Sulfur Smell in Well Water? How to Get Rid of Sulfur

Well water is regarded as the best tasting water available. The lack of public treatment methods leads to a mineral flavor that many enjoy. Unfortunately, the benefit of non- chemically treated water can lead to some drawbacks.

One major issue many households using water drawn from a well face is the presence of hydrogen sulfide in their water. The presence of this compound makes itself known by the off-putting “rotten egg” odor. It is rare that hydrogen sulfide would cause a change in the taste of the well water but at higher levels, it can be tasted.

Where Does the Sulfur Come From?

Many well owners are immediately frightened by the thought of contaminants of any kind entering their water supply. Hydrogen sulfide typically enters the well water through naturally occurring bacteria. It is perhaps more common in areas with shale or sandstone geology.

Where Does the Sulfur Come From

Rarely, the sulfur smell can result from sewage entering the well. If the scent appears suddenly, take precautions to avoid ingesting or using the water until it can be tested.

Test the Source

Hydrogen sulfide can be challenging to test at it escapes quickly from a liquid. Thus, sending a sample off to a lab can be ineffective. Contact your local water authority for options to test your well water onsite. 

There is no maximum safe level of hydrogen sulfide set forth by regulators. However, the average nose can detect it at .03 ppm (parts per million), which is a very low level. It does not cause health issues beyond effects from the smell unless the concentration is extremely high.

Get Rid of the Problem

While not known to cause health issues, the presence of sulfur in a water supply can impact your plumbing. The compound is corrosive and could cause pipes to breakdown. This can lead to stains on laundry, discoloration of silverware, and corrosion of other metallic kitchenware. Along with the smell, these negative impacts are reasons to find ways to rid hydrogen sulfide from your well water.

There are myriad ways to eliminate hydrogen sulfide from your water. Choosing which method is appropriate should be based on several factors. Some of the factors include:

  • The level of hydrogen sulfide in water
  • The volume of water requiring treatment
  • The level of iron and manganese in water
  • The level of pH in water

Once these factors have been determined, the best option for treatment can be used to remove hydrogen sulfide and its associated smell from the water supply.

Treatment Options

It is valuable to have the test results indicating what levels of hydrogen sulfide, iron, manganese, and pH available when determining the best treatment option. Considering the factors above, the following treatment options are available:

Filtration Options

Activated Carbon Filters

Activated Carbon Filters

These relatively inexpensive filtering systems are available to those whose hydrogen sulfide issue is small. Carbon filters are only effective to treat levels less than 0.3 ppm. Carbon absorbs these low levels but the filter must be replaced regularly.

Manganese Greensand Filtration

These systems can be effective to remove hydrogen sulfide with concentrations up to 5 ppm. The manganese greensand filtration process is typically used to remove iron and manganese and the systems are very delicate and require lots of maintenance.

Oxidizing Filters

Effective against hydrogen sulfide concentrations up to 6 ppm. The gas is changed into sulfur which is subsequently trapped in the filter. 

Ion Exchange Filtration

The resin in these filters absorbs hydrogen sulfide. These systems are effective but can require frequent maintenance and the resin must be regenerated often if the concentration of hydrogen sulfide is higher. 

Other Responses to Hydrogen Sulfide

Chlorination (Shocking)

Similar to disinfecting a pool that has gone awry, shock chlorination can be effective in acidic water. All the factors listed earlier come into play to determine how long to apply the chemicals and how much chlorine to use. 

Often, this method is used to reduce the overall concentration of hydrogen sulfide and paired with a carbon filtration system to remove the minute amount that remains after treatment.

Ozone Treatment

This advanced treatment method is used in higher concentrations of hydrogen sulfide up to 10 ppm. It creates a chemical reaction that solidifies the sulfur for removal.


The off-putting smell of hydrogen sulfide in your well water can be more than a simple inconvenience. Fortunately, with some quick test results, you can formulate a plan to resolve the issue.

Depending on the extent of the hydrogen sulfide intrusion, resolution could be a simple fix like a carbon filter or require expert assistance. In any case, there is a solution to your hydrogen sulfide problem.