Too Much Iron in Well Water? How to Test and Remove It?

If you are relying on well water for supplying your home then one of the issues you may come across is iron being present within your water supply. Iron can be a difficult substance to deal with within water, as it can be present in multiple forms, all of which require slightly different treatment.

Iron makes up five percent of the earth’s core, and as such it is present in a lot of different sources of water. Though it isn’t instantly a hazard to your health or wellbeing, it is what is called an ‘aesthetic’ contaminant. Basically, it can make your water taste and smell bad, and can damage your appliances. A high level of iron is certainly unpleasant.

The Forms of Iron within Well Water

There are three common forms of iron which can be found in well water supplies. Other forms are sometimes found, but these are much more rare.

Bacterial Iron

This can be identified by red, slimy build ups in toilets supplied by your well. Bacterial iron can lead to the right conditions for other organisms which can cause diseases, and though it won’t make you ill itself, it lowers the quality of the water in terms of taste and smell. It can even leave stains in your home.

Ferric Iron

Ferric Iron in Well Water

This is iron that has come into contact with oxygen and has oxidized, creating a red rust coloring. If reddish particles drop to the bottom of a glass of water and settle, then ferric ions have been created. Ferric iron is insoluble.

Ferrous Iron

Ferrous Iron is clear to look at, it comes from water supplies with no oxygen in them such as deep wells and groundwater. Carbon dioxide turns this to ferrous bicarbonate, which is soluble, as opposed to ferric iron.

Testing for Iron in Well Water

Water testing kits are simple enough to order online. These are usually based around color and take just a few seconds to get a reading, though this is an approximation and not an overly reliable way to test the type of iron.  Iron being present at above 0.3 mg/L is considered an issue, but for exact readings you will need lab tests.

Many people are of the opinion that lab tests or professionals are needed in order to understand exactly the contents of your well water. In a lot of areas in the USA, you can contact local authorities who can either provide a more thorough test or at least provide you with information about companies that can carry out this service.

Iron within water is often visible, as are the problems it can cause over time. Reddish rusty spots, sludge within your toilet or reddish debris at the bottom of a glass of the well water is a clear sign of iron being present in the water. Also, if you run a faucet and the water coming out is any shade of red or brown then it can be a clear sign of iron being present.

There are lab tests available which allow you to send off a sample from your well and get it tested for the exact content of iron, and which type of iron is within. Finding local companies can be as simple as looking in directories for laboratories.

Removing Iron from Well Water

The exact type of treatment needed depends on the type of iron you have present, but even from a visual check you should have some idea of which type of iron is causing you issues. Other factors to be considered include the pH of your water and even the type of well system in place. Treatment could involve improving the well and the materials which the well is made of to ensure iron cannot enter the supply as easily.

Water softeners can be extremely effective for removing iron as well as other minerals within the well. There are specific softeners made for working with iron and manganese, though these are most effective if the pH of the water is below 7. 7 or above may require a specific iron filter. Ferrous iron can be treated by a softener, but ferric iron can slip through.

Removing Iron from Well Water

If you have over 7 pH then a specific iron filter, which has a different process to a softener, will be needed to get rid of the iron. These will usually involve Birm or Filox materials which can filter iron, but not other minerals such as calcium. A whole house iron filter can treat all of the water being used within the home at the point it enters.

If ferrous iron is present at over 10mg/L, an oxidation agent can be added to the water, which can be held in a retention or pressure tank while a pump triggers a chemical reaction, causing the iron to precipitate. An activated carbon filter can then be used for removing the iron, as it is effective once the iron has been precipitated after the chemical reaction.

You can also buy specific oxidation filters’ which will do this whole process in one go. Oxidation systems may involve chlorine, and this can be hazardous if not used correctly. Many people opt for plumber installation for these due to the fact they can be complex. This can add to the cost.

Reverse Osmosis can also be a treatment for iron within well water, as well as other minerals within. They aren’t specifically made for iron, but the process of RO filtration will work for iron, as well as trace levels of arsenic and other unwanted elements such as lead and fluoride. In the process they can also filter out positive elements such as calcium, which is one of the downsides of using a system such as this. Whole house RO filters can be used to treat all of the water entering your home from your well.