Signs Your Well Water is Acidic and How to Treat It

If your water comes from a private well, you might encounter a few no-so-pleasant surprises, especially without a home water treatment system. For instance, you may turn on the tap expecting clean, refreshing H2O, but the water tastes bitter, smells weird, or contains small rust particles, possibly indicating your water is acidic.

Acidic water is one of the many problems plaguing well owners. It’s not something to shrug off, either. Acidic water is incredibly corrosive, eating away at pipes and causing expensive and sometimes unfixable appliance damage. It can also expose your drinking water to heavy metals that could endanger you and your family’s health.

The good news is that there are several ways to treat acidic well water. Before we delve into these treatment options, let’s first explain what acidic well water is, what causes it, signs your water is acidic, and how to test for acidity in well water.

What is Acidic Water or Low pH in Private Well Water?

To better understand the concept of acidity, let’s start by defining the term “pH,” which stands for “potential hydrogen.” You may remember it from science class, but if not, think of pH as a number scale that measures the hydrogen ion concentration in a substance or, in simpler terms, how acidic or alkaline (basic) the liquid is.

The pH scale ranges from 0 (the most acidic) to 14 (the most basic). Right in the middle, at 7, the water is pure and considered “neutral” because it is neither acidic nor basic. Water with a pH below 7 is acidic. The lower the number, the more acidic it gets. In contrast, the water turns alkaline if the pH goes above 7. The higher the number, the more alkaline it becomes.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that drinking water maintain a pH between 6.5 and 8.5 to prevent the negative impacts that excessively high or low pH can cause.

What Causes Well Water to Become Acidic?

If well water is neutral, how can it become acidic? Several factors can tilt the water’s pH towards acidity; Some are natural, while others result from human activity.

Natural Processes  

As groundwater journeys underground, it can pick up naturally acidic compounds stored in soil and bedrock, such as iron, manganese, or carbon dioxide (CO2). Once dissolved in the water, these compounds cause the water’s pH to shift lower, increasing its acidity. Decomposing plant material or organic waste in the soil can also release ammonia and other nitrogen compounds into the water and cause CO2 to build up, further decreasing the water’s pH level.

Acid rain is another common contributor. This environmental phenomenon occurs when pollutants like sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the atmosphere mix with rain, snow, or fog, forming sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and nitric acid (HNO3). Once these acids reach the ground, they can leach minerals like copper and aluminum from the soil, increasing the water’s acidity as it travels to underground aquifers that supply water to wells. Some geological formations, like limestone or dolomite, have unique chemical properties that naturally lower the water’s pH as it passes over them.

Human-Induced Pollution

Human activities like agriculture and industrial pollution can also influence the pH of well water. For instance, farmers and gardeners often use chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides to provide nutrients to crops and plants and keep pests at bay. However, many are still unaware of the dangers of these compounds in well water. Some fertilizers and pesticides contain nitrogen compounds that can undergo nitrification processes in the soil, leading to the formation of acidic or basic compounds that can lower the pH of groundwater and cause it to become acidic.

Industrial activities like mining, coal burning, and quarrying can also release acidic compounds into surrounding soil and surface water sources, which can find their way into groundwater sources and increase their acidity.

Is Acidic Well Water Safe to Drink?

While acidic well water isn’t a health hazard, it is notorious for leaching heavy metals from eroding pipes and plumbing, increasing the amount of copper, lead, iron, and other metals in your water, many of which can harm your health.

While good for your health in small doses, exposure to high levels of zinc and copper can result in various gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long-term excessive consumption can lead to severe health complications, including neurological damage, kidney stones, gallstones, and even kidney and liver failure.

Lead is hazardous, especially for children. Since children’s bodies grow more quickly than adults, they absorb contaminants more easily. Lead exposure in unborn babies can cause premature birth, lower birth weight, and slowed growth. Young children might suffer from anemia, lower IQ, impaired hearing, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), brain and nervous system damage, and delayed mental and physical development. For adults, lead exposure can result in miscarriages, stillbirths, nervous system damage, stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.

If the water contains high amounts of iron, you may experience health complications, including upset stomach, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large amounts of iron might also cause more severe effects, including stomach lining inflammation and ulcers.

Exposure to heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium, has been linked to adverse side effects on bone health. Furthermore, beverages with a pH of 4.5 or less have been shown to increase the risk of tooth decay. For example, regularly drinking acidic water may slowly erode your tooth enamel, causing cavities.

So, if you are a private well owner, it’s best practice to monitor the pH levels of your well water and take necessary measures.

How Will I Know If My Well Water is Acidic? (Signs of Acidic Well Water)

Acidic water can cause a range of aesthetic issues in your home, such as those below:

Inside Your Toilet Tank or Bowl is Corroded.

One of the first places you’ll see signs of acidic water is inside your toilet bowl or tank. Since the water sits there long, corrosion becomes more visible. So, your water is likely acidic if you see flaky, rust-colored deposits or pitting and etching on the tank’s surface.

Related: 8 Causes of Brown Toilet Water and How to Fix It

You Notice Bluish-Green Stains On Your Copper Plumbing.

Because of how corrosive acidic water can be, it can dissolve copper from pipes and plumbing. When the water evaporates, it can leave behind stains wherever it comes in contact with the plumbing fixtures. If you have copper pipes, you may notice blue-green stains in and around bathtubs, sinks, drains, and other fixtures. This is an aesthetic issue and a sign that your pipes are rusting and could lead to other problems.

Your Cast Iron Plumbing Has Red Rust Stains.

Cast iron is also used in many plumbing systems, but like copper, it is susceptible to the harsh effects of acidic water. When these pipes come in contact with acidic well water, they can corrode and leave red rust stains around pipe joints, fixtures, etc. As you can imagine, this doesn’t look very good. But perhaps even worse, it shows that your pipes or entire plumbing system is deteriorating and may need to be repaired or replaced soon.

Your Plumbing is Leaking.

When well water becomes acidic, it eats away at metal pipes and plumbing from the inside out, causing pinhole leaks to develop. So, if you notice leaks that have worsened over time, your water’s pH may have dropped to acidic levels.

Your Water Tastes Bitter and Metallic.

No one wants their drinking water to taste like it’s been mixed with metal crystals and vinegar. And that’s what acidic well water usually tastes like. This usual bitter, metallic taste comes from metal particles leached into the water from pipes and plumbing as the water travels to your tap.

Your Water-Using Appliances Aren’t Working Correctly.

If your water-using appliances break down more than usual, acidic water may be the culprit. Like pipes and plumbing, the water’s acidity can corrode internal components in water heaters, washing machines, and dishwashers. As time goes by, these machines lose efficiency, use more energy and eventually experience premature failure, requiring more frequent repairs or replacements.

Related: How Hard Water Damages Your Plumbing and Appliances

While it helps to know the signs of low pH in well water, it’s still important to test your water to see if it is acidic.

How to Measure Acidity in Well Water

Measuring the pH of your well water is pretty straightforward. We recommend three methods to well owners, each with different price points and accuracy.

  • Digital pH Meter: A digital pH meter is a small handheld device used to measure water’s acidity or alkalinity. To test your water’s pH, carefully place the probe into the water sample, push the measure button, and wait for it to display a stable reading. Remove the probe from the water and rinse it with distilled or deionized water before the next use.
  • pH Test Kit: pH kits are usually more affordable than digital meters but often less accurate. They are typically available online, at pool supply shops, and many hardware stores. Using a pH kit is quite simple—dip the test strip into a glass of water, wait for a few seconds, and compare the strip’s color to the color chart. Unlike digital meters, pH kits usually don’t provide an exact reading of the water’s pH level but a range.
  • Laboratory Testing: The most reliable and accurate way to determine your water’s pH is to send a sample to a state-certified laboratory for testing. Though this option may be pricier and take a few days to a week to get the results, the precision will be worth it. Water testing labs are also ideal for identifying contaminants that standard test kits might not detect. So, a professional lab might be the most practical choice if you have other water quality concerns. But if you only need a quick pH reading, you’re better off using a pH kit or digital meter.

The Best Way to Treat Acidic Water

If the test shows that your well water has a pH below the EPA’s suggested 6.5 – 8.5, consider installing an efficient acid-neutralizing filter.

Unlike water softeners that eliminate calcium and magnesium from water to reduce hardness, acid neutralizers introduce these minerals to the water to raise its pH. pH neutralizers, as they’re also called, are usually installed where the water first enters your home. This ensures the system increases the water’s pH before it can harm your household’s plumbing.

The Best pH Neutralizer for Well Water with a pH of 6-6.5

If your well water has a pH in the 6.0 to 6.5 range, the most common pH range for wells in the United States, the Springwell Calcite pH Neutralizer System is an excellent solution. This system uses a calcite bed to add calcium and magnesium bicarbonate into the water. Water, as you may already know, can quickly dissolve various substances. So, once the water passes through the calcite media, it gradually dissolves, increasing the water’s pH and effectively neutralizing its acidity.

Furthermore, the Springwell neutralizer system is designed with pre-programmed backwash cycles that cleanse the calcite media once every one or two weeks, depending on the water’s acidity level. Beyond that, it features a system head that can link to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. This allows you to control the backwash cycle of the device by keeping an eye on the pH of the incoming water and the rate at which it flows through the system.

For those concerned about water pressure and flow, the SpringWell Calcite pH Neutralizer offers a flow rate of up to 12 gallons per minute (GPM), which provides ample water pressure for homes with 1 to 6 bathrooms. However, you may notice a slight dip in the flow rate during the backwash cycles, but even then, it remains equivalent to the peak flow rate of its competitors, which is 7 GPM.

Lastly, the SpringWell Calcite pH neutralizer is covered by a lifetime warranty on its tank and valves. We recommend hiring a professional plumber to set up the system to avoid unintentionally voiding the warranty due to improper installation.

Final Thoughts

Well owners often experience several water quality issues, including acidic water. The corrosiveness of acidic water can damage pipes and appliances and potentially introduce harmful heavy metals into your water supply. Thankfully, there’s a silver lining.

Installing an acid-neutralizing filter, such as the Springwell Calcite pH Neutralizer System, tailored for water with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, can be a practical solution. With its innovative technology, reliable flow rate, and lifetime warranty, you can address acidity issues and ensure the safety and longevity of your water system.

To learn more about this and other premium Springwell water treatment systems, please call us at 800-589-5592 or message us via online chat.