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Iceland - sulfur in water question

Let me preface this question by saying it is a rather granular-type question, and the answer may or may not affect my decision to visit Iceland, but I am curious.

As I am evaluating a trip to Iceland, I notice that several packaged tours (I'm leaning toward one with National Geographic/Lindblad) include a visit to the Blue Lagoon on the same day as one's return air departure. I've also read a few TripAdvisor posts from individuals who comments that the bathroom of their hotel had a foul odor (which they later learned as due to the sulfur in the hot water, which apparently comes from natural sources).

My questions are:

If you have been to Iceland, did you experience a sulfur smell in your bathroom? Strong or just slight?

If you visited the Blue Lagoon, did you feel as though YOU smelled sulfur-like afterward? I'm assuming any after-showers with any degree of warm water would be from the same source?

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I was surprised at just how much I was bothered by the VOG (volcanic output gases), as I typically have no tendency whatsoever to allergies. Granted, we took two helicopter flights right over live volcanoes and we also visited the volcano areas on foot. I'm trying to decide if I might (and I realize there is no way to really tell ahead of time) have a similar reaction in Iceland, if it was the sulfur that brought about the reaction in Hawaii. I knew nothing about the VOG issue in Hawaii until I traveled there, and after the fact, I've learned that it has worsened over the last several years and can be rather unpredictable, depending on how the trade winds blow.

Any words of wisdom from experience in Iceland would be appreciated, and I realize if there is a huge active eruption at the time of our visit that would be entirely different than if the volcanoes are not roaring.

Thanks.

Posted by
6882 posts

If you have been to Iceland, did you experience a sulfur smell in your bathroom? Strong or just slight?

Yes, unfortunately, I remember the rotten egg smell in the bathroom every day....it was not faint. All the energy Iceland produces is geothermal. As for the Blue Lagoon, I made the mistake of dipping my hair and it was covered with mucky white silica mud (that's good for your face but not hair) afterward and it took a few washes to get out. I probably did smell and feel a little yucky afterward...I went immediately before my flight back home. But having said all that, I would take both in a heartbeat to visit again. I hope you will be able to go!

Posted by
1955 posts

Agnes,
Thank you! That is EXACTLY the candid input I was seeking.

Helps me to determine that if we go, it might be best to visit the Blue Lagoon on a day other than our fly-home day (maybe stay an extra day).

The landscape there does look fascinating, and I also watched the videos Rick posted on-line from his visit(s).

The world is so vast, and so much to see, and we humans have a relatively sort period of time in which to do that.

Thanks again for sharing your experience.

Margaret

Posted by
6 posts

I did not notice a strong sulfur smell in the guest houses, but I also did several work camps in college that had an insane sulfur smell, so perhaps I was more immune to it. If it was there, it was weak and short lived for me. It is a possible risk with their geothermal energy. You will definitely noticed the smell at any of the gysers.

It is often recommended to do the Blue Lagoon on the day you arrive air leave. They have transportation packages to and from the airport to help this. Most people go to the Reykjanes Peninsula just for the Blue Lagoon, which is a good 45 minutes or more from the city, where most people are staying. You have to shower before and after going into the Lagoon. They have shampoo and soap there for you to use. I recommend bringing a fast dry towel (unless you want to rent one) and a bag to carry your wet suit (I used a wet bag). We went the night before we flew out (had an early morning flight). It was a relaxing way to end the trip and helped those muscles used on all the hikes we took. I didn't want to go to the Blue Lagoon, but my friend did. I actually really enjoyed myself in the end and was glad we went. Just keep your hair out of the water. :)

Posted by
1955 posts

Tricia,
Thanks for sharing your experience.
I'm still mulling over the Iceland trip.

Posted by
3714 posts

Hmmm?

I remember no sulfur smell from the water in our room or while enjoying the Blue Lagoon. I definitely got my hair wet in both. In fact, I got a floating massage and my hair was in the water the whole time, but my hair was very short.

I made sure to load up on products from the shop and was bereft when they ran out on our 2-month trip.

That was in 2009. Things may be different now.

Posted by
71 posts

I was in Iceland last month and stayed a couple of days and did go to the Blue Lagoon. Never noticed any sulfur smell in my guesthouse or the Blue Lagoon.

It is very well-established that the silica in the water at the Blue Lagoon may cause some problems for your hair so it's recommended that you slather on some conditioner (free and plentiful) before going in. I have long hair so I did. My friend has short hair and did not. Good decisions for both of us. That shower after the Blue Lagoon (free body wash, shampoo, and conditioner!) was a wonderful experience and I did not have to wash my hair for several days afterward!!

Iceland is a super clean country.

Posted by
914 posts

I remember paprika Pringles, hot dogs, crisp clear beer, nice people, the Blue Lagoon (one of the neatest places I've ever been), a practically lunar landscape on the west side, salted fish, and one of the best breakfast buffets I've ever had at a hotel. And daylight--plenty of daylight. I don't recall sulfur. Maybe things are different than when I went?
I guess I don't understand the issue--does it make you physically ill? It's a neat country. Based on the responses here we all recall different things and apparently have different olfactory thresholds. I'd say go and check it out for yourself! :)

Posted by
6807 posts

Higher sulfates in drinking water, can give you diarrhea and other GI upsets until your system adjusts to it.

Posted by
1955 posts

Thanks all.....definitely different perspectives to mull over.

Since one of you wondered what my concern is re: sulfur:

The sulfur and smoke from the VOG in Hawaii really threw me for a loop..........terrible, and I mean terrible sinus infection. Luckily there were two doctors in our group who were able to give sound advice to me and my husband (who also had bad sinus issues, but not as bad as mine).

I always travel with an emergency z-pack of antibiotics, and only twice in all my travels have I had to use them.....Hawaii was one of those cases (and the z-pack really, really helped). And, I am not one to use antibiotics regularly, and I don't typically have sinus/allergy issues.

So, long way of saying, I'm doing my homework very carefully when considering travel to places that could have sulfur and/or smoke (with sulfur output).

Each of your postings has been very helpful, and I sincerely thank you. Iceland has been calling to me for a few years now, so we'll see.

Posted by
28142 posts

I'm so confused.

I don't in the least doubt that you got sick, very sick.

But I can't see how that could be a bacterial infection from sulphur. Sulphur is an element, not an infective agent. In fact wounds and burns are kept infection-free and healed with sulphur compounds.

You take antibiotics to kill biotics - bacteria. It is the bacteria that cause bacterial infections. If it was a viral infection it would not have been helped by antibiotics.

I'm not a doctor, and I don't play one on TV, but it seems clear that since the antibiotics cleared up the infection it must have been a coincidental bacterial infection. Did it come on after what would have been an incubation period after a long flight - maybe Tennessee to Hawaii? I expect that you have heard of many people getting upper respiratory illness after a long flight.

Perhaps it was that with combined with unpleasant smoke that made you unwell....

Several of my friends have traveled from here in the UK to Iceland and all have returned with no illness that I am aware of.

Wherever in the world the next trip takes you I hope you enjoy it to the max.

Posted by
1955 posts

Nigel,
I'm confused, too. I don't know precisely what caused the problem......but I was in Hawaii for a few weeks. The problem had cleared up, but then wham, after the second flight over a live volcano, it came roaring back. So, without conclusive testing and further cause/effect analysis, I will never REALLY know. But, something about the smoke and/or sulfur seemed to aid in the development (or worsening) of the sinus issue

But, it has made me somewhat cautious about the sulfur aspect. But, not so cautious that I am not considering a trip to Iceland....just cautious enough to get the perspective of those on the Forum who have been to Iceland. Those perspectives have been very helpful, and I'm still mulling it over.

And, yes, I realize it could have been entirely unrelated the the environmental factors. But, Google VOG in Hawaii, and one will see that it can cause some real physical reactions (and the long-term effects, if any, on residents is yet to be determined, as is the impact of so much in today's world).

A fire in the Cinque Terre years ago had an impact (but lesser) on me, so it could be if it was environmental, it could have been the smoke instead of the sulfur, I realize.

Just doing my homework, as any good traveler should.

Posted by
1856 posts

The water at the hotels that we stayed at in Reykjavik did not have a sulfur smell. We did notice a strong sulfur smell to the tap water in other parts of the country. I was told to run the water for a while and the smell will dissipate. The water in the nature baths at Lake Myvatn (in the north of Iceland) did smell of sulfur but the smell did not linger on my body as I showered with soap and water in the locker room after swimming. And drinking the water in Iceland did not have any effect on my plumbing system. The water in Iceland is very pure, tastes great and you should not hesitate to drink it.

Posted by
8513 posts

The cold water is glacial or snow pack and is cold and clear. The hot water is geothermal and may have a bit of a rotten egg smell. You don't drink it. The Blue Lagoon water comes from an electric plant and doesn't smell.

Posted by
334 posts

There were a couple places in Iceland where the hotel water smelled slightly of sulfur. After a little bit, it would dissipate. There was one hotel where the water didn't smell that bad, but there was something in the water that caused one of my wife's rings to tarnish. If you are at a smaller hotel outside of Reykjavik, you should probably make sure to shower without any rings, necklaces, etc. The same goes if you take a dip in a local pool, and definitely in any baths like at Myvatn or the Blue Lagoon.

Regarding the Blue Lagoon and Myvatn, the sulfur smell was strongest before you got in the water. The smell dissipated (or I just got used to it) when I was actually in the water. I did not put my head under. I think as long as you don't get your hair wet, you shouldn't have any lingering smell. I never noticed anything strong from me or my wife after visiting.

Iceland is an incredible country, my favorite in Europe. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
1856 posts

We were told to remove any silver jewelry before entering the nature baths at Lake Myvatn as the water would tarnish them. It did not have any effect on our gold rings.

Posted by
1955 posts

Thank you all. I'm really learning a lot.

Still mulling over destinations for 2017.

Still very interested in Iceland, and your words of wisdom/experience are oh-so helpful.

Posted by
13225 posts

The sulfur fumes emanating from volcanic gases can be much stronger than what rises from hot spring water. We were bothered by the volcanic gas fumes while hiking to Bumpass Hell on Mt. Lassen, and did not linger close to the source.

Such fumes can be irritating but cannot cause a sinus infection, which requires a pathogen. And if you were treated with antibiotics it must have been a bacterial infection. Perhaps you had a low-level infection, unnoticed until your sinuses were irritated by the fumes from the volcano.

In any case, the steam from hot springs and in sulfur-laden water in the shower is much lower in suffer, and while smelly it should not be irritating. I endured sulfur-y tap water from our well for years (for drinking and showering) before we could afford proper treatment. It is not unhealthy, and indeed many hot springs promote their sulfur water as beneficial to the skin.

However, while many people might barely notice it in Iceland, you may now over-react to the odor because of your experience in Hawaii. I cannot report personal experience as we have not been there, but everyone I know who has been loved the place. You could always skip the Blue Lagoon if you are concerned.

Posted by
873 posts

Margaret, I know your question has been answered but I thought I would throw in my experience for what it's worth :)

There was definitely a sulfuric smell to the running water in Iceland, but I personally did not find it to be strong or off-putting. I don't think I, or anyone I came into contact with smelled of rotten eggs. I am not clear on what type of reaction you have to VOGs, so I obviously cannot comment on any reactions, but purely in the sense of unpleasant odors, you should be okay.

Similarly, I did not find the sulfuric smell to be a problem at the Blue Lagoon or other geothermal pools I visited. It's certainly much less unpleasant than the smell of chlorine in "regular" pools. One thing I did find at Blue Lagoon specifically is that the water there has some kind of additive (not sure if it is naturally occurring or added by humans) that other pools do not have. It left my skin feeling odd, like it was coated with some kind of dust, even though I thoroughly showered afterwards. Other than that, I did not experience anything strange with regards to Icelandic water.

Hope you get to go and have fun! Iceland is beautiful!

Posted by
1955 posts

Lola and Anna,
Thank you both. The experience of those of you who have been there is very helpful.

I have my annual physical coming up soon, so I plan to ask my doctor about proactive steps I can take to avoid potential problems from airplane air (other than the normal drink lots of water), in case the VOG reaction was some sort of combination of unrelated travel sinus issue combined with the smoke of the volcanoes.

The drying aspect of aging has likely had an impact, so nasal sprays, etc.. I am guessing might help to protect the sinuses.

I just wish I could feel as good after traveling as I do with the comforts of home, but that's probably asking way too much. Won't keep me from traveling, though...way too much to see as we can squeeze those trips in.