If you live in an area like eastern Pennsylvania with many iron deposits in the surrounding limestone and dolomite, chances are you may have high concentrations of iron in your home’s water — especially if you have well water. Is iron in water a cause for concern? What are the effects of iron in water on your skin and overall health, and how do you treat iron in water? Read on to learn more.

Cause of Iron in Water

How does iron get into your home’s drinking water in the first place?

Iron is one of the earth’s most abundant resources — this mineral makes up 5% of the earth’s crust. Many rock formations contain iron deposits. As rain falls and soaks through the rock, it often dissolves some of the iron. It carries that iron along with it as it continues to seep through the rock and soil.

When this rainwater becomes groundwater or runs into freshwater sources like lakes and rivers, it may become part of the local water supply. Municipal water systems that get their water from these sources can end up with high levels of iron in their water, and the filters they have set up to remove bacteria and other harmful contaminants may not always filter it out. Wells that draw water from aquifers with high iron content may contain high iron concentrations as well.

Iron in water generally takes one of two forms — ferrous iron, which is soluble in water, and ferric iron, which is insoluble. Water containing ferrous iron is typically visually indistinguishable from pure water because the iron dissolves evenly and the water remains clear. However, when the water reaches a home pressure tank (well tank) or pours out into the air, the iron becomes oxidized and turns into the insoluble ferric form. It then becomes visible and begins to affect water quality.

Blood cells

Effects of Iron in Water

Fortunately, having iron in your home’s water is not directly hazardous to your health. The body needs iron to function. About 70% of the body’s iron is found in the red blood cells and muscle cells, and it is essential for transporting oxygen in the blood and muscle tissue. Without it, people can become anemic and fatigued.

However, high levels of iron in your home’s water can have several noticeable effects on the appearance, smell and taste of your water. Iron can also affect your skin and plumbing fixtures and provide ideal breeding grounds for certain bacteria:

  • Clouding and sediment: If your home’s water contains iron, your water may have a cloudy appearance and contain sediment. The reason is that the oxidized iron will no longer dissolve completely in the water and precipitates out.
  • Discoloration: If you have high iron levels in your water — usually 0.3 parts per million or more — the water may be a rusty red or brown color. Your water may still be safe to drink, but it will look less appealing.
  • Staining: High concentrations of iron in home water will stain porcelain bathroom fixtures, laundry and dishes. Iron leaves unsightly reddish-brown marks that are difficult to remove.
  • Metallic taste and smell: High iron concentrations often impart a metallic taste and smell to a home’s water. When you pour a glass of water to drink, you may notice that the water smells or tastes of iron. Larger water expenditures, such as taking a shower, may fill your whole bathroom or house with a metallic smell.
  • Altered appearance of food: Tea, coffee and vegetables prepared with iron-rich water may turn dark black and look unappetizing. They may also have a harsh, metallic taste.
  • Pipe buildup: Over time, iron sediment and residue can build up in your home’s pipes and cause clogging or poor drainage. If a pipe clogs badly and requires professional attention or if built-up pressure causes a leak, you may spend significant sums on repairs.
  • Dry, itchy skin: Iron in the water we use to bathe or shower can dry out the skin. Soap and iron don’t always mix well together, so washing with iron-laden water can sometimes leave excess soap residues on the skin that cause dryness and itching.
  • Bacterial overgrowth: Rarely, bacteria known as iron bacteria combine with iron to form rust and bacterial slime. They do not typically cause disease. However, research has shown that the presence of iron in water can promote the growth of bacteria like E. coli. Particularly if you have well water, you’ll want to test your water regularly to make sure it has not become contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Given these impacts, what are acceptable iron levels in well water? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 0.3 parts per million for iron because of its aesthetic, non-health-related effects.

How to Remove Iron From Drinking Water

How do you treat iron in water? To remove iron from drinking water, you’ll likely want to invest in a water treatment solution like a water softener.

Hard water is the name given to water that contains excessive concentrations of calcium and magnesium. It occurs when groundwater flows through limestone and absorbs these elements from the rock. Hard water often also contains high levels of other absorbed minerals, including iron.

Like iron, the minerals in hard water cause several aesthetic concerns. They can give your water an unpleasant taste, build up in your plumbing and leave spots on your dishes. They can cause buildup on your skin and hair and leave them dry and dull, and they can make it more difficult to get your laundry clean.

Installing a home water softener can help remove some of these minerals through ion exchange. A water softener typically works by filtering your home’s water through salt.

As the water flows through the salt, the charged sodium ions from the salt change places with the calcium and magnesium ions. A porous resin in the softener attracts the calcium and magnesium ions, and when they bind to the resin, they release sodium ions to take their places. Many water softeners can also remove contaminants like iron and chlorine by the same mechanism, leaving you with water that tastes refreshing, feels good on your skin and won’t cause unwanted stains or buildup.

Family getting water from the sink

Contact Long’s EcoWater for Help Removing Iron From Your Home’s Water

To see the benefit of great-tasting, fresh-smelling, iron-free water in your home, make Long’s EcoWater your trusted provider. We can help minimize iron and other contaminants in your home’s water, and we can even customize a solution to meet your home’s needs.

Our advanced water softeners use less salt and last longer than many other brands, and we have the backing of one of the largest and oldest water conditioning companies in the world — EcoWater. Our 70 years of experience in the water business also mean we have the skills and expertise to get you the water treatment you need at a reasonable price.

Contact us today to learn more.

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