How Does Iron Get Into Well Water

How to Remove Iron from Well Water Naturally (& Cheaply)

Iron is one of the most common contaminants that well owners have to deal with. To help you figure out a way to get rid of it, this article discusses how iron gets into your well water, why you need to get rid of it, and some methods to remove it naturally and affordably.

How Does Iron Get Into Well Water?

Iron is one of the most commonly found minerals in the soil. It constitutes over 5% of the Earth’s crust. As rainwater percolates through the soil or snow melts and seeps through the soil, the water dissolves some iron. As such, when digging a well, the water will inevitably contain iron.

Also, iron can enter your water system through a rusty plumbing system. Therefore, it is crucial to properly maintain your well casings and plumbing to prevent rusting and iron contamination. If they are rusted, remove and install new ones to minimize the chances of water contamination.

well water

Signs Your Well Water Has Iron

Even without testing the iron content levels in your well water, there are some obvious indicators of its presence. These include:

  • A metallic taste might also be evident in beverages or foods cooked with the well water
  • Potatoes, coffee, or tea cooked with the water turn black
  • Red, brown, or yellow water color
  • Red, brown, or yellow stains in appliances, fittings, dishes, or laundry
  • A brown slug on top of resin beads in a water softener
  • Clogged plumbing pipe and water appliances such as pumps, water softeners, and dishwashers, among others

How to Detect Iron in Well Water

If the neighboring wells have a high level of iron, your well will likely have a high level of iron too. But, it could have a different level too.

The best way to know the concentration of iron in your well water is by carrying out a test.

You may do it on your own using water test kits or have an expert water specialist do it.

If the iron levels in your water are too high, consider other sources of water or drill a new well. High iron concentration can be expensive and difficult to remove, and you might not be able to get rid of the iron completely.

What Are the Effects of Water that Contains Iron?

Water containing iron can cause clogging, leaching, rusting, and corrosion of the plumbing system, water fittings, and appliances such as water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, grills, and faucets.

Even small amounts (0.3g/l) of iron in your well water can cause extensive damage to your plumbing system and appliances. You might notice yellow stains in the faucets and toilet or that your plumping pipes rust too soon.

Does Well Water with Iron Pose Any Risk to Your Health?

According to the EPA, the recommended iron levels in drinking water should be 0.3mg/l or below. Furthermore, the EPA categorizes iron as a secondary contaminant – these are contaminants that affect the aesthetics of the water but may not be dangerous to consume.

Although iron is a vital mineral in the human body, the type found in well water does not have bioavailability for absorption through the digestion system. In fact, it can cause digestive tract issues and toxicity. It can also damage and cause a discoloration of the skin and hair when used to shower.

On average, most untreated well water has an iron level of about 10mg/L, making it unsafe for human consumption. Besides, iron causes water to have a metallic taste and to become yellowish or brownish. Ultimately, it is better to remove it from your water.

Ancient Well Used

Natural and Cheap Methods of Removing Iron from Well Water

Below are some methods you can use to remove iron from your well water. Some are simple, easy, and cheap, while others require specialized equipment.


This is an accessible and inexpensive way of removing iron from water, but it may not be highly effective. It involves letting water sit for a while in a storage vessel such as a pot, tank, or bucket.

If the water contains sediments of insoluble ferric iron particles, they settle at the bottom of the storage vessel. You can then decant the water in to separate container.

This method does not work for the water-soluble ferrous iron or the complex organic. It is also cumbersome and not suitable for large amounts of water.

Sediment Filter

A sediment filter effectively removes solid particulates from the water, including debris and dirt. For iron removal, go for a sediment filter with a small micron rating to capture insoluble iron.

String-wound sediment filters have proven to be quite effective in removing ferric iron and bacteria iron. Installing a sediment filter will not eliminate the iron problem if the water has ferrous iron.

Activated Charcoal Filtration

Activated charcoal will remove ferric iron and get rid of a wide range of contaminants, odor, and bad taste from the well water. It works best for low iron concentration. Activated charcoal is readily and cheaply available in most water treatment stores.

To remove the iron, place a clean piece of cloth over the activated charcoal and then pour the water through.

Iron Water Filter

This method works for well water with an iron concentration of 2-3mg/L. The iron water filter can be combined with a water softener to also resolve water hardness.

Typically, the iron filters available on the market incorporate a three-stage filtration system as follows:

  • First filter. It is multi-layered to remove ferric iron while minimizing pressure loss.
  • Second filter. This is a carbon block made of coconut shell carbon, which maximizes the filtration efficiency of any ferric iron still in the water.
  • Third filter. It can lower iron levels from 3 to 0.01ppm.

Oxidation Filter

This is an effective method of removing ferrous iron and ferric iron from well water. It is best suited for low to average water volume and flow rate. It works well even for high iron concentration levels of up to 10ppm.

Its main operation mechanism is oxidizing the soluble ferrous iron into insoluble ferric iron, which can then be filtered out of the water. In the oxidation filter, water is pumped through an oxidizing agent.

The oxidized water is then retained in a separate tank for at least 20 minutes to allow the iron to precipitate and settle.

Different types of oxidizing agents are used in the various oxidation filters, including BIRM, KDF, or manganese greensand. For the best results, oxidation should be coupled up with filtration to remove the sediments.

Air Injection/Aeration

This method works effectively for extremely high iron levels of up to 30ppm. The technique is such that pressurized air is passed through well water to oxidize ferrous iron into the insoluble ferric iron, which can be easily filtered out.

There are different types of aerators on the market to choose from with different configurations at different price ranges.

A water well in a field full of grass..

Can a Water Softener Remove Iron from Well Water?

It depends on the iron concentration in the water. A water softener is mainly designed to resolve water hardness by removing calcium and magnesium minerals through an ion exchange process.

However, if the iron level in the water is low, the water softener ion exchange process may be able to remove it. The water softener only gets rid of soluble iron as ferric iron sails through the resin beads.

On the other hand, if the iron level is too high, it may damage the water softener. Organic iron causes the water filter to clog. Many water treatment experts recommend against using water softeners for iron removal as it may not be effective and could end up damaging the device.

Regularly cleaning your water filter media with a rust removal solution will help to preserve the resin beads.

Can Reverse Osmosis Remove Iron from Well Water?

Yes, this method works for low levels of iron, such as 0.05 ppm and below. Otherwise, higher levels of iron will cause the reverse osmosis membrane to foul. Reverse Osmosis is more effective and efficient as a method of purifying drinking water.

Factors to Consider When Determining the Appropriate Method for Removing Iron from Well Water

Forms of Iron in Well Water

This is an important factor to consider as different forms of iron require different iron-removal methods. There are four main forms of iron in well water, as discussed below.

Ferrous Iron

Also known as clean-water iron. If present, the water coming out of the faucet is usually clear, but it may turn brown or red when left to stand in a container.

This type of iron cannot be removed through filtration as it gets past the iron removal filter. The most effective method of getting rid of ferrous iron is oxidation or aeration into ferric iron and then filtration.

Ferric Iron

This form is also known as red-water iron or insoluble iron. It gives water a permanent red or yellow hue. It can be removed through sediment filtration.

Organic Iron

The tap water may either be colorless, yellow, or brown. This form of iron is heavy and causes severe staining in laundry, water appliances, and fittings. Water produced by very shallow wells often contains organic iron.

It is formed when organic matter reacts with the naturally occurring acid in the ground. It is difficult to remove from the water and requires complex techniques and configurations.

Iron Bacteria

This type of iron forms when bacteria bind with iron, causing the water to be slimy and foul-smelling. Often, the bacteria are introduced to the well and water system during maintenance, particularly if the well and the surrounding plumbing system are not sanitized.

Iron bacteria can be quite difficult to eliminate as it clogs up most iron removal devices such as water softeners and sediment filters. The best way to deal with it is shock chlorination of the entire depth of the well and plumbing pipes.

This causes the bacteria to separate from the iron, which allows you to focus on getting rid of the iron. If the bacteria iron remains even after a shock chlorination treatment, you may need to constantly chlorinate the water. However, this method can cause the water to become slimier and reddish in color.

It is common to find different forms of iron in your well water, which would require that you apply different iron removal methods. While there are obvious signs that indicate the type of iron in your well water, it is best to test the water using test trips to confirm which type is present.

Concentration of Iron in the Water

Before choosing an iron removal method, it is advisable to determine the amount of iron in the water. You can either take a sample of the water to a water testing facility near you or use DIY test kits such as titration tests or test strips.

Whether There Are Other Water Treatment Systems in Place

If your plumbing system already has different water treatment devices in place, they may be sufficient for iron removal, or you might need to adjust the entire system.

For instance, if you already have a sediment filter in place, it will remove ferric iron, and you can figure out which device to put for removing ferrous, organic, and bacteria iron.

Your Budget

While some iron removal methods and devices are relatively simple and cheap, others are complex and expensive. For instance, activated charcoal and sedimentation methods are relatively affordable. On the other hand, an iron filter and air injection filter ranges between a few hundred dollars up to a thousand dollars.


Iron in well water is more damaging than beneficial even in low concentrations. The first step towards effectively removing iron from your well water is to test the tap water to determine the levels and type therein.

The next step is to determine the methods that you can use to get rid of the iron. It is best to work with water treatment specialists to come up with the most effective method and configuration for removing iron from your well water.

Amanda Perkins

Amanda began her career as a technical writer for a healthcare group in 2008. Years after getting married and starting a family, she joined her husband Joshua on the Water Filter Authority journey to educate other families and households about safe, affordable, and effective water filtration systems.