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Live in the city? If your home’s plumbing system runs on tap water, iron probably isn’t an issue. For those who receive water from a well, iron is a much more significant concern. While levels of iron have to be incredibly high to pose a risk of toxicity, even a moderately high concentration can make your water taste and smell less than fresh.
You know those reddish stains at the bottom of your bathtub and sink? Iron is the most likely culprit. In addition to causing unsightly stains, it can also harm your household appliances and cause extra wear and tear on your water treatment equipment.
But don’t worry! There are countless options for getting rid of iron, from premium iron filters to softeners. Read on to find the best option for you and your budget, and to learn how to remove iron from well water in the most efficient manner.
Best Iron Filter for Well Water Toplist
This is our iron water filter toplist:
|Iron Level & Type
|AFWFilters AIS10-25SXT Air Injection Iron Filter
|10 ppm (Ferrous + Ferric)
|AFWFilters AIP15-25SXT Air Injection Iron Filter
|27 ppm (Ferrous + Ferric)
|Durawater Air Injection Iron Eater Filter
|12 ppm (Ferrous + Ferric)
|AFWFilters Fleck 5600SXT Water Softener
|2 ppm (Ferrous)
|AFWFilters Fleck 5600SXT Iron Pro 2 Water Softener & Iron Filter Combination
|6-8 ppm (Ferrous)
|iSpring WGB32BM Whole House Water Filter System
|Home Master HMF3SDGFEC Whole House Water Filter System
|3 ppm (Fe + Mn + H2S Combined)
|ProPur ProMax Shower Filter
|No Data Provided
|Aquasana AQ-4100 Shower Filter
|No Data Provided
Iron Removal Basics: What You Need to Know
How to Test Your Water
A telltale sign of an iron problem is red or yellowish staining of your bathtub or sink, plus an unpleasant metallic flavor in your drinking water. While that’s a good start, you need to examine a few more details. The best way to do this is to send your water to a laboratory, or to have a professional come collect a sample themselves. Your local health department may also offer water testing.
If you’re on a budget, iron test kits are available online or at hardware stores like Home Depot. These types of tests will give you a general idea of your water supply’s iron levels, but they aren’t as accurate as testing done in a full-on lab. If you do decide to go the DIY route, test the water just before it enters your home, or run the faucet for at least 5-10 minutes before taking a sample. This will ensure the water being tested is directly from the well and doesn’t include any buildup from the pipes.
If the iron levels are higher than you expected, it may be worth having a plumber evaluate your system to be sure there aren’t any corroded pipes, appliances or fixtures. Often, these can leech iron and other contaminants into your water supply. If that’s the case, the only way to fix your iron problem is by replacing the parts.
Know What Type of Iron You’re Dealing with
Despite the availability of many effective iron removal options, to do the job with the utmost efficiency requires a bit of investigative work. The type or types of iron in your water will determine which filter you need.
There are three types of iron; ferrous, ferric, and organic. It’s also a good idea to test for iron bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, and manganese. And while you’re at it, check the water pH, temperature, hardness and alkalinity, plus dissolved oxygen content. While this may sound complicated, jotting down all these details will help you choose and install an effective filter.
So What’s the Difference?
Since all iron is not created equal, knowing about the different types will help guide you in the right direction.
Ferrous (Fe2+) Iron
Ferrous iron is the type that isn’t visible. It comes from anaerobic (without oxygen) groundwater and can reach several parts per million. When it streams from your faucet, you’re unlikely to notice it at all – hence the “clear-water iron” nickname. If allowed to stand out on the counter for a while, however, the exposure to oxygen in the room will gradually start to bring out iron’s classic reddish color.
Ferric (Fe3+) Iron
Unlike ferrous iron, ferric iron can be found in water sources rich in oxygen. Straight from the faucet, it already has that rusty tint – hence the nickname “red-water iron”. Sometimes it even looks yellow! Think of ferric iron as the “gooey” type. It’s gelatinous and doesn’t dissolve in water, so it poses the highest risk for clogging your pipes and messing with your expensive household appliances. No thanks!
Organic iron is exactly what it sounds like. It originates in shallow wells and ones that are exposed to surface waters. Because it comes into contact with naturally occurring acids and organic matter (think dirt, leaves, and air pollutants), it forms compounds that cause significant staining. Water rich in organic iron is usually distinctly rust-colored, and removing it is a bit more challenging than removing ferrous or ferric iron.
Iron bacteria is comprised of tiny organisms that turn iron into a slimy substance, allowing them to stick to the walls of pipes and other surfaces. The result? A slick, reddish, sometimes oily-looking coating in your plumbing system and toilet tanks. Filter or softener components may also be affected.
While bacterial iron does not cause illness on its own, it’s not a particularly coveted part of home ownership. Also, a buildup can spur on the growth of other types of bacteria. Further problems include clogging and corrosion of plumbing equipment. As if that wasn’t enough, clumps are likely to break off deposits, raising your water’s iron content and causing unwanted staining and odors. Luckily, shocking a well can keep that nasty bacteria at bay!
Getting Rid of Any and Every Type of Iron
Removing Clear Water Iron
- If you simply have a small amount of excess ferrous iron to remove, a plain old water softener using ion exchange technology is usually enough. Up to 5 ppm are realistic, depending on the model.
- For higher concentrations ranging between 7 and 15 ppm, it’s better to step it up to the next level with a specialized iron filter.
- Oxidation + filtration are for ferrous iron with a concentration of 10 ppm and more.
- When you use an air injector, severe cases with iron contamination of up to 30 ppm can be handled.
Just keep in mind that factors like pH, oxygen levels, and the presence of organic matter and other forms of iron need to be taken into consideration. We will discuss these factors and the limitations of each removal method in a bit.
Red-Water Iron Filtration
Ferric iron removal is a little different. Instead of using a resin bed, simple mechanical filtration should do the trick. This just means a physical barrier, like fine mesh, to remove contaminants. Usually, a mechanical filter can handle ferric iron concentrations over 15 ppm.
Removing Organic Iron
Organic iron is a beast to remove. Because the compounds it contains can slow or even halt the oxidation process, water softeners, filters, and aeration systems can be rendered useless. The best option is to combine chemical oxidation with the use of a mechanical filter. Colloidal iron is even trickier to manage because of how small the particles are. To battle colloidal iron, you can add a coagulant to your water to make the tiny particles clump together. This will allow your filter to trap what would otherwise slip through.
Iron Bacteria Treatment
A common method to keep iron bacteria in check is periodic shock chlorination with sodium hypochlorite.
Is There a Natural Iron Removal Method?
Sadly, the answer is no. Your nice, familiar Brita filter won’t work, either. Iron removal is tricky in comparison to removal of many other contaminants, so we recommend to take a good look at your existing water conditions before you choose a method of filtration.
Types of Iron Removal Systems and When to Use Them
Does a water softener remove iron? Well, the intended purpose of a water softener is to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium, replacing them with sodium or potassium, but it works on ferrous iron, too! That said, the iron may gradually plug the resin, even if you run regeneration cycles regularly. For this reason, it will need to be checked more often. Also, longer and more frequent backwashes with higher salt settings can delay fouling. A chemical cleaner like Iron-Out is an option, but replacing the softener bed entirely may be easier than trying to clean a fouled one.
All in all, not all experts agree on the use of softeners for ferrous iron removal because the lifespan of the resin will be cut.
How Much Is Too Much?
If you have clear-water iron PLUS other forms of iron, or if ferrous is concentrated over 5 ppm, a simple softener usually isn’t enough. Chances are that not all iron will be removed or the resin bed may clog and foul rapidly rendering the softener borderline useless, or both. Additionally, it will make it harder for the unit to remove the minerals it was built to remove. If this is the case, a dedicated iron filter is your best bet.
What’s the Deal with pH?
Another problem to look out for when using water softeners is high pH. When pH levels climb, ferrous iron converts rapidly to ferric iron, reducing the performance of the softener. Water with low pH on the other hand helps the softener’s resin bed to last longer.
When clear-water iron levels rise to between 7 and 15 ppm, it’s time to pick up a filter designed specifically to remove iron. They look similar to typical water softeners, but they use special oxidizing filter media like greensand. These special “ingredients” change any soluble ferrous iron into the ferric version. This process renders it insoluble, allowing the filter to block it from passing through.
Challenges with Iron Filters
When it comes to iron filtration, the details matter. For your filter to do its job correctly, your water must have enough dissolved oxygen. Without it, the filter just can’t run as effectively.
If your water’s level of dissolved oxygen is not high enough, it will need to be pre-oxidized. To do this, you can install an aerator. A simple air pump or air inductor is sufficient. Chlorine, peroxide, or ozone injection is another option. Of the three, ozone is our favorite method because it doesn’t produce any chemical byproducts or leave behind a scent that reminds you of the swimming pool.
Maintenance Is Key
In terms of maintenance, iron filters are very similar to traditional water softeners. Precipitated rust builds up in the filter media bed, so they need to be regularly backwashed for cleaning and to keep them running smoothly. This requires enough water flow and isn’t an optional step. Without routine flushing, bacteria can begin to grow inside the filter and your water can become unsafe to drink. The filter media also needs to be regenerated now and again, or it will gradually stop working.
Filters aren’t free, so do your best to keep up a consistent maintenance schedule. If you skip the backwash and regeneration routine, your filter will kick the bucket a lot sooner than you’d like!
Check the pH
Just like with softeners, pH makes a difference. For iron filters, you’re aiming for a pH between 7 and 8.5. Below that, and your filtration system will lose effectiveness and be at risk of damage. Anything above 8.0 will increase the effectiveness considerably. For water with very low pH, adding sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide can help.
Iron Filters Aren’t for Everyone
In general, iron filters are a great choice. The big caveat? They do not kill iron bacteria and they should not be used if your water contains organic matter.
When Oxidation Is a Must
Oxidation Agents + Filters
If you’re on a strict budget, this is most likely the least expensive way of removing iron from well water. Ferrous iron with a concentration of 10 ppm and up can be removed by using a powerful combination of oxidation and filtration.
First, a pump is used to add the oxidation agent to the incoming water. Because it takes time for the reaction to take place, it needs to sit in a retention tank for about 20 minutes (in some cases more time is needed, sometimes less). For most people, their home’s pressure tank is where this should happen. After a short wait, the water will be prepped and ready for a manganese greensand or activated carbon filter to do the bulk of the iron removal – the iron should have precipitated out at this point.
Options for oxidation agents include hydrogen peroxide, chlorine, potassium permanganate, and sodium/calcium hypochlorite. There are other choices as well, but these are by far the most popular. As with anything, there are pros and cons of each. For example, chlorine and hypochlorite will both solve any iron bacteria issues, but may also add a chemical flavor and scent to your water and form disinfection byproducts. Yuck! But before you write either option off, remember they can be paired with activated or catalytic carbon filtration. That way, you can get rid of everything without a hitch.
We should also mention that oxidation agent + filter is not a maintenance-free solution. The agent will run out and require replenishing eventually, and the filter will need regular backwashing or replacement.
Air Injectors + Filters
Aerating water with an air injector can also take care of the oxidation. The air added to the water by the injector changes ferrous iron to ferric iron, allowing the particles to be effectively removed by a filter. It’s possible that not all of the iron in the water will oxidize, though. The leftover may gradually clog the filter and the eductor, a critical component of the air injector.
That’s not to say air injection is useless. In fact, if you’re aiming for a chemical-free oxidation option, air injection is the way to go. It can handle iron concentrations of up to 30 ppm!
Can a Reverse Osmosis System Remove Iron or Rust?
While a reverse osmosis purifier can remove most heavy metals and salts, iron included, it’s not intended to remove them at high concentrations. If used on its own to treat well water, the ro membrane would clog in a second. If you’re looking for an option to also remove other contaminants that pose a risk to your health, well water can be pre-treated to make it easier for a reverse osmosis system to process. Just pair an ro system with a whole house filter and you’re all set!
Reviews of our favorite ro systems can be found here:
Choosing the Right Size Filter
If this is your first time reading about water filters, it can be somewhat confusing. Larger filters are generally more costly, so it’s tempting to go for a smaller model. The problem is, the smallest filter on the market might not work for your well.
At the same time, all iron filters need to be backwashed to keep them from getting clogged. Another issue is fouling. The thing about backwashing is that any filter with oxidation media needs at least 5 gallons of water per minute to flow through it for sufficient cleaning. The bigger the filter, the higher flow rate necessary. The largest of filters can use up to 20 gallons per minute!
If the flow rate of the pump operating your well is too low, it’s not going to do an adequate job of backwashing the filter media. While you won’t notice a difference right off the bat, over time the filter will stop removing iron like you want it to. When it comes to filter size, bigger is not always better. Choose a filter that doesn’t require more than your pump’s flow rate.
Iron Filter Media Options
If you’ve already found your perfect filtration match, fantastic! Now, you need to select the best filter media. The media is the good stuff inside an iron filter that collects all the unwanted iron and keeps it from reaching your faucet or shower. Apart from the standard-type media like carbon, there are a few specialized options, and they’re all good for different reasons.
Greensand is an iron filter favorite for chemical oxidation. It’s coated with manganese oxide, also known as manganese greensand. It works by oxidizing iron on contact, and can do the same for hydrogen sulfide and manganese. It can remove fairly high concentrations of iron, won’t slow down flow rates, and only requires moderate backwashing. It’s not suited for every type of water, however. Check your water parameters to make sure:
- The pH is between 6.8 and 8.8
- The iron levels are 15 ppm or lower
- The water doesn’t contain any tannins
Synthetic greensand is similar to the traditional type, made of a granular mineral coated in manganese dioxide. Some people prefer it because it’s considerably lighter. As an added bonus, it doesn’t require backwash as often as normal greensand does.
Warnings About Regeneration
Greensand is a trusted option for iron removal filter media, but it does wear away over time. To regenerate it, a chemical called potassium permanganate is used. It’s an effective oxidant, but it’s extremely harsh and can cause skin irritation, fertility issues, and even poisoning if used without caution.
To eliminate any risks and avoid dangerous quantities of potassium permanganate in your home’s water supply, all of the permanganate must be flushed out before fresh water enters the filtration system. Your iron filter should do this automatically with a specialized rinse cycle, but check the filter’s owner’s manual to be sure.
Birm is a good choice for reducing iron and manganese, but it doesn’t do anything to remove hydrogen sulfide. Using dissolved oxygen in the water as a catalyst, it’s highly effective at iron removal. If levels of dissolved oxygen are too low, the water may need to be pre-oxidized. Unlike greensand, Birm doesn’t use any harsh chemicals or salt. It also tends to be easier to maintain and last longer. Choose birm if:
- Your water’s pH is between 7.0 – 9.0
- It contains iron levels no more than 15 ppm
- It does not contain chlorine
Manganese dioxide has similar properties to Birm, with the additional ability to remove hydrogen sulfide just like greensand. It does require sufficient dissolved oxygen levels in your water supply, however. Be sure to test the dissolved oxygen before you buy, or your filter may not perform as well as it could with a different type of filter media or with added pre-oxidation.
The Bottom Line
Purchasing an iron filtration system is a worthwhile investment, but only if you take the time to analyze your water before you make your final selection. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications to be sure the filter you’re considering is the right fit. Each one has limitations, so read all the details!
When you do purchase a filter, consider having it professionally installed. While many filters are simple enough to install with the included instructions and a little know-how, calling a professional can give you peace of mind that your new equipment is assembled correctly.
Equally important is how well you maintain your filter. Without proper care, your shiny new filter won’t hold up nearly as long as it could. Just to be sure everything is working as it should, re-test your water after the filter has been installed and again a few months later. This will ensure that a) the filter is properly operating, and b) it’s the right method of filtration and the right size for your water system.
Our Favorite 2019 Iron Water Filters
Reviews: Best Air Injection Iron Filters
For air injection type filters, there’s the AFWFilters AIS10-25SXT for moderate and the AFWFilters AIP15-25SXT for extremely high iron levels. Another, more affordable option is the Durawater Air Injection Iron Eater Filter which can handle iron at about the same level as the AIS10-25SXT.
AFWFilters AIS10-25SXT Review
The AFWFilters AIS10-25SXT can take on ferrous and ferric iron up to 10 ppm, manganese up to 2 ppm, and sulfur up to 6 ppm. It creates an air pocket in the top of the tank. As the water passes through, it super oxidizes. The subsequent filtration does the rest, filtering enough water for an average-size home (7 gpm), chemical-free! This type of filter is as natural as it gets.
All nasty impurities, iron included, will be rinsed away during the next backwash cycle. The process also adds a fresh air pocket to the system. To make your life even easier, the backwashing is 100% automated!
The filter is simple enough to install yourself and includes a stainless steel bypass valve for stress-free maintenance. Better yet, the filter media supposedly lasts a full five years. Because the entire oxidation process occurs in one tank, the unit doesn’t take up much space and keeps maintenance costs to a minimum. If you need any help, or have a question, customers consistently report the seller to be easy to connect with and eager to help make your filtration experience a good one.
For extreme cases of contamination, the AFWFilters AIS10-25SXT is the best iron filter for well water. Ferrous and ferric up to 27 ppm, manganese up to 11 ppm, and sulfur up to 17 ppm should not be a problem, due to the high-grade manganese dioxide filter media (Filox). For comparison, the AIS10-25SXT uses low cost sediment filtration media.
Apart from the higher 9 gpm flow rate which allows you to run the dishwasher, take a shower, and throw a load of laundry in without worrying about slow flow, the rest is identical to the AIS10-25SXT – air pocket for super oxidation, no chemicals, automatic backwash, single-tank design, stainless steel bypass, simple installation and maintenance.
Durawater Air Injection Iron Eater Filter
An alternative to AFWFilters is Durawater. The Durawater Air Injection Iron Eater Filter not only removes iron up to 12 ppm, manganese up to 2 ppm, and sulfur up to 10 ppm, it also comes at a lower price tag than both AFWFilters systems. There are differences in quality, though. For example, the included bypass is plastic. The filter media is 1.0 cubic ft centaur carbon. The rest is pretty much the same.
Best Water Softener for Well Water with Iron
For homes with low iron concentrations, there is the Fleck 5600SXT 48,000-grain water softener by AFWFilters. Made in the USA, it’s rated for moderate to hard water and can handle levels of ferrous iron up to 2 ppm.
The Fleck has plenty of stellar reviews; customers have said it fixed their staining issues and improved the flavor and scent of their water. If ferric iron is your problem, however, look elsewhere.
The installation process typically takes a few hours. Configuration is a breeze. The package includes resin, a brine tank, a digital head unit, and a test kit. If your water has higher iron concentrations than 0.5 ppm, you need to add extra salt when you regenerate the resin bed to make sure the buildup of ferrous iron is fully removed. This will prevent fouling of the resin and prolong the filter’s life. Not convinced? The Fleck 5600SXT is an Amazon best seller!
If your water’s iron levels are higher than 2 ppm, opt for the Iron Pro 2 upgrade below. In place of the standard mesh resin, it uses a finer mesh to capture more iron. Both softeners can provide an impressive 12 gpm – enough to supply large families with plenty of water. The standard 5600SXT has a 48,000-grain capacity. The Iron Pro 2 is a little larger with 64,000 grains.
Water Softener PLUS Iron Water Filter
Is it a water softener? Is it an iron filter? Surprise! It’s both. The Fleck 5600SXT Iron Pro 2 uses a fine-mesh resin that can kick 6 to 8 ppm of iron and 6 ppm of manganese to the curb. It’s great at removing hard water minerals, too. Ferrous iron? Yes. Ferric iron? Not recommended.
The digital, programmable head simplifies use and monitoring. The regeneration is metered, which helps to save water – an important feature on a unit that can use 100+ gallons during every regeneration cycle. It comes with straightforward installation instructions, but if you get stumped you can always reach out for help.
A Regular Whole House Iron Filter for Well Water?
If the iron in your water has a fairly low concentration, standard whole house filtration systems can be enough. Special cartridges can remove both ferrous and ferric iron, plus manganese and hydrogen sulfide. They can also remove other common contaminants you’d rather not drink, like pesticides, VOCs, chlorine, and other chemicals that take away from the taste of fresh water.
Our top two whole house iron filter choices are the iSpring WGB32BM and the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC. Both are 3-stage filter systems.
iSpring WGB32BM Whole House Water Filter
The iSpring WGB32BM whole house water filter can lower iron concentrations from up to 3 ppm down to a mere 0.1 ppm! With a constant iron concentration of 3 ppm, the filter is rated to process 45,000 gallons with a max flow rate of 8 gallons per minute.
The maintenance requirements are very manageable, keeping costs low. If you’re relatively handy and good at following instructions, odds are you can set up the iSpring all on your own.
Home Master HMF3SDGFEC Whole House Water Filter
Just because the iSpring has a bit of an edge with that 3 ppm iron rating doesn’t mean the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC isn’t any good. It also can send clean, iron-free water throughout a decent sized home. The maximum total contaminant load, so iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide added together, is 3 ppm.
The system is equally low-maintenance, and Home Master is known for its superb customer service if you have any challenges with setup or usage. To top it off, the system comes with a 2-year limited warranty if something goes wrong. All in all, a decent iron and rust water purifier.
Detailed reviews of the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC and other whole house water filters can be found here:
Propur ProMax & Aquasana AQ-4100 Shower Filters
Few shower filters help lower iron, but the Propur ProMax and the Aquasana AQ-4100 do. The ProMax reduces overall iron content by 66.9%. And while the levels of reduction capacity of the AQ-4100 aren’t advertised, it’s definitely better than nothing. Both filters are on the pricey side and not perfect, but they’re the best iron-removing shower filters available to date.
Iron might very well not be the only contaminant in your water. This is a list of all contaminant removal guides on best-ro-system.com: