7 Key Benefits of Removing Iron from Tap Water

About five percent of the earth’s crust is iron, so it’s no surprise it’s been found in drinking water sources all across the country, particularly in areas that rely on private wells. While iron is an essential nutrient in many diets, too much—especially in your water supply—could spell trouble for your health and household.

Read on to find out how this pesky (and potentially toxic) metal gets into tap water, how much is considered safe, how to know if it’s lurking in your water supply, and why you should remove it.

How does iron get into drinking water in the first place?

Iron occurs naturally in rock and soil. When rain falls or snow melts, the water trickles through these iron-rich underground formations, picking up and dissolving the metal and bringing it into almost every natural water source, including aquifers that supply water to wells. If your water comes from a well system, this is likely how iron gets into your tap water.

In some instances, rusty pipes, fixtures, and other plumbing components can also introduce iron to your tap water. When iron is exposed to oxygen and water, it may start to oxidize and turn into rust.

If the water is acidic (meaning it has a pH value of less than 7), rust flecks may break off from the iron materials and leach into the water as it journeys to your faucets and other water outlets in your home.

Consequently, the water you use for everything, from drinking and cooking to showering and cleaning, will be tainted with iron. If the city pipeline has gone to rust, it’s likely half of your neighborhood is having the same issue.

Related: America’s Aging Water Pipes: Is Your Tap Water at Risk? | 10 Potential Sources of Groundwater Pollution

How much iron in water is considered safe?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates iron in drinking water but only as a secondary contaminant. That means iron isn’t considered hazardous to human health. But being an “aesthetic” pollutant, it can affect various non-health-related aspects of your water like its color, taste, and odor once it exceeds the EPA’s guideline of 0.3 milligrams per liter (mg/l). Iron can also be a nuisance in your home above this suggested limit, staining or corroding almost everything it touches—laundry, glassware, dishes, household fixtures such as bathtubs and sinks, you name it.

How do I know if there’s iron in my tap water?

Does your tap water have a reddish, brown, yellow, or orange color? Do you see bright orange stains in your sink, toilet bowl, or on your dishes and laundry? Perhaps the water tastes metallic, smells offensive, or your tea or coffee has a rainbow sheen in bright light. While these are well-known signs of iron contamination in water, you won’t know for sure if it’s truly the culprit without testing the water.

A water test will not only tell if there’s iron in your water supply but will also give you an idea of how much. At-home testing methods typically involve dipping a test strip into a glass of water and matching the resulting color with that on a chart. However, if you want to know what type of iron is in your water supply, the extent of your iron problem, and perhaps what other contaminants are present, a certified lab test is the way to go.

If you decide laboratory testing is the ideal choice for you, contact your state or local health department for a list of state-certified laboratories in your area or use this interactive map. You can also check the business pages of the phone book under “Laboratories-Testing” to find a water testing lab or call a licensed professional for assistance.

Learning more about the type of iron in your water supply can help you identify where it’s coming from and the best way to get rid of this troublesome contaminant for good.

Related: 10 Common Problems a Water Test Can Detect in Tap Water

Benefits of Removing Iron from Your Tap Water

Should you even bother removing iron from your tap water, given that it’s just an aesthetic contaminant (at least at low concentrations)? Absolutely! In fact, doing so offers several key benefits for your home and health:

1.     Improved Water Pressure

Imagine stepping into the bathtub for a relaxing soak and having to wait forever for the tub to reach your desired water level. You try to fill a glass at the tap, only to be greeted with a trickle. Oh, and your daily chores like dishwashing, showering, doing the laundry, and watering plants become way more challenging and time-consuming.

These unpleasant experiences can result from iron particles accumulating in your pipes and plumbing fixtures over time, clogging them and reducing the water flow. By removing iron from your water, you can help maintain optimal water pressure throughout your home, so you can do your everyday tasks in a timely manner and go about your day.

Related: 7 Reasons Your Home Has Low Water Pressure & How to Fix It

2.   Longer Lasting Pipes and Appliances

Iron in your tap water doesn’t only ‘throw off’ your daily routine (as described earlier) but can also harm your plumbing and appliances. For instance, low water pressure caused by iron buildup can leave stagnant water in your pipes. The prolonged contact between the metal pipes and the water (especially if it’s acidic) can cause the pipes to corrode quicker.

There’s also the issue of leaks. If your home has shared water lines, low pressure can result in inadequate water supply to various fixtures and appliances, adding more strain on the plumbing system and causing leaks or even a full-out water disaster.

Like pipes and plumbing, low water pressure can stress water-connected appliances, cause leakage, and malfunctions or outright failures, reducing the longevity and functionality of your appliances.

Removing iron from your water can help prevent clogging issues that could otherwise lead to costly repairs and replacements. It can also allow your pipes and water-using appliances to function efficiently and last longer.

Related: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances

3.   Cleaner Laundry, Fixtures, and Kitchenware

Name something more frustrating than pulling your laundry from the washer, only to notice yellow, red or brown rust-like stains all over your freshly washed whites. You head to the bathroom or kitchen, and there it is again—the same ugly discoloration and stains on fixtures and equipment and on dishes and other kitchenware.

Yes, iron can be a real menace but after filtering it from your water, your linens will retain their quality and color for longer and your fixtures will look cleaner and more hygienic, which is incredibly important, especially if you’re having guests over.

4.   Healthier Skin and Hair

Iron doesn’t only stain fixtures and water-using appliances; it can also have the same effect on your hair and skin. Every time you bathe or shower with water with a high iron concentration, the iron strips moisture from your body when you should be absorbing it to stay vibrant and healthy.

Eventually, your hair becomes dry and brittle, your skin feels dry and itchy, and existing skin problems like acne and eczema get even worse. The more your skin is exposed to iron over time, the higher the chance of early wrinkling and severe irritation.

Luckily, filtering iron from your water will save you from the hassle of extra steps in your beauty routine to tackle dryness and stains. It will also help keep your hair and skin healthy, supple, and smooth.

Related: Is Tap Water Bad for Your Hair and Skin? | 10 Surprising Beauty Benefits of Filtered Tap Water | Help Prevent Skin Problems With A Water Filter & Softener System

5.    Water That Smells, Tastes, and Looks Better

Your drinking water shouldn’t look like coffee or iced tea, nor should it taste like it’s been mixed with metallic-garlic powder. It also shouldn’t smell like metal and certainly not like sewage or rotten eggs. But that’s what many homeowners experience when their water is laced with iron. By removing this metal from yours, you can enjoy water that tastes, smells, and looks cleaner, healthier, and more refreshing. Who knows? This might encourage you to step your hydration game up.

Learn more: How to Get Rid of Rotten Egg Smell in Water | Common Odors in Tap Water and How to Remove Them | 9 Reasons Your Tap Water Tastes Bad and How to Fix It

6.   Tastier and Healthier Home-Made Meals and Beverages

Cooking with iron-rich water can leave your meals with a darker or blackened color. You may also notice that home-made beverages have a nasty-looking black or brown color. Your veggies aren’t spared either, as cooking them in iron-contaminated water can turn them black as they boil.

The good news is that filtering iron from your tap water can make your meals and beverages way more delicious, flavorful, and healthy—assuming you add all the right ingredients in the correct proportions, of course.

Related: Benefits of Cooking & Baking with Filtered Water | The Best Water for Making Coffee Explained

7.    Tremendous Benefits for Your Health

While iron doesn’t usually present a health risk at low levels, it can be toxic at high concentrations or if harmful bacteria has entered the water supply. An overload of iron in the body can lead to hemochromatosis.

According to Cleveland Clinic, people who develop this health condition may experience the following symptoms:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Heart failure
  • Cirrhosis (scarring)
  • Enlarged liver
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Arthritis (joint damage)
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with the spleen, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, gallbladder or thyroid.
  • Reproductive problems, such as erectile dysfunction in men and early menopause in women.
  • Skin that may look noticeably more gray or bronze than usual.
  • Damaged skin, resulting in premature wrinkles.

It gets even worse; If the condition isn’t treated, it can lead to death. But look on the bright side: You can significantly lower your risk of this and other iron-related health problems by simply filtering the metal from your drinking water.

Forms of Iron in Tap Water and How to Remove Them

Iron in water comes in several different forms, each requiring different filtration methods for effective removal. Here are various methods to remove iron from tap water based on the type of iron present:

Ferric Iron

If your water appears rusty or has a red or yellow color, you’re dealing with ferric iron, also known as insoluble iron or “red water” iron. This form of iron is insoluble, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water. It is oxidized, so you may see tiny rust flecks floating in the water when it’s allowed to stand. Fortunately, it is the least difficult form of iron to remove from water.

How do you remove ferric iron from water?

Iron Filter

A dedicated iron filter is the most effective way to remove both “red water” and “clear water” iron from tap water. The Springwell WS1 Whole-House Well Water Filter, for example, can remove dissolved and undissolved iron up to 7 parts per million (ppm).

Here’s a glimpse of how it works:

  1. Water entering the tank’s air cavity causes iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide to oxidize.
  2. The filter’s greensand bed traps the oxidized contaminants and prevents them from returning to the water.
  3. The backwashing process begins, cleaning iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide from the greensand bed. A new “air pocket” is introduced into the tank.
  4. Finally, the filtered water is delivered to the internal plumbing system.

If your water contains tiny amounts of ferric iron, however, we recommend installing a sediment filter or carbon filter. Using these devices with water with a high iron level can cause clogging, so make sure your water test detects small concentrations of ferric iron.

Sediment Filter

Just as the mesh on a screen door helps keep those pesky insects from entering your home while letting in fresh air, a sediment filter has pores that block suspended solids from passing into your plumbing system but allow water to flow through freely.

Sediment filters are exceptional at capturing small particulate matter, including ferric iron, dirt, rust, debris, and sand—or about anything larger than the filter’s pores. Make sure your sediment filter has a small enough micron rating to adequately capture any ferric iron in your water supply. Contact us for more information on this.

Related: 7 Signs of Sediment Buildup in Your Water Heater

Carbon Filter

Despite being designed to treat chlorine and bad tastes and odors in water, activated carbon filters may also be certified to eliminate other contaminants, such as iron. How effective they are against iron depends on the filter’s pore size and certification.

Some carbon block filters rated at one micron or less can remove iron, among other contaminants. However, keep in mind that these filters are not typically the primary method for iron removal, especially for water with high iron concentrations.

Learn more: Activated Carbon Filters: What Do They Remove from Water?

Ferrous Iron

Unlike ferric iron, which often manifests as small rust particles in water, ferrous iron (also known as “clear water” iron) is almost indistinguishable because the iron dissolves evenly in water. While ferrous iron typically appears clear in water, the water turns cloudy and reddish-brown flakes begin to form when exposed to air or another oxidizer.

How do you remove ferrous iron from water?

Water softeners and iron filters are most effective against ferrous iron in water. Here’s how both methods work:

Salt-Using Water Softener

The same water softeners remove hard minerals from water, they can eliminate ferrous iron (typically up to 2-5 ppm). This is achieved through a process called ion exchange, where positively charged ions are exchanged for negatively charged ones.

Since iron is positively charged, it will be attracted to the resin beads and get swapped out for the sodium ions, just like calcium, magnesium, and other hard minerals. Every now and then, the system performs a backwashing process to flush the iron from the resin.

While water softeners can remove ferrous iron from the water, their effectiveness depends on the water’s hardness and pH levels. A water softener will be less effective if there is low water hardness, high iron, a pH above 7, or the system allows contact with air, such as in an air-charged “galvanized pressure tank.” The softener will also need to regenerate periodically to maintain proper iron removal.

Learn more: Water Softeners: What are They and How Do They Work?

Iron Filter

Iron filters, such as an Air Injection Oxidizing Filter System, typically work by introducing oxygen into the water. When ferrous iron is exposed to oxygen, it undergoes oxidation and is converted into ferric iron, which is insoluble and can be effectively removed through filtration.

Once the ferrous iron is oxidized to ferric iron, the filter media in the system traps the oxidized iron until it is washed down the drain during the backwash cycle. The filter media is designed to capture the oxidized iron and sulfur, effectively removing these contaminants from the water.

Organic Iron

Organic iron (or heme iron) forms when iron binds to tannins naturally found in groundwater. As explained in a previous article, tannins are decomposed organic matter, such as leaves and tree roots, released as a byproduct of fermentation or water passing through decaying vegetation or swampy soil. If your water contains organic iron, it will appear yellow or brownish.

How do you remove organic iron from water?

It’s possible to inject chlorine or hydrogen peroxide into the water to oxidize the iron. However, it can be tricky to find the right dosage and may carry health risks if improperly dosed. Organic iron particles are ridiculously small, so most filtration methods won’t be effective.

Reverse osmosis filters might be an exception, though, as they use a semipermeable membrane to trap tiny elements while letting the filtered water through. An excess of iron in the water, however, can quickly plug up the units, so a whole-house treatment system may be a better option. You might also want to consider adding a Tannin Removal System.

Learn more: Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration Explained

Bacterial Iron

Bacterial iron is the most complex form of iron in water. While most bacteria get their energy from decomposing organic matter, iron bacteria derive theirs from consuming oxidizing dissolved ferrous iron or manganese in groundwater. In the process, they produce deposits of iron, and a red, orange, or brown slime called a “biofilm.” Luckily, these organisms are not harmful to humans. However, they can create conditions for other disease-causing organisms to grow and can make an iron problem much worse. The slimy sludge not only sticks inside your pipes and clogs your plumbing fixtures but can smell like rotten eggs or sewage.

Iron bacteria naturally occur in shallow soils and groundwater and may be introduced into a well or water system when it is constructed or repaired. We’ve already discussed how to prevent, remove, and treat iron bacteria in this article, but we’ll briefly explain it below.

Related: How to Remove Coliform Bacteria from Well Water

How do you remove iron bacteria from water?

Shock Chlorination

Shock chlorination is the most effective way to remove iron bacteria from well water. This process involves adding a high concentration of chlorine (200-500 ppm) to the well water to kill the bacteria. The chlorine is left in the well for a period to ensure that all the bacteria are eliminated. Afterward, the well is flushed to remove the chlorine and any remaining bacteria. All that is left to do after that is remove the remaining iron with a filtration system, water softener, or oxidizer.

Learn more: Free Chlorination Explained: The Benefits and Possible Downsides

Chemical Injection

If shock chlorination isn’t an option, you can install a chemical injection system. This system uses a chlorinator pump to feed chlorine continuously or intermittently into the well water. It draws the chlorine from a solution tank and pumps it into the pipeline under pressure. It then temporarily stores the contaminated water in a contact tank until it’s needed. This allows the water to have enough contact time with the chlorine for proper disinfection and oxidation to occur. Depending on how fast the water is flowing, chlorine is pumped into the water to maintain a precise residual.

Understandably, you may not want chlorine lurking in your drinking water after it’s done its job. Not only can it give your water a chemical-like smell and taste, but it may bleach your clothing and laundry, burn your eyes and nose, and cause other health risks with long-term exposure. Many chlorine injection systems often include a filtration component to dechlorinate the water and eliminate other potentially toxic contaminants.

Models like the Springwell CIS Well Water Chemical Injection System don’t have a built-in carbon filter, but you can add a whole house filtration system to eliminate chlorine from the water. The goal here is to ensure no chlorine gets into the household water supply—only clean, healthy, great-tasting water.

Learn more: How to Remove Iron Bacteria from Well Water

Final Thoughts

Whether iron gets into your water supply from a groundwater well or rusty plumbing components in or outside your home, too much of it can have damaging effects on your health and household. However, once you remove it from your water supply, you’ll be amazed about all the perks of doing so—better water pressure, longer-lasting pipes and appliances, cleaner laundry, and healthier skin and hair. Also, your water will taste, smell, and look way better, making your meals and beverages healthier and more delicious. You might also be encouraged to hydrate more. Who knows? But here’s the big one: banishing iron from your water can help prevent serious health issues down the road. So, as it turns out, removing iron from your water isn’t just a fix for aesthetic issues; it’s a smart move for a healthier home.