In a lot of places around the globe, particularly in the U.S., we take clean, clear drinking water for granted, at least most of the time.  However, turning on the tap and seeing your glass fill up with cloudy water is more common than you might think.

Understandably, dealing with cloudy tap water can be unsightly and might make you think twice about drinking the water.  To help, we’ve devoted this article to explaining the most common causes of cloudy tap water and how you can go about fixing each one.

A kitchen sink--not new--with a frozen drop, ready to descend

What Causes Cloudy Water?

Generally, there are 3 main causes of cloudy tap water: air bubbles, hard water, or contaminated water.  Let’s dive into a little more detail on each of these.

By and large, in North America, the most common reason for tap water that appears cloudy or milky is the presence of air bubbles in the water.  In order to get the water from a treatment facility into your home, the water in the distribution pipes must be slightly pressurized.

When water heats up in your pipes, you may also notice more air bubbles.  The heating of water allows more air bubbles to escape.

The second reason water can appear milky or cloudy is hard water.  This is water with a high concentration of dissolved minerals, usually calcium and magnesium.  Although hard water is typically safe to drink, it can lead to other problems like limescale buildup in appliances, and staining of dishes and laundry.

In cases of very hard water, the dissolved minerals can alter the appearance of the water, making it look slightly cloudy, grey, or white.

Lastly, if air bubbles or water hardness are not your problem, then you may be dealing with contaminated water.  This occurs rarely in countries with stringent water safety protocols, but it can still happen.  One troubling example is the case of led contamination in the Flint, Michigan water supply.

Removing Air From Water

As you might have guessed, air bubbles are harmless in your water and you can drink them without worry.

An easy test to check if air bubbles are making your tap water cloudy is to simply pour some water into a transparent glass and see if it clears up on its own.  Give the air bubbles about 30-60 seconds to dissipate.  If the glass becomes clear, feel free to drink the water safely.

Let’s say that you’ve figured out that air bubbles are the culprit and for some reason, you want to get rid of them (who knows, maybe you want to impress your mother in law). You have two options.

You can choose to run only cold water through the tap, which should contain fewer air bubbles, or you can insulate the pipes feeding water to your sink.  This will reduce large temperature changes in the water, which will help prevent air bubbles.

You can easily tape some pipe sleeves or fiberglass insulation to the water pipes, which should help keep the water at a more consistent temperature.

Woman filling glass of water at kitchen sink.

Softening Hard Water

If you’re wondering whether you have hard water, the first step is to test your water.  The easiest and most accurate method of testing is with a home test kit.  Most home test kits involve dipping a paper strip into the water in question, waiting for the color to change, and then comparing the new color with the legend or reference material that comes with the kit.

You can often also contact your water provider for a water hardness reading for your area.

In the U.S., water hardness is often measured on a grains per gallon scale (gpg), ranging from 0 to 10+.  A high level of dissolved mineral content in water means higher grains per gallon.  Hard or very hard water is thought of as 7 gpg or more.

If you’ve determined that water hardness is making your water cloudy, it’s time to think about investing in a water softener.  You can either purchase a smaller softener for an individual tap or sink, or a larger softener for your entire house.

The trade-offs between these two options are fairly clear.  The smaller unit will only work for one sink in your home but will cost less.  If you’re only concerned about the tap water coming from your kitchen sink, this option might be best.

However, keep in mind that in many cases, hard water doesn’t just affect your drinking water.  It can dry out your skin and hair in the shower, leave white stains on your dishes and laundry, and lead to limescale build-up in appliances like your coffee maker and water heater (which shortens their lifespan).

If you want to find a general solution to hard water for your entire house, then a larger unit that is capable of softening all the water in your home will be the best option.

Dealing With Contaminated Water

If you’ve found that neither air bubbles nor water hardness are to blame for making your water look cloudy, you may be dealing with contaminated water.  In addition to a cloudy, dirty, or milky appearance, your water may smell or taste odd as well.

In these rare cases, it is important to proceed with caution.  Contact your water provider right away to let them know.  Ask if there has been any recent construction, mining, or drilling projects near the area where you live or near the water supply.

Do not drink, cook, or bathe with the water.  Use purified, bottled water instead, or stay with friends or family for the time being.  At least until you have confirmation that the water is safe to drink and clarification as to why your water is cloudy.

Fixing Cloudy Tap Water

So there you have it.  Cloudy tap water is almost always caused by air bubbles, hard water, or contaminated water.  Depending on the cause, fixing the cloudiness can be as easy as waiting for air bubbles to dissipate, or investing in a water softener, or contacting your local water and health authority in extreme cases.

We hope the information and solutions provided here will help you on your way to enjoying crisp, clean, clear tap water.