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Water from my new water heater is cloudy-- why?
24 November 2007


Q. I recently bought a new house with private well and septic. Due to high iron content, I added a water softener. The water samples after the softener are normal for pH, hardness, iron and total dissolved solids. The only reading slightly out of tolera nce is ferric (non-sol) iron at 0.4 PPM.

The problem I am having is with the hot water being cloudy. If a glass of hot water is drawn, the cloudy water will clear in about 30 seconds from the bottom of the glass to the top. No matter which faucet, tub or shower is used the hot water is cloudy t hen clears from the bottom to the top in less than a minute.

The water softener company felt there may be oxygen in the water but had no idea how to correct the problem. The water heater manufacturer said there may be an obstruction in the plumbing between the water heater and the faucets. This seemed possible at first since the piping tees above the hot water heater with the left arm going to the basement and the right arm going to the first and second floors and all have cloudy water. This idea faded when I drew a sample from the water heater drain and found th is water also cloudy.

I would like your input to what may be causing this problem. My next solution is to try a whole house filter with the idea the problem may also be in the cold water but cannot be seen.

A. I too live on a well with a water softening system because the water is hard and full of iron and the water heater is three years old so I drew some of the hot water here in a clear glass to examine it to try to replicate your problem. No cloudy wate r here, so what could it be?

That it clears up the way you say -- from bottom up -- suggests that it's a gas escaping like rising carbonation bubbles from a glass of soda. Showing up only on the hot water side also makes sense that it's escaping soluble gasses since we know from hi gh school physics that hot water can't hold soluble gasses the way cold water can. So what is it and how did it get there and what to do about it?

I called my friend Rex Cauldwell who is both a master plumber and a master electrician down in southwest Virginia as well as a nationally published author in those fields whose work shows up regularly in publications like Fine Homebuilding and Popular Me chanics. I'd met Rex at a wiring seminar and found him to be knowledgeable and willing to share his knowledge and experience with others. And with your problem I was stumped.

Rex and I spoke, swapping cloudy water theories and he told me he'd check into it a bit further and get back to me. We agreed that at the very least it probably had something to do with soluble gasses and heated water.

Rex called me back and told me that he'd checked with several different high-tech sources and came away with differing opinions. The opinion that made the most sense to me had to do with the anode in your new water heater. The anode is a magnesium rod pl aced in the water heater as a sacrificial metal to help protect the metal tank from electrochemical degradation -- rust -- much like the zincs that boaters use to protect the metals on their boats. I use one on a crab pot.

One way to isolate the anode as a problem would be to take a pot of cold water at the tap and heat it up on the stove. If the water fizzes like the water drawn from the hot water tap then that tells you whatever it is is in the water before it goes into the water heater tank. But my suspicion still focuses on the anode. If it is the anode then I'm told the problem will go away over time as the anode gets crusted over with a calcium scale. The gas that's being released is reported to me to be hydroge n.

The other theories ranged from air being aspirated into the water at the pump down in the well, but that would suggest a low well water level and I doubt that in a deep, driven well so new, or the softener itself reacting to the chemical state of your we ll water. You could rule that in or out by by-passing your softener for a while to see if that does anything--but the untreated water will be nasty. Don't do it if you've got any blondes in the house or plan to wash any whites -- they're likely to turn orange from the untreated iron.

All agreed that filtration won't effect this problem, but filtration is good so go ahead and add one if you want to but don't expect it to clear up the cloudy water.

Everyone I consulted with agreed that the cloudy water won't kill you, won't affect taste, and won't harm the pipes. My advice is to wait and see what happens over time. It's also the cheapest advice you'll get.

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