If you receive water from a well chances are that it contains large amounts of iron. This is bad because iron can alter the taste and smell of water, leave ugly reddish stains on basically every surface it gets in contact with, and damage your household appliances and water treatment equipment.
So it’s no wonder that, just like you, people are trying to get rid of the heavy metal. But how? How do you remove iron from well water effectively?
This article provides all the answers. Plus, you will find reviews of the best iron water filters and softeners!
On This Page You Will…
|Model||Our Rating||Price||Max. Iron Level||Iron Types||System Type||Features|
|$$||3 ppm||All||Whole House|
|$$||3 ppm||All||Whole House|
|$$$||10 ppm||Ferric + Ferrous||Air Injection|
|$$$$$||27 ppm||Ferric + Ferrous||Air Injection|
|$$$||6-8 ppm||Ferrous||Softener-Filter Combo|
There is different treatment equipment that can help you to get rid of iron in well water and basically any other water source. However, the approach to tackle the contamination issue is always the same:
The minimum flow for backwash that an iron filter using oxidation media needs is about 5 gpm. In general, the larger the unit, the higher the required flow rate – some filters may take up to 20 gpm.
So if you don’t know the water flow rate of your well pump, this is the very first thing you will have to find out.
Remember: If you can’t backwash the filter media properly, it will eventually foul and make the iron removal process ineffective.
For optimum treatment, it’s important that you distinguish between soluble clear-water iron, or “ferrous”, and insoluble red-water iron, also called “ferric” but commonly known as rust. Then there is organic iron and bacterial iron.
Please note: Some professional do NOT recommend using a softener for iron reduction. This is because the lifespan of the softener resin will be shortened.
Does a water softener remove iron? Yes, ferrous can be removed in an ion exchange process with the help of a softener. It’s a commonly used method which delivers good results for concentrations of up to 3 (5) mg/L. However, please keep in mind that the maximum threshold of ferrous that a water softener can handle varies from one model to the next and can be lower/higher than that. So it’s a good idea if you read the manufacturer specifications.
Of course, the actual purpose of a water softener is to remove hardness minerals – think calcium and magnesium. This is why a salt-based softener will add sodium or potassium to your water.
What’s more, chances are that the iron will plug and foul the softener resin bed as time goes by, although you run frequent regeneration cycles. Thus the resin must be checked regularly. Also, consider using Iron-Out™ or another chemical remover. A softener that is badly fouled is difficult to clean, which is why replacing the entire bed might be the better option.
The Role of pH
If water pH levels are too high, a softener will not perform up to its potential. This is because ferrous converts to ferric more quickly in alkaline water. At the same time, low pH levels can prolong a softener’s resin bed life and so can longer backwashes and more frequent regenerations with high saltings, as it delays fouling.
When Not to Use a Softener
If you struggle with clear-water plus red-water iron, organic iron or iron bacteria, or the concentration of ferrous exceeds 5 mg/L, a softener should not be applied. Some of the compounds may simply pass through the unit totally unaffected by the ion exchange process and/or lead to clogging and rapid fouling of the resin bed. The latter will also gradually reduce the hardness removal capacities of the softener.
For higher amounts of clear-water iron, about 7 to 15 mg/L, it is recommended to use specialized iron filters. They are widely used for their versatility of oxidizing filter media, for example greensand, Birm and Pro-OX.
Iron filters are similar in appearance to conventional water softeners. The important distinction, though, is that as soon as water passes through their filter media, any soluble ferrous oxidizes into the ferric state. Thereby it becomes insoluble and gets trapped.
Depending on the condition of the water and the filter media in use, pre-oxidation is required to reach adequate dissolved oxygen levels. The oxygen will act as a catalyst. Methods for pre-oxidation are aeration and the injection of chlorine, ozone or peroxide among others. For aeration, an air pump or air inductor can be used.
Ozone is a very powerful disinfectant and unlike chlorine, it won’t add a chemical taste or odor to your water (and no disinfectant byproducts).
Just like softeners, iron filters require periodic backwashing to clean out the precipitated rust that accumulates in the media bed. This in turn requires sufficient water flow. The flushing also ensures that no bacteria can grow inside the purifier, so it’s essential for water safety. Every once in a while, the filter media also needs to regenerate to retain its oxidizing and adsorption capabilities.
By the way, insufficient backwash and regeneration are the most common reasons for the filters to fail.
The Role of pH
The ideal pH value for iron filters to work effectively is between 7 and 8.5. Anything lower than that and you have to expect unsatisfactory results. Furthermore, the filtration system might get damaged. A pH value of at least 8.0 will increase the filtration effectiveness significantly.
In case the pH of your water is way too low, consider adding sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide.
When Not to Use an Iron Filter
Iron filters should not be used when organic matter is present in water and they don’t kill iron bacteria!
Ferrous in concentrations of 10 mg/L and more can be handled with great effectiveness using a chemical agent for oxidation in combination with a filter stage. This is also probably the cheapest way of removing iron from well water.
A pump can be used to add the oxidizing agent to the feed water. The solution then needs to sit in a retention tank (in most homes that’s the pressure tank) for long enough to allow the chemical reaction to happen and iron to precipitates out. A good starting point is 20 minutes. Lastly, a manganese greensand or activated carbon filter is used for the actual removal.
Whole house iron filter that combines hydrogen peroxide oxidation with carbon filtration. The system requires regular maintenance: The hydrogen peroxide needs to be refilled and the carbon filter media requires periodic backwashing or replacement after several months/years of use.
Other applicable oxidizing chemicals are chlorine, sodium/calcium hypochlorite and potassium permanganate among others.
Chlorine and hypochlorite will also act as a disinfectant and kill iron bacteria which is great. On the downside, excess chlorine can make your water taste and smell unpleasant and also form dangerous disinfectant byproducts. This is why, when choosing chlorine or hypochlorite for oxidation, it is recommended that you pair it with an activated or catalytic carbon filter. You can learn more about chlorine removal here.
Oxidation can also be achieved by aeration (injecting air). An air injector uses the oxygen in the air to convert ferrous to ferric. The particles are then strained out by a filter. According to various sources, levels of up to 30 mg/L can be treated with this method.
The only problem with air injection is that air is only about 20% oxygen. So chances are that not all iron will oxidize. As a result, it forms sludge which can plug the filter and the eductor that is part of the air injector.
As stated above, ferric can be removed by mechanical filtration, a rust water purifier so to speak. Concentrations of 15 mg/L and more should be manageable.
Organic iron treatment is particularly challenging. The compounds can slow down or even prevent oxidation entirely, which is why water softeners, specialized filters and aeration systems might not work. Your best option is probably chemical oxidation in combination with a mechanical filter.
If some of the iron exists in colloidal form, it’s even harder to get by due to its smaller size. To solve the problem, it might be necessary to add a coagulant to your water, which will glue the particles together making them larger in size and therefore easier to remove.
As with the selection of a purifier itself, it’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when it comes to the choosing the best filter media. Each type has its pros and cons…
Greensand is the most commonly used chemical oxidant in iron filters. It has proven itself over the years, has relatively high removal capacities and can operate at high water flow rates requiring only moderate backwash.
Coated with manganese oxide, sometimes called manganese greensand, it oxidizes iron as soon as it comes in contact with it. Greensand is also effective at oxidizing hydrogen sulfide and manganese.
An alternative to “regular” greensand is synthetic greensand, a granular mineral with a manganese dioxide coating. The benefits that synthetic greensand has over regular greensand is that it’s
In case you didn’t know, potassium permanganate is used as an oxidant to regenerate greensand. The problem with it, however, is that it’s a harsh chemical that is poisonous, can irritate skin and may even decrease fertility.
This is why it’s important to prevent excess potassium permanganate to enter your water supply system by all means. Usually, this is automatically done by your iron filter in a special rinse cycle where all permanganate is flushed out before any raw water is re-routed through the distribution system.
Birm can be used to reduce iron and manganese levels in water, but it has no effect on hydrogen sulfide. It uses dissolved oxygen as a catalyst and in some cases requires pre-oxidation if dissolved oxygen content is too low.
Advantages of Birm filters are that they are easy to maintain, long-lasting and don’t require any salt or chemicals.
Manganese dioxide has the ability to remove iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. Just like Birm, it requires enough dissolved oxygen in water for optimum performance.
For relatively low metal content, regular whole house cartridge water filtration systems might suffice. They can remove ferrous and ferric iron (rust), manganese, hydrogen sulfide and various other impurities commonly found in well water – think pesticides, herbicides, chlorine, VOCs, and tastes & odors.
The iSpring can reduce iron of up to 3 ppm down to 0.1 ppm. At 3 ppm, the system has a theoretical filtration capacity of 45,000 gallons with a maximum flow rate of 8 gpm.
In other words, you get sufficient flow to run multiple water outlets at the same time, while maintenance requirements and costs are down to a minimum.
If you have some basic plumbing experience, you should be able to set up the system yourself.
As for the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC, the system also provides enough water for larger homes. It’s low in maintenance, which saves you time and money, and you can switch to cheaper replacement filters to save even more.
In addition to that, you get a 2-year limited warranty and you can always contact Home Master’s excellent customer support team in case you have any questions or issues.
The filters are able to remove up to 95% of iron, manganese, sediment, chemicals and other contaminants. The maximum combined contaminant load of iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide is 3 ppm.
Click the following link for a more thorough review of the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC whole house water filter.
The #1 air injection purifier that we recommend for the removal of ferrous and rust (up to 10 ppm), sulfur (up to 6 ppm) and manganese (up to 2 ppm) is the Silver 10 by AFWFilters.
(Check the AFWFilters Platinum 15 if 10 ppm is not enough. Stats: Iron up to 27 ppm, sulfur up to 17 ppm, manganese up to 11 ppm.)
It’s a whole house oxidizing water filter that doesn’t use chemicals for an all natural filtration.
Contaminants get trapped in the filter media until they are washed down the drain during a backwash cycle. Of course, the backwashing system is fully automatic, so set it and forget it!
The unit is relatively easy to install – bypass valve included for easy servicing – and the filter media needs replacements only about every 5 years.
What’s more, due to the fact that the whole oxidation process takes place inside a single tank, space requirements and maintenance costs are super low.
Last but not least, customers have reported that the seller is very responsive and reliable.
The Waterboss Model 900IF is for more severe cases of ferrous contamination (<15 ppm). It uses greensand media for oxidation and also reduces iron bacteria and hydrogen sulfide.
The system is made in the USA, which we know many of our readers care about, and the installation is really straightforward.
The one shower filter that seems to help with iron – although reduction capabilities are not quantified and therefore could be low – is the Aquasana AQ-4100.
It’s rather expensive and not without flaws but provides an overall solid filtration.
If you are looking for a garden hose iron filter, the Camco TastePURE is probably your best bet. The filter uses high-flow granular activated carbon rated at 100 microns and reduces iron, lead, mercury and other heavy metals, and also takes out bad odors and taste.
The filter can be used for 1 season and needs replacement after that.
Remember: Even the best softener can only handle relatively small iron levels.
Our favorite water softener for iron treatment is the Fleck 5600SXT made in the USA. It’s for moderate to hard water and recommended for ferrous levels of 2 ppm at max. Anything above that and you should go for the Iron Pro 2 version (see unit below), which uses a special fine mesh instead of the standard one. Ferric will not be treated.
The softener can provide up to 12 gallons of water per minute – enough for 6 people – and comes with a user friendly digital controller.
Customers have reported that the unit does a great job at handling iron. No more rings around toilet bowls, no stains on laundry and better tasting water – it’s totally up to the challenge!
The install is easy and will only take you a few hours, plus an additional 5 minutes for the programming. Resin, brine tank, test kit – everything is included in the package. Oh, and great customer support!
By the way, if your water has more than 0.5 ppm iron, the softener requires a little more salt during regen to ensure that all ferrous is removed from of the softening resin. This adds to the effectiveness and also helps to prevent fouling.
The Fleck 5600SXT is a best seller on Amazon and backed by hundreds of customer reviews.
The Fleck 5600SXT Iron Pro 2 is a water softener and iron filter all in one!
It’s sized for homes of 2 to 6+ people (64,000 grain capacity).
Thanks to the special fine mesh resin, it can handle iron up to 6-8 ppm and manganese up to 6 ppm while also removing hardness minerals. Yes, the unit traps some ferric, but you are going to get the best results with ferrous.
An all-digital fully programmable head that makes the system easy to use + monitor and a brine tank for regeneration are part of the deal.
Speaking of regeneration, it’s meter-based which helps to save water. This feature is particularly important for such a large system when you consider that up to 100 or more gallons can be used in each regen cycle.
DIY installation? The provided step-by-step instructions will help you with that. If you get stuck, make sure to check out our water softener installation guide.
More on Iron Filtration
Iron (Fe) is a naturally occurring mineral in rocks. It dissolves in groundwater and as a result, high iron levels are the second most common problem right after hardness that people on well water are facing.
The bad news is that iron is more difficult to treat to a satisfactory level than hardness minerals. Why? Because when mixed with water, it can form different compounds, some soluble and some insoluble. These different compounds require different treatment methods. On top of that, other factors like water pH also play a major role.
Fortunately, once all water conditions are known, choosing the best iron filter is pretty straightforward.
Iron is an essential trace element in living organisms. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a secondary drinking water standard for it, which means that public water supply systems can test for the metal on a voluntary basis, but are not obliged to do so.
In other words: Iron in drinking water is not considered a health threat. The guideline was only created to assist in managing drinking water aesthetics including taste, color and odor.
By the way, an acceptable iron level in well water is everything below 0.3 mg/L (or ppm). Experiments have shown that such concentrations are usually characterized as unnoticeable – at least in terms of taste. Higher concentrations will cause a rusty color, metallic taste and smell, and reddish or orange staining on clothes, bathroom fixtures, etc.
Iron levels in water are measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm). 1 mg/L = 1 ppm
Above that, iron may form deposits in pipes leading to a drop in water pressure due to clogging and causing damage to hot water tanks. Washing machines, dishwashers, pumps and sprinklers are commonly affected, too, which can lead to costly repairs.
To reach toxic dosages, one would have to intake more than 1 mg Fe per kilogram of body weight per day. The average lethal dose is about 200 mg/kg body weight. (Source: WHO)
How can you find out if there is too much iron in your water?
A red or yellow stain and a metallic taste are good indicators. However, only a real test can provide certainty, which should be your next step: Determine if, how much and what type(s) of iron can be found.
For choosing the best treatment system later on, you should also test for alkalinity, pH, hardness, hydrogen sulfide and manganese. Some tests will also allow you to check for iron bacteria – more on that in a bit.
The most accurate method for testing is to send a direct sample of your water to an independent lab, or have one of the associates collect the sample himself. As an alternative, you can pick up one of the widely available iron water test kits, which you can buy online or at your local hardware store. Obviously, test kits are more affordable, but also less precise. Your county’s health department might also offer a testing service.
If you do the testing yourself, try to test the water right before in enters your house. If for some reason this is not possible, run one of the faucets in your home for about 5-10 minutes before taking a sample to make sure that the water is coming right from the well.
Of course, your iron problem can also originate from corroding pipes, fixtures or the water heater. These parts need to be replaced in order to solve the problem permanently.
Iron bacteria are a group of organisms that naturally occur in shallow soils and groundwater. They live on iron and can enter a well and other supply systems during their constructions or repair.
Iron bacteria convert ferrous to ferric leaving slimy deposits in form of a red or brown biofilm. The slime not only causes clogging, it’s also the best indication for a potential bacteria infestation, for example in softeners, filters or toilet tanks. Clumps that break away from these deposits produce iron laden water, which is likely to cause staining.
How to check for iron bacteria in your toilet tank? Simply lift the cover and look for slime floating at the surface of the water.
The good news is that the microorganisms are not harmful to humans, however, they can make an iron problem much worse.
First of all, iron bacteria can only be identified with absolute certainty by microscopic examination.
Then, physical, chemical and thermal treatment can be used to eliminate them. The most common method is shock chlorination, a process that’s also used in swimming pools.
Shock chlorination works by adding large amounts of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) to water. The bleach needs to stay in the well and entire water system between 8 and 48 hours before being flushed out.
After the treatment, the water should not be drunk until the concentration of sodium hypochlorite is down to 3 ppm or less.
A reverse osmosis purification system can be used to remove low levels of iron, manganese and other (heavy) metals as well as salts. If a test has shown that your water also contains other potentially harmful contaminants, reverse osmosis is a great solution for treatment.
However, all professionals in the field agree that reverse osmosis requires thorough pre-treatment when used on well water. Otherwise, the RO membrane will clog almost immediately. So if you are on a well, consider pairing an RO system with a whole house filter.
If you are using an iron filter together with a softener, always install the filter before the softener. This will greatly extend the softener’s lifespan.
There is no such thing as removing iron from well water naturally. You either need to be using a softener, specialized filter or an oxidizing agent/air injector in combination with a filtration stage.
To get iron out of pool water, you can use the exact same methods for filtering well water. Probably the best way to go about it is shock chlorination:
Removing iron from drinking water works exactly the same as treating a well or any other water source:
No, a Brita jug or any other purifier that uses a Brita filter does not help with iron reduction.
If you have any questions about how to get rid of iron in water, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to come back to this page from time to time, as we are going to add new iron water filter reviews occasionally.