The Significance of Iron: Good in Your Body, Bad in Your Water

Iron is all around us: beneath our feet in the ground, inside every cell in our bodies and even in some of the air we breathe. It’s the second most common metal in the earth’s crust, and yet 25 percent of the world’s population suffers anemia from not ingesting enough of it. Given this fact, it may seem like a good thing to have iron in the water you drink. While iron is essential to our health and well-being, however, we should get most of this nutrient from the foods we eat rather than from our drinking water. Here’s why you may need a water filtration system.

water filtration system: iron in your water

Iron Causes Problems in Your Household Water System

When rainwater seeps down through the ground, it dissolves iron from the soil and carries it into the aquifer. If you get your water from a private well, this may be the reason for its high iron content. Iron also finds its way into water systems when pipes are made of cast iron, steel, or galvanized iron. Iron in your water tends to take one of two forms:

Soluble Ferrous Iron

This compound occurs when iron is completely dissolved in water that does not contain extra oxygen. Well water is especially prone to soluble ferrous iron, because underground aquifers may have very little oxygen. Ferrous iron is not visible, but it introduces an unpleasant metallic taste to the water. It also combines with the tannins in tea and coffee to make a blackish color and a bad taste. When you fill a glass with water containing dissolved ferrous iron, you may notice the clear water gradually turning cloudy. This is because some of the ferrous iron is combining with the oxygen in the air to produce ferric iron compounds (below).

Insoluble Ferric Iron

This oxidized form of iron doesn’t dissolve in water; it makes water look cloudy or reddish brown because tiny particles of it are actually suspended in the water. Concentrations of ferric iron as low as 3/10 of a milligram per liter can cause rust buildup on your plumbing fixtures and staining on your laundry. When the buildup becomes large enough, your water system can develop blockages and the water itself can appear rusty brown when it comes out of the faucet. Like dissolved ferrous iron, ferric iron particles add a distinctly metallic taste to your drinking water.

Iron-Fixing Bacteria

Certain types of bacteria use dissolved iron to help them break down organic materials in the reservoir or water supply. Given the right environmental conditions, these bacteria can multiply and clog your plumbing with the oily slime they produce. This smelly sludge creates far worse plumbing problems than ferric iron by itself, and it can become so abundant that it completely blocks hose nozzles and water outlets.

Bad Taste

When levels of iron in water get too high, the result is a harsh metallic taste. This holds true for plain water as well as any beverages you make with the tap water. As a matter of fact, the components in coffee, tea or mixed drinks can actually react further with dissolved ferrous iron and cause it to precipitate out into small rust particles. Iron also gives vegetables or other soft foods a harsh taste if heavily rinsed or steamed in the water.


As mentioned above, surprisingly low concentrations of iron can cause reddish-brown stains on laundry as well as on sinks, tubs, tiles and so forth. These stains are extremely permanent, and home repair experts warn that if the rust problem is chronic, the stains become impossible to remove. Over time, the iron actually etches the porcelain of the sink and becomes a permanent part of its surface.

So How Can I Get the Iron Out of My Water?

That’s the key question, especially if you get your water from a well. Because underground aquifers leach iron out of the earth’s crust as rain seeps into them, well water systems are more prone to elevated levels of iron and manganese than municipal systems. Well water systems are also more vulnerable to the presence of iron-fixing bacteria.

An Iron Filter for Well Water Solves the Problem

Typically, the best treatment is an iron-specific filtration system, which provides several successive stages of purification. The first stage is a filter that removes tiny particles of insoluble ferric iron and any other sediment in your water. This filter also has a core that inhibits the growth of iron bacteria and algae. The next stage is an iron reduction cartridge that removes the invisible ferrous iron component from the water, as well as dissolved manganese. The final stage removes chlorine, chemicals and any off-odors from the water, leaving it perfectly clean tasting. This is important, because if you have had a significant problem with iron bacteria, you may have to introduce chlorine into the water system to kill off the colonies. (The primary DIY solution to iron bacteria is to chlorinate the line and then back-flush it for a few hours.)

If you get your water from a well, it’s essential to maintain your system and keep it as clean as possible. Making sure you filter out unwanted elements like excess iron and the bacteria that utilize it will result in a longer life for your appliances and cleaner, tastier drinking water in your home.

Quiz: Which water filtration system is right for you?

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