How Does Pipe Corrosion Work?

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Phil Puccio

A rusted pipe causes a leak.

Pipes don’t last forever. Even copper pipes, despite their lifespan of more than 50 years, develop corrosion over time and under certain conditions. How does pipe corrosion affect your plumbing and your home’s water? And how do you keep your pipes from corroding?

Corrosion affects different types of pipes in different ways. Corrosion on cast iron pipes looks different than corrosion on galvanized pipes and can be caused by several factors. The bottom line: we want your plumbing and the water you drink to be safe.

What are the causes of pipe corrosion?

Corrosion is an electrochemical exchange of electrons. This means that the metal in your pipe loses electrons when it comes into contact with another substance. This wear and tear at the molecular level increases and eventually leads to rust, blockages or leaks.

Here are some of the most common causes of corrosion in metal pipes:

  • Low pH. A low pH (below 7) indicates that your water is acidic. Acid water can dissolve pipes from the inside and is a common cause of copper pipe corrosion.
  • High oxygen content. Higher levels of oxygen in your water can accelerate oxidation or rust. Uncontrolled rust that builds up over time will corrode and block your pipes.
  • Water properties. A high mineral content in hard water can lead to calcification and mineral deposits. Metals in the water can cause galvanic corrosion where electrons are transferred from metals with high electron count to metals with fewer electrons.
  • Electric currents. An ungrounded electrical current can flow through a copper pipe and cause a corrosive reaction.
  • High speed. Water moving at high speeds, especially hot water, can wear out your pipes prematurely.

How does pipe corrosion affect my water?

Corrosion affects your water in different ways, depending on the type of pipes you have. These effects can be:

  • Discoloration
  • Turbidity (turbidity)
  • Bitter taste
  • Rotten stench
  • Health problems

Iron pipes will rust and eventually clog. The extra iron in your water can make the water reddish. While added iron poses no health risk, the taste can be unsightly.

Copper pipes can produce blue colored water or water stains. This blue color indicates the presence of copper in your water due to corrosion. Too much copper can cause health problems that result in liver or kidney damage. Fortunately, the problem is visible before it becomes a health hazard.

Plastic and PVC pipes corrosion resistant, but since it is a newer material there is not much data on its long term properties. The main risk of corrosion is at joints and connectors that use metal or rubber parts.

Lead pipes are extremely dangerous if corroded. Lead in water can cause serious health problems, especially for children. If you have lead lines anywhere in your home, have them replaced immediately and do not drink water.

How does pipe corrosion affect my pipelines?

Corrosion of water pipes in your home can cause numerous problems, including:

A rusted hole in an iron pipe.
  • Low water pressure
  • Leaks
  • Pinholes
  • Breaks
  • Rust stains
  • Damaged devices

If your pipes corrode, they can develop small holes or cracks that eventually lead to large fractures and flooding. Corrosion inside can slow water pressure or clog your faucets and water heater. Rust could stain your sink.

If you’ve noticed lower water pressures, higher water bills, and cloudy or discolored water, chances are you have pipe corrosion somewhere in your home. Pipes can become thin or brittle with no visible evidence.

How to prevent corroded pipes

Have a certified plumber inspect your pipes to make sure they are safe and working properly. This is the best way to ensure that corrosion doesn’t destroy your plumbing and that healthy water remains in your home.

If your water is a problem, take a Langelier saturation index (LSI) test to determine what is causing the corrosion. The LSI test is a standard water quality test that measures:

  • PH
  • conductivity
  • Total dissolved solids
  • alkalinity
  • hardness

* Note: The Langelier test does not detect lead in water. A separate, line-specific test is required.

A water softener or water filter that is permanently attached to your water supply can treat aggressive water before it flows through your pipes. Use a water softener to remove excess minerals that build up buildup and make washing difficult. A water filter can remove chemicals and bacteria that accelerate corrosion. It will also remove it to make your water taste better!

How to clean external copper pipe corrosion

The green corrosion of copper pipes is the result of oxidation. This patina is similar to the rust found in other types of pipes. Over time, this type of corrosion can lead to bigger problems.

A copper pipe covered in blue corrosion.

To clean your copper pipes, you can use one of two methods:

  • A commercially available metal polish for copper.
  • A paste made from white vinegar, salt, and flour.

Follow the package instructions when using commercially available polish. To use the natural paste, brush it on the affected areas and wait ten minutes. The acid in the vinegar should loosen the alkali stains. Wipe with a clean cloth. Repeat as needed.

Repair or replace your corroded pipes

Don’t wait until rust-colored water and damaged walls know you have a significant plumbing problem. While replacing tubes can be a huge task, the alternative can be a lot worse. Call or contact Mike Diamond today to have a certified technician inspect your pipes for corrosion. We can help you determine the best course of action if corroded pipes are compromising your water.

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