Last Updated on December 14, 2022 by Mattias
Does your water have a metallic taste? Is the water clear from your faucet but turns yellow or red upon standing? Does the water leave ugly yellow, red, or brown iron stains on your laundry or plumbing fixtures?
Well then, my friend, you got an iron problem. High levels of iron will affect your water quality, which you don’t want.
In this article, we’ll go through if a standard water softener can make high iron levels go down, the different types of iron, and the best way to get rid of iron in your water supply.
Do Water Softeners Remove Iron?
A water softener can remove small amounts of iron, but not all of the iron. The best and most effective method for removing iron is to use an iron filter.
Getting an iron stain only takes 0.3 parts per million (PPM). But how much is that?
About one grain of sand dissolved in 0,26 gallons of water / 1 liter of water. So even small quantities of iron can cause stains and problems in your household.
Your water softener system is an expert in making hard water into soft water, but removing iron becomes tricky….at least when we’re talking about high levels.
Because the typical water softener does a pretty good job of removing iron when it comes to soluble or ferrous iron. But it can’t take care of the iron in the ferric state. That iron will pass through.
As water treatment experts, we often hear from people with water softeners that they’re still getting iron stains. And they still see iron stains on their water heater, tap, or other household appliances.
That’s a sign of converted ferric iron in the water before it enters the water softeners, and it’s going right through.
A basic water softener contains resin beads, which are made for removing hard minerals like magnesium and calcium through an ion exchange process. The salt from the water softener flushes these out, but excess iron remains in the water and travels around in your system.
Read also: 12 Best Kitchen Faucets For Hard Water + Buyers Guide
How to Detect Iron In Your Water
If the water is red or yellow colored, it’s a sign that iron is present. By using a DIY iron test kit, you can get an indication of how much iron your water contains. This is measured in PPM of iron or mg/L.
Some types of iron that are invisible to the naked eye can leave stains on surfaces that frequently are exposed to high iron water.
Read also: Will Water Softener Water Kill Plants?
How does Iron get into the Water?
Iron gets into your tap water by percolating into the groundwater from the earth’s crust and exposure to old rusty pipes in your home’s system.
When it rains, a significant amount of iron dissolves and goes through the soil, then enters the underground aquifers and the groundwater supply.
If you use well water, this is probably because iron gets into your home’s water.
When iron is exposed to water and oxygen, it may oxidize and convert into rust. Homes that got plumping fixtures and pipes of iron are more vulnerable to getting rust.
When the water flows through a rusty water system with corroded pipes, small pieces of rust break off and enter the water supply.
Three Main Types Of Iron
Getting problems with high iron can be frustrating, at least, all from brown stains to a brine tank that needs to be cleaned or a toilet tank with bacterial iron.
The type of iron comes in a soluble state, meaning it’s resolved and in solution. Let’s say you pour a glass of water with dissolved iron in it, the water will be crystal clear (Ferrous iron).
But when it oxidizes, it becomes Ferric iron. Now it’s in a solid state, which means it’s a filterable particulate. The third most common iron is organic iron, also called bacterial iron.
Bacterial iron is when the bacteria bond with the iron and create a nasty, slimy thing that is very hard to eliminate.
So, the three forms of iron are:
First on the list is Ferrous Iron, also called “clear water iron” because the water comes out as clear but turns red or brown after a little while. Ferrous is a visible and soluble iron.
Second is the Ferric Iron, also called “red water iron”, because the water comes out as brown or red.
Mostly it’s yellow or brown, but it can also be colorless.
Read also: How To Remove Hard Water Stains From Toilet
How To Remove Iron From Water
To remove iron from your water, the first step is to understand what form the iron is in.
Sometimes the iron can be in both forms (ferric and ferrous).
Does your water have a tint to it? Because if it has, that means that some of that iron is already out of solution in the ferric form.
The good news is that this is filterable. By using a sediment filter, you can probably capture that.
But you also wanna know if there’s any ferrous iron left in the solution.
You can easily find out about this by doing a simple iron test.
But you must understand the importance of that level of iron. Because if it’s in solution, you have to do something to turn it into a ferric form or capture the iron while it’s in the ferrous state.
Let’s assume that you don’t have any tint in your water and that all of the iron is in the soluble or ferrous form. You might get that iron out with an iron exchange water softener.
It’s one of the cations, and the iron will be attracted to the resin in the water softener.
And as long as you got enough water hardness to have a nice ratio between hardness and iron, you’ll remove the presence of iron very well. That’s the easiest and most effective solution to get it out.
But sometimes, we recommend an oxidizing filter to remove the iron.
When the iron is in the ferrous form, you can oxidize it into the ferric form, converting it into a solid. Then it’s filterable.
Sometimes we often recommend a media called Birm. Birm is an oxidizing media that doesn’t require an oxidizing agent but requires a high PH level and a high level of dissolved oxygen.
You can mix calcite with Birm to ensure that the PH level is increased. By doing this, you’re helping the ferrous iron become ferric iron instead.
Lastly, you have a variety of iron filters at your disposal. The filters use some kind of oxidizing agent to help you convert the iron into ferric and capture it in the media.
Ofen a media called KDF is used, a metallic type of media. KDF is good at creating the oxidizing chemical reaction needed to convert iron.
As long as you’re not dealing with much water or a high flow rate, these are very good at doing the job.
Read also: 9 Reasons Why Your Softened Water Tastes Salty
What is Iron Bacteria?
Have you ever lifted the top of the tank on the back of your toilet and seen some slimy stuff floating around in the water? That’s iron bacteria.
The bacteria may not be a big health concern, but it can cause problems in your household like:
- Bad taste and odor in your water
- Clog up your water softener
- Iron stains
Can a Carbon Filter remove Iron?
Yes, it can, but the safest way to ensure that enough iron is removed is by setting up a full system since the carbon filter alone will probably not be enough.
Can Salt-based Water Softeners Remove Iron?
A salt-based water softener has some ability to remove iron, but if you got high iron concentrations in your home. A full system is needed.
Read also: 10 Signs Of Hard Water On Hair And Why You Should Fix It
Does A Water Softener Remove Iron Summary
I hope you enjoyed us answering if a water softener can remove iron.
As you discovered, a water softener can remove “some of the iron,” but a full system might be the best choice when dealing with higher iron content.
But always start with measuring your iron, since a system can cost you quite much.
If you have high levels of iron, a full system is worth the money, but if you got low levels and can manage without a full system, you should.
Meet Mattias Jonsson, the head of content at RainSaucers. Passionate about gardening and water-related topics, he’s dedicated to providing expert information and resources to help improve your home, health, and wallet. Learn from his research and experience.