A: There are three major types of colored particles that you might find in your water. These particles are usually plumbing related.
Black particles come from four potential sources: a steel pipe, a water filter, a faucet washer or gasket, or a flexible supply line hose.
Particles from a steel pipe are discussed in more detail under the brown or orange particles section of this question.
If the particles are very hard, similar in size and shape, and might be described as large coffee grounds, they are probably granular activated carbon (GAC) from the inside of a GAC water filter. To correct this problem, replace the filter cartridge. You may want to contact the manufacturer or place of purchase for a suitable replacement cartridge.
If the particles are solid but rubbery in texture, they could be pieces of a disintegrating faucet washer or gasket. If this is the problem, the particles would likely only be present at one faucet and that faucet might be leaking. To fix this problem, replace the faucet washers and/or the packing at the ends of the supply lines.
If the particles are small black specs that might be described as being oily or sooty in texture, they are probably from the inside of a flexible hose. The interior of these hoses are made of black rubber but they are covered with a braided stainless steel mesh. Over time, the chlorine or chloramine in the water causes the rubber to break down. These hoses are commonly used to connect water fixtures to the water supply. To remedy this problem, simply replace the hose. Newer flex hoses have water disinfection resistant lining (clearly advertised on the label).
Brown or Orange Particles
Brown or orange particles are usually small pieces of rusted steel that have broken off the inside of your water pipes or the water main in the street. These particles are very hard, irregular in size and shape, and can be several different colors (including black). They consist of mostly iron and are not a health concern but they can be a nuisance if they clog your washing machine screens, shower heads, and/or the screens at the ends of your faucets (called aerators). If the water is clear with these particles in it, they probably came from the inside of your pipes. If the particles come from the water main, the water will usually be discolored for a few hours as well.
Another common source of brown or orange particles in the water is a broken water softener. Inside a water softener are many small round beads. The screen that keeps these beads in the tank can break, releasing them into your water. These beads vary in size and color depending on the manufacturer; however, some commonly used beads are about the size of fish eggs and are brown or orange in color. If you see that these particles are uniform in size, shape, and color and you have a water softener call your service agent for repairs.
White or Tan Particles
White or tan particles usually come from one of three places in your home: the inside of your pipes, the water heater, or a water softener.
White particles can be pipe scale (calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate). Tan particles are usually a combination of pipe scale and corrosion from your plumbing. Calcium and magnesium carbonates are naturally occurring minerals found in varying concentrations in most waters around the world. The amount of these minerals determines the hardness of the water. Higher mineral concentrations make the water harder. For more information about water hardness, please see the question: How hard is my water and should I use a water softener?
Over time, these minerals can deposit on the inside of your pipes and then begin to flake off. Although this process usually occurs slowly, over a long period of time, there are three common circumstances that can cause it to happen rapidly;
- If your water was turned off for repair work (either by you or us), the pressure and turbulence created when it is turned back on can dislodge the mineral deposits from the pipes.
- If the water supplied by us becomes softer or if you add a water softener to your plumbing system, the softer water can begin to re-dissolve the minerals from the pipes and pieces may begin to break loose.
- If you have galvanized steel pipes, they will corrode over time. As they corrode, they swell up on the inside causing these built-up minerals to flake off.
These are all common causes of pipe scale in the water and account for many of the complaints about white or tan particles in the water. Although pipe scale is not a health concern, it can be a nuisance by clogging inlet screens to washing machines, shower heads, and faucet aerators (the screen that screws on to the end of the water faucet). There is no practical way to remove pipe scale from the inside of your pipes; if the problem is severe, you may want to consider re-piping.
Another source of these white or tan particles is the water heater. As the water is heated, the minerals begin to drop out of the water forming white or tan sand-like deposits. As you use the hot water, these minerals can be carried along clogging the inlet screens in washing machines, shower heads, and faucet aerators. To keep these deposits from accumulating in the water heater, flush it at least once a year. Flushing the water heater regularly also extends the life of the heater and makes it operate more efficiently. For instructions on how to flush your water heater, go to How to Flush a Water Heater.The water heater can also add floating white particles to the water. Some water heaters contain a plastic dip tube. The dip tube is an extension to the inlet of the water supply. The tube is on the inside of the heater and allows the cold incoming water to enter the tank at the bottom. As the tube gets old, it can get brittle causing little pieces to break off and show up as white particles in the hot water. These pieces vary in size and will break apart fairly easily. They can have a faint bluish-green tint to them (from copper plumbing), but they are mostly white. To address this problem, contact the manufacturer for advice.
White or tan particles can actually be water softener resin beads. Inside a water softener are many small round beads. The screen that keeps the beads in the tank can break, releasing them into your water. These beads vary in size and color depending on the manufacturer; however, two commonly used beads are very small and are white or tan in color. If you see that the particles are uniform in size, shape, and color and you have a water softener call your service agent for repairs.
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