Home Water Well Full of Iron?

Is your home water full of iron?

Are you getting rust stains in the home, and does your water smell and taste like a rusty nail?

Your water may look clear, but this is because iron is often found in a dissolved state (clear water iron) in well water.  It is especially prevalent in acidic groundwater, which dissolves the iron due to its acidity.

Though water contaminated by iron may appear clear when first drawn, it will soon form insoluble rust particles when exposed to oxygen.  This is how iron causes brown, yellow, and rust-colored stains in sinks, fixtures, and appliances.

Test for pH, iron, and hardness

A test for pH, iron, and hardness

The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for iron set by USEPA standards is 0.3 ppm, also referred to as 0.3 milligrams per liter of water.

At concentrations above 0.3 ppm, iron in water can cause staining of fixtures and porcelain, and ruin laundry.  At concentrations above 0.5 ppm, a bittersweet astringent taste becomes detectable.

The World Health Organization has some great info on the effects of iron:

Iron is an essential element in human nutrition. Estimates of the minimum daily requirement for iron depend on age, sex, physiological status, and iron bioavailability and range from about 10 to 50 mg/day.  The average lethal dose of iron is 200–250 mg/kg of body weight, but death has occurred following the ingestion of doses as low as 40 mg/kg of body weight. Adults have often taken iron supplements for extended periods without deleterious effects, and an intake of 0.4–1 mg/kg of body weight per day is unlikely to cause adverse effects in healthy persons.

Testing for iron is very simple.  All of the well water test kits offered on this website include an iron test.  You can even test your water yourself and get the results immediately, instead of waiting for your sample to come back from a lab.
5900-AIR-adIron is commonly treated with automatic iron filters, which can remove both dissolved and oxidized iron compounds. If sulfur odor is present along with iron, typically chlorine or ozone is fed ahead of an iron filter.

In some cases, a back-washing, self-cleaning sediment filter can be used in place of an iron filter, if all the iron and manganese has been oxidized to a solid state after the chlorination, ozone injection or air injection process.

The role of pH is very important in iron treatment. Generally, if the pH of the water is acidic (less than 7.0) it must be corrected with a special type of neutralizer filter ahead of the iron filtration system.

It is usually best to test for pH right at the water source, and not depend on laboratory analysis for pH, since in some cases the pH can change after sampling, giving you false results.  All of our test kits include a pH test.

You can browse our test kits here, and read our guides to removing iron and acidity on our website.

About the Author Gerry Bulfin

Need help with your well water? I have been assisting homeowners, small communities and businesses improve their well water quality since 1989. Please email me at gbulfin@cleanwaterstore.com if you have a question about water testing, test kits or well water systems in general. Gerry Bulfin CWS-IV Master Water Specialist WQA Certified Licensed California Water Treatment Contractor