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My Faucet Sputters When First Turned On

My Faucet Sputters When First Turned On

If you drink a lot of water or milk when you’re eating, it’s likely a bit of air will go down with your food.  Eventually, that air needs to escape, and a burp is the result. 

The analogy might not be perfect, but you get the point.  Too much air in your belly needs to get out, and we all know how that feels.

Why is My Faucet Sputtering?

A sputtering faucet can be likened to that dynamic.  When too much air accumulates in your water pipes, your faucet sputters when you first turn it on.  That’s the air coming out of the water lines.

An occasionally sputtering faucet, while annoying, is not indicative of a major problem.  In fact, it’s not unusual and shouldn’t cause you any worry.  But, if it is a persistent occurrence, and it interferes with water flow regularly, it’s something that needs your attention.

Aerators, those attachments on the end of the faucet with a little screen in them, are used to reduce water usage.  Sometimes, though, particulates in your water flow will collect, and this, too, can cause a bit of sputtering.  Simply unscrew them, remove the particulates, and screw them back on for a quick and easy fix.

If sputtering persists, though, something more will be needed to cure the problem.

What Causes Air in Water Pipes?

One cause of air in the water lines is water system maintenance. Cutting off the water supply for a period of time can allow air to enter the system.

For instance, perhaps you are installing a new hot water tank and need to turn your house’s water system off. There will likely be air entering the water line that you will need to bleed from a faucet after the water is turned back on.  No big deal here.

Maintenance work on the water main may also introduce air into your system.  Perhaps a water main has burst, and the town/city had to turn the water off in your neighborhood while it is being repaired.  Air is likely to enter the system while the work is being done and cause a little sputtering when you turn your faucet on.  No big deal here, either.  Just run the tap for a minute or two to bleed the air out, and you should be fine.

If the sputtering event also includes brown water presenting, this too might very well have to do with either turning your water off for system maintenance, a new hot water tank installation, water main repairs, or flushing of hydrants.  When water pipes and water mains are turned off, sediments will settle. 

As the water is turned back on, those sediments are carried with it and discolor the water as it exits your faucet.  This, too, is no big deal unless it is a persistent occurrence.

How do you fix a sputtering faucet?

Faucet and Cat

We know now that faucets sputter as air is expelled from your water pipes.  We also know that the fixes can be easy and straightforward. 

The simplest solution to your sputtering faucet is to bleed the entire system.  Turn on all of the faucets in your house a half turn, and let the water run for a minute or two.  This will allow all of the air to escape.  Then, flush your toilet(s).  This should, pun intended, flush out any lingering air from your water pipes.

Here is another solution, and perhaps a more effective one, to bleed air from your water pipes:

  • Turn the main water valve off.  There is a pipe running from the water main along your street into your home.  Once that pipe is inside your basement, there is a water meter and a valve.  Turn that valve as far as you can, “righty tighty.”
  • Open all the faucets in your house.  There will be some water coming out of them, but eventually, all of it will have emptied.
  • Go back down into the basement and turn the main water valve back on, “lefty loosey.”
  • Finally, go around the house and turn all the faucets off.

This will flush your entire plumbing system of all trapped air, and the sputtering should stop.

What if The Sputtering is From Hot Water Lines Only?

You’ve followed the steps to bleed all of your water pipes of air, and yet your hot water lines are still sputtering while your cold water lines are not.  Why just the hot water lines, and what do you do?

We mentioned hot water tanks earlier, and we want to mention them again now.  If running all of the faucets in your house didn’t cure the sputtering, let’s focus on bleeding the hot water tank specifically. 

Every hot water tank has a flushing mechanism to empty the tank.  There are a few steps to follow, and they will be outlined in the tank manual.  Refer to that manual before you begin. 

Basically, though, there is a common sense process to emptying the tank.

  1. Turn the power off. 
  2. Leave the cold water feed to the tank open.  Water is usually fed at the top of the tank, and you’ll be using the pressure of incoming water to force any air trapped in the tank out as you drain it.
  3. Be patient.  Let the tank cool a bit before proceeding.
  4. At the bottom of the tank, you’ll find a sillcock – a valve with a threaded end.  Connect a hose to that sillcock and run it out of the basement.
  5. Open that valve and let the water begin to run out of the tank, through the hose, and out of your basement.  The cold water feed is still on, and the incoming water will push down and out any trapped air from the tank.  This will also push out any collected sediment at the bottom of the tank.  When the water runs clear from the hose outside, you’ll know the sediment is gone, as should be any air from the tank.
  6. Turn the valve off.  Pinch the hose at the tank end and disconnect it from the sillcock.  Take that end of the hose outside.

When this has been completed, be sure to remember to turn the power back on so you’ll have hot water soon.  Today’s tanks work quickly, and in 30-45 minutes, you’ll have hot water again.

Well Water Sputtering

Perhaps your water supply is well-fed, rather than from a municipal feed.  Air can enter your water pipes from a well water supply just as easily as it can from your city or town supply, and there are a few places to look for both the cause and the cure.

Near the water pump, you’ll find a check valve.  Check it (another pun there) to see if it has become loose such that its looseness is allowing air to be sucked into the pipe.  If so, tighten it.  You can probably do this by hand.

You might want to consider having the check valve inspected further, though, by a plumber.  If air has been allowed to enter the system, contaminants could also have entered, adversely affecting your health.

An issue of air in the system can also be caused by a low water level caused by drought or overuse.  Have your well installer come back to extend the pipe from pump to water level, and the problem should be solved.

It’s Only Sputtering

It’s only air.  Solutions are mostly DIY, no matter how or why the air enters your plumbing system and gets trapped. 

You know how much better you feel after you burp, right?  Well, your pipes will enjoy that same sense of relief when you “burp” them, too.  Simply purge the air and put an end to the sputtering.