How To Remove Iron in Well Water

How To Remove Iron in Well Water featured photo

If you’re one of the many homeowners dealing with iron contamination in their well water source, then you know how frustrating seeing the distinctive tinge as soon as you turn on the tap. It can become a persistent problem since it not only affects the taste and aesthetics of the water, it can also stain and clog everything.

So, how to remove iron in well water? The first step is to have your water tested. This way, you’ll be able to determine the concentrations and types of iron present in your water source. It will also help you choose the right iron removal method for your well.

Below, we’ll delve into the different types of iron found in well water. We’ll also provide you with various remedies you can take to effectively combat these iron-related issues so you can enjoy fresh and clean water again.

How Does Iron Get Into Your Well Water?

Iron is the second most abundant metal on the planet, and in fact, it makes up 5% of the earth’s crust. Obviously, different areas on Earth have varying iron concentrations. However, iron is often found to be in the 0.5 to 10 mg/L concentrations. It depends on where you are, of course.

This means that any heavy rain will result in iron getting into your well water. When it rains, the water penetrates the outer layer through soil and rocks. The iron minerals then get dissolved and reach your well’s aquifers, which are layers of permeable rocks or sediments that hold groundwater.

Melting snow or frost also encourages iron to find its way into your well. When the snow melts, the water can seep through the groundwater, which deposits iron into your well water sources.

However, aside from natural events like heavy rain and snow melt, iron can also infiltrate your water source through corroded pipes and old well casing. The plumbing in your household is mostly made of iron. So, when the water flows through your pipes, it picks up fragments of iron.

In this case, you need to do some pre-work. You need to make sure to scrub your well casing regularly and if you have old, rusty pipes, the best solution is to replace them. Or, you can just drill a new well and start fresh. Literally.

Damaging Effects of Iron in Well Water

Just a little disclaimer: Iron is harmless, especially in low concentrations. In fact, your body needs iron to aid with anemia and fatigue. However, it can carry other harmful bacteria into your well water. Iron bacteria is one of your biggest foes here. It can leave a nasty slime that is very unsightly.

But when there is high concentrations of iron in your well water, it can cause problems such as:

Noticeable Staining on Appliances

Iron in well water can stain your water-using appliances and fixtures. You may see orange to brown streaks in your toilet bowls. Bright red to yellow stains around your bathtubs, sinks, and drains. It can also stain your dishes and clothes, which is hard to remove.

Water Discoloration

Ever wonder why your water has a tea-like color? The appetite-killing color may be due to the iron content in your well water source. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the color can leave stains on your appliances, fixtures, and clothes.

It can also leave a bitter, metallic taste if you drink it. You don’t want to sip a metal-flavored espresso, do you? Plus, it makes fresh produce and food like pasta look dull. 

Clogged Pipes

Iron can accumulate in your plumbing over time. This can cause clogs and reduced water flow rate. It will become such a big hassle because it will affect your productivity at home. You’ll have slower showers and it affects rinsing food and washing clothes, too.

And, as we’ve mentioned earlier, iron bacteria can leave thick, nasty slime that can clog your pipes as well. They can build up over time without you knowing, imparting yellow or orange discoloration in the water.

Iron can also clog your pumps and other water-using appliances such as your lawn sprinklers and dishwashers, shortening their lifespan.

Brittle Hair and Stained Skin

Aside from imparting yellow or orange streaks on your appliances, tubs, and sinks, iron can also leave stains on your skin, hair, and even teeth. It makes hair dull and brittle, causing split ends, and breakage.

Bathing in iron-contaminated water is generally bad for your skin as it can dry it up. If you have eczema or other skin disorders, showering in iron water can aggravate the problem.

Is Iron in Water Harmful?

Drinking water containing iron doesn’t have any adverse effects on your health. In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers iron as a secondary contaminant at 0.3 mg/L concentrations. Secondary contaminants are those with visual and cosmetic effects but are not necessarily a threat to human health.

Iron is a natural mineral that you can get from vegetables, poultry, egg, red meat, and more. You need it for a healthy, balanced diet, and helps produce red blood cells and carries oxygen throughout the body.

That said, too much iron isn’t good. After all, if you can get your daily iron needs from the food you eat, then why risk staining your skin, teeth, and appliances, and clogging your plumbings? Drinking clear, colorless water that tastes fresh and delicious is way better.

How To Test if There’s Iron in Well Water

If you’re not sure whether iron is causing discoloration and an awful taste in your well water, here are a few ways to detect it:

Visible Test

This is the easiest approach. However, it won’t tell you whether it’s iron causing the discoloration in your water when you notice the orange or yellow tinge.

Ferric iron (more on this later) is the easiest to detect, especially in high amounts. If you notice orange streaks on your tubs and sinks, then you know your water is contaminated with ferric iron. You’ll also be able to tell by pouring tap water into a glass, letting it sit for a few minutes, and the ferric iron will settle at the bottom.

Self Testing

Water test kits are available and often come in tablet or liquid forms that you can drop into a water sample. Some testing kits also come in the form of strips, which you dip into the water like litmus paper. These home water test kits are color-coded to tell you what kind of contaminants are present in your water.

Laboratory Analysis

While you may be able to tell right away when there’s iron in your water, laboratory analysis will determine its exact amount. Iron is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) and can be expressed as parts per million (ppm). And while you’re at it, you may also want to test your water for iron bacteria, pH levels, and alkalinity.

Sending you well water samples to an accredited laboratory will help you decide on the ideal water treatment option. However, laboratory testing can be expensive. Make sure to plan your budget ahead.

Types of Iron Present in Well Water

There are three types of iron that are present in your well: ferric, ferrous, and bacterial/organic iron. Each is distinct from each other in terms of color.

Ferrous Iron

Ferrous iron is a soluble type of iron, which means that it completely dissolves in water. It’s known as the “clear water iron” because it’s not visible to the naked eye when you run your tap but turns reddish brown or ferric as soon as the water settles.

This happens when exposed to atmospheric conditions and oxidizes. So, if you pour water containing ferrous iron and leave it overnight, you’ll notice the red flakes settling at the bottom of the glass in the morning. The reddening also makes them easier to filter out.

Ferrous iron can occur in deep wells that don’t have enough sun exposure that causes them to oxidize, thus its colorless nature. However, it can still stain your clothes and appliances and lend a metallic taste to your water.

Ferric Iron

Also known as “red water iron,” ferric iron is the culprit for the reddish brown or bright orange coloration in your water when you run your tap. Unlike ferrous iron, it is insoluble so it doesn’t dissolve in the water. Your well water won’t run clear and you’ll see it right away.

Ferric iron happens when ferrous iron oxidizes, forming iron particles that can stain your fixtures, appliances, dishes, and clothes. That being said, it’s the easiest iron to filter out.

Bacterial Iron

Bacterial iron occurs when bacteria in the well form bonds with ferrous iron. It leaves a distinctive, bright red, and sticky and nasty slime that is hard to remove from well water. This type of iron thrives mostly in poorly maintained wells.

When iron bacteria leave clumps of slime on your pump, plumbings, and fixtures, it can cause clogs. Bacterial iron also poses threats to your water softeners and sediment pre-filters. Plus, it can encourage the growth of other harmful bacteria.

How Do You Get Rid of Iron in Well Water?

Unfortunately, regardless of the level of maintenance you do, there’s no way you can avoid iron from entering well water sources. Thankfully, there are different ways to remove them.

Water Softening System

If your well water has ferrous iron, the best way to remove them is through water softeners. The best it can remove is typically at 2 mg/L, however, some water softeners can get rid of iron up to 10 mg/L.

Water softening systems have sodium resins that primarily remove calcium and magnesium in the water through ion exchange. It works by exchanging sodium ions with positively-charged mineral ions. And since iron is an ion with a positive charge, it will adhere to the resin beads the way that calcium and magnesium ions do.

Before you use a water softener to remove iron, you need to make sure that there is a high amount of hardness in your water. Otherwise, it will not work as efficiently. And you can’t use it in water with ferrous iron higher than 3 ppm because the resin won’t be able to draw them in high amounts.

In addition, you can’t use it with water with iron that’s been exposed to temperature air, specifically ferric iron. It is simply ineffective for ion exchange and will just make the resin beads dirty. Make sure to do backwashing regularly for maintenance

Iron Filters

Different iron filters work for removing specific types of iron in well water. Here are some of the common filters used:

Oxidation

This type of filter is great for low-hardness water but works best for removing high amounts of dissolved iron in water. You probably need to do extreme oxidation such as hydrogen peroxide, shock chlorination, potassium permanganate, or ozone. These techniques turn dissolved iron into ferric iron and are filtered out of the water.

Another common filter used is manganese greensand media. It’s used in potassium permanganate and works wonders at removing iron and manganese in well water.

The filter media draws soluble iron and manganese from the solution and turns them into insoluble iron. Such a method needs regular backwashing. You need to also regenerate the greensand filter routinely.

In the case of hydrogen peroxide and chlorination, they are typically injected into the well through a pump. Activated carbon filters can remove any traces of chlorine or peroxide in the water.

You may also go for ozone-based iron removal systems. It’s more effective than chlorination but it consumes a lot of power. Ozone works by extracting sulfur, manganese, and iron in the water through ozone exposure. Much like chlorine and peroxide, you need to use carbon filters to remove any traces of ozone and precipitate.

Aeration

Aeration is another form of oxidation, in which, air or oxygen is added to the well water. The dissolved iron interacts with the oxygen in the water when it’s aerated, producing solid particles that are filtered away. This procedure is often paired with filtration or sedimentation to remove the precipitated iron particles.

This is a good option if you want chemical-free iron removal. However, if your well water has high concentrations of iron over 10 ppm, this may not be a viable solution.

Reverse Osmosis (RO)

RO is one of the most common filters used in removing contaminants in water. It can get rid of chemicals and metals including iron, fluoride, lead, manganese, salt, and even arsenic. So if your well water has all those elements, reverse osmosis should work perfectly.

It’s a great way to remove iron bacteria as well. However, because RO removes almost everything. This includes good minerals from your water so you are basically getting “dead water” if you consume it regularly. Reverse osmosis is also not very environmentally friendly like aeration and water softeners.

Key Takeaway

When iron contaminates your well water source, it can cause stains, lend a metallic taste, and it can damage your plumbings and appliances. The good news is that there are different methods to effectively remove them.

You just have to start somewhere: first, get a general water analysis. Doing so will help you determine what type of contaminant is in your well water source. It’s also a good way to know which iron removal method you should go for. Make sure to have a water specialist do the tests and treatment.

If you have any questions about our topic, feel free to reach out and we’ll be happy to help. Thanks for reading!

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