If you turn on the faucet and discolored water gushes out, you know that you’ve got a problem. But what if your color looks only slightly different than perfectly clear? Is it the light? What could it be?

There are a variety of possible causes for discolored water pouring out of your faucet. Some of them are not concerning and should clear up by running the faucet or letting the air dissipate.

Hasn’t Been Used in a While

If the faucet hasn’t been used in a while, then you might have dried sediment from the pipes that has congealed and is now running through the faucet. You’ll know this is the problem because you’ll be able to run the water for a few minutes and it should completely clear up. If the water remains discolored after a few minutes of running, then it probably isn’t this.

Sometimes a bit of dirt or sediment settles in the water lines, usually along the bottom of the pipe. If the water pressure changes (from a demand, like a fire hose), this can get kicked up. Just like a faucet that hasn’t been used in a while, you can usually run this out of the faucet.

The Pipe is Deteriorating

If you live in an older home, there could be older materials in your pipes. If the pipes were laid before 1970 then it could well mean that your pipes are made from corrosive iron or steel. These kinds of pipes wear down over time and can eventually pull minerals into the water, like iron and manganese. If the water is only discolored from a single faucet then it might be corroding in only one spot, but if every faucet is the same then you’ll want to check out the water main. A plumber can help you repipe the interior or replace the water line.

Deteriorating pipes are definitely the most concerning possible cause of water discoloration, other than direct contamination in the water system. If you have copper or iron pipes, they will need to be replaced with a more modern plumbing solution to prevent minerals.

Air in the Pipes

This can occur especially when the environment gets really cold. Air can become trapped in the pipes which can make the water look cloudy. You know it’s just air if the cloudiness slowly dissipates as the air rises to the surface.

Bad Water Heater

If the discolored water is coming mainly from the hot water side of the plumbing then you may have a problem with the heater tank. You can check simply by pouring a glass of water from the cool and hot water side of the tank, letting it run for a few seconds in between filling the two glasses. The only way to fix a water heater which has become rusted on the inside is to replace the water heater entirely.

Changes in the Water Supply

There are cases where nothing changes on your end, but the water supply source changes. Sometimes a new municipal source gets built that hooks you up to a new river or supply. In this case, you usually don’t have anything to worry about. The water may look different, but it’s probably okay. A quick call to the city can usually explain if things have changed.

Should You Worry About Discoloration?

Air in the pipes or sediment that you can run out of the faucet is no cause for concern. But if the water is a reddish color, it could show deterioration or rust int he pipes or in your water heater. That’s definitely more of a concern. Additionally, if the water carries any taste or smell that’s off, definitely call a plumber right away.