What Causes Yellow Well Water?

What Causes Yellow Well Water featured photo

Have you been noticing a tea-like liquid coming out of your tap lately? Except it’s not your favorite hot beverage that you love to sip first thing in the morning. If your main water source is well, then you’ve probably encountered yellow well water that is either musty or just tastes awful.

While the yellow coloration (sometimes orange or brown) in well water is not uncommon, there are a range of factors behind it. The most common culprit to blame is iron-related bacteria.

In this post, we’ll talk about the potential causes of yellow well water, as well as the different treatment options for restoring the purity and freshness of your water.

So, What Causes Yellow Well Water?

The yellowish color in your well water can be due to a range of factors. Keep in mind that while there may be contaminants present in the water, they do not pose serious health risks. However, the yellow color is a good indicator that the water is polluted.

It is important to get your water regularly tested. Doing so ensures that it satisfies all health and safety standards. This also helps you choose the right water treatment option for your well.

But until then, let’s look at the most common causes of the yellow coloration of well water.

Ferric Iron Contamination

When a dissolved iron gets oxidized, it turns solid called ferric iron. In your well, when there is ferric iron and it’s exposed to oxygen, it can turn your water yellow, orange, or even brown. Another indication that there’s ferric iron in your well water is when it lends a metallic taste.

If the water has both iron and manganese, it can leave darker stains on everything that it comes in contact with. The good news is that the presence of these minerals in small concentrations doesn’t pose health risks. It is just “unaesthetically” drinkable and can stain your appliances.

Presence of Organic Material in Well Water

This can be caused by water flowing through decaying vegetation and peaty soils. Tannins are a natural byproduct of decomposing vegetation and are the culprit for giving the tea-like color in your well water. The tannins from the vegetation can also make the water taste bitter and smell musty.

But just like iron and manganese, tannin is not harmful. It is mainly an aesthetic issue.

Contamination of Iron Bacteria in Well Water

Manganese and iron are naturally occurring minerals in rocks and soils in deeper wells. But when these two get oxidized, they can help iron bacteria thrive in your well water. Iron bacteria can contaminate the water, causing staining and discoloration.

If you’re not sure whether iron bacteria is causing the discoloration, check if your water tastes oily. There might also be residues of iron floating in your well water.

Iron bacteria contamination can also clog your pipelines and plumbing system. It can reduce water pressure and if you’re using a water heater, the clog will shorten its lifespan. But then again, iron bacteria do not pose health risks.

Pipelines Are Rusty

Old, rusty pipes can also impart a yellow color in well water. It also makes sense that most pipes are made of iron, and you already know what it does to your water. Over time, your home’s pipe and water lines will corrode. Then, fragments of iron and metal will break off.

When the water flows through rusty pipes, it collects tiny bits of iron, turning your water yellow. It also makes water taste like metal. But the good thing is that the problem can only occur in some taps. But, it can pose health risks if consumed.

Yellow well water caused by rusty pipes is hard to treat. You may try running your tap for a few minutes until the water clears up. However, if the problem exists, you may need to replace the pipes.


Sediments can come from a range of sources, such as sand, silt, decaying vegetation, and gravel. Silt, sand, and gravel, in particular, naturally occur in deep wells. However, excessive amounts of these sediments can accumulate in the aquifer underneath the well pump in the long run.

As a result, the pump will draw yellow water in, containing sediments. If not treated, it can clog your pipes, reduce water pressure, and damage your fixtures.

Surface Water Contamination

Another thing that imparts the yellow color in well water is surface water contamination. This happens mostly after heavy rain where water runs off to your well. The water may be carrying animal waste, pesticides, sewage, and other contaminants. And all could get mixed into your water, turning it yellow.

Of course, in this case, you shouldn’t drink the water. You need to call in a water specialist so they can help you address the issue and find the right solution for your well.

What To Do When Your Well Water Is Yellow?

Discoloration or yellow tinge is a common issue with well water. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the problem by using water filters and treatments.

Note that the type of filter you need to use depends on the impurities present in the well or whatever is contaminating the water. So, we recommend that you have your well water tested first.

Iron Filters

For a well that is contaminated with ferric iron, install an iron filter. An air injection oxidation system is highly effective in removing iron. It works by pumping water through an air bubble before removing oxidized pollutants in either a birm or manganese greensand media.

An air injection can remove roughly up to 15 PPM of ferric and dissolved iron. You need to have it installed at the point where your main water line enters your home.

Tannin Filters

Tannin filters absorb the minerals through a filter medium. It then eventually flushes out the tannins out of the system. For this method, you can use reverse osmosis (RO) filters, activated carbon, or oxidation. You can also use water softeners with tannin removal.

Whichever filter you choose, make sure that you install it as next to the point where water enters your home. This will help protect your home’s water supply from organic matter.

Sediment Filters

If sediments are the main culprit of the yellow coloration in your well water, you may want to consider using a backwashing sediment filter. But if the problem is largely rust deposits, a water softener may suffice. However, it won’t always work effectively. This is especially true if your tap water is producing orange or yellow water.

For any visible particles, go for spin-down sediment filters. These filters remove larger sediments like sand before the water goes through another treatment. But for smaller particles, a cartridge sediment filter is ideal. It also targets insoluble or suspended iron and manganese in well water.

However, realistically, sediments of various sizes can exist in your well at the same time. In this case, you may need to install a combination of the two sediment filters. A backwashing sediment filtration system is designed to remove a range of contaminants. It can remove silt, ferric iron residues, and other impurities.

UV Disinfection Treatment

As the term suggests, UV disinfection treatments use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria or microorganisms that contribute to the yellow tinge in your well water. It is most effective in removing iron bacteria. It also serves as a pre-filter in multi-stage well water filtration systems.

Iron Bacteria Removal System

Aside from UV light, you can also treat yellow water caused by iron bacteria by shock-chlorinating the well. This helps remove iron bacteria that have accumulated in your plumbings. You can also use a filter to eliminate oxidized metals in the well and use disinfecting agents in the chemical injection phase.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis (RO) filter is one of the most common and probably the best water filtration methods. This process is highly effective in removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), large particles, tannins, iron, and bacteria that cause yellow coloration.

Also, if you use chlorine as a pre-treatment, reverse osmosis can remove the chemical as well.

RO filters work by drawing water contaminants through a semipermeable membrane. However, since it removes all organic and inorganic matter in your water, you’ll likely get dead water. This means that your water now lacks the essential alkaline your body needs. But, it is neither bad nor good.

Carbon Filtration

Activated carbon filters are a staple in many households. Not only are they inexpensive, but they are also effective at improving water quality and taste while removing a wide range of contaminants. Carbon filters get rid of iron, tannins, and bacteria which are known to impart yellow coloration in well water.

However, while cheap, they need to be replaced periodically. If done right, a carbon filter is a great, inexpensive alternative to RO.


Is Yellow Well Water Safe To Drink?

If you notice a yellow coloration in your well water, know that it’s generally still safe to drink. The yellow color is just an aesthetic issue and is likely due to contaminants that don’t pose health threats, such as tannins, iron, or sediment. However, this is the perfect time that you have your water sources checked and treated.

What Does It Mean if Your Well Water Is Yellow?

It indicates potential issues or contaminants in the water. This is typically caused by high concentrations of iron, tannic acid, sediments, and other microbial pollutants. It can also be caused by rust in the pipes.

Iron oxidizes in the water between the surrounding rocks and soil in the aquifer. If the soil has high concentrations of tannin, it can impart a yellow or brownish to the well water. It’s a byproduct of decomposing vegetation, which can also create sediments that can discolor your well water.

What Color Should a Well Water Be?

Ideally, well water should be clear and colorless. If it’s yellow in color, there may be contaminants that are present in the water and that need to be treated right away.

Key Takeaways

The yellow discoloration in your well water mainly comes from the iron bacteria that thrive from the oxidation of minerals in the soil and rocks. Other times, it can be due to old and rusty pipes, sediment buildups, decaying vegetation nearby, or surface water contamination.

Whatever the cause may be, it’s important to have a specialist conduct a general water analysis on your well. This will help you determine what type of contaminants are present in the well and decide on the proper treatment solution.

Out of all the filtration methods we’ve tackled, reverse osmosis filters would be the best solution. It’s on the more pricey side but it will remove all of the impurities in your water. But if you don’t have the budget for that, give activated carbon filters a try. Read more about removing iron from your well water.

It’s also crucial to maintain your well. Make sure to scrub the well casing of dirt and debris, and have your pipelines checked regularly.

If you have more questions about discoloration in your well water, don’t hesitate to reach out to us—we’ll be more than happy to help. Thanks for reading!

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