Preserving Your Plumbing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Preventing Pipe Corrosion

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 the plumbing and water in your home? And how can you avoid corrosion in your pipes?

Corrosion affects different types of pipes in different ways. Corrosion of cast iron pipes is different from that of 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 through contact with another substance. This wear and tear on a molecular level becomes more and more significant and eventually leads to rust, blockages or leaks.

Here are some of the most common causes of metal pipe corrosion:

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

How Does Pipe Corrosion Affect My Water?

Depending on the type of pipes you have, corrosion affects your water in different ways. These effects can include:

  • Discoloration
  • Turbidity (cloudiness)
  • Bitter taste
  • Foul odor
  • Health problems

Iron pipes rust and eventually become clogged. Extra iron in your water can cause the water to have a reddish color. Although added iron poses no health risk, its taste may be unappealing.

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

Plastic and PVC pipes are resistant to corrosion, but because they are a newer material, there is little data on their long-term properties. The main risk of corrosion is at joints and connectors where metal or rubber parts are used.

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

How Does Pipe Corrosion Affect My Plumbing?

Water pipe corrosion inside your home can create numerous problems including:

  • Low water pressure
  • Leaks
  • Pinholes
  • Breaks
  • Rust stains
  • Damaged appliances

When your pipes corrode, they can form small holes or cracks that eventually lead to large breaks and flooding. Internal corrosion can slow water pressure or clog your faucets and water heater. Rust could discolor your sink.

If you notice lower water pressure, higher water bills, and cloudy or discolored water, you likely have corroded pipes somewhere in your home. Hoses can become thin or brittle without any visible signs.

How to Prevent Corroded Pipes

Have your pipes inspected by a certified plumber to ensure they are safe and working properly. This is the best way to ensure your plumbing is not destroyed by corrosion and ensure healthy water in your home.

If your water is a problem, perform a Langelier Saturation Index (LSI) test to determine the cause of 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 identify lead in water. A separate, line-specific test is required.

A water softener or water filter connected to your water supply can treat hard water before it flows through your pipes. Use a water softener to remove excess minerals that cause scale and make washing difficult. A water filter can remove chemicals and bacteria that accelerate corrosion. This also makes your water taste better!

How to Clean External Copper Pipe Corrosion

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

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

  • A commercial metal polish designated for copper.
  • A paste of white vinegar, salt and flour.

Follow package directions when using commercial varnish. To use the natural paste, apply it to the affected areas and wait ten minutes. The acid in vinegar is intended to dissolve alkaline stains. Wipe with a clean cloth. Repeat if necessary.

Repair or Replace Your Corroded Pipes

Don't wait until the water is rusted and the walls are damaged to tell you that you have a significant plumbing problem. Although pipe replacement can be a big job, the alternative can be much worse. Call or contact Bannister Plumbing & Air today to have a certified technician inspect your pipes for corrosion. We can help you decide the best course of action if corroded pipes are putting your water at risk.