A water softener is a device that removes hardness minerals from water. However, it does not remove sulfur smell. Sulfur smell is caused by the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas in water.

Will a Water Softener Remove Sulfur Smell from Your Water?

If you’ve noticed a rotten egg odor coming from your taps, you may be dealing with sulfur in your water supply. Along with creating an unpleasant smell, sulfur can cause black stains on fixtures, scaled buildup in pipes, and a metallic taste when drinking the water.

Understandably, homeowners want to get rid of sulfur as quickly as possible. But can running your water through a water softener remove that bothersome sulfur smell?

Unfortunately, water softeners do not remove sulfur smells from water. While they are great at eliminating mineral hardness that causes scale buildup, water softeners are not designed to filter out dissolved gases like hydrogen sulfide that cause sulfur odors.

In fact, water softeners can potentially make sulfur smells worse by removing minerals and creating an environment more hospitable to the sulfur-reducing bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide gas.

So if you need to get rid of sulfur from your water, a water softener is not the solution. However, there are several highly effective water treatment methods that can remove sulfur and provide clean, odor-free water throughout your home.

What Causes Sulfur Smell in Water?

Sulfur odors in water most commonly occur due to two culprits:

  • Hydrogen sulfide gas – This gas is often naturally present in groundwater and gives off a rotten egg odor at low concentrations. It occurs from the breakdown of organic matter and is more common in wells but can also be present in municipal water.
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria – These bacteria thrive in low-oxygen environments and produce hydrogen sulfide gas as they break down sulfate compounds in water. They can grow on pipes, wells, and plumbing fixtures.

Sulfur smells can occur in both well water and municipal water systems. Other sources include pollution and contamination of water sources by industries such as oil refineries, pulp/paper mills, and wastewater treatment plants.

Recognizing Symptoms of Sulfur Odor

How do you know if your water contains high levels of sulfur? Here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • Rotten egg odor – The classic smell of sulfur, which intensifies when water is heated.
  • Black or brown stains – Sulfur causes blackish stains on sinks, tubs, toilet bowls and other fixtures.
  • Cloudy or colored water – High sulfur can cause yellow, brown, or gray discoloration.
  • Metallic taste – Sulfur creates an unpleasant bitter taste when drinking water.
  • Scale buildup – White or gray sulfate scale can form on pipes and fixtures.

If you notice these signs, sulfur is likely present and water testing is recommended to determine the hydrogen sulfide levels.

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Health Risks and Dangers of Sulfur Water

Aside from foul odors and staining, sulfur water can create health hazards and damage plumbing systems:

  • Digestive problems – Hydrogen sulfide can cause nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach when ingested.
  • Respiratory irritation – When inhaled, hydrogen sulfide can irritate lungs. At very high concentrations it can be fatal.
  • Pipe corrosion – Sulfur rusts pipes more quickly, causing leaks, pressure issues and water waste.
  • Appliance damage – The corrosive nature of sulfur water reduces lifespan of water heaters, washing machines and dishwashers.
  • Contamination – Sulfur can react with pipes and fixtures to contaminate water with lead, arsenic and other substances.

For these reasons, sulfur removal is highly recommended to protect both health and plumbing systems.

Testing Your Water for Sulfur

Before investing in sulfur removal equipment, it’s wise to test your water supply to determine the hydrogen sulfide concentration. Here are some options:

  • Sulfur test kits – Inexpensive kits measure hydrogen sulfide levels in parts per million. They provide quick at-home results.
  • Lab testing – For detailed results, labs can test for sulfur compounds, bacteria levels, pH and other factors.
  • Check for symptoms – Smelling rotten eggs, noticing stains and discoloration indicates you likely have a sulfur problem.

Once you confirm sulfur levels, you can choose the best method(s) to reduce the concentration below detectable limits.

Why Water Softeners Don’t Remove Sulfur

Water softeners are great for removing minerals like calcium and magnesium that make water hard. However, they don’t eliminate dissolved gases like hydrogen sulfide that cause sulfur smells.

Here’s a closer look at why water softeners fail to remove sulfur odors:

  • Ion exchange process – Softeners swap hardness minerals for sodium ions. This does not affect dissolved gases.
  • Removes “good” minerals – Minerals in water can inhibit sulfur bacteria. Removing them encourages bacterial growth.
  • Creates ideal conditions – The neutral pH and lack of minerals created by softeners provides an environment where sulfur bacteria thrive.

While water softeners effectively soften hard water, specialized systems are required to remove hydrogen sulfide gas and filter out sulfur bacteria.

Effective Water Treatment Methods for Sulfur Removal

Fortunately, there are several effective water treatment solutions for removing sulfur and resolving rotten egg odors:

Oxidizing Filters

Oxidizing filters inject air or oxidizing chemicals like chlorine or hydrogen peroxide into the water to convert hydrogen sulfide gas into odorless sulfur particles that are filtered out.

Activated Carbon Filtration

Carbon filters absorb hydrogen sulfide gas through adsorption. They also remove sulfur bacteria and organic contaminants that cause smells.

Reverse Osmosis

RO systems force water through a membrane, filtering out minerals, gases like hydrogen sulfide and bacteria. They thoroughly remove sulfur but have slow output.


Distillers boil water then collect purified vapor lacking any dissolved gases, bacteria, minerals and other contaminants. Very effective sulfur removal but energy intensive.

Sulfur-Specific Filters

Specialized sulfur filters use oxidation and carbon filtration tailored specifically for hydrogen sulfide removal. Effective and economical.

Whole House vs. Point-of-Use Sulfur Filtration

For home sulfur removal, you have two main options:

  • Whole house systems – Treat all water entering home. May require professional installation and maintenance.
  • Point-of-use filters – Install at sinks or taps. Good for limited use. Must replace cartridges regularly.

Many homeowners opt for a whole house sediment filter or carbon tank followed by point-of-use RO or sulfur filters at key locations. This provides comprehensive treatment without the high cost of whole house RO.

Installing and Maintaining Sulfur Removal Systems

Proper installation, maintenance and testing is key to effective long-term sulfur removal:

  • Professional installation recommended for whole house systems. Ensures optimal performance and avoids leaks/issues.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for point-of-use filter cartridge replacements. Change on schedule.
  • Test filtered water annually to ensure hydrogen sulfide and bacteria are at safe levels.
  • Inspect seals, hoses, mounting on all treatment systems. Replace defective parts.
  • Check and change pre-filters that protect RO membranes, carbon tanks, etc. from sediment/particles.

With careful maintenance and testing, sulfur removal systems can provide clean, safe water for many years.

Preventing Sulfur Smells in Well Water

Homeowners on private wells can take proactive steps to control sulfur bacteria and prevent rotten egg odors in their water supply:

  • Shock chlorinate wells annually to kill bacteria inside well components and piping.
  • Inspect well housing for cracks allowing contaminants and bacteria to enter.
  • Ensure good well cap seal to prevent debris, insects and surface contaminants from entering well.
  • Test water regularly to monitor bacterial levels and sulfide concentration.
  • Pump and inspect storage tanks to remove sediment where sulfur bacteria grow.

Taking preventative measures can reduce the sulfur concentration and need for treatment. But sulfur filters provide guaranteed removal for severe cases.

How Much Does Sulfur Water Removal Cost?

The price to remove sulfur varies significantly based on the method and system size:

  • Point-of-use filters – $30 to $300 for purchase and installation. Approximately $100 yearly for replacement cartridges.
  • Whole house carbon filtration – $800 to $1500 installed depending on home size. $200 yearly filter maintenance.
  • Oxidizing systems – $1500 to $3000 for well water. $1000 to $2000 for city water.
  • Reverse osmosis – $2500 to $6000 installed for whole home. $300 to $800 for under sink units.
  • Distillers – $300 to $600. Energy costs are approximately $5 per gallon produced.

Professional consultation is recommended to choose the most appropriate system and get accurate pricing for your specific needs.

The Many Benefits of Removing Sulfur from Water

Fixing sulfur issues provides numerous advantages that improve home life:

  • Eliminates rotten egg smell throughout home’s plumbing.
  • Allows safe water consumption free of hydrogen sulfide risks.
  • Prevents black stains on fixtures, dishes and clothing.
  • Reduces scale buildup that clogs pipes and ruins appliances.
  • Lessens corrosion that causes pinhole leaks or pressure issues.
  • Improves taste for cooking, drinking, coffee and other uses.
  • Saves money otherwise spent replacing stained fixtures or repairing damage.
  • Increases home value by ensuring clean and odor-free water.
  • Provides peace of mind knowing home’s water supply is contaminant and bacteria free.

The Risks of Untreated Sulfur Water

Ignoring a sulfur odor problem can lead to increasing levels of hydrogen sulfide gas, bacterial growth, and related issues:

  • Worsening rotten egg smell throughout home’s plumbing.
  • Increased staining and corrosion causing escalating damage over time.
  • Higher health risks from consuming water with hydrogen sulfide.
  • More pipe leaks, water waste and flooding. Replacing corroded pipes is expensive.
  • Appliance failure from mineral buildup and corrosion requiring expensive repairs.
  • Contamination by sulfur bacteria and growth of biofilms on plumbing.

The problems caused by sulfur water only intensify over time. As soon as an odor is noticed, testing and removal solutions should be pursued.

Final Thoughts

A water softener should not be counted on to remove unpleasant sulfur smells. The ion exchange process water softeners rely on does not filter out dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas or sulfur bacteria. In fact, softeners can make smells worse by removing minerals that inhibit bacteria.

Fortunately, sulfur water issues can be resolved with specialized treatment methods. The most common and cost-effective options for homes include point-of-use carbon or sulfur filters, whole house carbon tanks, and oxidizing systems. Reverse osmosis and distillation also provide effective sulfur removal.

To choose the right solution, begin by testing your water to determine the hydrogen sulfide concentration. With results in hand, a water treatment professional can recommend the optimal filtration approach based on source water, home size, and needed maintenance.

Addressing sulfur water problems as soon as possible prevents worsening odors, corrosion, stains, and potential health effects. By installing the proper sulfur removal equipment, you can enjoy clean, contaminant-free water with no unpleasant smell or taste throughout your home.

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