If you turn on the tap only to see cloudy water filling your glass, you may wonder if it’s safe to take a drink. There’s plenty to know about cloudy water, but the good news is that there are easy ways to fix this particular problem.
Let’s dive in.
Turbidity is the measurement of a liquid’s relative clarity. To find the true turbidity of your tap water, you’d need to shine a light on it and measure how scattered that light becomes when it passes through material in your water. The more the light is scattered, the higher the turbidity.
Luckily, there’s an easier way: Just take a look at your tap water. High turbidity generally results in cloudy, milky water you can see without having to shine a light.
This is often caused by one of three things:
If you take a close look at your water and see that the cloudy appearance is actually tiny bubbles, your issue is likely with aeration. This cloudy tap water is also called “white water.”
All water has dissolved oxygen—that’s the “O” in “H2O.” However, in some cases, that air may shift back to its gaseous state and cause cloudiness in your drinking water. This may happen more often with hot or warm water; that’s because cold water has a greater capacity for holding air, which means it can absorb and hold more oxygen and therefore doesn’t need to release the excess as bubbles.
The good news is that those tiny air bubbles are nothing to worry about. They’re harmless to drink, and they’ll dissipate from the bottom of your glass upward and leave your water clearer.
If cloudiness doesn’t clear up after water has been allowed to settle, you may have hard water — one of the most common water problems for well and city water users alike.
Hard water is caused by high levels of calcium and magnesium. When these minerals are warmed by your water heater, they can cause limescale, which builds up in pipes and fixtures. This buildup can cause a cloudy appearance that doesn’t dissipate like tiny bubbles of trapped air do.
Hard water comes with other signs, too — like brittle hair, dry skin, soap scum, spotty dishes and more.
Cloudiness can also be caused by high levels of silt or clay in your water. This occurs when your water supply travels through the supply network, whether from a municipal source or your own well. Along the way, the water might gather sediment from its surroundings — and if that sediment doesn’t fully dissolve, the result could be cloudy water. Depending on the amount of contamination, you could also notice particles floating in your drinking water.*
A glass of cloudy water may not look refreshing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a hazard to your health. Water safety depends on many factors; however, when cloudiness is your main issue, there are a few specific things to consider:
Because some causes of cloudy water are harmless and others pose at least a possible risk, this isn’t something you want to guess about. Instead, it’s best to have a professional water test performed to help identify the cause of cloudiness in your tap water.
Once you have a water test performed and can confidently identify the cause of your cloudy water, it’s time to get to work. Depending on the underlying issue, there are two significant solutions to choose from.
If sediment is causing your water to retain that unpleasant appearance, you may need a whole-home filtration system. These systems are installed where your water enters your home, so they can filter all the water you use for cleaning, bathing and drinking. This helps reduce the presence of sediment, leading to clearer water.
If your water test informs you that hard water is actually the issue, a water softener is the better option for your home. These systems reduce the calcium and magnesium that cause hard water, leaving your water soft. Many systems even allow you to change the settings and control your water’s hardness level yourself.
Note that water softeners and water filtration systems aren’t mutually exclusive. Because they address different problems, they can and do work together quite nicely—so if you want soft, cleaner water, you can double up on your water solutions.
Whenever there’s any question about the safety of your drinking water, even if you suspect the issue is caused by tiny bubbles of excess air, it’s best to be safe. A free, in-home water test can give you valuable insights about your water quality, answering questions about water’s hardness levels and the potential causes of cloudiness.
*Contaminants may not be present in your water.