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Categorized | City Hall Corner

Pee-eww, rotten egg smell

By Mike Womack, Cedar Springs City Manager 

A common complaint that City Hall receives is about the smell of rotten eggs/sulphur, that the scent is just lingering in the air, indoors or outside, or that it is associated with the water supply.  There are three major sources that may contribute to the smell of rotten eggs in a home or apartment and those are a natural gas leak, sewer drain lines and hot water heaters.

Natural gas, which is used to heat your home and is used to cook on your stove, does not have a natural scent.  Due to the flammable nature of natural gas, the utility providers add a smell to it using a harmless but stinky sulfur-compound, mercaptan, to make it easier to detect.  If you suspect that you might have a natural gas leak it is important to track it down and stop the leak, check all of your gas appliances and their connections, turn off natural gas valves and contact your utility provider for additional support.

A sewer drain line can cause a rotten egg smell indoors or outdoors, although both are fairly rare.  Indoor plumbing uses several techniques for preventing sulphur gases from entering the home but some common problems are a dry P-trap, a crack/break in the drain line or a plug or backup in the sewer line.  The P-trap is the little squiggly-thingy under your sinks and showers. Its task is to trap water and the water then prevents sewer gases from exiting up through your drain line.  If that P-trap is dry or broken in some way, it won’t work properly.  Make sure that your P-traps are holding water and aren’t cracked or compromised.  Also, you may need to check your sewer line into your basement or crawl space and make sure that it isn’t leaking anywhere.  Drain line plugs happen rarely (more often if you flush “disposable” wipes or any of the other weird stuff we find in the sewers) but a sewer blockage can be a huge problem for your home.  If you have water back-flowing into your home, please call the Department of Public Works as soon as possible so that they can assist you.  Unfortunately, the blockage often occurs in the sewer lateral, the part maintained by the homeowner between the home and the main sewer line (and the homeowner would have to pay to fix) but the Department of Public Works is happy to help diagnose the problem and help where they can.  If your plumbing is functioning correctly, you shouldn’t smell the sewer inside your home.  If you catch that sulphur odor outdoors in the community, please call the Department of Public Works (616-696-1330) and report where that smell is occurring.

Finally, sometimes there is a distinct rotten egg odor in your home’s water but that funk is almost never a problem with the water supply itself.  The City’s water supply does not have any kind of natural egg stink and none of the water treatment adds that type of fragrance to the water.  Rotten egg smell in your home’s water is almost always a problem with the home’s hot-water heater, usually the anode rod.  The anode rod in your hot water heater protects the insides of your water heater from several things and one of those things is hydrogen sulfide, a gas created by bacteria often found inside water heaters.  If you smell rotten eggs/sulphur in your water, check to see if it is in your hot water heater. Anode rods only last a couple of years and then need to be replaced.  This can be especially true in multi-family housing where multiple dwelling units share a water heater.  You can also ask your next-door neighbors if they are having a rotten egg stench in their water. If nobody else is having it, it’s probably coming from inside your house.  If the sulphur smell persists in your cold-water supply, please let the Department of Public Works know about it so they can check that area of the City for problems.

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Ray Winnie
Intandem Credit Union


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