- Let’s explore both the cheap and thorough methods for removing each type of iron and you can decide if you want to go the cheap way or the effective way.
Several types of filtration are effective for the removal of iron in its various forms. See our review of the best whole-house iron filters for well water for more information.
Keep reading to learn the average cost of the different filtration methods capable of removing iron.
Ferrous Iron Removal
Ferrous iron dissolves completely in water and is not visible to the naked eye, which is also why it’s called “clear iron.” However, it can stain sinks and toilets and make your well water taste metallic.
The best way to detect ferrous iron is to have your water tested by a qualified organization, but you may also begin to suspect you have it if you notice such stains.
Air injection oxidation (AIO) filter
An AIO system, also known as an aeration system, is a chemical-free method of removing ferrous iron and sulfur.
It works by passing the water through an air pocket at the top of the filter tank that oxidizes ferrous iron into ferric iron. The system then works in combination with another filter technology to trap the resulting iron particles.
Air oxidation is not only the most effective way to remove high amounts of iron, it can also tackle manganese and hydrogen sulfide, two additional common well water contaminants.
AIO filters start from $500. However, most incorporate other types of filtration for a comprehensive system and can run as high as $2,000 or more.
Although water softener systems are designed to soften hard water, they can also remove small amounts of ferrous iron up to 5 mg/L.
In water softeners, the positively charged ferrous iron and the hardness-causing ions are replaced with sodium ions during the ion-exchange process.
However, as iron particles build up on the water softener resin, it decreases the efficiency of the resin. You’ll have to clean the resin periodically to keep your water softener working optimally.
Water softeners are only viable and economical for removing a miniscule amount of ferrous iron. And, obviously, if you’re lucky enough to not have naturally hard water, you’d hardly get a water softener just for removing iron.
If your water has a combination of ferric and ferrous iron, you will need to install a sediment pre-filter to prevent ferric particles from clogging up your system.
This doesn’t work everywhere, since most regions of the United States have a higher concentration of iron in the groundwater.
You can find a good-quality water softening system within the range of $150–$2500.
Read our review of the best water softeners to find yours.
Oxidation filters are made of greensand or zeolite coated with manganese oxide and are designed to remove a higher concentration of iron, ranging from 10–15 ppm (parts per million) in well water.
The system oxidizes ferrous iron passing through the granular manganese-oxide media and retains the flaky ferric iron until the system backwashes the filters.
This self-cleaning capability of oxidation filtration systems is an added advantage and can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
In addition to iron, oxidation filters remove arsenic and manganese as well. So, if you have a combination of these contaminants in your well water, a greensand oxidation filter will be your best pal.
Greensand filters are available for as low as $200–$400. If you have a big household, you may need to jack up your budget to buy a filter that fulfills your needs.
Birm is yet another widely used catalytic media that can remove up to 10 ppm of dissolved iron and manganese.
It only requires periodic backwashing and doesn’t need a lot of maintenance.
However, in order for a Birm filter to work, the well water must contain an adequate amount of dissolved oxygen and a pH greater than 6.8. Water with low oxygen levels must be aerated first.
Since the Birm catalytic media is not used up in filtration, this becomes a highly economical option for removing iron.
You can get an iron filter with Birm media for as low as $55.
Kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) filter
KDF removes dissolved iron through a redox reaction. KDF 85 granules are especially useful for reducing iron into ferric oxide that is later flushed out of the filters through backwashing.
It won’t cost you much and can remove about 90% of ferrous iron from your well water. Besides iron, KDF can also eliminate chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, lead, and mercury.
A stand-alone KDF filter will cost $150–$200 and is good enough for a small household with one to two bathrooms.
Chlorine oxidation filter
Chlorine is an effective oxidant that converts ferrous to ferric in the retention tank and also removes manganese and microbial contamination in the well water.
The residual ferric iron is filtered out using a granular activated carbon filter, which also filters out the chlorine.
This method works well if you have up to 8 ppm of iron contamination.
Chlorine oxidation filters cost around $200–$700.
Ferric Iron Removal
When ferrous iron oxidizes, it turns into solid particles, also called ferric iron. It’s not necessarily visible to the naked eye, but as I said before, you may notice signs of it staining your fixtures.
The easiest and cheapest way to remove ferric iron is with a sediment filter.
Ferric iron particles are heavier than water, so they can settle at the bottom or be mechanically filtered out through filter meshes.
Select a micron rating that is adequate to capture all iron particles, dust, and debris from your well water.
Typically, well water contains a number of contaminants, not just ferric oxide, which is why sediment filters must be used in tandem with some other filtration to remove other contaminants as well.
Test your well water to find out what impurities you’re dealing with.
A good-quality sediment filter is easily available for as low as $50. There are many types of filter cartridges, such as spin-down, pleated, melt-blown, string wound, and bag filters — all designed for the same purpose.
Check out the best sediment filters for well water.
Iron Bacteria Removal
Bacterial iron is a type of bacteria in well water that feeds off iron and combines it with oxygen to form rust and turn water into a slimy and gooey reddish liquid that has an uncanny resemblance to tomato soup.
Iron bacteria occur naturally in groundwater and soil, but iron bacteria contamination in a well system is mostly the result of unhygienic well servicing and using dirty tools during maintenance.
While it poses no health risks, it clogs up fixtures and pipes and makes your drains stink. It can also encourage more-dangerous organisms to grow in your well, so you do need to treat it.
While filtration is no substitute for sorting out why bacteria is in your well, it’s a good temporary solution while you consult a professional.
One good way of treating sludgy bacterial iron is shock chlorination. Flushing the well, pipes, and faucets with a high chlorine concentration kills off iron bacteria attached to the walls and crevices of a plumbing system.
It is a surefire way of eradicating all the grody microorganisms in your well water.
If you’re handy, you can perform it yourself. The process is fairly easy and requires a pair of gloves, a garden hose, safety glasses, and, most importantly, chlorine bleach.
It may be a bit tedious, but you can do it with little financial commitment.
If your iron bacteria problem persists, you may need to invest in a continuous chlorination system.
However, continuous shock chlorination can corrode pipes and hide other microbial contamination that can cause health hazards.
For a detailed step-by-step guide on how to perform shock chlorination, check out my article on how to clean your well here.
Shock chlorination will cost less than $100, including the price of all the equipment. You can also hire a licensed well contractor to help you with the process, which, of course, will cost more.
|Types of iron
|Depends on the micron rating
Less Practical Filtration Methods to Treat Iron
Reverse osmosis (RO)
Reverse osmosis is also considered useful for iron removal, but it is not cheap.
Whole-house RO is an excellent option if your well water is a horrible concoction of dozens of contaminants, such as heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and microbes.
Point-of-use reverse osmosis systems are much more affordable, but because they don’t treat the water going into the whole house but only one faucet, POU RO will do nothing for iron stains on your plumbing fixtures.
Reverse osmosis filters will cost you somewhere between $500–$3,000.
Ozone filters use ozone gas to oxidize ferrous iron in well water. Ozone is a powerful disinfectant that prevents bacterial iron formation in wells, but its use in residential filtration is pretty uncommon.
Unfortunately, some companies’ marketing schemes have people talking about it.
Ozone filters cost four to five times more than the rest of the iron removal techniques because of their high electricity consumption and costly maintenance.
Therefore, ozone filtration is not particularly useful for anyone on a budget.
Health Risks Associated With Iron in Drinking Water
The US EPA has not laid down any strict health guidelines related to iron in well water because iron, in essence, is not harmful to the human body. In fact, we need to consume 10–50 mg of iron per day to function properly.
If you can fulfill the daily requirement through your iron-contaminated drinking water, then it’s more of a blessing than a nuisance (though not the best way to consume iron).
Just how much iron is in your well water will determine what, if anything, you should do about it.
If you have more than 0.3 ppm of iron — that is, the secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL) for iron set by the EPA — it will change the color and taste of your drinking water and stain your utensils, laundry, and toilets.
Excessive iron in the plumbing system can produce ferro bacteria — microorganisms that can create conditions for other harmful microbes to grow in plumbing fixtures.
Overconsumption of iron can sometimes lead to a disease called hemochromatosis that can harm your liver and intestines.
Washing your body and hair with iron-contaminated well water can cause irritation, dryness, and allergies.
If you use this water for extended periods of time, you risk developing acute dryness, eczema, acne, and wrinkles on the skin.
Your hair might lose its luster and become dry and grayish.
For these reasons, keeping the iron level in your well water below 0.3 ppm is always a good idea.
If you have an extremely high concentration of iron in your well water, the best solution is unlikely to be the cheapest, but you never know.
You may be better off investing in a whole-house filter or series of filters that can work in tandem to tackle every pollutant.
It’s always a good idea to consult a well-water professional and discuss your needs beforehand.
Had an iron problem in your well water before? Comment below and share how you sorted it.
For more information on caring for your well system, check out these articles: