Iron is one of the most common contaminants faced by rural homeowners. From muddy-colored glasses of drinking water to bright orange streaks in toilets and bathtubs, iron leaves a trail of stains, discoloration, and foul tastes in its wake. Though it is one of the most prevalent water quality issues, there are many solutions to cleanse your water of this mineral.
How does Iron get into my water?
As rain falls or snow melts on the land surface and water seeps through iron-bearing soil and rock, iron can be dissolved into the water. In some cases, iron can also result from corrosion of iron or steel well casing or water pipes. Similar to how iron in a metal pail turns to rust when exposed to water and oxygen, iron minerals in water turn to rust and stain plumbing fixtures and laundry.
Iron is a naturally-occurring element that makes up about five percent of the earth’s crust. When it rains, the rainwater soaks into the ground and moves through rocks and soil. Some of the iron then dissolve and accumulate in aquifers that serve as groundwater sources for water wells.
Hence, it is important to know whether or not your well water is contaminated with iron, how it affects your home, and what steps you can take to protect your drinking water.
Why would you want to remove iron from well water? For many homeowners in the rural area, you may be familiar with the effects of water with high concentrations of minerals such as, calcium, magnesium and iron. Such water is called “Hard water” and can have extremely devastating effects on the condition of your home. Iron may give water a metallic taste and affect how food and beverages taste. Home water treatment is the most common method for controlling iron in water. If you already have a whole house water softener system installed, the most effective solution is adding an iron filter.
Is it Safe to Drink Well Water with Iron?
Iron in water does not usually present a health risk. Your body needs iron to transport oxygen in the blood. Most iron comes from food, since the body cannot easily absorb iron from water.
Iron may present some concern if harmful bacteria have entered a well. Some harmful organisms require iron to grow. If there is iron in the water, it may be harder to get rid of harmful bacteria.
Drinking low levels of iron is not dangerous and will not have an adverse impact on your health. Iron is regulated as a secondary contaminant by the EPA. Secondary contaminants are contaminants with aesthetic and cosmetic consequences, like foul tastes and stains, but are not considered to be dangerous to consume. Iron itself is essential to a healthy, balanced diet and contributes to red blood cell production and transports oxygen throughout the body. Spinach, eggs, lentils, and shrimp all are iron-rich foods that provide your body with this vital mineral.
How do I know if there is Iron in my Well Water?
Yellow or red-colored water is often a good indication that iron is present. However, a laboratory can tell you the exact amount of iron, which can be useful in deciding on the best type of treatment. In addition to testing for iron, it can be helpful to test for hardness, pH, alkalinity, and iron bacteria.
Point of reference: The maximum amount recommended in water is 0.3 mg/L which is same as saying 0.3 Parts Per Million or PPM. When the level of iron in water exceeds the 0.3 mg/l limit, the water may have a red, brown, or yellow color and stain laundry and fixtures. Red, brown or yellow well water is often a sign of too much iron.
Iron will clog pipes, reduce household water pressure, ruin the taste of tea and coffee, and leave bright-colored stains on your appliances in quantities as small as 3ppm (parts-per-million). Though iron is rarely seen in quantities larger than 10ppm, its ability to cause such severe and visible damage at such low concentrations makes it a distinctly frustrating contaminant to mess with.
While there is no evidence that consuming iron-contaminated water is harmful to your health, it can wreak all kinds of havoc in your household. Here are some common effects of iron in your drinking water:
1. Metallic taste and odor
Iron can give your water an unpleasant, metallic taste and odor, which can make it difficult to drink. When the iron combines with tea, coffee, and other beverages, it produces a dark, ink-like appearance and a dreadful taste. Besides, if you cook vegetables in water that contains iron, they might take on a darker and unappealing look.
2. Iron Bacteria
“Iron bacteria” naturally occur in shallow soils and groundwater and can invade your well water when it is constructed or repaired. The iron in your well water fosters the growth of this and other types of bacteria. So, if you notice any dark-colored reddish, brown or yellow slime in your sinks, bathtub, or toilet tank, there might be “iron bacteria” present in your water. This slime can also clog pipes and plumbing fixtures and make your drains smelly. Although most of the smell might be coming from sulfur.
3. Stains on laundry and dishes
When you use iron-contaminated water in your washing machine, your clothes, sheets, and towels can become discolored with orange-colored stains. The same thing goes for the dishes that go through your dishwasher.
4. Stains on plumbing fixtures and surfaces
Even in low concentrations, iron can leave similar stains on fixtures, tableware, countertops, etc. Not only are these stains nasty and unpleasant, but they can be difficult to remove.
What is the Best Way to Remove Iron from Well Water?
Water softeners and iron filters are the most effective at removing iron.
Three different types of iron can enter your well water. Removing iron from your well is contingent on a thorough and accurate understanding of what types of iron are present. Iron presents unique challenges and different solutions based on its form. In order to remove it, you must have a firm understanding of what form the iron is in. Performing a water test will reveal exactly what water conditions you are working with, and present you with the clearest path forward. Iron test strips can also provide you with a more general idea of the parts-per-million of iron present in your well.
There are several options available for removing iron from your water, but the ideal treatment method for your situation will depend on the type of iron in your water, along with other factors. If you have not already done so, get your water tested so you can determine the type and amount of iron present in your drinking water as well as the water’s pH and the dissolved oxygen. A laboratory analysis can help determine the extent of the problem and the possible treatment solutions.
Here are the 3 Most Common Types of Iron found in Well Water and How to Remove Them.
1. Ferrous iron
Also known as clear-water iron. Ferrous iron doesn’t affect water clarity, but it stains ceramics and clothing and has a rusty taste. If your water comes out of the tap looking clear but turns a yellow or rusty brown color after sitting out in the open, you may have ferrous iron in your water. This type of iron is totally dissolved in water and can easily pass through standard filtration systems. It also causes reddish-brown staining in toilets, showers and sinks – especially where water faucets drip.
Water softeners: Ion-exchange water softeners can handily remove low levels of ferrous iron from the water. If you have soft water, an oxidizing filter will be more effective at reducing the iron content of your water. If you are using a water softener to reduce iron content, you will need to periodically flush the system and resin bed with Rust Out to protect the system and ensure the longevity of the resin beads.
2. Ferric iron
Also known as red iron, which turns the water a cloudy orange. When ferrous iron is oxidized it changes to ferric iron. Ferric iron is also known as red water iron or iron that has precipitated out of solution. This type of iron will also cause staining in the home. Because it is an actual particle it can clog filters, pipes, and showerheads over time.
Sediment filters: This solution is ideal for those with low levels of iron, all of which is in ferric form. A sediment filter alone will not solve your stained toilets and metallic tasting water if your well has ferrous iron in addition to the ferric iron.
3. Iron bacteria
Which shows up as reddish slime in toilet tanks. Bacterial iron most commonly emerges in wells because of poor maintenance or improper well servicing. These are not common and require very specific types of treatment involving chemical injection and contact time.
Professional Treatment: Removing bacterial iron from your well is a labor-intensive process, so if you suspect you have iron in your water, have it tested by a professional so that the proper treatment can be determined.
But regardless of the test results, a premium whole house water filtration system is probably the most effective and economical way to remove iron from your drinking water. These systems will remove up to 95% of the iron in your home’s water supply and will protect your plumbing fixtures and water-using appliances from stains, rust, and slime. That means no more stains, discoloration, and scale on your laundry and dishes and in your sinks, tubs and toilet tanks. Furthermore, most quality whole house water filters can eliminate the bad taste and smell, and help prevent bacteria growth.