safest in the world, contamination can and does occur.* This can result in drinking water safety concerns and problems with water’s aesthetic factors, such as taste, odor and hardness.

An understanding of the most common water problems can help you improve your drinking water quality, recognize potential contamination and more. 

Infographic: most common water problems

Types of Water Contaminants

In North America, municipal water systems are protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and a lot of input from environmental science. (Private wells are not regulated, so homeowners using well water are responsible for making sure their water is safe.) However, water contamination still exists in different forms.

The contaminant types in your water supply, if they do exist, depend on a variety of factors, from the age and quality of your home’s plumbing to your water source (for example, groundwater vs. surface water). Some may have negative impacts on your health, while others are simply unpleasant to deal with. Either way, contaminated water should be addressed, especially if you want to provide safe drinking water for your family, pets and visitors.

Noticing potential issues with your water? Find out what’s going on and how to fix it – try our Water Solutions Finder.

To start your clean water journey, start by brushing up on some of the most common contaminants. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, it’s a great way to start learning what to think about:

Total Dissolved Solids

While not typically a health hazard, a high level of total dissolved solids, or TDS, can negatively impact your water quality. Total dissolved solids can include a wide array of minerals, salts, metals, and other organic matter, but the most common ones include:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfates
  • Sodium
  • Chlorides

Even if the source of these elevated levels of dissolved solids is natural — such as mineral springs, salt deposits and seawater intrusion — you might not like the bitter, salty or metallic tastes that could result. Plus, a high level of total dissolved solids can corrode plumbing fixtures and shorten the life of water-using appliances.


Chlorine has been used in water treatment since the early 1900s. It’s an important tool to reduce the harmful bacteria that cause waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and hepatitis. 

The good news is that chlorine water is generally safe to drink. However, too much chlorine can start to feel like an unwanted contaminant when it creates bleach-like smells and unpleasant tastes in your drinking water.


Rust stains on dishes, laundry, toilets, sinks or showers are one of the more common signs of iron contamination in your water supply

Your water may appear clear, because ferrous iron is colorless when dissolved. However, when exposed to air, water with iron turns cloudy, sometimes even creating a reddish-brown substance. This oxidized, or ferric, form of iron will not dissolve in water. 

Iron can also give your tap water a metallic taste. Like other minerals, iron can damage water-using appliances such as the washing machine, dishwater and sprinkler system.

Other Common Water Problems

Low pH or High pH Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends public water systems maintain a pH of between 6.5 and 8.5. However, because pH is considered a secondary drinking water contaminant (more of a concern in terms of aesthetics like taste and smell than health), communities aren’t required to measure it. 

Water with a low pH can be corrosive, which can potentially dissolve the metal in your home’s plumbing. If your pipes are made of copper and you have acidic water, you may see blue-green stains on sinks and drains. Water may also be colored red or blue-green and could have a metallic taste. 

High pH or high alkalinity has its own negative impacts. Water with a pH level above 8.5 can cause problems such as a bitter taste, buildup in your plumbing and lowered efficiency of water-using appliances.

Hard Water

Water hardness is a measure of the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. While even high levels of these minerals are still generally safe in drinking water, they can cause significant issues in your home. For example, hard water can:

  • Corrode pipes and plumbing fixtures
  • Reduce the lifespan of water-using appliances
  • Cause cloudiness or spots on dishes
  • Lead to dry skin and hair
  • Reduce the efficiency of soap and cleaning products

How to Recognize Water Contamination and Other Problems

Now that you know some of the most common drinking water contaminants and other issues, how do you identify them in your water?

A Culligan® water test and consultation is a great place to start. This free, in-home review can measure things like: 

  • Overall water hardness
  • Chlorine
  • pH
  • Total dissolved solids
  • And more

Better yet, your local Culligan water expert can let you know about other possible water contaminants of concern, including lead, arsenic and emerging contaminants such as PFOA/PFOS.

Your test can be completed in as little as  30 minutes, and based on the results, your local water expert will help you choose water filtration solutions or water softening systems that address your specific water concerns.

Find The Right Water Solution for Your Home

Finding the right water treatment system is an excellent way to take control of your home’s water quality. They can help you solve all kinds of water contamination issues and other problems, from water hardness to unpleasant tastes and odors to potentially dangerous issues. To select the right water solution, you need to know what’s in your tap water — and that’s where a water test comes in.

Don’t worry about the safety and quality of your water any longer. Set up a free, in-home test and consultation with your local Culligan Water Expert.

*Contaminants may not be present in your water.

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