Cloudy Water

You may occasionally notice water from your tap that is cloudy, discolored, or containing gray sediment. The information below will tell you if and when it is recommended that you contact Seattle Public Utilities about these issues.

Cloudy Water

Uncolored cloudy water

Cloudy water is usually caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to gas bubbles in carbonated beverages. Usually, this cloudiness occurs in the winter, when the drinking water is cold.

If you notice cloudy water, fill a clean, clear glass with water from the cold tap and let it sit on the counter. If the water starts to clear at the bottom of the glass first, it is caused by air in the lines. This is probably due to air bubbles -- either from dissolved oxygen being released or trapped air in the plumbing. In our region, this can be common, since our water comes from the mountains highly saturated with oxygen, and our ozone treatment process adds excess oxygen to the water.

If you are also noticing sputtering from the faucet (and have had recent plumbing work) it is probably the air trapped when the water refilled the empty plumbing. This should clear as the water is used.

If others in the neighborhood have a similar problem, especially where Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has been working on the main, the problem may be the result of air trapped in a water main or from fine silt which has been stirred up. If it is silt, it should settle out with time, as mentioned in the "Discolored Water" section below. However, if the problem appears to be from air trapped in the main, please contact SPU Operations Response Center at (206) 386-1800.

Foaming/cloudy water

Foaming water, especially from kitchen sinks, can be caused by dish detergent being splashed on the faucet. If your water is foaming, shake up a glass of water to form a layer of bubbles. Does the layer last when you stop shaking? Does it smell like soap? Is this coming from more than one tap? If only one tap is affected (usually the kitchen faucet with an aerator), dish washing detergent may have been splashed onto the faucet. This can be rinsed off and the problem should clear up.

If this problem occurs at all of your faucets, call the Operations Response Center at (206) 386-1800. Save some of the water to show to the inspector, and refrain from drinking or cooking with the water until it is checked out.


Discolored Water

Sudden discolored water

If you are experiencing sudden discoloration of water, there may be some activity that has disturbed the direction or rate of flow in the City water main, such as use of a fire hydrant or a water main valve in your vicinity. Discolored water typically comes from internal pipe rust and sediment getting stirred up. We recommend that you wait until it clears before drinking it. Try running the cold water for a few minutes to see if it is clearing or still discolored. If the water does not clear, let the water sit for 1 to 2 hours. Then run cold water for a few minutes in your bathtub or shower. If the water remains discolored, please contact the Operations Response Center at (206) 386-1800.

Avoid running hot water if the cold water is still discolored. This will minimize filling the hot water tank with turbid water. If you are washing clothes at the time, it is better to stop the cycle while it is full and wait until clean water is available to finish. If you allow the water to empty from the washing machine and go into the spin cycle it is more likely to cause permanent staining to the laundry items.

Yellow, orange, reddish, or brown water

If your neighbors' water is clear but you are experiencing discolored water just in your own residence, it may be due to plumbing within the building. This problem may occur first thing in the morning, or after periods of lower water use. It is also seen at seldom-used faucets. The water should clear after flushing the faucet briefly. The cause is most likely galvanized iron plumbing in the building. It does not indicate that the plumbing is about to fail or that it needs to be replaced, unless there is also a noticeable reduction in water pressure.

If this is only occurring with hot water, flushing the hot water tank may help by clearing out the sediment in the bottom of the tank. Hot water increases the rate of corrosion in plumbing. You may want to consult a plumber for safety precautions.


Gray Sediment

Gray sediment, especially from the hot water tap, may be coming from the hot water tank which can be overheating. You may want to call a plumber if it continues. If the sediment consists of visible particles from the cold water tap and you have recently installed or replaced an in-line water filter, the material may be charcoal from the filter.


Public Utilities

Andrew Lee, General Manager and CEO
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34018, Seattle, WA, 98124-5177
Phone: (206) 684-3000

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Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is comprised of three major direct-service providing utilities: the Water Utility, the Drainage and Wastewater Utility, and the Solid Waste Utility.