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Is Brown Tap Water Dangerous?

By: Stephanie Nielsen
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When you turn on the tap expecting a stream of clear, invigorating water and instead are met with a murky, brown flow, it’s understandable that alarm bells might start to ring. 

The sudden change in water color might prompt questions about the safety and health implications of using or consuming this discolored water. 

In this guide, we delve into whether brown tap water poses any danger to you and your family.

water drops on brown shade background

Key Points

  • Brown tap water’s danger level depends on its cause, ranging from changes in source water and disturbances in the water main to rusty pipes and sewer line leaks.
  • While changes in source water usually present a low severity risk, rusty pipes and sewer line leaks can pose moderate to high risks, potentially causing health issues over time.
  • If you notice brown tap water, you can take immediate action, like running cold water or testing your water quality. For more serious causes, you may need to consult professional help, such as a plumber or your local water utility.
  • Regular maintenance of your plumbing system is key to preventing brown tap water issues. This includes annual inspections to spot early signs of rust and wear, and installing a water filtration system or water softener if needed.
  • DIY plumbing repairs should be avoided unless you’re confident in your skills. Incorrect repairs can lead to further damage and worsen water discoloration issues, so professional help is typically the best choice.
woman drinking water

Is it Really Bad for You?

The direct answer to whether brown tap water is dangerous is: it depends. The safety risks associated with brown tap water hinge on the underlying causes of the discoloration. 

Brown water can result from a variety of factors, including rusted pipes, disturbances in the water main, or even changes in the source water. Each of these scenarios presents different levels and types of risk. 

Possible Causes and Solutions for Brown Tap Water

Below, we will explore these possible scenarios that cause your water to turn brown and how you can address them.

Changes in Source Water

  • Severity: Low

A change in the source of your water supply or high levels of naturally occurring substances like iron and manganese can cause water discoloration.

Minerals like iron and manganese are generally not harmful at the concentrations found in drinking water, though they can affect taste and appearance.

What You Can Do

  • Contacting Services: If you have concerns about any changes in water sourcing and what measures are being taken, you can contact your local water services.
  • Water Filtration System: Consider installing a water filtration system that can remove excess minerals and improve water clarity and taste. 

Disturbances in the Water Main

  • Severity: Low to Moderate

Brown water can also result from maintenance or construction work on the city’s water mains. This activity can stir up sediment and rust within the main lines, discoloring your water supply.

This discoloration is often temporary and not harmful but can be inconvenient for household activities.

What You Can Do

  • Check Your Water Quality: Conduct a water test to see if any work has been done in your area that might be affecting the water quality. You can buy water test kits online.
  • Cold Water: Run cold water for a few minutes to see if it clears. If the issue persists after 24 hours, contact your water utility for further guidance.

High Levels of Sediment

  • Severity: Moderate

Areas with high sediment levels in their water sources may experience brown tap water, especially after heavy rains or disruptions in the water distribution system.

Sediment can harbor bacteria and other contaminants, potentially causing health issues if not addressed.

What You Can Do

  • Water Filters: Use a water filter that is capable of removing sediment and potentially harmful contaminants. 
  • Staying Informed: Frequent system flushing by your local water utility can help. You should stay informed about any planned maintenance from your water service provider.

Rusty Pipes

  • Severity: Moderate to High

One of the most common causes of brown tap water is rusting in the pipes. Over time, metal pipes corrode, and rust particles can dislodge and flow with the water, giving it a brown hue.

While consuming small amounts of rust is not immediately dangerous, it can pose health risks over time and indicates deteriorating plumbing that could lead to leaks or bursts.

What You Can Do

  • Short-term: Flush your system by running cold water for about 20 minutes. If the water doesn’t clear, the issue may be more severe.
  • Long-term: Consult a plumber to inspect your pipes. Replacement of corroded pipes might be necessary to prevent future occurrences.

Sewer Line Leaks into Water Pipes

  • Severity: High

Though rare, cross-contamination from sewer lines can cause severe water discoloration. This happens when sewer water accidentally leaks into the potable water lines.

This poses a significant health risk as it can introduce harmful bacteria and contaminants into your water supply.

What You Can Do

  • Stop Using the Water: Immediately stop using or drinking the water and report the issue to your water utility.
  • Contact Professionals: Professional inspection and repair will be necessary to resolve contamination and ensure the water is safe again.

General Practices to Avoid Brown Tap Water

Maintaining clean and clear tap water is not just about responding to problems as they arise but also about preventing them in the first place. 

Here are some general practices that can help you avoid the inconvenience and potential health risks associated with brown tap water.

Regular Plumbing Maintenance

Regular checks on your home’s plumbing system can help you catch and address issues like corrosion or sediment buildup early before they cause water discoloration. 

Consider scheduling annual inspections with a professional plumber to keep your pipes in good health. These experts can spot early signs of rust and wear and recommend preventive measures or necessary repairs.

Install a Water Filtration System

For homes frequently facing issues with water quality, investing in a whole-house water filtration system can be a game-changer. 

These systems can remove a wide range of contaminants, including rust and sediment, common causes of brown water. Additionally, they can improve the overall taste and safety of your water.

Use Water Softeners in Hard Water Areas

In regions with hard water, the high mineral content, especially calcium and magnesium, can accelerate pipe corrosion and increase the risk of brown water. 

Installing a water softener can help reduce the mineral content in your water, prolonging the life of your pipes and preventing discoloration.

Avoid DIY Plumbing Repairs if Unsure

While it can be tempting to address plumbing issues on your own to save money, incorrect repairs can lead to further damage and exacerbate problems with water discoloration. 

Unless you’re confident in your plumbing skills, leaving repairs to the professionals is best. They have the tools and knowledge to fix issues correctly and safely.

person washing hand with water


Even though brown tap water is not always dangerous, it could be if you do not know what is causing it. 

The level of severity is between low and high, depending on things like changes in the source water, problems with the water mains, sediment buildup, rusty pipes, and sewer line leaks into water pipes. 

You can keep your tap water from turning brown by doing regular plumbing maintenance, installing water filters, using water softeners in places with hard water, and not trying to fix your plumbing yourself if you are not sure how to do it. 

But if a serious problem happens, like cross-contamination from sewer lines, you need to talk to a professional right away. 

Don’t take risks when it comes to the health and safety of your family – always seek expert advice and assistance when dealing with questionable water quality.

Photo of author
Stephanie Nielsen
Stephanie worked as a department supervisor of kitchen, bath, and appliances at Home Depot, and water filters were part of the inventory she was responsible for assisting clients with so she learned the ins and outs of matching the right filtration device to homeowner’s needs. She also worked closely with Culligan water to educate customers about whole-home water treatment and softener systems.

Learn More About The Water Tech Editorial Team

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