Have you noticed reddish discolored water coming from your tap and heard it could be due to high iron levels? You might already have a water softener or be looking into buying one, wondering if it’ll fix the problem.
So does a water softener really help reduce iron? Keep reading to find out how these devices work and whether they’re effective at dealing with those red and orange rust stains in your bathroom.
Do Water Softeners Remove Iron?
Water softeners can remove small amounts of ferrous iron from water, typically 1-2 parts per million (ppm). Water softeners primarily focus on removing hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium. So for higher iron concentrations, you should use a specialized iron filter.
What is Water Softening?
Water softening is a process that removes minerals from hard water, such as calcium and magnesium. It also reduces iron levels in your drinking supply.
Hard water can cause issues with plumbing, clogging pipes, and fixtures, leaving spots on dishes, fading clothes quickly, and making them feel rough when washed.
Softened water makes it easier for the soap or detergent to mix with the water and create a lather. A good lather gives you better cleaning results without using so much product.
Softeners exchange ions through an exchange tank filled with small beads containing sodium ions. The hardness minerals are exchanged for the sodium ions, meaning they’re removed from the water supply while softer water enters your home’s plumbing system instead.
Which types of iron can water softeners deal with?
Water softeners can remove iron from well water, but it depends on the type and concentration of iron in your water.
There are three main types of iron found in water.
If your well water contains ferrous iron, it’ll appear colorless and turn red or brown in a glass when left to settle.
Ferrous iron is dissolved iron that can technically be removed by ion exchange, like calcium and magnesium. Water softeners can remove small amounts of iron, typically up to 1-2 ppm of iron, but only up to a certain point before shortening the lifespan of the water softener.
To compensate for the presence of iron, the hardness settings of the water softener should be adjusted by 5 grains per gallon (GPG) more for every one part per million (PPM) of iron. Doing this means that the water softener will use more salt. So you’ll probably need to start buying softener salt in bulk to save money.
For instance, if your water has 2 PPM of ferrous iron, you should increase the hardness setting by 10 GPG (5 GPG for every 1 PPM of iron) to ensure effective removal.
Whatever you do, choose the best water softener salt for iron and ensure it’s compatible with your water and your softener system.
Water softeners are ineffective at removing ferric iron, also known as solid iron, often found in surface water. Ferric iron has a red color straight out of the tap.
Ferric iron is best removed through filtration processes such as sediment filters, activated carbon filters, or reverse osmosis.
Iron bacteria is a type of bacteria that can produce reddish-brown slime deposits in the water, leading to clogging and fouling of plumbing fixtures.
Water softeners are not specifically designed to remove iron bacteria either. Shocking the well is one of the most common solutions.
Limitations Of Iron Removal With Softeners
Softeners are great for reducing the amount of iron in your water, but they have their limitations. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect when using a softener for iron removal:
|Iron concentration||Water softeners effectively remove iron up to 1-2 ppm; higher concentrations need specialized iron filters.|
|Type of iron||Water softeners remove only ferrous (dissolved) iron; they cannot remove ferric (solid) iron or iron bacteria.|
|Effectiveness with other substances||Presence of manganese or hydrogen sulfide can reduce the effectiveness of a water softener in removing iron.|
|System capacity||Iron removal consumes resin capacity; water softeners may require more frequent regeneration or larger tank size.|
Too much iron can foul the resin bed
Although water softeners can technically remove iron, too much iron can foul the resin bed.
When a softener removing iron regenerates, you must thoroughly clean the resin beads of buildup. Precipitated iron is a gelatinous and sticky substance that tends to cling to the beads, making it difficult to remove with just a backwash. Over time, this accumulation can clog the pores of the ion exchange material in the softener bed, reducing its hardness removal capacity.
So what does this mean for you? Well, if you’re using your softener for high levels of iron, you’ll be faced with impractical cleaning methods and frequent replacement of your ion exchange media.
For these reasons, we recommend a dedicated iron filtration solution.
What about softeners marketed as ‘Water Softeners for Iron’?
They’re only usually slightly more effective than a standard water softener.
Typically, water softeners marketed specifically for iron removal are only effective at removing iron up to 3PPM. However, we’ve occasionally seen models that claim to remove up to 8PPM.
Some water softeners marketed as water softeners for iron are actually water softeners and Iron Filter Combos.
So whatever option choose, the best thing to do is test your water, know how much iron you need to remove, and choose accordingly.
Alternatives To Softeners For Iron Removal
Dedicated Iron Filters
The most common alternative to a softener is an iron filter for well water (oxidizing filter). These filters use air injection and chemical oxidation to reduce the amount of ferrous (dissolved) iron in the water. They work by bubbling oxygen gas through the water, oxidizing the dissolved iron into solid particles that can be filtered out with a mechanical backwash filtration system.
Acid Neutralizing Filter
Another option is an acidic neutralization filter. They use acid-neutralizing media such as calcite to raise the pH levels so that any existing iron will precipitate before reaching your home’s plumbing fixtures.
This type of filter works best when combined with mechanical filtration, like a sediment pre-filter designed for wells.
It’s important to have professional assistance when considering either of these two alternatives for removing iron from your water supply – they both require careful setup and regular maintenance for proper functioning and optimal results.
Iron filters are the best solution
Water softeners are great for homes with hard water. They reduce soap and detergent use, prevent scale buildup in pipes, and even improve the taste of drinking water.
However, when it comes to iron removal from hard water, they have limits. A dedicated iron or chemical treatment may be necessary to eliminate high iron levels.
Consider a high-quality iron filter and softener combo if you’ve got hard water and high iron levels.