Iron is one of the prevalent heavy metals in underground water. Since that is the source of well water, a lot of iron is usually present in the majority of well water. The method of iron removal depends on the type of iron your water contains.

There are many affordable ways to remove iron from your well water. But if you are looking for the cheapest way to remove iron from well water, consider a water softener, a sediment filter, or a whole house iron filter.

In this guide, we will be sharing the cheapest and most effective options. But before you can effectively eliminate iron from water, you will need to test your water to know what type of iron your water contains.

Signs You Have an Iron-Contaminated Water

The Color

Water that’s rich in iron is usually bright orange or reddish-brown. So if you notice the water coming out from your well has this color or something very similar, then it’s a classic indication that it needs to go through an iron filter or a water softener.

If the water contains just soluble ferrous iron or dissolved iron, the water will be colorless and probably clear. However, when the water gets exposed to air, it gets cloudy. Reddish-brown or orange hue substances begin to form in the water.

The water will look like metal rusted in it.

orange color iron water from tap

Once ferrous iron is exposed to air, it oxidizes and becomes ferric iron (the insoluble form), hence the unique coloration of the water. This will require you to remove iron from the well water.

Pipe Clogging

Pipes get clogged over time when iron-rich water flows through them continuously. The clogging is caused by the residue of the ferric or ferrous iron present in the water.

This residue accumulates or builds up over time. When it has reached a substantial amount, it begins to restrict the flow or movement of water.

This reduces the general water pressure in your plumbing fixtures and can trigger clogging in your sinks/drains or the pipes leading to your toilet tank.

Due to the clogging of pipes and the consequent drop in water pressure, the appliances using water will perform below their optimal level. For instance, your overhead shower won’t supply water the way it should.

Clogging is primarily caused by organic iron or iron bacteria (bacterial iron). Organic iron deposits brownish slime or sludge in the pipes, accumulating over time and clogging.

When appliances get affected, they underperform and become due for replacements prematurely. This means more expenses.

Household Appliances Get Stained

The unpleasantness of iron from well water also extends to the fact that it stains appliances in the home.

If you notice orange or reddish-brown stains on your appliances, it means ferrous or ferric iron particles are present in your water.

Over time, this discoloration will also affect the appliances connected as plumbing fixtures to your well water.

Your toilet tanks and even your toilet bowl will show visible reddish-brown stains from the well water.

You’ll also notice this coloration or a similar hue around your drains or faucets. Even your once pristine bathtubs and overhead showers won’t be spared from the onslaught of discoloration.

If your dishwasher is one of the plumbing fixtures connected to the well water, it will leave those stains on your kitchenware. The same goes for your laundry machine and your clothes.

It won’t stop until you take steps or find a way to remove the iron.

Iron Minerals Stain your Skin and Hair

When you use brownish-colored water for bathing, how do you expect your hair and skin color? Having ferric iron in your water can damage your laundry, kitchenware, appliances, and surfaces. It can do the same to your skin.

Bathing water with too much iron will discolor your skin and leave it dry. As a result, your hair will become orange in color. In addition, it will lose its strength and shine.

Also, too much iron in water can attract or worsen certain skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and even skin infections.

Metallic Taste and Pungent Smell

This shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the water is rich in iron, a heavy metal. So the water will get bitter and metallic.

The water will also have a pungent odor. So your drinking water will have an unpleasant aftertaste. Of course, any beverage (tea or coffee) made with water will also have the same aftertaste.

This is a clear indication that you need to find a way to remove iron from well water.

Types of Iron Found in Well Water

The solution or iron water treatment will depend on the type of iron because the various mediums of iron removal work best on certain kinds of iron. For example, what works on ferrous iron doesn’t work on ferric iron.

The main types of iron are ferrous iron, ferric iron, and iron bacteria.

Ferrous Iron (Soluble Iron)

This type of iron fully dissolves in water. So with this particular type of iron, it’s hard to believe the water even contains iron unless a water test is conducted. This is because water containing ferrous iron is usually very clear and colorless, as good drinking water should be.

However, once the ferrous iron is exposed to the atmosphere, it undergoes a chemical oxidation process (combines with dissolved oxygen) and forms solid particles. This process will convert ferrous iron to ferric iron.

Iron in its ferrous state doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It can still stain that glass of drinking water. For example, if you fill up a glass with clear drinking water (containing ferrous iron) and leave it exposed to air for some hours, you will notice some orange-colored stains at the base of the glass. At this point, the water will taste and smell differently compared to some hours before.

This type of iron is usually in deep wells, where the well water is not exposed to the atmosphere and the iron it contains hasn’t gone through the oxidation process.

Ferric Iron (Insoluble Iron)

Ferric iron is a type of iron that doesn’t dissolve in water. Therefore, its presence is easy to detect at a glance. You can easily detect the ferric iron in water through the coloration of the water.

If your well is shallow, it means the well water is certainly exposed to the atmosphere. As a result, the iron minerals in your water will be oxidized and become ferric.

As stated earlier, the process of removing insoluble iron differs from ferrous iron.

Iron Bacteria

Iron bacteria is the most notorious type of iron when it comes to well water. The damage caused by bacterial iron in the home is very evident. It’s responsible for those faulty and discolored toilet tanks.

Iron bacteria naturally occur in well water when the bacteria present in the well combine with the iron contained in the water.

Bacterial iron, just like ferric iron, can easily be detected. It’s usually in the form of a reddish slime or sludge. Bacterial iron mainly occurs in wells that are not properly maintained or serviced.

As described earlier, iron bacteria accumulate within the pipes and clog them, leaving muddy-looking stains on your surfaces and appliances. Even your well pump and drains will be affected because they will be clogged.

This type of iron can impair an ion exchange water softener and sediment filters. This iron is not inherently harmful, but it can create the perfect environment for the harmful bacteria pathogen to grow and propagate.

Cheapest Ways to RemoveIron from Well Water

Remove Ferrous Iron

Water Softener

You will need a water softener to remove iron from this configuration, precisely the ion-exchange (salt-based) water softener. A water softener has resin beads that can facilitate the ion exchange process.

Water softeners work by treating hard water that contains calcium and magnesium ions. They can also safely filter water containing ferrous iron. So how do water softeners remove iron?

When the water goes through the resin bed of the water softeners, the iron in the water is drawn to it since it’s positively charged. Here, the iron is exchanged for sodium ions.

This filtration system works best on water ferrous iron. Ferric iron can impair them if the water is not initially filtered through a sediment filter. Ferric iron can damage these water softeners by clogging them.

Water softeners also work best on iron present in hard water, especially if the ratio of water hardness minerals to iron is adequate.

Your water softener will require regular backwash to last longer and prevent clogging over time. However, it’s also the cheapest way to remove iron from well water.

Oxidizing Filters

Manganese Greensand

If your iron-rich water is soft, an oxidizing filter is your go-to iron water filter to remove iron. This iron filter removes ferrous iron water by making it insoluble and then filtering it out.

It has a resin bed that oxidizes iron and manganese when they initiate contact and makes them solid and insoluble. The manganese greens then flush out these heavy metals so that it’s absent from the water entering your home.

This filter has periodic backwashing with potassium permanganate (a purple powder).

This purple powder flushes out the accumulated iron in the media and regenerates the manganese greensand.


This is another oxidizing agent that removes iron from your well water. It works differently from the manganese greensand because it doesn’t utilize a chemical reaction to eliminate iron from water. It’s usually only in water with high pH levels.

Birm is usually combined with calcite for water with a low pH. This is because the calcite elevates the pH of the water. This makes it easier for birm to carry out its oxidizing process by adsorbing the dissolved iron and oxygen. Then it removes this metal from the water.

Unlike the manganese greensand, it doesn’t require backwashing with potassium permanganate.

KDF Filters

The Kinetic Degradation Fluxion filter is an iron removal filter that consists of highly pure zinc granules.

It’s most notable for reducing chlorine in water, but it’s also effective in removing heavy metals such as iron, manganese, and lead from water.

Many iron filtration cartridges utilize the KDF filter media to transform iron from soluble or dissolved to solid, insoluble. They function best with a low quantity of water or water that flows slowly. This is because the system takes time to oxygenate iron and then remove it from the water.

It’s usually installed at the point where the main water line supplies the home’s plumbing system.

Remove Ferric Iron

Sediment Filter or Pre-filter

Sediment filters with smaller pore sizes than a micron (as small as the millionth of a meter) can effectively filter suspended or solid iron from well water.

It permits well water to flow through while simultaneously trapping the iron and preventing it from reuniting with the water. This way, it prevents the contaminant from entering the home and staining appliances or surfaces.

Apart from filtering iron, they also capture other contaminants such as dirt and even filter out elements that cause water cloudiness. A common type of sediment filter used for well water is the natural cotton sediment filter.

The sediment filter works best when the water has a low presence of iron in its ferric state. It usually works hand in hand with the water softener, which doesn’t remove suspended iron directly.

Remove Iron Bacteria

Shock Chlorination

This process of removing iron is labor-intensive, but the results of a slime-free plumbing system are worth it.

Removing bacterial iron involves the injection of a solid concentration of chlorine (est. 200ppm) into the well to sterilize the well itself and the well water completely.

For this iron removal process to be more effective, the shock chlorine should reach every part of the well: the water, the walls, and the pump (pressure and distribution channels).

Shock chlorination frees the well from bacterial iron, making the filtration of the remnant iron in the water (by a water softener, sediment, or oxidizing filter) much easier.

Reverse Osmosis System

If you find low to moderate concentrations of iron in your water (10-15 milligram per liter), you can use a reverse osmosis system for iron removal.

The reverse osmosis can function as a whole house iron filter by pressuring water from the well to flow through a membrane. The RO membrane is semipermeable and nano-sized (the smallest size possible). When water passes through it, it will trap contaminants, including iron, and allow only the purified water to pass through.

Although reverse osmosis filtration systems are very expensive, there are also small and affordable options like countertop reverse osmosis systems. These RO filters are best for small households that require low volumes of drinking water but they will not remove iron from other water supplies in the house.

Carbon Filter

There are two types of carbon filters; activated charcoal and activated carbon filters.

They are both capable of removing iron from the water alongside a vast number of other contaminants such as chlorine, lead, hydrogen sulfide, and so on.

They can easily be purchased from a store, whether it’s a physical or online store. For the activated charcoal filter, you can use a piece of cloth to cover the activated charcoal media. Water coming through the filter will then pass via the cloth. Its cost-effectiveness makes it the cheapest way to remove iron from well water.

About the Author

Lucas Greer

Lucas vs. Wild - Lucas is a true nature lover and survivalist. When he's not teaching science at school, he can be found in nature, hiking, climbing, camping, and rafting. He knows all the tricks and DIYs for making unclean water drinkable with simple means in an emergency. At school, his students love him for his exciting water filtration projects.

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