OK to bathe in sulfur water?
September 29, 2011 5:54 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago we rented a beautiful private home in Door County, Wis on Green Bay in October. Everything was perfect except that the water (well) really smelled of sulfur. We would like to go back there for the house, the fireplace the gorgeous setting and sunsets on the Bay but... that smell. We can bring bottled water for everything but bathing. Is it harmful to ones health to shower in sulfur water? Any tips as to how to mitigate the odor? thanks
posted by Tullyogallaghan to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My mother-in-law used to have furious, in-your-face sulfur water. They showered in it all the time. So I think it's safe. Also, she said keeping it in the fridge minimized the smell quite a bit, so that's something to try for anything else you need to use it for.
posted by theredpen at 5:58 PM on September 29, 2011

You can get shower head water filters that can filter out a bunch of stuff, including sulfur, all at once. They definitely get the chlorine smell to go away, but I don't know about sulfur.
posted by zeek321 at 6:01 PM on September 29, 2011

I think it's actually supposed to be really good for your skin. Sulphur hot springs are a big deal.
posted by padraigin at 6:04 PM on September 29, 2011

Sulfur isn't toxic, in fact it's in thiamine (a vitamin) and keratin (your hair, nails). There are sulfur springs that people use for "health". It just smells bad - you'll be fine showering in it, in fact some would say it'll be good for your skin and hair.
posted by ldthomps at 6:05 PM on September 29, 2011

My in-laws have sulfurous water at their place in Florida. It's safe to shower in. They have a water cooler for drinking and cooking water. They recently got some sort of filter that sits in the garage and filters all the water that comes into the house. The smell is much less noticeable but they still prefer not to drink it.
posted by gnutron at 6:06 PM on September 29, 2011

People pay money to bathe in sulfur springs in Rotorua.

It is supposed to be good for acne/minor skin infections, arthritis, muscle aches and pains.

Obviously, it would depend on the pH of the water though... if showering is making your skin itch or burn afterwards, you need to either skip the showers, or rinse off with non-sulfur water afterwards.
posted by Year of meteors at 6:08 PM on September 29, 2011

Unless there are hot springs nearby (to my knowledge, there are none near Green Bay), there's probably harmless bacteria producing that sulfur-smell. Here in Minnesota, it's common for rural well-water to smell.

Read this for more information.
posted by hammerthyme at 6:10 PM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have cousins in Saratoga Springs, NY. The smell of the water in their showers (and also of their dishes, just from being washed in sulfur-y water) is pretty revolting to me, but it doesn't seem to bother them in the slightest, so I assume it's safe. They are pretty crunchy types, fwiw.
posted by naoko at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2011

If there were a problem with showering in water smelling of sulfur, the whole city of Reykjavík would shut down.
posted by matildaben at 6:54 PM on September 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I've been vacationing in Door County my whole life and I've never experienced a sulfur smell in any of the places I've stayed. It could be particular to that property. Have you asked the owners?
posted by pourtant at 7:00 PM on September 29, 2011

In my home town, there is one spring that has sulfurous water. Folks make a special detour to bottle it up and drink it! As far as I know (I left 30 years ago but I visit every year), they still do.
posted by aroberge at 7:08 PM on September 29, 2011

Sulfur smells are perfectly normal in water with a high iron content. It's most common in vacation properties where the water sits around in tanks. It usually disappears if you run the water regularly. If you have any concerns, take a water sample and get it analyzed.
posted by unSane at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2011

A lot of farm well water is like this as well. People drank that for decades without issue.

I grew up with water like this at my grandparents.

Once it dried the smell went away, so it's not like you smelled like a rotten egg all day.

Bring lots of bulk potable water.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:47 PM on September 29, 2011

Also grew up with it at my grandparents' house-- which was right next door. It is not harmful.

Leaving a pitcher of water on the counter overnight (open) will get rid of the smell and make the water drinkable.

It was the big draw for the health spa in my hometown, in the 1800s. People would take long soaks in huge marble tubs of it.
posted by vitabellosi at 8:04 PM on September 29, 2011

There is a spa in my home state that charges people to bathe in such water. They are quite popular.
posted by Kloryne at 8:13 PM on September 29, 2011

We have a house with sulfurous water. The plumber installed an airator to sort of burp the sulfur out of the water. Around $1000 I think. Now the water looks cloudy with air bubbles and it still has a hint from time to time but basically the water is fine.
posted by shothotbot at 8:32 PM on September 29, 2011

Nthing that this is common with rural well water. Use an oscillating or window fan in the bathroom to move the air when you shower, it'll help make the odor less intense.

(I'm weirdly nostalgic for strong-tasting well water, even though we made a big ew yuck production about it as kids -- it was specific to summer camp and my grandparents' house.)
posted by desuetude at 9:04 PM on September 29, 2011

I have a friend who digs wells, and he would say the well was probably not deep enough if the water had a sulfur smell, but I don't know how accurate that is.

You can smell hydrogen sulfide at really low levels, so it is most likely safe, but you might want to get the water tested; kits are pretty cheap (~$10). Here's pretty much all you need to know.
posted by misha at 9:05 PM on September 29, 2011

I've swam in it in New Zealand where they have swimming baths of it open to the public. Smelled weird and made the silver jewelry I was wearing at the time tarnish but my skin was very soft afterwards.
posted by wwax at 9:30 PM on September 29, 2011

My cousin has been living with sulfur water for 35 years. You can't wear jewelry when you do the dishes and they drink bottled but they shower with it all the time. The horses and dogs seem ok.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2011

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