Why Your Water Smells Like Chlorine (2024)

Reviewed by: James Layton
Updated on:
February 6, 2024

Key Takeaways

Why Does Your Tap Water Smell Like Chlorine?

Now let’s discuss the different reasons why your water might smell like chlorine.

1. Local water treatment plants add chlorine bleach.

To prevent waterborne diseases (like cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery) and other health risks, water is treated according to federal regulations before it is supplied to your home, and this treatment includes chlorination. The EPA’s legal limit for chlorine is 4 mg/L, or 4 parts per million (ppm), and at that limit it’s absolutely safe in your drinking water.

The reason these plants add chlorine to water is that it banishes disease-causing microbes, such as E. coli, salmonella, giardia, and hepatitis A. Such contaminants originate from human and animal waste and are known to cause gastrointestinal diseases, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomachache.

Free chlorine, or the amount of chlorine available to kill contaminants (and what smells like bleach in your own water) attacks the cell membrane of such pathogens and removes them completely.

Another reason they use chlorine instead of something else, such as UV purification, is that it’s a relatively easy and affordable water treatment method. This quick and cheap process can effectively eliminate microbial contamination and supply clean water to thousands of people.

Chlorinated municipal water prevents a wide range of waterborne diseases that used to wreak havoc on urban populations. However, if you want to ensure you don’t ingest chlorine, you can always add a carbon filter to your home. In fact, I recommend it.

See our review of the best whole-house carbon filters to find one that suits your needs.

2. You live near the plant.

Residents who live closer to the treatment plant may notice a stronger smell than those who live far away. If the water has to travel to far-off areas, local authorities add a slightly higher amount of chlorine to the water. So, if you live near the plant, you will likely receive more than your share, intensifying the smell.

The amount of chlorine used by the treatment plant depends on the level of contamination. So, if the water is heavily laden with microbes from nasty surface runoff (common after heavy rains or floods), they’ll increase the amount of chlorine in the water, though still keeping it within safe limits, and you might receive water with an unusually intense chlorine smell.

3. You’re highly sensitive to the smell of bleach.

While the legal limit is 4 ppm, if you have a sensitive nose, you may start to smell chlorine from as low as 1 mg of chlorine in a liter of water. In fact, a person sensitive to the smell of bleach may be repelled by water that others are drinking easily.

If you aren’t sure if you’re just sensitive or if your home is receiving water with high levels of chlorine, simply get your water tested.

4. It’s your chlorine injection tank.

While chlorine smell is most common in city water, it can happen to homes with well water systems, too, even though it isn’t found in groundwater. If you have a private well connected to a chlorine injection tank, that’s the source of the chlorine smell in your tap water.

Chemical injection filters that use chlorine can sometimes malfunction and release a higher-than-normal dosage of chlorine into your water. In such a case, immediately disconnect the system from your well and fix the issue before connecting it again.

What Exactly Is Chlorine?

Chlorine is a chemical element. Its standard form, chlorine gas (CI2), is highly dangerous. Its liquid form, however, is sodium hypochlorite (NaOCI), also known as bleach.

Now, there is some nuance as far as different forms of chlorine bleach, their concentrations, and their uses. For example, pool chlorine, usually in tablet or granule form, but also liquid, can be as much as 100% chlorine or as little as 65%.

Chlorine bleach, like the kind you can get at the supermarket, is about 5% sodium hypochlorite.

So, what is chloramine?

The EPA also regulates the use of chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, to disinfect water. Water treated with chloramine is less smelly than water treated with chlorine.

Chloramine has a lower oxidation potential (ability to react with pathogens) than chlorine and is a weaker disinfectant. However, this disinfectant can stay potent for a long period of time, unlike chlorine, which gets used up quickly. When water is supplied across long distances, chloramine is used to disinfect water all the way to the end of pipes.

The safe limit for chloramine in drinking water is the same as chlorine: 4 mg/L, or 4 ppm.

Harmful Effects of Too Much Chlorine

Now to the most important question — how can chlorine and its by-products harm you?

The short answer is as long as chlorine doesn’t exceed the safe limits, it is safe to consume. Note that 4 mg/L is the safety threshold and the highest level of exposure recommended by the EPA. It’s better to have chlorine around the concentration of 2–3 mg/L to be on the safe side.

Chlorine and chloramine can impact your health.

Drinking water with high amounts of chlorine for a long time can lead to serious health problems, including damage to your bladder, colon, and stomach, as well as certain types of cancer. Chloramine, on the other hand, can damage the lungs and kidneys.

Bathing with over-chlorinated water can cause irritation and dryness in the eyes, skin, and nasal passage. You might also inhale and absorb harmful by-products in the form of acidic fumes emerging from hot chlorine water and experience chest tightness and sore throat.

Chlorine can form disinfection by-products (DBPs) that also include tetrahalomethanes (THM) by reacting with organic compounds.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, long-term exposure to DBPs in drinking water can cause numerous health issues. It’s the duty of private water systems to keep an eye on the concentration of DBPs and take prompt action to remove these toxins.

In addition, THMs are known to be carcinogenic and can be detrimental to the stomach, kidneys, and lungs. According to the EPA’s instruction, the safe limit for THM consumption is 80 mg/L as an annual average.

Chlorine can damage plant and animal life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “hypochlorite addition to soil can increase chlorine/chloride concentration, which can be fatal to plant species if exposed.” Now, this increase is unlikely to come from chlorinated water. But if you use chlorine bleach in your laundry or household cleaning, you should be aware of this.

If you own aquatic pets or reptiles, you must give them dechlorinated or filtered water that is 100% free of chlorine. Even the lowest level of chlorine in water can be fatal to fish.

Chlorine might affect plumbing fixtures and appliances.

While rare, high levels of chlorine can have minor effects on fixtures and appliances around your home.

Chlorine — and chloramine — in high concentrations can be very harsh on small rubber components in your plumbing system, such as faucet washers. I know, I know. That’s not a big deal.

It’s usually not strong enough to damage plastic pipes, or any pipes for that matter, but it’s totally impossible that over long periods of time, high levels of chlorine could degrade PVC pipes.

Again, while possible, this is pretty unlikely.

Chlorine can also damage the resin beads in a water softener, though again this is unlikely. Many people with chlorinated water have water softeners with no trouble. In fact, some people advocate in favor of letting chlorinated water run through a water softener to protect it from bacterial growth.

How to Test for Chlorine in Water

The best way to learn how much chlorine is in your water is by sending a sample to an accredited laboratory and getting your water tested for a plethora of harmful contaminants. The results will be quick and accurate.

Chlorine testing kits are also readily available online. The easiest and cheapest way is to use test strips that change color when dipped in tap water. The new colors that appear on the strip are then matched with a standard color scale on the package. This method, although not perfectly accurate, will give you a rough idea of how much chlorine is in your water. 

Other, more professional and industrial methods include a chemical called orthotolidine that changes color in the presence of chlorine, a DPD (diethyl-p-phenylenediamine) test which measures free and total chlorine in pool water, and a digital colorimeter. These methods aren’t exactly practical for residential applications.

How to Remove Chlorine Smell from Drinking Water

If you’re on city water and you’re turned off by the chlorine in your water, I suggest investing in a filtration system that takes care of chlorine odor for good. Here are a few of the most common and popular kinds of home filtration systems:

Activated carbon filter

Carbon filters are extremely effective for removing excessive chlorine and chlorine by-products. In fact, activated carbon filters are designed to remove 90%–95% of chlorine along with many other harmful contaminants.

A premium carbon filter is available within the price range of $50–$500. They are not heavy on the budget and perform the job perfectly.

See our list of the best activated carbon filters.


Distillation works by vaporizing water and condensing the clean water free of contaminants.

It’s a highly effective method for removing all impurities, including chlorine.

But not everyone can afford it. Distillation systems can cost as much as $5,000 and they require a lot of energy.

See our list of the best water distillers for more information.

Reverse osmosis filtration

Reverse osmosis (RO) is yet another highly efficient — and common — method for removing all kinds of contaminants that develop a questionable taste in drinking water.

RO uses a semipermeable membrane of a micron size of 0.0001, which can filter out many types of microbes, metals, and organic pollutants.

You can buy either a whole-house RO system or point-of-use system for your kitchen taps. RO filters will cost you anywhere from $300–$4,000, depending on the size and quality of the equipment.

Find the best one for your entire home by reading about the best whole-house reverse osmosis systems.

Quick fixes

If you’re just looking for a way to diminish the chlorine taste or smell from one glass of water, there are two things you can try.

First, pour it back and forth into two different containers, letting it splash about. This will help the chlorine evaporate. Second, you can add lemon juice to your water. Lemon juice will react with the chlorine and neutralize the taste and odor.

For long term solutions, you really need to add some kind of filtration.

Alternate Ways to Disinfect a Private Well

There are two ways well owners use chlorine to disinfect a well.

The first is shock chlorination. Shock chlorination is an extreme, one-time type of disinfection treatment that can disinfect any water system that’s been infected with bacteria. It’s not just for wells.

In fact, water systems in vacant homes or buildings can grow something called biofilm. A shock chlorination with a high dose of chlorine, allowed to sit in the system for several days, can kill the biofilm. Again, shock chlorination is a one-time treatment for extremely infected water systems.

The other way well owners can use chlorine to disinfect well water is with a chemical injection system that uses chlorine to oxidize contaminants into solid particles that can then be removed by another filtration stage.

But chlorine is not the only way to disinfect well water.

Not only that, but if you’ve tested your water and found microbes, you should commit to finding out why. Pathogens could come from groundwater, but they can also get into your water through a cracked well casing, a well cap that’s too low, or a malfunctioning septic tank.

Here are some other ways to disinfect well water:

UV disinfection

For private well owners, an ultraviolet (UV) filter is a great option.

UV filters are designed to neutralize bacteria, viruses, and other potentially dangerous microorganisms. A pre-filter must be installed before UV filters for it to function smoothly because other common contaminants in well water can damage it.

UV filters will cost around $500–$1,500. If getting one for the whole house doesn’t suit your budget, you can get one for your kitchen tap only. A UV filter will save you from the hassle of disinfecting your well with gallons of chlorine.

Check out our reviews of the best UV purification systems.

Ozone disinfection filters

Perhaps you’ve seen mention of ozone filters as you’ve been perusing the web for answers to your water questions. So, I’ve included it here. But ozone filters are extremely expensive and complex, and I don’t recommend them for residential use.

An ozone disinfectant filter readily oxidizes bacteria and viruses by rupturing their cellular structures. Ozone also removes metals and organic materials from drinking water.

Premium quality ozone filters can cost as much as $3,000, or more.

Final Thoughts

It’s normal to occasionally smell chlorine in your tap water. Public water systems will keep using chlorine to disinfect your water until a “non-smelly” and equally effective alternative is discovered.

Take heart that the effects of chlorine and its by-products are far less detrimental than the waterborne diseases caused by bacteria and viruses lurking in untreated water.

Chlorine is completely safe to consume as long as it’s less than 4 mg/L. But you should test your water quality regularly for any changes all the same.

The best solution to too much chlorine in tap water is to install a water filtration system, such as a carbon filter, distiller, or reverse osmosis filter to keep your chlorine levels low all the time.

Looking to discover further information about different water treatments? Dive in with these additional sources:

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can it damage my hair?

James Layton

Hi Norann, The research on human hair and how to keep it beautiful is often kept secret because hair care is a multi-million dollar industry. I will share what you need to know! Hair care products are very popular and concern about chlorine damage leads many companies to offer products to protect against chlorine damage from swimming in a chlorinated pool. But what about in the shower? We know that chlorinated water will cause your hair’s natural color to lighten up. Chlorine will also weaken the hair strands. The best defense against chlorine damage is to remove it from your water supply. A whole-home activated carbon filter is the best solution. Another option is a shower-head filter. The main function of a shower filter is to neutralize chlorine.Look for a filter that contains “KDF” and activated carbon. You’ll find our reviews on this website.