Due to its low cost and easy installation, the use of plastic piping is on the rise. If your plumbing is made of PEX, PVC, or another plastic polymer material–you may notice a plastic-y taste in your water.

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Despite the fact that water is made of a complex mixture of both organic and inorganic chemicals, we usually expect our drinking water to be flavorless. Given that assumption, any taste or odor in a glass of water can be very noticeable.

One of the most off-putting, unexpected tastes in your tap water is a plastic-like taste. Unfortunately, a plastic-y taste in tap water is not that uncommon, but it may leave you wondering:

Why does my tap water taste like plastic?Is it dangerous or unsafe to drink water that tastes like plastic? 
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In Tips for Taps, we’ve addressed a wide array of common causes for aesthetic water problems—such as why your water is a strange color, why your water smells funny, and even why it has an unusual taste. In this article, we zero-in on why your might taste like plastic, what to do about it, and what it means for your health.

The first step is to specify the exact “type” of plastic flavor. If you can narrow down whether your tap water tastes like fruity plastic or more like rubber with an antiseptic taste, there may be a solution in your pipes. For those of you thinking of re-plumbing with plastic pipes, some forewarning about taste and the state of knowledge.

What’s My Home’s Plumbing Made Of?

As you might know by now, the pipes that carry your tap water come in a variety of materials-- from lead to copper to plastic.

Although lead was outlawed in 1986 due to serious associated and unforeseen human health impacts, many older homes still have plumbing made of lead. Check out this Lead Risk Map for more information if you are at risk for lead-contaminated drinking water.

Concerned that that lead has leached into your water supply, Tap Score’s high precision laboratory water test can help: Lead Water Test. 

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While some contaminants are well tested for on-premises (like chlorine, for example), lead and copper certainly are not. For an in-depth look as to why, take a look at this examination of home water test strips that asks “when are DIY water tests worth it?” 

With lead plumbing now illegal, copper is often considered a suitable metal alternative for plumbing material. However, it can be quite expensive and may be cost prohibitive for many. Subsequently, a more cost effective solution has burst onto the scene in recent years and has become one of the most popular plumbing options today: plastic pipes

Cheap and easy-to-install polymers (i.e. plastics) have taken over tap water plumbing market in the last 70 years.

Despite no long-term data on exposure to plastic in drinking water, the studies that are currently available on plastic exposures through drinking water do suggest there are indeed potential adverse health impacts.

There are many types of plastic pipes, and all of them are stronger and more durable than the plastic in your typical water bottle. With over 70% of Americans using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and most new plumbing systems being plastic, plastic pipes have come into the hot seat.

Alongside PVC, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), high density polyethylene (HDPE) and cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) are the main types of plastic pipes out there today. PEX and HDPE are touted as safer than PVC and CPVC because there are fewer solvents and glues. By our account, the actual long-term safety of plastic pipes remains understudied and uncertain.

For those unfamiliar with the wide world of plastic plumbing, plastic pipes lack the rigid architecture of metal pipes and wind their way through your home like a network of hoses. The advantages of include: 

Plastic pipes are far less expensive than copper pipesPlastic plumbing is flexible, quick, and relatively easy to installPVC, PEX, CPVC pipes etc are far more resistant to both freezing-related bursts and corrosion than copper

While those points that fill the pro-plastic pipe column. Now, for the cons. The case against plastic piping usually include the following:

Plastic pipes cannot be recycled (unlike their copper counterpart)

It’s that last one that most folks are worried about. For an in-depth look at the question of plastic pipe safety, take a look here:

Is Plastic Piping Safe?

This concern, coupled with a mystery plastic-like taste in your water may have you asking if your plastic pipes are negatively impacting your water quality. The next step is to identify what “type” of plastic taste your water has.

My Water Has a Fruity Plastic Taste:

If your water tastes like fruity plastic or rubbery, this is likely an indication of leachates from your plastic pipes. If your pipes were installed recently, they should be thoroughly flushed and likely left unused for 14 days after installation. If plastic odor and smells persist, it could be due to the way your treated water interacts with the pipes. Odors have been shown to increase in the presence of residual chlorine and disinfection byproducts.

My Water Has an Antiseptic, Cleaning Agent-like Taste:

If your water tastes more like an antiseptic, or like the cleaning reagent TCP, it is likely that your water is getting in contact with fixtures for other appliances like dishwashers or washing machines. This can happen when the piping fixtures are poorly put together, your appliances have no check-valve to prevent backflow into your pipes, or the plumbing is old. It’s best to get your plumbing checked if this taste persists.

Is It Safe to Drink Water that Smells and Tastes Like Plastic?

If you take standards as the arbiters of truth, you might come away thinking that the odor and taste compounds associated with plastic pipes are not harmful to human health.

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International"s Standard 61: Drinking Water System Components-Health Effects is the gold standard for testing plastic pipes, and allows for pipes to go to market if they pass their tests. But, they make some pretty big assumptions.

The American Society of Civil Engineers pointed out that the NSF tests plastic pipes assuming one disinfection treatment scenario and does not make their results public. This is bound to underestimate the real health risks.

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Researchers have found 158 compounds in drinking water associated with plastic pipes, and a recent study on PEX discovered highly variable impacts on tap water quality and smell. We can’t make a blanket statement about the health impacts of plastic pipes because water treatment (like chlorines and chloramines) and pipe-brand impact the final tap water quality. That being said, testing your water for plastic chemicals that may be leaching into your water is the best way you can protect yourself and loved ones.

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Tap Score’s Advanced City Water Test and Advanced Well Water Test both include analysis for volatile compounds commonly associated with plastic pipe leaching. Along with analysis for a multitude of other potentially harmful contaminants such as lead and arsenic, these in-laboratory water tests will provide quantified results, along with a health-risk analysis, plumbing impacts assessment, aesthetic effects and more. 

Specifically looking to test your water for plastic leachates? Tap Score can help: Plastics Leachates Water Test is a targeted test specifically designed for a breadth of plastic-related compounds like BPA, PVC, and phthalates. 

As with every Tap Score Report, you’ll also recieved unbiased, treatment recommendations based upon your water’s unique chemistry with actionable steps you can take to improve any water quality issues. 

If you have questions about testing your water for any sort of contaminant, including those coming from plastic pipes, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, or anywhere else–you can always ask the team of chemists, water quality engineers, and treatment experts at Tap Score. Send a message anytime to hello