Iron in well water is the main culprit behind red/brown stains on your appliances, toilets, laundry, and faucets. Accompanied by hardness causing minerals (calcium & magnesium), iron in water can be a real pain.
Since most private wells contain iron, calcium & magnesium, homeowners are interested in knowing if a water softener can also remove iron from well water. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about the iron removal capabilities of a water softener.
Do Water Softeners Remove Iron from Well Water?
The answer to this question depends on the following factors.
- Water softener’s ability to remove iron
- The concentration of iron in well water
- Type of water; soft or hard
- Type of iron; soluble or insoluble
Let’s read more about these four facts!
Water Softener’s Ability to Remove Iron
A water softener’s main task is to remove calcium and magnesium from well water. These minerals are responsible for scale and deposits on your appliances, faucets, toilets, and plumbing.
Some manufacturers design their softeners to remove iron from well water. The system runs on an ion exchange process. Iron ions move from higher to lower concentrations. The same process happens with calcium and magnesium ions.
A water softener can remove up to 6-8 PPM iron from well water. The problem arises when the softener fails to get iron out of the resin bed during regeneration. When iron is oxidized by air, it forms a sticky and gelatinous material that tends to attach to the beads or particles in the softener bed. This sticky material is not completely removed even with a thorough backwash.
This accumulation results in a gradual decrease in the softener’s hardness removal capabilities. It will force you to replace resin media more often, and your salt-based water softener will need frequent maintenance.
The concentration of Iron in Well Water
Iron level in well water is usually below 10 parts per million (PPM). The average iron concentration reported by private well users lies between 4-8 PPM. A water softener with iron removal capabilities usually removes iron up to 6-8 PPM.
You will need dedicated iron filters to remove iron above 6 PPM. Even whole house water filters for well water cannot remove iron above 4-6 PPM.
However, some states in the US have abnormally high levels of iron in well water. Wells in Wisconsin have up to 10 PPM iron, whereas most private well owners in Idaho have reported up to
Type of Water
A salt-based water softener will only remove iron from hard water. If you are using a water softener to remove iron from soft water, it will not remove iron. For such situations, a whole house filter for iron removal or a RO system is recommended for drinking water filtration.
Type of Iron
Iron must be dissolved in water for a water softener to remove it. Insoluble iron is carried in the water supply without being chemically bonded. A sediment filter can only remove this type of iron. Hence, well water experts recommend installing a whole house sediment filter before your home’s water softener or other filtration systems.
Water Softeners with Iron Removal Capabilities
Iron Filtration Capacity: 6 PPM
AFWFilter’s iron pro 2 iron filter and water softener is best for homes with iron levels below 6 PPM. Apart from iron, it can also remove manganese (6 PPM) from well water.
The water softening capacity is 64,000 grains. You can use this softener to remove water with hardness above 60 PPM. Overall, it is an excellent softener to remove iron from well water.
The only problem with this filter is that you will need to install a sediment filter before it. Many users mention that water quality improved after installing this softener.
Iron Filtration Capacity: 6-8 PPM
Fleck’s iron blaster water softener is more powerful regarding iron removal capacity. The manufacturer has stated a maximum iron removal capacity of 8 PPM. This fact is supported by many user reviews that mention a significant improvement in water quality after installing this unit.
Its water softening capacity is 48,000 grains. This unit is recommended for small to medium-sized homes using well water or getting water supply from a community well.
The maximum flow rate is 10 gallons per minute. It can run 2-3 bathrooms and a home with 4-5 inhabitants.
Drawbacks of using a Water Softener to remove Iron from Well Water
Limited Filtration Capacity: A water softener with iron removal has limited capacity. A softener can remove iron up to 6-8 PPM. If the system is exposed to iron above this capacity, its working will degrade, resulting in the resin bed going bad. Hence, getting your water tested for iron concentration before installing a water softener is vital.
Frequent Salt Replacement: The softening salt will have to be replaced more often if you use a water softener to remove iron from well water. Some softeners may require special iron removing salts for iron removal. This leads to an increased ongoing maintenance cost.
Iron Bacteria Growth: A water softener will not eliminate iron completely from well water. The residual iron can promote the growth of iron bacteria, compromising water quality and leaving surface stains. Hence, well owners must get the water tested annually to ensure it is free from bacteria.
Other Methods to Remove Iron from Well Water
Sediment Filter: Insoluble iron, also known as ferric iron, can be conveniently removed using a sediment filter. Sediment filters also remove well water’s sand, dirt, debris, and cloudiness.
Oxidation Filters: Oxidation filters are best for removing soluble iron in water. Soluble iron is often called ferrous iron. Oxidation filters look like water softeners but differ in the mechanism. Oxidation filters are capable of removing iron up to 15 PPM.
KDF Filters: KDF filters are often a part of whole house waters used for well water. KDF filets effectively remove iron from well water but up to a limited concentration (3-6 PPM).
Shock Chlorination for Bacterial Iron: Bacterial iron is the toughest and most difficult to remove. It doesn’t cause any disease but creates conditions where other diseases-causing organisms can grow rapidly. Iron bacteria can clog your well pump, plumbing fixtures, and form a damp red residue in the toilet bowl and tank. Shock chlorination is the best way to kill iron bacteria from well water. It is a labor-intensive method but gives excellent results.
You can also install a chlorinator to kill iron bacteria in well water if you have a recurring bacterial iron problem. Please note that chlorination adds a chlorine taste and smell to the water.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can a water conditioner (salt-free water softener) remove iron from well water?
It depends on the type of water conditioner. Some water conditioners have additional filtration stages that remove iron, manganese, sulfur, and other contaminants from well water.
2. Where should I install a water softener?
A water softener is typically installed after a sediment filter or a special iron removal filter. A whole house filtration system with a water softener and iron filter is installed after the sediment filter or the point where water enters your home if you don’t have a sediment filter.
3. How does iron enter well water?
Iron enters well water from the earth’s crust. Iron is the most abundant element on earth. Heavy rainfall dissolves iron in the soil. Melted snow seeps into groundwater supplies and introduces iron into well water supplies.
Iron also enters the water through the rusted and corroded plumbing system. Damaged well casing and well cap can also cause iron contamination.
A water softener can remove iron from well water but only up to a certain concentration. If you plan to use your water softener for iron removal, ensure you get the well water tested for iron. You will also need to frequently maintain your water softener if you remove iron.