Iron Filter for Well Water: How to Remove Iron from Your Water

Iron Filter for Well Water: How to Remove Iron from Your Water

If you’re concerned about the presence of iron in your well water, you’re not alone. Iron can cause staining and discoloration, and it can be a nuisance to deal with.

A high percentage of homes in North America have some level of iron in their well water. Iron can cause staining on fixtures, laundry, and skin. It also makes water unpleasant to drink and can create problems with appliances that use water.

Fortunately, there is a solution – an iron filter for well water. Iron filters work by oxidizing dissolved iron and converting it to a solid particle. Then they filter out the iron particles to provide iron-free drinking water.

In this blog post, we discuss various methods you can use to remove iron from our water, explain how an iron filter works, and how to choose the best iron filter for your needs!

How Can I Tell If I have Iron in My Water

Iron is one of the most common water quality issues for many well owners. It can enter groundwater naturally through the weathering of minerals and rocks. The fact that it makes up five percent of Earth’s crust and can readily dissolve in groundwater, adds to its prevalence as well.

In many cases, you can’t tell if you have iron because your well water is clear. This is because iron can exist in several forms. If your water is clear, then the iron is dissolved (like sugar or salt) and can’t be seen. Dissolved iron is called ferrous iron or clear iron.

If your water is brown or rust colored, then the iron is in the form of particles called ferric iron or rust.

Signs you have iron in your waterIron stain in sink

You can tell you have iron in your well water by looking for the following signs:

  • Rust colored stains on your plumbing fixtures
  • A metallic taste to your water
  • Brown color in your clothes after washing
  • Water that is cloudy or murky

You may also see evidence of iron in your water as a red or orange tint to well water when you first draw it from the tap. If you are seeing any of these signs, it’s likely that your water has high levels of iron.

Testing for iron

The best way to determine if you have iron in your water is to have it tested. You can take a water sample to your local extension office, or you can send it in for analysis. There are also home test kits that you can purchase which will give you a general idea of the iron levels in your water.

Once you know that you have iron in your water, the next step is to decide if an iron filter for well water is right for you.

Iron Test Kit from Tap Score
The Tap Score Iron home test kit has everything you need to test your water.

Test your water

Problems with Iron in My Well Water

Iron can cause a variety of problems in well water. In the following sections, we will explore each of these issues.

1. Iron staining on fixtures

Iron stains on bathtub
Rust stains like these are the first indication of an iron problem.

One of the most noticeable problems with iron in water is staining on plumbing fixtures. You will often see it as brown or rust colored stains in your bathroom sink, toilet, and shower. It can also discolor grout and tile.

In addition to being unsightly, the stains can be difficult to remove. Often, you will need to use a special cleaner or scrubbing pad in order to get rid of them.

If the staining is severe, it may be necessary to replace your plumbing fixtures.

2. Rust-stained clothes

Iron causes a lot of problems with your laundry. Whether you have clear iron (dissolved iron) or ferric iron problems, your clothes can be ruined by the iron.

Iron can cause your clothes to look dingy and faded. In some cases, it turns everything brown or rust colored.

The problem becomes even worse if you use bleach. Bleach oxidizes iron and turns the water and your clothes brown.

3. Bad tasting water

Dissolved iron may affect the taste of your water, especially if you have a lot of iron in your water. Many people complain of a metallic taste to their water.

Low levels of iron may not be an issue.

4. Clogged or damaged appliances

When iron precipitates, it forms tiny particles of rust. These solids can accumulate in pipes and appliances, clogging them up over time.

The accumulation of rust can also damage appliances, like water heaters and dishwashers. In some cases, it can even cause them to fail prematurely.

5. Acne and skin irritation

High levels of iron in your water can cause skin irritation and acne. This is especially common when you shower or bathe with iron-rich water. If your water is also hard, then the problem is even worse because the hardness can irritate your skin.

How Do I Remove Iron from my Water

There are several treatment methods that remove iron from well water.

1. Iron filter

Iron filter system - whole house
Iron filters are the most common method used to treat well water.

The most common way to remove iron from your water is with an iron filter. Iron filters use a special media that oxidizes the iron and turns it into rust particles. These particles are trapped in the filter, so they don’t clog up plumbing or damage appliances.

Iron filters are generally the best way to remove iron from your drinking water. This article provides a lot more information about this treatment method, so continue reading.

2. Reverse osmosis

Reverse osmosis is a water treatment method that uses pressure to force water molecules through a semipermeable membrane. This membrane allows only pure water to pass through while blocking impurities, including iron.

RO systems are very effective at removing ions from water, including iron. However, iron is a problem for RO filters because it plugs the membrane. This reduces the RO filter’s ability to remove other contaminants and shortens the lifespan of the filter.

Read my article on reverse osmosis to learn more.

3. Water softener

Water softeners are very effective at removing ions like calcium and magnesium. They also remove dissolved iron from your water.

If you have low levels of iron – between 0.3 and 3 parts per million (ppm) – then a water softener would work great. Once the iron levels get above 3 ppm, the iron reduces the softener’s ability to remove hardness. With high levels of iron, you should use an iron filter and not a water softener.

Read my ultimate guide to water softeners to see if this type of treatment is right for you.

How Do Iron Filters Work

Iron filters work by oxidizing the iron in your water and turning it into rust particles. These particles are then trapped by the filter media.

  1. Oxidation: Iron that is dissolved in your water, also known as ferrous iron, must be oxidized to take it out of solution. Oxidation converts the dissolved iron into solid particles suspended in the water.
  2. Filtration: Once the iron has been converted into particles, it can be filtered out of the water. The solids (rust) are filtered to provide clear, iron-free water.

Most iron filters used for well water consist of this two-step process. They use a media like greensand to oxidize dissolved iron and convert it to iron particles. Greensand has a high iron capacity and is very effective at removing dissolved iron from water.

If the levels of iron are very high in your water, you may need an additional pre-oxidation step. This process provides additional oxidation capacity to the filter to remove all of the iron. The most commonly used pre-oxidation method is air injection upstream of the oxidation media.

Considerations When Selecting an Iron Filter

Before your install an iron filter for your well water there are several factors you should think about.

Type of filter

Iron filter system
A whole house iron filter treats all water that enters your house.

You can use either a whole-house or a point-of-use (POU) iron filter. A whole-house filter is installed on the main water line and treats all of the water that comes into your house. A POU iron filter is installed at the sink or faucet where you want to treat the water.

In most cases, you should use a whole-house iron filter to protect your plumbing and appliances from iron.

Flow rate

The flow rate is how much water the filter can process in a minute. You need to make sure that the flow rate of the filter is equal to or greater than your peak water demand. This means you need to know how much water is used at one time in your house.

Most homes on well water don’t have a meter, so you’ll have to estimate your water usage. In the United States, the average person uses about 60 gallons of water per day.

To estimate the amount of water used in your home, multiply the number of bedrooms times 150. This will give you a good estimate of the maximum flow rate (gallons per day) that you’ll need for an iron filter.

Make sure you iron filter can handle the maximum flow your family needs. Otherwise, you may find that you don’t have enough water for a long shower or heavy laundry demand.

Treatment capacity

When selecting an iron filter, you want to be certain it can remove all of the iron in your water. Iron filters are sized based on how much water they can treat and the amount of iron they can remove. You need to match the treatment requirements of your home – known as the iron demand – with the unit you install.

Does the filter also remove manganese?

Manganese is a mineral that causes similar problems to iron. High levels of manganese may cause your water to look brown and taste bad, like dissolved iron does. Manganese can also stain laundry and plumbing fixtures in much the same way as iron.

If you have high levels of manganese in your water, you should consider an iron filter that also removes manganese.

Installation location

You need to think about where you will install the iron filter. The unit must be installed in a place where it can be serviced and where the water is accessible.

The filter also needs a power source and should be installed near a drain.

Iron filters can last for years with proper maintenance, but eventually they will need to be replaced. Be sure you have these details worked out before you install your iron filter.

Sizing an Iron Filter

Properly sizing your iron filter is critical to ensure its effectiveness. You need to make sure the filter can handle the maximum flow rate of your home and that it has enough treatment capacity to remove all of the iron in your water.

Here is the step-by-step process to design and size an iron filter for your home.

Step 1 – Test your water

The first step in sizing an iron filter is to determine the iron concentration of your water. You can do this by testing your water for iron. You can use a home test kit or have a lab test your water.

Steps to take when testing your water:

Collect a representative sample of your well water. You want the water sample to be untreated. If you have a carbon filter or water softener, make sure to collect the sample upstream of these devices.

You should collect the sample first thing in the morning to ensure it is a “first draw” sample. This eliminates issues from high flow conditions that might reduce the iron concentration.

Step 2 – Determine you water usage

The next step is to determine the water usage in your home. This will help you determine the maximum flow rate for your iron filter.

To estimate the amount of water used in your home, multiply the number of bedrooms times 150. This will give you a good estimate of the water demand (gallons per day) that you’ll need for an iron filter.

Add additional capacity to account for your family’s water usage. If someone in your house takes long showers, add an additional 10% to your water requirements. If you do a lot of loads of laundry, add an additional 25%.

Remember, if you have a high demand for water, the iron filter has to work harder. The goal here is to match the size of the filter with the amount of water you use.

Step 3 – Calculate iron removal requirement

In this step, you’re matching your home’s iron removal requirements with the capacity of the iron filter. You’ll need to do a little homework here to complete this step.

Check the manufacturer’s specifications for their iron filter. Most will tell you the maximum iron concentration their filter can handle in parts per million. They also provide you with the maximum flow rate or volume the filter is rated for.

Start by finding iron filters that meet your maximum flow rate requirements. Then, look at the manufacturer’s specifications for iron removal capacity. Google is a great resource.

Pick an iron filter that meets or exceeds your home’s treatment requirements. When you’re done, you should have a filter that can:

  • treat the maximum volume of water you need on a daily basis
  • remove the highest level of iron in your water
  • have about 10 to 20% excess capacity

Installing an Iron Filter

Installing an iron filter is not a difficult process, but it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Here are some general tips for installing an iron filter:

  • The filter must be installed in a place where it can be serviced and where the water is accessible.
  • Install the filter near the main water pipe to minimize piping and cost.
  • The filter also needs a power source and should be installed near a drain.
  • Iron filters should be installed between the well and your pressure tank. The filter is designed to protect everything from iron, so make sure you remove iron upstream of as much of your pipes and components as possible.

Do-It-Yourself installation

If you’ve done plumbing work around your home – like installing a new faucet – then installing an iron filter will be relatively easy. The filter usually comes preassembled with all the parts you need, including hoses and fittings.

The installation instructions are very straightforward, but we’ve put together a few tips to make the job go a little smoother.

If you have a well, shut off the pump before starting the installation. This will prevent any water from entering the pipes while you’re working on them.

When installing the filter, make sure to use Teflon tape or pipe dope on all fittings. This will help create a tight seal and prevent leaks.

Place the filter housing near the pipes you’ll be connecting it to. Make sure you have enough room to service the filter in the future.

Double-check all connections before turning on the water. Once everything is installed and connected, turn on the pump and check for any leaks.

If you do have a leak, shut off the pump and correct the problem before continuing.

Hire a professional

Installing an iron filter can be intimidating, especially if you don’t have any plumbing skills or experience. If you’ve never worked on a plumbing project before, you might want to consider hiring a plumber.

If you’re not up to the task, hire a professional. Most plumbers can install an iron filter in about a day. If you buy your filter from a big box store, they offer installation services. Proper installation of an iron filter is critical to ensure its effectiveness.

Maintenance Requirements for Iron Filter

Once the iron filter is installed, it’s important to keep up with the required maintenance. Each iron filter is slightly different, so you need to check the manufacturer’s requirements for your system. However, they all have some common maintenance and service requirements.

Sediment filter: Many iron filters include a sediment filter to keep sand and suspended particles out of the iron filter. This filter must be cleaned or replaced on a regular basis to ensure optimal performance.

Replace the media bed: The media bed used to oxidize typically has a life of 5 to 10 years. Some filters offer more than 10-year media life, but this is unusual. Replace the media according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.

Chemical treatment: Some iron filters include a chemical treatment system that needs to be monitored and adjusted periodically.

Cost of Iron Filter

Iron filters are slightly expensive, but they can be a great investment for homeowners who have iron in their well water. The cost of an iron filter varies depending on the size and type of filter you choose.

You can expect to pay between $600 and $2,000 for a quality iron filter. Annual maintenance costs typically run between $50 and $200, so the total cost of ownership is about the same as a water softener.


Is an iron filter the same as a water softener?

No. Iron filters and water softeners work in different ways to treat your water. An iron filter removes iron from the water by oxidizing it and then filtering it out. A water softener uses ion exchange to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium that cause hard water.

Do iron filters also remove manganese?

Some iron filters can also remove manganese from the water, but this depends on the type of media used. Most iron filters work by oxidizing the iron and then filtering the solid particles from the water. Greensand is an oxidizing media that effectively removes both iron and manganese from well water. If you have a greensand iron filter, then it will also remove manganese from your well water.

Do I need to install a sediment filter before my iron filter?

Sediment filters can improve performance for some systems. If you have a large amount of sand in your water, then you may want to install a sediment filter before the iron filter. This will keep suspended particles out of the iron filter and prolong media life.

How do iron filters work?

Iron filters work by oxidizing the iron in well water and then filtering it out. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that changes the properties of an object. In this case, the oxidation of iron changes it from a soluble form to an insoluble form. This makes it easier to filter out of the water.

Final Take

If you have been experiencing problems with iron in your well water, a whole-house iron filter may be the solution for you. We’ve outlined some considerations when selecting an iron filter and how to size and install one, as well as the maintenance requirements. The cost of an iron filter can vary depending on the type and size of system you choose, but they are a more affordable option than having to drill a new well or haul in bottled water.

We hope you found this article helpful.

Chief Guru

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. You can also follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

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