Iron contamination in well water can cause unsightly stains, metallic taste, and plumbing damage. In rare cases, high levels of iron in well water can also pose health risks. If you're facing this issue, you're not alone. Approximately 1.5 million households in the United States are potentially at risk of exposure to high levels of iron in their drinking water, according to the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).
The best way to remove iron from well water is with a whole-house well water filtration system. There are three treatment methods available, including:
- Air injection filters
- Water softeners
- Chemical injection filters (Hydrogen peroxide)
Should You Remove Iron from Well Water?
The removal of iron from well water mainly depends on its concentration.
- Levels above 0.3 mg/L can cause aesthetic problems: These include a metallic taste and reddish-brown or orange staining of sinks, bathtubs, and laundry.
- Levels above 1.0 mg/L can pose a health risk: This is especially true for people with medical conditions such as hemochromatosis, liver disease, heart disease, and diabetes.
If you're concerned about the aesthetic problems caused by iron or if you’ve got a medical condition that may be affected by iron, you should consider getting your water treated for iron.
|Form of Iron in Water
|Concentration of iron
|Best Removal Method
|Ferric Iron (Fe3+)
|0.3-7 mg/L (ppm)
|SpringWell Iron Filter and Salt-Based Water Softener
|Ferrous Iron (Fe2+)
|0.3-3.0 mg/L (ppm)
|SpringWell Salt-Based Water Softener System
|Ferrous Iron (Fe2+)
|7-20 mg/L (ppm)
|Matrixx InFusion Iron and Sulfur Removal System
How to Remove Ferric Iron from Well Water
Ferric iron, also known as red-water iron, is an insoluble form of iron that appears as reddish-brown or yellowish sediment when water is drawn from the tap. It’s more commonly found in shallow wells due to increased exposure to oxygen, which promotes its formation.
1. Air Injection Filters
Air injection filters are an effective option for removing iron from water, especially for higher levels of iron or water with a high pH.
The air injection process works by introducing air into the water. The oxygen in the air oxidizes the ferrous iron in the water, turning it into ferric iron. The ferric iron is then precipitated out of the solution and trapped by the sediment filter. Air injection filters are effective at removing ferric iron levels within a range of 5-10 ppm, as well as ferrous iron.
One of the best iron filters for well water is the SpringWell Air Injection Iron Filter. It removes iron up to 7 ppm, as well as sulfur up to 8 ppm and manganese up to 1 ppm. The filter uses an air injection system to oxidize soluble iron (Fe2+) and convert it into insoluble iron particles (Fe3+). These insoluble particles are then trapped in a manganese greensand bed. To maintain optimal performance, the filter incorporates a backwashing feature that cleans and restores the filter medium.
While air injection filters are an effective solution for iron removal, they aren't a complete solution for hard water problems. For comprehensive iron removal and water softening, it's advisable to combine an effective water softener with a dedicated iron filter.
How to Remove Ferrous Iron from Well Water
Ferrous iron, also known as clear-water iron, is initially dissolved in water and remains invisible. However, when exposed to air, it undergoes oxidation, resulting in the gradual development of a classic rust color. This type of iron is commonly found in deep wells with limited exposure to sunlight.
2. Water Softener Systems
Water softeners can effectively remove low concentrations of ferrous iron, but they have limitations for higher iron content (3 to 7 ppm or more). High levels of ferrous iron can potentially clog the water softener system and affect its functioning. Therefore, they aren’t usually recommended as the sole method for iron removal.
One of the best water softeners for removing iron is the SpringWell Salt-Based Water Softener System. It primarily targets hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium, but it also exhibits some effectiveness in reducing 0.3 ppm to 3.0 ppm of iron.
Similar to hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium, iron carries a positive charge. Salt-based water softeners utilize a process called ion exchange. The resin bed in the water softener captures dissolved iron during the ion exchange process, where hardness minerals are exchanged for sodium ions. This ion exchange mechanism effectively eliminates low levels of ferrous iron from water.
However, water softeners work best when the pH of the water is 7.0 or even lower. This is because iron is more soluble in acidic water, so it’s easier for the softener to remove. If the pH of the water is too high, the iron content won’t dissolve as easily and the softener won’t be as effective.
3. Chemical Injection filters
Chemical filters remove iron from well water by using a chemical reaction to oxidize the iron. This oxidation process changes the iron from its dissolved form (Fe2+) to its insoluble form (Fe3+). The insoluble iron particles are then trapped by the filter media, such as manganese greensand or a catalytic carbon filter.
Hydrogen Peroxide Injection Filter
The Matrixx InFusion Iron and Sulfur Removal System is a chemical filter that uses hydrogen peroxide to remove iron, as well as manganese, and sulfur from water. The system works by injecting hydrogen peroxide into the water as it flows through the filter. The hydrogen peroxide reacts with the iron and manganese in the water, oxidizing them and forming insoluble precipitates that are then filtered out of the water.
The Matrixx InFusion system is easy to install and maintain, and it doesn't require any backwashing.
What is the Cheapest Method to Remove Iron From Well Water
Sediment filter is the cheapest method to remove iron from well water. These filters can remove some dissolved iron particles, but they are not as effective as specialized iron filters. Sediment filters are typically effective at removing iron levels up to 1 ppm.
To remove ferric iron from well water with a sediment filter, you’ll need to select a filter with a micron rating of 1 or less. This will ensure that the filter can capture the small particles of ferric iron. You will also need to backwash the filter regularly to remove any trapped particles and debris.
How to Remove Bacterial Iron from Well Water
Iron bacteria are small organisms that utilize dissolved iron as an energy source, resulting in the production of dark orange-brown slime and an unpleasant odor and taste in the water. Bacterial iron can be challenging to remove once it contaminates your well water.
While less common than ferric and ferrous iron, iron bacteria are usually introduced through improper servicing or the use of unsanitized materials, as well as from natural sources, such as groundwater that comes into contact with iron-rich minerals.
Shock chlorination is the most effective method for eliminating iron bacteria from well water. This process involves adding a high dose of chlorine to the well and water supply line, which damages the bacteria's DNA and proteins, preventing their multiplication.
The amount of chlorine used depends on the volume of water and the severity of the bacterial infestation. Typically, chlorine bleach with a concentration of 200 ppm is used for shock chlorination of 1,000 gallons of well water. This is equivalent to about 1/2 cup of bleach.
|Volume of water
|Amount of chlorine (ppm)
|Amount of chlorine (cups)
To shock chlorinate your water system, isolate it, mix chlorine solution with water, add it to the system, let it circulate for 24 hours, and flush it with clean water.
Here are the steps in more detail:
- Isolate your water system by turning off all faucets, fixtures, and water-based appliances.
- Mix a chlorine solution by adding liquid hydrogen peroxide to water in a ratio of 1:10. This means you will need 1 gallon of hydrogen peroxide for every 10 gallons of water.
- Add the chlorine solution to your water system by pouring it directly into a well and distributing it throughout the water supply system by running all of the connected faucets until you can smell the chlorine.
- Let the chlorine solution sit throughout your water system for at least 24 hours.
- Flush the water supply with clean water by running all faucets and fixtures until the water no longer smells like chlorine.
While shock chlorination is an effective way to remove iron bacteria from well water, it doesn't completely eliminate iron. To remove any remaining iron, it's recommended to use a water softener in conjunction with shock chlorination.
To learn more about the shock chlorination process, check out this video:
Can Reverse Osmosis System Remove Iron from Well Water?
Yes, reverse osmosis system can remove iron from well water. However, it's not the best solution for everyone. This is because the membranes in reverse osmosis systems can get clogged with iron over time, which means, they need to be cleaned or replaced regularly. This can be a hassle, and it can also be expensive.
Also, reverse osmosis systems can't treat water with bacterial iron, as the bacteria can block the system and reduce water flow. This can be a problem for families that use a lot of water.
How to Test for Iron in Well Water
If you are concerned about the iron levels in your well water, you can test it using one of two methods:
- Home water test: This is a quick and easy way to test for iron in your water. You can purchase a test strip that changes color in the presence of iron. I highly recommend purchasing this Hatch Iron test strip to get an estimation of the concentration of dissolved iron in your well water.
- Professional laboratory analysis: This is the most accurate way to test for iron in your water. They can also test for other contaminants that may be present in your water, such as manganese, and sulfur. I highly recommend ETR Laboratories from SpringWell. They offer a water test kit that you can purchase online. The kit includes everything you need to collect a sample of your well water and send it to the lab for analysis. The lab will test your water for 53 different contaminants, including iron, and provide you with the result within 1-3 business days.
Alternatively, you can contact your local environmental department or county government for a list of licensed laboratories in your area.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing your well water at least once a year for coliform bacteria, lead, and total dissolved solids (TDS). However, if you are concerned about the iron levels in your water, you should test it more frequently.
What Are the Risks of Having Iron in Well Water
Iron levels in mostly well water are typically below 10 mg/L, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS). However, if the iron concentration exceeds 1.0 mg/L in the water, several negative effects can occur, including:
- Discolored water: Iron can give water a reddish-brown or orange tint. This can be unsightly and make the water less desirable for drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry.
- Metallic taste: Iron can also give water a metallic taste. This can be unpleasant and make the water less enjoyable to drink.
- Scale formation: Iron deposits can build up in pipes and appliances, forming scale. This can reduce water pressure, clog solenoids, nozzles, and faucet aerators, and decrease the efficiency of water-based appliances like water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers.
- Health problems: High levels of iron can be harmful to people with hemochromatosis, a condition that causes the body to absorb too much iron. This can lead to organ damage, joint pain, fatigue, and other serious complications.
- Effects on hair and nails: Consistent exposure to high levels of iron in drinking water can lead to iron buildup in hair and nails, as found in a study published in Ecotoxicology and environmental safety journal. The study, which Chaturvedi, Richa, et al. conducted, also found that the buildup of iron in hair and nails was associated with a number of health problems, including anemia, liver damage, and kidney damage.
- Supports the growth of iron bacteria: Iron in water can support the growth of iron bacteria, which form slimy biofilms on surfaces such as plumbing pipes, fixtures, and well equipment. These biofilms can cause clogging, foul odors, and aesthetic issues.
How Does Iron Get Into Well Water?
Iron can enter well water from a variety of natural and human-made sources.
- Natural sources: Iron can dissolve from rocks and soil and enter the groundwater. This is especially common in areas with iron-rich minerals.
- Corrosion: Iron pipes or well casing can corrode and release iron particles into the water. This is more likely to happen in older pipes or those with poor corrosion protection.
- Surface water runoff: Iron from surface water, such as lakes, streams, or agricultural fields, can seep into the groundwater.
- Industrial and mining activities: Improper disposal or spills from industrial or mining activities can contaminate groundwater with iron.
Iron in well water can cause unsightly stains, a metallic taste, and damage to plumbing and appliances. However, it’s typically not a health risk.
If you have iron in your well water, get it tested to know the level of iron. There are a number of different iron water treatments available, including oxidation, aeration, and ion exchange. The most effective method will depend on the level and form of iron in your water.
Removing iron from well water is a wise investment that will improve the appearance and taste of your well water. It will also protect your plumbing and water-based appliances from damage.