If you can see black slime or sludge on your faucets or other plumbing fixtures, it can be alarming. This disgusting material smells bad and it can be sticky to touch. The first thing to understand is that this is not a serious health risk. This is a common problem and once you know the root cause you can fix the problem. In this article, we will explain what this black slime is, how it gets on your fixtures, and what you can do to get rid of it.

What is This Stinky and Sticky Black Gunk?

There are two possible sources of black slime, iron or iron related bacteria and manganese or manganese related bacteria:

Iron and Iron Related Bacteria

These are not dangerous to human health and the water standards related to them are focused on aesthetic appeal and nuisance potential. They are a secondary contaminant with a maximum level (SMCL) of less than 0.3 ppm. Iron related bacteria tend to be a reddish-brown slime. But, if the bacteria reacts with tannins from organic matter it can form into a black stick residue on plumbing fixtures.

Manganese and Manganese Related Bacteria

The EPA recommends a manganese concentration at or lower than 0.05 ppm (parts per million) in drinking water. Manganese or manganese bacteria are not considered to be a health threat in the potential concentrations that are found in drinking water. Manganese is an essential nutrient found in many foods and manganese bacteria is non pathogenic. But, some studies have shown that manganese inhaled in high concentrations could be linked to neurological damage. This is a rare issue and this phenomenon has never been linked to manganese in drinking water.

How Does This Slime Get in the Water?

The water we receive from our taps contains naturally occurring dissolved metals and minerals. The two most common metals found in tap water are iron and manganese, These are both non-hazardous elements that are extremely common in the earth’s crust. When water seeps into the ground after rainfall, it will act as a solvent and dissolve some of the rocks and soil that it comes into contact with. These dissolved elements are held within the water and they are not removed at a public water treatment plant. This is why your drinking water may contain dissolved iron and manganese.

How Can I Remove This Black Slime?

There are other possible causes to investigate, such as dissolved rubber water heater seals and oxidized pipes. But, if you have a private well, iron and manganese are the most likely causes and this should be confirmed with water testing.

Regular cleaning and replacing pipes can be effective, but these should be treated as temporary measures. The root cause of the problem must be addressed or the black slime will return. Private or shared well users may want to consider shock chlorination to kill any iron or manganese bacteria in their well water system. Public water system users have a number of options based on the form of iron and manganese and the concentration. The most effective treatments include oxidizing filters, sequestering, or an ion-exchange water softener system.

If you have a problem with iron or manganese in your drinking water, contact your local water treatment specialist.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.