Iron is the most abundant metal on earth and comprises over 5% of the earth’s crust. It may come as no surprise then that iron in water is one of the most common water quality issues homeowners face, especially those that rely on a private well. While iron plays an important role in our health and is essential for blood production, it serves no added benefit by being in water and will only make your life more cumbersome. From low water pressure to bright orange streaks in your bathtub, iron can wreak havoc in your home. Below you will learn about iron in water, how to find out if this pesky contaminant is in your water supply, and about the many benefits to removing iron from water.
How does iron get into water?
Iron gets into water by percolating into groundwater from earth’s crust and from exposure to rusty, corroded plumbing. When it rains, some of earth’s abundant iron dissolves and trickles through the soil until it enters underground aquifers and the groundwater supply. Groundwater supplies well water, so if you have a well, this is most likely how iron gets into your water supply.
Also, after exposure to oxygen and water overtime, iron may oxidize and convert into rust. If your homes pipes and plumbing fixtures contain iron, they are vulnerable to rust. When water flows through rusty, corroded pipes, flecks of rust break off and enter the water supply.
How much iron is safe in drinking water?
Any amount of iron is safe in drinking water, as it is not dangerous to consume and does not have any adverse impacts on health. Iron is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but only as a secondary contaminant. Secondary contaminants have esthetic consequences, such as unpleasant tastes and smells, but are not considered unsafe. However, iron can start causing stains and other nuisances in your home at concentrations as low as 0.3 parts per million (ppm).
How do you know if there is iron in your water?
If you observe rusty, orange water coming out of your faucet or reddish stains in your sinks and appliances, the chances are high there is iron in your water. Even iron that is invisible to the naked eye (ferrous iron or organically bound iron) will leave stains on any surface that frequently encounters contaminated water. Although, the most accurate way to know if there is iron in your water supply is to perform a water test.
An at home iron test can tell you if there is iron present in your water and at what concentration. They are easy to use and simply involve dipping a test strip into a glass of water. However, in order to find out exactly what type of iron is in your water supply, we recommend a certified lab test. Learning more about the iron present in your water will help you identify where it is coming from and will help you choose the best filtration method to get rid of the bothersome contaminant for good.
Learn More: How To Remove Iron from Well Water
What are the benefits to removing iron from water?
There are ample benefits to removing iron from water, including longer lasting pipes and appliances, improved water pressure, healthier skin and hair, and even better tasting coffee!
1. Increases the life span of your pipes
Once your pipes are clogged by iron buildup, it can be difficult to return them to a pristine state. If your pipes become clogged multiple times in a short time frame, it advised to simply replace the pipes. Removing iron from your water can help prevent clogging events and allow your pipes to function efficiently for years to come.
2. Higher water pressure
As iron residue flows through your pipes, it accumulates and restricts water flow. Water pressure is reduced throughout your home, which means unsatisfying showers, sinks and toilets prone to clogging, and underperforming appliances. By removing iron from your water, you can preserve the integrity of your pipes and prevent water pressure issues that not only inconvenience your daily routine, but also harm your plumbing and appliances.
3. Increases the life span of your appliances
Iron in water leaves behind bright red orange streaks in your sinks, toilets, bathtubs, showers, washing machine, and dishwasher. In fact, any equipment in your home that involves water is vulnerable to unsightly iron stains. However, stubborn stains aren’t the only concern. Iron can build up in your appliances, just as it can build up in pipes. From your dishwasher to your irrigation system, all of your appliances are vulnerable to iron. Removing iron from your water will keep your appliances looking and working like brand new, helping you avoid expensive repairs and premature replacements.
4. Healthier skin and hair
Unfortunately, just as iron stains your sinks and appliances, it can also stain your skin and hair. Showering in water with a high concentration of iron can give your skin and hair a red, orange tint. In addition to undesired stains, iron can also dry out your skin, cause brittle hair, and may exacerbate conditions like eczema and acne. Removing iron from your water will save you the hassle of extra steps in your beauty routine to combat stains and dryness. Keep your skin and hair healthy and vibrant by filtering iron from your water.
5. Better tasting and smelling water
Iron gives water a bitter, metallic taste and an unpleasant odor. Any food and drinks made with iron contaminated water also take on the harsh taste. Your coffee and tea may taste extra bitter, and any foods cooked in water, such as pasta, may become discolored and taste metallic. Removing iron from your water will keep your food and drinks as refreshing and delicious as they should be.
What are the four types of iron found in water?
Ferric iron, ferrous iron, organically bound iron, and iron bacteria are the four types of iron found in water.
If your water is bright orange or red, you are likely dealing with ferric iron. Ferric iron is insoluble, which means it does not dissolve. It is oxidized, so you may notice tiny rust flecks floating in your water.
How do you remove ferric iron from water?
A sediment filter is recommended to remove ferric iron from water. Sediment filters physically block ferric iron, rust flecks from aging pipes, and other types of sediment from entering your water supply. They have pores that are too small for particulate matter to pass through but allow water to flow through freely.
Learn More: What is a Sediment Filter and How Does It Work?
Ferrous iron is soluble iron, which means it is completely dissolved into water. If your water contains ferrous iron, it will be clear when you pour a glass, but if you let it sit on the counter for a while, red particles will settle at the bottom. As the ferrous iron is exposed to oxygen in the air, it oxidizes and turns into ferric iron. Even though water with ferrous iron initially appears clear, it can still stain your sinks and other plumbing fixtures.
How do you remove ferrous iron from water?
Ferrous iron is best removed from water by an ion exchange water softener or manganese greensand. Water softeners remove ferrous iron through a process called ion exchange. Water softeners are filled with an ion exchange resin that attracts positively charged ions, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese. The positively charged ions are captured by the resin and exchanged for sodium ions, while fresh water flows through unhindered.
Manganese greensand is a powerful oxidizer. It oxidizes ferrous iron and converts it into ferric iron. The manganese greensand then pulls the ferric iron particles out of the water, allowing iron-free water to flow throughout your home.
Learn More: What is a Water Softener and How Does It Work?
Organically bound iron
Organically bound iron forms when iron attaches to tannins that are naturally found in groundwater. Tannins are decomposed organic matter, such as leaves and tree roots that dissolve in the groundwater supply. If your water contains organically bound iron, it will most likely appear yellow or brownish. Due to its groundwater origins, organically bound iron is only a concern for well owners.
How do you remove organically bound iron from water?
Ultrafiltration is the best method to remove organically bound iron from water. Organically bound iron particles are very small and render most filtration methods ineffective. However, ultrafiltration systems contain a semipermeable membrane with a remarkably miniscule 0.02-micron rating that handily traps organically bound iron but allows filtered water to flow through.
Learn More: What is Ultrafiltration?
Iron bacteria is a red, orange sludge that forms when bacteria bonds with iron. The slimy sludge not only sticks inside your pipes and clogs your plumbing fixtures, but also can smell like rotten eggs or sewage. Similar to other forms of iron, it is not harmful to human health, but is certainly unpleasant to deal with. Iron bacteria is most common in poorly maintained or improperly serviced wells.
How do you remove iron bacteria from water?
Shock chlorination is the most effective way to remove iron bacteria from well water. Shock chlorination introduces a powerful concentration of chlorine (about 200 ppm) to a well, well pump, and even the pressure and distribution systems. The chlorine eradicates bacteria in the water, in the well, and in the well’s components. Then, all that is left to do is remove the remaining iron with a filtration system, water softener, or oxidizer.
Sometimes bacterial iron appears after work has been done on the well that wasn’t adequately sanitized after the process. A shock chlorination treatment will often eliminate the issue, but depending on the recurrence of bacterial iron, a shock treatment may need to be done an annual or bi-annual basis.
If you have any further questions about iron in water or would like to start reaping the benefits of iron-free water today, please don’t hesitate to contact us.