Water Smells Like Chlorine

Water Smells Like Chlorine

Imagine filling up a glass with tap water, only to be greeted by the strong smell of chlorine. It’s a common problem that many homeowners face, leaving them worried about the safety and quality of their drinking water. This strong chemical odor can disrupt your daily water intake and make you wonder what’s actually in your water.

Luckily, understanding why your water smells like chlorine and exploring effective solutions like water filters can transform your tap water into a clean, refreshing drink.

What is Chlorine? 

Chlorine is an element found in nature that has a crucial role in our daily lives, particularly when it comes to keeping our drinking water safe. It’s also a powerful disinfectant that’s widely used in municipal water systems to eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses. When it’s added to water, chlorine pretty much destroys pathogens, ensuring that the water supply from taps is perfectly safe to consume.

Despite this process being crucial for public health, the presence of chlorine in water can sometimes be seen as a double-edged sword. Although it’s essential for sanitizing our water supply, it can leave behind a very noticeable smell and taste, which is often described as a “pool smell”. The smell is a tell-tale sign that the chlorine is doing its job but it can be off-putting.

What is Chloramine? 

Chloramine is an element that’s often used alongside or instead of chlorine and is another key player in water treatment. It’s made by mixing chlorine with ammonia, and many municipal water systems use it because of its lasting disinfectant effects. Unlike chlorine, chloramine dissolves much slower, which provides longer-lasting protection from bacteria and viruses.

This is why chloramine is an ally when drinking water has to travel over long distances.

However, like chlorine, chloramine can give off a distinct taste and smell. Although it’s less likely to form harmful byproducts compared to chlorine, chloramine’s presence in tap water can still be unwelcomed by those who are sensitive to its smell.

Difference Between Chlorine vs Chloramines 

Chlorine and chloramines are both used in water treatment but they’re different in terms of composition, behavior, and how they impact water quality.

  • Composition: Chlorine occurs naturally in nature, whereas chloramines are a combination of chlorine and ammonia.
  • Behavior: Chlorine dissipates quite quickly but chloramine molecules are a lot more stable and stay in water for longer.
  • Impact on water quality: Although both are effective disinfectants, chlorine typically has a stronger smell and taste. Chloramines also have a distinct smell and taste but they’re generally less noticeable. The main difference here is that chloramines can be a lot harder to remove from water and require specific filtration methods.
  • Health and environmental considerations: Chlorine can react with organic matter in water to form byproducts like trihalomethanes, which have been linked to health problems. Chloramines produce fewer byproducts but still pose health risks, especially when it comes to dialysis and fishkeeping, because of how hard they are to remove.

Why Water Smells Like Chlorine 

When your tap water smells like chlorine or has bleach smell of sorts, it’s a sign of a complex water treatment process at work. This process has two key areas: the municipal water treatment process and the varying concentrations of chlorine across the country.

Municipal water treatment process 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces strict surface water treatment rules to ensure that our water supply is free of harmful contaminants. Part of this process is municipal water shock chlorination, which is a method used by treatment facilities to disinfect water.

The process is very important in urban areas where the water supply is more susceptible to contamination. The major problem, as previously mentioned, is that chlorine can have a residual smell when used for disinfection, which is noticeable when you use your tap water for drinking or cooking.

Concentrations of chlorine in different parts of the country 

The intensity of the chlorine smell in tap water can vary quite significantly depending on where you live. This is because factors like the source of the water, distance from the treatment plant, and local treatment rules can all impact chlorine levels.

In some regions, higher concentrations are needed because of the water’s original quality, which leads to a more pronounced chlorine smell. On the other hand, in areas where the water is naturally cleaner, the chlorine levels (and subsequently the smell and taste) are less noticeable.

Does Boiling Water Remove Chlorine?

Yes, boiling water is a simple yet effective way to remove chlorine from drinking water. When water is boiled for around 15 minutes, the chlorine evaporates. This significantly reduces the level of chlorine and the chlorine odor.

This process is particularly helpful for those who are concerned about harmful contaminants in their tap water but don’t have access to a filtration device. Boiling is a straightforward method that can quickly make the water a lot more palatable.

How to Remove Chloramine from Water 

Using the water boiling method to remove chloramines or chlorine can be somewhat inefficient, so here are two long-term solutions that you could use instead.

Whole House Reverse Osmosis 

A whole-house reverse osmosis system is an effective solution for eliminating chloramine from your tap water. This system uses a complex reverse osmosis filtration system that purifies water at the point where it enters your room.

Besides addressing the chlorine smell and taste, it also filters out a range of other harmful contaminants. The process involves forcing water through a semipermeable membrane. This effectively removes chloramines and ensures that all the water in your home, whether it’s for drinking, cooking, or bathing, is free of unwanted compounds.

This system works well for households that want to improve the overall quality of their tap water.

Under Sink Reverse Osmosis 

If you only need the water in a certain section of your home to be filtered, then an under-sink reverse osmosis water filter should be your go-to. These systems are designed to give you purified water at a specific point, usually the kitchen sink. It works similarly to a whole-house system, using reverse osmosis to remove contaminants and chloramines.

The advantage of this system is that it’s a convenient and typically easier-to-install way to get clean and odor-free drinking water. Under-the-sink solutions also tend to be less costly compared to whole-house systems.

Side Effects of Chlorine in Drinking Water

If you experience any of the following side effects, stop consuming the water and seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Breathing problems: Too much chlorine in your water can cause respiratory issues, especially if you already have pre-existing conditions. This can also happen when inhaling chlorinated steam during baths and showers.
  • Skin and eye irritation: Regular exposure to chlorinated water can lead to skin irritation and dryness. It can also cause eye irritation in some people.
  • Potential health risk: Long-term exposure to chlorine and its byproducts, like trihalomethanes, has been linked to certain health problems. Some notable ones include an increased risk of bladder and rectal cancer, as well as potential congenital abnormalities during pregnancy.
  • Food allergies: Some studies suggest that there’s a link between chlorine exposure and an increased chance of developing food allergies, although more research is needed in this area.

Common Contaminants in Municipal Water Sources 

Here are some contaminants that are typically found in low concentrations in municipal water sources:

  • Chlorine and chloramines
  • Lead
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Heavy metals
  • Microorganisms
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Nitrate/Nitrites
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs)
  • Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Common Contaminants in Well Water Sources 

These are the contaminants that you’re most likely to find in well water:

  • Microorganisms
  • Nitrates/Nitrites
  • Heavy metals
  • Organic chemicals
  • Radionuclides
  • Fluoride
  • Excessive iron and manganese
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Hard water minerals


Is it safe to drink water that smells like chlorine?

Drinking water with a chlorine odor is generally safe. The presence of a chlorine smell simply indicates that the water has been treated. But, if the smell is too strong, it might be worth testing the water’s chlorine levels.

Is the smell of chlorine bad for you?

The smell of chlorine itself isn’t harmful but it can indicate the presence of chloramines. These byproducts can cause irritation of the skin and eyes.

How can you tell if your tap water has chlorine in it?

If your tap water smells like bleach, it’s a clear sign that it has chlorine in it. But, if you want to be extra sure, you can always buy a water testing kit, which usually isn’t too expensive.

What neutralizes chlorine in tap water?

Vitamin C, in the form of ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate, can neutralize the chlorine in your water. These compounds react with chlorine, removing it from the water without lowering the water’s pH.

How long should tap water sit before drinking?

Letting tap water sit for around 24 hours can allow chlorine to evaporate. It’s a lengthy method but it removes the need for a reverse osmosis system.

Final Thoughts

Knowing why we often smell chlorine in our tap water and how it affects water quality is important for health-conscious homeowners. Having your water tested regularly is an important step in improving your experience when you drink tap water.

Always bear in mind that although the chlorine smell of water can be off-putting, it’s a sign that it’s been tested. With the right knowledge and tools, like a filtration system, your water can be safe and enjoyable to drink in no time.

About the author

Carlisle Edwards (Sr. Writer, Water Filtration) writes our content on water filtration, reverse osmosis, and avoiding waterborne contamination. He has experience in water and food safety and conducts microbiology research. He’s WaterAudit’s resident sports fan, and loves cheering on his local LA Galaxy soccer team.