Tannins in Florida Waterways and How to Remove Them from Your Drinking Water

Florida is one of the few places in America with a plentiful source of groundwater. Groundwater wells provide over 92% of the water residents statewide use for consumption and domestic purposes. But, unfortunately, the Sunshine State has a long history of water quality issues, from lead and nitrate contamination to harmful algal blooms and toxic bacterial-infested sludges of dead insects and animals. But among these issues is a phenomenon that’s been a part of the state’s waterways for thousands of years but has not been discussed as much as, say, water hardness or iron content.

Today, many of Florida’s freshwater rivers, lakes, and creeks produce yellow, brown, or amber-colored water. Some homeowners report that after filling a glass with tap water at home, it resembles a summer pitcher of grandma’s infamous unsweetened ice tea. While this unusual color is often mistaken for dirt or iron contamination, it usually occurs from a natural process that involves breaking down organic materials like leaves, roots, and barks and leaching out compounds called “tannins” into the soil. The water in the soil becomes rich with tannins and seeps into the groundwater that serves water wells. From there, the tannins can make their way into your tap water, mainly if your home’s water comes from a shallow well located in a swampy or coastal area.

If you’re one of the 42 million Americans whose drinking water comes from a private well, you may have encountered the unappealing effects tannins can have on your water supply. Although they are considered an aesthetic issue, they can leave your water with a distasteful color, a musty smell, and a terrible taste. And if left treated, they can have a significant effect on your laundry and cause many other water-related issues in your household. That’s why today we’re discussing the issue of tannins in tap water, their effects, and the best method to remove them from drinking water. Let’s start by defining tannins.

What are Tannins?

Tannins are natural, organic plant materials released as a byproduct of fermentation or water passing through decaying vegetation or swampy soil. These compounds are commonly found in surface water supplies (lakes, rivers, swamps, etc.) and shallow wells. However, water in marshy, low-lying, or coastal areas is also susceptible to tannins.

How Does Tannins Change Water Color?

If you heard about “tannins” before, it has likely been in the context of winemaking (or tasting). In winemaking, tannins in grape skins, stems, and seeds are released when the grapes are pressed. Thus, the longer the grape materials are left to soak in the grape juice after pressing, the more tannins are released into the juice, giving red wine its distinctive, rich color. Similarly, when water is added to the cup with a teabag and passes through the tiny tea leaves inside the teabag, the tannin molecules in the teabag dissolve and change the water’s color to green, black, golden-brown, or peach.

The same principle applies to tannins in well water. The water in an aquifer that supplies your water well can pass through peaty soil or decaying vegetation on its way downward. As it flows over and around these organic compounds towards your well, it collects and absorbs particles along the way (similar to how the grape juice absorbs the tannins from the seeds and stems). If the water collects a high number of tannins, the water supplied to your home from the well may begin to take on a light yellow or brown color, a musty odor, and an astringent taste, depending on the amount of decaying matter it came in contact with.

Are Tannins in water harmful?

Water containing tannins does not present a health or safety concern when consumed (thank heavens!), but it can cause some headache-inducing problems in the home.

Besides giving your drinking water a bitter, tangy, or tart aftertaste that impacts your homemade beverages and meals and a musty or earthy odor, there are several other issues associated with tannins in water:

  • Water discoloration and permanent staining: Tannins may create a light yellow or dark brown tint in the water. This tea-like color works similar to dye, leaving your whites permanently yellow and dingy after a few washes. In higher concentrations, porcelain fixtures and dinnerware can also fall victim to permanent, dingy staining.
  • Bad for some fish and other aquatic animals: Tannins also tend to bind minerals in the water, softening it, lowering the pH, hardness, and alkalinity. That means if you use tannin-contaminated water to fill your aquariums, the water’s acidity could stress fish that cannot thrive under such conditions.
  • Toxic chlorine byproducts: Tannins can also react with chlorine in chlorine-treated water to form new compounds called disinfection byproducts (in this case, trichloromethane, a suspected carcinogen).
  • Terrible odor: When natural organic materials from the ground seep down cracks in the bedrock and get into the well, they may impart a skunk cabbage or pig-manure type of smell. And since tannins can travel easily from surface water to your groundwater source, chances are it’s also easy for pathogens and other contaminants to do the same.
  • May damage home water treatment devices: Tannins can also interfere with the equipment used to treat other water problems. For example, the resins or media in iron filters, cation exchange filters, and neutralizing filters can become coated by the tannins and may no longer work properly.
  • May hinder effective water disinfection: Tannins can affect water clarity and are easily oxidized. Thus, they’re likely to affect standard disinfection methods, like UV and chlorination.
  • May encourage bacteria growth: Water that contains tannins may be a haven for bacteria.
  • Tannins in water could indicate surface water intrusion, and hence, the presence of other types of potentially dangerous contaminants. Surface water can reach a drilled well because the casing seal is separated from the bedrock, a vein has opened up, or from a leak in the casing pipe. It can also occur depending on the local geography.
  • They may bind with iron in water, making them harder to remove.

Does my water supply contain Tannins?

If a well supplies water to your home, you may be wondering if your water is affected by tannins but haven’t had it professionally tested yet. If that’s the case, you can try an easy, at-home experiment to narrow things down.

Fill a glass of water from your tap and let it sit overnight. In the morning, if the discoloration is more concentrated at the bottom of the glass, the off-color is likely a result of iron or manganese. This is because these heavier particles will settle at the bottom of the glass as the water sits. However, if the discoloration is uniform and consistent in the morning, the water may contain tannins. A water test by a certified laboratory will be able to provide more accurate results, though.

If you are testing your water for tannins only, we recommend testing for bacteria, iron, alkalinity, sulfates, total dissolved solids (TDS), and hardness as well. These tests may help determine what treatment method(s) will be most effective for your particular situation.

A Watercheck Testing Kit from the National Testing Laboratories, Ltd., is an excellent option as it is designed for homeowners whose drinking water comes from a private well or spring. This water testing package contains everything you need to identify irregularities in your well water, testing for 75 or more common contaminants, including:

  • Tannins
  • Inorganic chemicals (including nitrates and fluoride)
  • Heavy metals (including iron, arsenic, uranium, and mercury)
  • VOCs (including TCE, MTBE, and PCE)
  • Bacteria (the presence or absence of Total Coliform and E. Coli)
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs)
  • Physical characteristics (including Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), hardness, turbidity, and pH)

If you want a more thorough examination of your water quality, we recommend the Water Test Kit option. It is a complete version of the standard kit, adding 2o pesticides, herbicides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This Pesticide kit also comes from the National Testing Laboratories, Ltd., one of the industry’s most recognized laboratories.

If you’re ready to take the guesswork out of your well-water quality, order the testing kit, mail them the sample, and receive your in-depth report within days.

How to Remove Tannins from Water

Tannins in water can be a headache to treat because of how they contaminate water. That’s because the specific vegetation that released the tannins, the time the water was exposed to the decaying material, and the concentration of the material all factor into how a particular solution is prescribed. Despite that, one of the most effective ways to treat tannins in water is filtration.

A tannin filtration system is unique because it works similarly to a water softener than a filter. Usually, the tannin filter has two tanks, the media tank with a control valve at the top and a brink tank that houses the salt. The media tank is filled with small tiny white beads that filter out the tannins through mechanical filtration, ion exchange, and adsorption.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the tannin filtration process works:

  1. As the water passes through the bed of tiny white beads, the beads attract and hold the particles that make up the tannins, leaving the water tannin-free.
  2. Eventually, the media becomes saturated with tannins and needs to regenerate by removing the tannins attached to them. That way, the media can remove more tannins from the water. At this point, the system must initiate a regeneration cycle to clean the beads in the media tank, recharge them and prepare them to filter more water. This is where the brine tank comes in. Some tannin filters have onboard computers that calculate the amount of water that has flowed through the system. When it reaches the preprogrammed setting, regeneration automatically begins. Older-style tannin filters use a timer-based process that initiates the regeneration process after a specified time. Newer models track the actual water usage and use it to determine when it’s time for regeneration.
  3. Next, the system performs a backwashing cycle to wash the tannin particles down the drain.

The Best Water Filter to Remove Tannins from Water

If the bitter taste, stained clothes, and musty smell that accompany your well water have started to hit a nerve, it’s time to take action to remove tannins from your water for good.

We recommend investing in an innovative and affordable tannin filter system like the Springwell STR Softener and Tannin Removal System. This all-in-one whole-house system packs a state-of-the-art salt-based water softener and an efficient tannin removal filter in a single system to remove hardness and tannins in your water, respectively. That means you won’t have to purchase separate units to achieve the same results. Plus, because the STR system has a single-tank configuration, it won’t occupy as much space. As a result, it will also have a significantly lesser environmental impact.

If your water comes from a private well, you will also benefit from the STR’s exceptional water softening performance. The system also targets and eliminates hardness minerals in drinking water, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, etc. You can also add our UV Water Purifier Add-On to the combo system to eliminate disease-causing and non-pathogenic microbes potentially lurking in your drinking water.

Furthermore, our STR system is virtually maintenance-free. It has an innovative Bluetooth Head that gives you complete control over the system’s settings with the touch of a button on your Bluetooth-enabled mobile device. With this feature, you can adjust system settings, such as regeneration, backwash cycles, timing, and more. It will also help save thousands of gallons of water every year.

When you purchase any of our filtration systems, you get a lifetime warranty on all parts, a six-month money-back guarantee, free shipping, over 50% in factory-direct savings, and much more. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us today at 800-589-5592 or send us a message via our contact page.

Final Thoughts

If your water looks like Coke or tea or smells musty or earthy, tannins may be lurking in your drinking water. While tannins aren’t a health hazard, they can cause a host of problems in the household, from stained clothes and laundry to increased bacteria presence. With a reliable water test, you should be able to confirm if tannins are the problem. And if they are, you can install our Tannin Softener System to remove tannins and hardness from your well water or city water once and for all.