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Why do Pipes Rust?

Why do pipes rust? We’ve all seen rust, that grimy, dirty substance that appears on old metal, commonly found on sinks, bathrooms, and outdoor water pipes. However, this orange and brown grime is not just an indicator of an old pipe. Rust is a warning sign that there are other problems with a home’s water system. When left unchecked, rust is a considerable health risk, and even though most homes depend on clean, running water to survive, many do not understand how critical the presence of rust means to their lives. Keep on reading to find out the answer to the question, “Why do pipes rust?”

What are Pipes Made From?

While your first instinct may be to say “metal,” the science of plumbing evolved with technology. As a result, the materials used to create specific pipes significantly impact their efficacy in your home. The most common water pipe materials still in use include copper, galvanized steel, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and cross-linked polyethylene (PEX).

Most modern homes use PVC pipes because they are affordable, come in many sizes, and safely handle warm and cold water. PVC pipes are also popular because they are made from plastic and thus do not rust. Their only downside is that they are slightly weaker than metal.

Plenty of houses still run on metal piping systems since they hold up better over time with the proper maintenance. In addition, metal is more heat resistant than plastic, so these pipes handle higher water temperatures best. The downside? Metal is higher quality material and makes these pipes more expensive. For many, this expense is not worth the additional rust risk.  

So Why Do Pipes Rust?

The leading cause of rust is corrosion. Corrosion is the chemical reaction that occurs when iron within metal pipes gets exposed to the oxygen in the water. The reaction, known as oxidation, forms rust, which eats away at the pipe, changing the chemical makeup and making the pipe more brittle. Rust occurs on both the inside and outside of pipes. Internal corrosion forms through high pH levels in the water, dissolving a metal pipe’s inner protective layer. External corrosion usually forms through leakage.

When left unchecked, pipes build up with rust or limescale and block water flow. In addition, deteriorated pipes have higher risks of bursts or leaking due to structural damage. Extra leaks put other pipes in your home at risk.

Why is Rust Bad for My Health?

While small amounts of rust are not inherently harmful, they affect the look and taste of your tap water. For example, rusted pipes can make your water taste bitter and metallic, smell foul, and create red or brown discoloration. 

Drinking small amounts may be unpleasant at best, but ingesting contaminated water over a long period makes humans and animals alike sick because microscopic metals in the water contain harmful bacteria. Bathing or showering with water that contains high iron levels also leads to skin conditions like acne. 

For older houses, rusted pipes may be a vehicle for toxic materials. Many older homes built before modern safety regulations contain many harmful chemicals, like lead and harder metals, which could contaminate your water supply.

Injecting high levels of microscopic rust may cause iron poisoning, which manifests in fever, headaches, dizziness, low blood pressure, and more. While you’re unlikely to ingest enough tainted water for this to occur, there is still the risk of sickness, especially in children and those with certain medical conditions. 

How Do I Prevent Rust? 

Replacing your pipes is a stressful and expensive process. One of the best ways to extend the life of your pipes is to keep their maintenance as part of your weekly or monthly cleaning routines. If caught early enough, preventing corrosion is possible with inexpensive or homemade solutions, so check out these tips to keep your pipe system strong. 

Watch the Water

There is a higher risk of corrosion within metal pipes, but since it is hard to inspect these on your own, keep an eye on the pH of your water. The more acidic your water is, the more damage it does to your system. The EPA recommends household water pH measures between 6.5 and 8.5 as part of their National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. Use at-home pH tests to check these levels accurately.

Keep your water temperature low most of the time since hot water breaks down the pipe’s lining. It’s also a good idea to monitor the oxygen levels in your water with a dissolved oxygen meter to grasp the leading cause of corrosion.

Keep Pipes Stable

Poor installation or high water pressure causes pipes to vibrate, rattle, or bounce around when in use. This movement creates small, corrosive openings on the surface of pipes and leads them to become more brittle and prone to rust. Restraints like u-bolts, straps, and clamps stabilize pipes and lessen the effect of everyday vibrations.

Clean and Protect Pipes

Keeping pipes clean and reinforcing protection prevents pipe rust. Any exposed metal is susceptible to corrosion due to bacteria or rough contact with other metals. To prevent build-up, you can always use Biocides and other microbial inhibitors. In addition, consider metal pipes with a plastic or chemical coating inside to withstand water flow. 

Pipe wear pads or buffers protect the pipes against any metal that systems may scrape up against them, such as interconnecting pipe systems or other machinery. Either way, metal on metal is a recipe for corrosion, so make sure the system is protected inside and out. 

Rusty Pipes? Call Goodbee Plumbing!

Why do pipes rust? Our expert repair team at Goodbee Plumbing answers this question and more when you call on us for any of our wide variety of piping services. Unfortunately, pipes do not last forever, and even the best cared for systems will need replacement eventually. Goodbee Plumbing is the best place for complete plumbing rehaul when that day comes. Explore our website for more plumbing services, or call us today to schedule an appointment.

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