You can remove iron from well water with an iron filtration system. You can do this with a water softener, a sediment filter, manganese greensand, birm, stock chlorination, and the KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) filter.

Iron is one of the prevalent heavy metals in underground water. Since that is the well water source, the majority of well water has a very high presence of iron. Therefore, the process or medium of iron filtration adopted depends on the type of iron the water contains.

This article will discuss the signs that you have iron-contaminated water, the types of iron found in well water, and the various mediums of well water iron removal.

Signs You Have an Iron-Contaminated Water

The Color

signs of too much iron in water

Water that’s rich in iron is usually bright orange or reddish-brown. So if you notice the water coming out from your well has this color or something very similar, then it’s a classic indication that it needs to go through an iron filter or an iron removal system.

If the water contains just soluble ferrous iron or dissolved iron, the water will be colorless and probably clear. However, when the water gets exposed to air, it gets cloudy. Reddish-brown or orange hue substances begin to form in the water.

The water looks like metal rusted in it. Once ferrous iron is exposed to air, it oxidizes and becomes ferric iron (the insoluble form), hence the unique coloration of the water. So your water needs iron removal.

Pipe Clogging

pipe clogging due to iron in water

Pipes get clogged over a period when iron-contaminated water flows through continuously. The clogging is because of the residue of the iron present in the water. This residue accumulates or builds up over time. When it has reaches a substantial amount, it begins to restrict the flow or movement of water.

This reduces the general water pressure in your plumbing fixtures and can trigger clogging in your sinks/drains or the pipes leading to your toilet tank. Due to the clogging of pipes and the consequent drop in general water pressure, the appliances using water will perform below the optimal level. For instance, your overhead shower won’t bring forth water as it should.

Clogging is primarily caused by iron bacteria (bacterial iron). It deposits brownish slime or sludge in the pipes, which accumulates and leads to clogging. When appliances get affected, they underperform and become due for replacements prematurely. This means more expenses.

Household Appliances Get Stained

The unpleasantness of iron from well water also extends to the fact that it stains your appliances in the home. If you notice orange or reddish-brown stains on your appliances, it means your water is rich in iron. Appliances connected as plumbing fixtures to your well water will get stained over time.

Your toilet tanks and even your toilet bowl will show visible reddish-brown stains from the well water.

too much iron in toilet water

You’ll also notice this coloration or a similar hue around your drains or faucets. Even your once pristine bathtubs and overhead showers won’t be spared from the onslaught of discoloration.

If your dishwasher is one of the plumbing fixtures connected to the well water, it will leave those stains on your kitchenware. The same goes for your laundry machine and the stains on your clothes. It won’t stop until you take steps to remove the iron from your water.

Iron Minerals Stain your Skin and Hair

When you use brownish-colored water for bathing, what do you expect your hair and skin color to be? If water with the iron present can damage your laundry, kitchenware, appliances, and surfaces, it can do the same to your skin.

orange hair due to iron water

Bathing iron-contaminated water will discolor your skin and leave it dry. As a result, your hair will become orange in color. In addition, it will lose its strength and shine. Also, it can attract or worsen certain skin conditions such as acne and eczema.

Iron-rich foods are great for the body. Iron-rich water? A disaster.

Metallic Taste and Pungent Smell

This shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the water is rich in iron, which is a heavy metal. So the water has a bitter, metallic taste. The water will also have a pungent odor. So your drinking water will have an unpleasant aftertaste. Of course, any beverage (tea or coffee) made with such water will also have the same aftertaste.

Types of Iron Found in Well Water

To effectively eliminate or remove iron from your well water, you need to understand what kind of iron is contained there. The solution or water treatment will depend on the type of iron because the various mediums of iron removal work best on certain kinds of iron. For example, what works on ferrous iron doesn’t work on ferric iron. So, the major types of iron are:

Ferrous Iron (Soluble Iron)

This type of iron fully dissolves in water. With this particular type of iron, it’s hard to believe the water even contains iron unless a water test is conducted. This is because water containing ferrous iron is usually very clear and colorless, as good drinking water should be.

However, once the ferrous iron is exposed to the atmosphere, it undergoes oxidation (combines with dissolved oxygen) and becomes a residue. This means the iron becomes ferric and is no longer soluble. It is not included.

Iron in its ferrous state doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It can still stain that glass of drinking water. For example, if you fill up a glass with clear drinking water (containing ferrous iron) and leave it exposed to air for some hours, you will notice some orange-colored stains at the base of the glass. At this point, the water will taste and smell differently compared to some hours before.

This type of iron is usually in deep wells, where the well water is not exposed to the atmosphere and the iron it contains hasn’t gone through oxidation.

Ferric Iron (Insoluble Iron)

Ferric iron is a type of iron that doesn’t dissolve in water. Therefore, its presence is easy to detect at a glance, unlike the ferrous iron. You can easily detect the ferric iron in water through the coloration of the water.

If your well is shallow, it means the well water is certainly exposed to the atmosphere. As a result, the iron minerals in your water will be oxidized and become ferric. As stated earlier, the process of removing iron from this configuration differs from the ferrous iron.

Bacterial Iron

The bacterial iron is the most notorious type of iron when it comes to well water. Its presence and damage in the home are very evident. It’s responsible for those faulty and discolored toilet tanks.

Iron bacteria naturally occurs in well/underground water when the bacteria present in the well combine with the iron contained in the water. Bacterial iron, just like ferric iron, can easily be detected. It’s usually in the form of a reddish slime or sludge. It mainly occurs in wells that are not properly maintained or serviced.

As described earlier, iron bacteria accumulates within the pipes and clogs them, leave muddy-looking stains on your surfaces and appliances. Even your well pump and drains will be affected because they will be clogged.

This type of iron can impair water softeners and even sediment filters. This type of iron is not inherently harmful, but it can create the perfect environment for the harmful bacteria pathogen to grow and propagate.

The Various Water Treatment Mediums for Removing Iron

To remove iron from your well water, you need specific water systems or iron filters. The type of iron determines the water treatment.

How to Remove Ferrous Iron?

Water Softener

You will need a water softener to remove iron from this configuration, precisely the ion-exchange (salt-based) water softener. Water softeners have resin beads that can facilitate this process. Water softeners can not only treat hard water that contains calcium and magnesium ions. They can also safely filter water containing ferrous iron.

When the water goes through the resin bed of the water softeners, the iron in the water is drawn to it since it’s positively charged. Here, the iron is exchanged for sodium ions.

These water systems work best on ferrous iron. Ferric iron can impair them if not initially filtered through a sediment filter. Ferric iron can damage these water systems by clogging them. They also work best on iron present in hard water, especially if the ratio of water hardness minerals to iron is adequate.

Your softener will require regular backwash for it to last longer and to prevent clogging over time.

Oxidizing Filters

Manganese Greensand

If your iron-rich water is soft, an oxidizing filter is your go-to water system for iron removal or reduction. This iron filter removes ferrous iron water by making it insoluble and then filtering it out.

It has a resin bed that oxidizes iron and manganese when they initiate contact and makes them solid and insoluble. The manganese greensand then flushes out these heavy metals so that it’s absent from the water entering your home. This filter has periodic backwashing with potassium pomegranate (a purple powder).

This purple powder flushes out the accumulated iron in the media and regenerates the manganese greensand.


This is another oxidizing filter that removes iron from your well water. It works differently from the manganese greensand because it doesn’t utilize a chemical reaction to eliminate iron from water. It’s usually only in water with high pH levels.

Birm is usually combined with calcite for water with a low pH. This is because the calcite elevates the pH of the water. This makes it easier for birm to carry out its oxidizing process by adsorbing the dissolved iron and oxygen. Then it removes this metal from the water.

Unlike the manganese greensand, it doesn’t require backwashing with potassium pomegranate.

KDF Filters

The Kinetic Degradation Fluxion filter is a water system that consists of highly pure zinc granules. It’s most notable for reducing chlorine in water, but it’s also effective in removing heavy metals such as iron, manganese, and lead from water.

Many iron filtration cartridges utilize the KDF filter media to transform iron from a soluble or dissolved state to a solid, insoluble state.

They function best with water of low quantity and water that flows slowly. The system takes time to oxygenate iron and then remove it from the water. It’s usually installed at the point where the main water line supplies the home’s plumbing system.

How to Remove Ferric Iron?

Sediment Filter or Prefilter

Sediment filters with smaller pore sizes than a micron (as small as the millionth of a meter) can effectively filter suspended or solid iron from well water.

It permits the well water to freely flow through while simultaneously trapping the iron and preventing it from reuniting with the water. This way, it prevents the contaminant from entering the home and staining appliances and surfaces.

Apart from filtering iron, they also capture other contaminants such as dirt and even filter out elements that cause water cloudiness. A common type of sediment filter used for well water is the natural cotton sediment filter.

The sediment filter works best when the water has a low presence of iron in its ferric state. It usually works hand in hand with the water softener, which doesn’t remove suspended iron directly.

How to Remove Bacterial Iron?

Shock Chlorination

This iron removal process is labor-intensive, but the results of a slime-free plumbing system are worth it. This process involves introducing a solid concentration of chlorine (est. 200ppm) into the well to sterilize the well itself and the well water completely.

For the process to be more effective, the shock chlorine should reach every part of the well: the water, the walls, and the pump (pressure and distribution channels).

Shock chlorination frees the well from bacterial iron, making filtering the remnant iron in the water (by a softener, sediment, or oxidizing filter).

About the Author

Lucas Greer

Lucas vs. Wild - Lucas is a true nature lover and survivalist. When he's not teaching biology at school, he can be found in nature, hiking, climbing, camping, and rafting. He knows all the tricks and DIYs for making unclean water drinkable with simple means in an emergency. At school, his students love him for his exciting water filtration projects.

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