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Iron in water is not particularly harmful to your health. The EPA considers it a secondary contaminant, meaning it doesn't have a direct impact on health.
Iron mostly affects water aesthetics: that is, the taste, smell, and appearance of water.
Iron concentration as low as 0.3mg/l introduces a metallic taste in water. It also gives the water a reddish-brown color.
Iron in water can be a nuisance around the house. It leaves reddish-brown stains in the sink, toilet bowl, dishes, and surfaces. It can also stain appliances like the coffee maker, heater, washing machine, and dishwasher.
Food and beverages prepared using water containing iron can have an unappealing look and taste.
Well water typically has the highest levels of iron, although municipal water in some cities may also have significantly high levels.
Before you settle on a method to remove iron from your water, have your water tested first to find out what type of iron is present.
There are four forms of iron in the water.
Ferrous iron: This is iron that has dissolved in water and is thus not visible. Water with ferrous iron can still leave stains behind on surfaces when it's exposed to air and oxidized into ferric iron. Like other dissolved solids, ferrous iron is difficult to remove using basic filters.
Ferric iron: This is rust, an oxidized form of ferrous iron. It gives water a reddish-brown appearance and stains surfaces. Because it's insoluble, ferric iron is easier to filter out compared to ferrous iron.
Organic iron: Also called pink water or heme iron, organic iron consists of iron combined with dissolved organic matter in the water. The water will usually appear clear but can become discolored if the iron concentration is too high.
Colloidal iron: Sometimes dissolved iron will oxidize but not turn completely into ferric iron. Instead, it forms tiny molecules that don't stick together. So the iron remains suspended in water instead of settling at the bottom. This is called colloidal iron, and it is quite difficult to remove.
Once you know what kind of iron you have in your water, you can find an effective treatment method.
If your water contains ferric iron (rust), all you need is a sediment filter to remove it.
You can buy a standalone sediment filter or buy a multi-stage filtration system that contains a sediment filter.
Air injection filters are great for well water with high iron concentrations. Most filters can handle iron levels up to 12-14ppm.
An air injection filter works through aeration. When dissolved iron is exposed to air, it oxidizes into ferric iron, which can then be filtered out.
The system injects air into the waterline where it reacts with ferrous iron.
The oxygen-rich water is then directed through a filter tank where the now insoluble or ferric iron is deposited on the filtration media.
The water then goes through an air release tank to remove any undissolved air. This prevents the water from spitting when you turn on a faucet or shower.
An air injection system can also remove other impurities such as manganese and sulfur.
Most iron removal systems work by converting dissolved ferrous iron into insoluble ferric iron.
The air injection filters we've discussed above use air to oxidize dissolved iron. Other systems use chemicals.
One of the most commonly used chemicals is chlorine.
A chlorination system will introduce chlorine into the water, which oxidizes ferrous iron into ferric iron.
A carbon filter then removes the ferric iron as well as chlorine to ensure the water doesn’t have a bleach taste.
Chlorination also removes manganese by converting it into manganese oxide, which can then be easily removed using mechanical filtration.
Another chemical used to oxidize iron and manganese is potassium permanganate.
It's often used in conjunction with green sand, a type of filtration media.
When treated with potassium permanganate, green sand does two things quickly: it oxidizes dissolved iron into suspended particles (ferric iron) and then traps those particles to remove them from water.
Chlorine can also be used to regenerate green sand.
Catalytic iron filters also rely on oxidation, but they work a bit differently. Instead of introducing chemicals or air into the water, they rely on the water already present in the water.
The filter itself is a catalyst material (it speeds up reactions), usually manganese oxide, also called pyrolusite.
Redox media: Some iron filters contain redox media, which consists of copper and zinc. Redox media relies on the oxygen present in the water to convert ferrous iron into ferric iron. One advantage of a filter with redox media is that it doesn't allow bacterial growth (the two metals form a small electrical field that discourages bacteria); hence, there's no need for chlorination to disinfect the filter.
Birm filters: Birm is a granular filtration media made from a natural pumice mineral. It contains a coating of manganese oxide. Birm filters rely on oxygen in the water to turn dissolved iron into rust that is then trapped within the media. Regular back-washing to remove accumulated rust is necessary.
Yes, a reverse osmosis system can remove iron present in water. But water treatment experts do not recommend using an RO filter to remove iron in well water.
That's because it could quickly clog the membrane, degrading it and reducing its lifespan.
Reverse osmosis is only recommended for treating water with very low levels of iron and manganese. If you want to use an RO filter with well water, pre-treat the water first with a whole house iron filter.
If you want an RO system but don't want to install a pre-treatment filter, we recommend the Home Master TMULTRA Ultra Undersink RO system.
It has an iron pre-filter, making it ideal for well water with high iron concentration.
A water softener can remove ferrous iron through the same ion exchange process that gets rid of hardness minerals.
But the iron concentrations have to below, and most of the iron should be in the soluble (ferrous) state.
The challenge of using a water softener to remove the iron is that it's harder to flush the resin bed. The trapped iron, which is now ferric, clings to the beads, making it difficult to remove with water.
This can degrade the resin bed quickly and foul it up, thus reducing its ability to reduce water hardness.
If you have to use a water softener, make sure your iron levels are low. Check the manufacturer specifications to see the max iron ppm the water softener can handle.
Also, look for a water softener explicitly designed to handle water with iron.
Some water softeners have an iron pre-filter to reduce the amount of iron the resin bed has to remove.
Carbon filters can only remove ferric iron (rust). But since most homes struggle with dissolved iron, carbon filters are ineffective.
Neither activated nor catalytic carbon can remove ferrous iron or any other dissolved solids.
When it comes to removing iron, we highly recommend a whole house water filter rather than a point-of-use system such as an under-sink filter, a counter-top filter or a shower filter.
If you don't remove iron before the water gets into your home's plumbing and heater, it could leave rust deposits all over that degrade your plumbing and appliances.
You'll also have to deal with rust stains on all surfaces the water comes into contact with including the toilet, sink, and showerhead.
Here are the best whole house water filters for removing iron.
The iSpring WGB32BM whole house filter is specially designed to deal with iron and manganese. It also removes chemicals like chlorine, VOCs, pesticides, and industrial solvents.
The iSpring WGB32BM is a 3-stage filtration system.
The first stage filter, a high capacity polypropylene sediment filter, is designed to combat and hold dirt and larger-sized particles that could clog downstream filters. This filter uses a multi-layer technology, allowing for more continuous filtration and reducing the likelihood clogging.
It filters out particles down to 5 microns.
The second CTO Carbon Block filter uses premium coconut shell carbon to block soluble contaminants such as chlorine, chloramines, pesticides, and various other chemicals.
It's worth noting that carbon block filters have the edge over other types of carbon filters. They are finer and are thus able to remove more contaminants. They are the best for getting rid of unpleasant odors and tastes in water.
The last stage is a specialized iron and manganese removal filter. It reduces iron from 3ppm to 0.01ppm and manganese from 1ppm to 0.01ppm.
Even with its high filtration performance, the iSpring WGB32BM does not sacrifice flow rate. The large inlet and outlet ports allow a flow rate of up to 15 gallons a minute.
So don’t worry about a weak shower or slow-filling toilets.
Installation of the iSpring WGB32BM is straightforward.
You only need basic tools and about an hour or two to set up the system. Make sure you install it before your main water line branches to ensure all the water coming into the house is filtered.
The filters are good for about 100,000 gallons. This roughly translates to 1 year for a medium-sized family of four.
However, the replacement period also depends on the contamination level of your water, as the cartridges deplete a lot faster with contaminated water.
The 100,000-gallon lifespan is based on iron levels of 3ppm. If your well water has more iron, replace the filters sooner.
As its name suggests, the Silver 10 Air injector uses air injection for iron removal. It is ideal if you have a high concentration of iron in your well water (up to 15ppm).
The Silver 10 filter comes with a 10” by 54” tank filled with gravel bedding and a high trapping filter for removing oxidized iron and sulfur.
Unlike the traditional air filter injectors that consist of two separate tanks or use a Venturi tank to inject air in the water, the Silver 10 Air Injector utilizes a patented air injection system.
This proprietary system keeps the entire oxidation system in one unit, and this helps to keep the maintenance costs down, reduces the system’s footprint, and improves filtration performance.
The injection system uses a pocket of pressurized air, which oxidizes iron and turns it into easily-removable rust.
A filter media at the bottom of the tank traps the rust and other contaminants.
The system then automatically back washes, rinsing the contaminants off the filter media and replenishing the air bubble.
What we love most about the Silver 10 air injector is that it’s chemical-free and can remove higher concentrations of iron than any other type of iron filter.
The Silver ten air injector is relatively easy to install. It comes with most of the parts you need though you may need to buy extra fittings to connect it to your plumbing.
It comes with a bypass valve that allows easy servicing of the system.
Note: If you have a water softener, install this before it to reduce the iron load the softener has to deal with.
The single-tank system is easy to maintain and lasts longer than most other air injection filters.
Regarding the filter media, the manufacturer recommends replacement after every five years, though it will ultimately depend on your frequency of use and level of contamination in your well water.
If your water has a reddish-brown color and leaves lots of stains around, you have a rust problem on your hands.
To deal with it, we recommend the iSpring WBB21B 2-stage system.
Note that this filter doesn’t remove dissolved iron – only ferric iron, what’s known as rust. It’s a good idea to get your water tested to make sure that it doesn’t have high levels of dissolved or ferrous iron.
The iSpring WBB21B uses a two-stage filtration system.
The first stage is a 5-micron high-capacity polypropylene sediment filter that removes dirt; rust and other suspended solids.
This should clear up most of the rust color in your water and remove any bits of dirt the water picked up in the well.
Finer particles of rust and sediment are removed by the final stage, a 5-micron CTO coconut shell carbon block filter.
This fully clears up the water and improves the odor and taste of the water.
The iSpring WBB21B can handle up to 15 gallons per minute of water for your entire household with the 1" input and output ports. This ensures a strong flow rate from showers and faucets.
The filter housings come pre-assembled onto the metal holding bracket for easy DIY installation.
It takes less than an hour to connect the system to your plumbing and enjoy rust-free water.
Remember to install the filter before your main water line branches if you want all the water coming into the house to go through the filter.
The 50,000-gallon capacity filters are good for about one year before you need to replace them.
Replacing the filter is easy though can be a bit messy when you take out the filter cartridges. Have a towel ready on the floor to catch any messes.
We usually don’t recommend water softeners for iron removal. As I explained at the beginning of this guide, the resin bed in most water softeners doesn’t last long when exposed to iron.
The Fleck 5600 SXT Iron Pro is an exception.
It’s a water softener as well as an iron filter, making it ideal for well water with low to medium levels of iron (up to 8ppm). So you don’t have to install a separate iron filter and water softener for your well water.
The Fleck 5600 SXT uses a fine mesh resin that handles iron better than the resin most other water softeners use.
In addition to iron, the system also removes manganese (up to 6ppm) as well as rust (ferric iron), dust and sand. If your well water is full of sand and other bits of dirt in addition to iron, this water softener will help.
The water softener has a capacity of 48,000 grains, making it ideal for small to mid-sized families of 2-5 people.
The water softener has a digital meter that automatically triggers regeneration after a certain amount of water has been used.
This extends the lifespan of the resin bed and reduces salt wastage from unnecessary regeneration cycles.
Installation requires only basic plumbing skills. It’s a DIY job – no need to spend extra money on a pro.
Most of the parts you’ll need are included by what you’ll need to buy extra fittings for the drain line and other connections.
The resin will most likely come pre-installed in the resin tank. If it’s not, it’s easy to add it.
But the salt for the brine tank is not included. The manufacturer recommends high-quality pellet salt.
Note: A pre-filter is not necessary in most cases. But if your water has a lot of sand and dirt, a sediment pre-filter will protect the control head from clogging. If you are using the water softener with chlorinated city water, a carbon pre-filter will extend the life of the resin.
Other than adding salt to the brine tank, there are no other major maintenance requirements. There’s no filter to replace after a certain period.
We’ve included the Home Master whole house 3-stage system as an alternative to the iSpring WGB32BM system we selected as our top pick.
The Home Master system is just slightly cheaper, but filtration performance and capacity are similar to the iSpringiron filter.
The Home Master system uses three filtration stages to remove a range of contaminants, including iron.
It starts with a sediment filter that removes sediment, sand, and other suspended particulates. The filter has a multi-gradient design that increases filtration performance and reduces clogging.
Next is a radial flow iron reduction filter that can handle iron concentrations up to 3ppm. The filter also removes manganese (up to 1ppm) and hydrogen sulfide.
If you are dealing with a stinky rotten egg smell as well as rust stains, the Home Master whole house filter will help with both problems.
The final stage is a radial flow activated carbon filter that removes chemicals and any fine sediment still in the water.
The system has a strong flow rate of 15 gallons a minute thanks to the 1” ports and high-flow filter design. You won’t experience noticeable pressure drops from faucets or the shower.
Installation is a bit more involving than an under-sink system, but it’s still something you can do on your own.
The system comes fully assembled. You just need to connect it to mount it on the wall and connect it to your mainline (before the heater).
A steel mounting bracket (with bolts) and a housing wrench are included. The wrench will be handy when you are replacing the filters. Use it to loosen the filter housing.
Note: If you have a water softener, install this before it to reduce the iron load on the resin.
The filters are good for around 100,000 gallons or one year.
Replacing the filters is easy though can be a bit messy when you are removing the filter cartridges. Place a towel to reduce the mess.
Iron bacteria are common in water containing iron. The bacteria get their energy by oxidizing ferrous iron into ferric iron.
Signs of iron bacteria include slime on plumbing and surfaces, discolored water with yellow, orange or red hues and a stink sometimes resembling that of sewage.
Iron bacteria is not harmful to your health but can cause corrosion, clog plumbing and appliances and make the water unpleasant to look at and use.
None of the filters we’ve reviewed remove iron bacteria. In fact, if your well water has iron bacteria, you shouldn’t use a conventional filter or water softener until you’ve dealt with it.
Chemicals are the most effective way of dealing with iron bacteria. Chlorine works great to keep the bacteria in control.
You’ll need to do shock chlorination where you add a large amount of bleach to the well and then let it rest for a day or two.
Then flush the water through faucets until the chlorine level in the incoming water is 3ppm or less. Then you can use the water.
If you have a persistent iron bacteria problem, shock your well at least twice a year.
Iron is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. So it makes sense that well water would have high levels of dissolved iron.
Many other minerals from the earth also find their way into the water, including manganese, sulfur, magnesium, and calcium.
Ferrous ion is also called clear-water iron. The iron has dissolved in water, and thus you can’t see it.
The best way to remove ferrous iron is by using a specialized water softer, an air injection filter or any other oxidative filter.
Ferric iron is also called red-water iron or simply rust. The iron is suspended in water, which causes the discoloration.
A sediment filter can easily remove ferric iron.
No. There are no health risks from drinking water containing iron. Iron in water is mostly just a nuisance, causing staining on surfaces and in plumbing.
If your water leaves reddish-brown stains on surfaces such as the sink, the toilet bowl and in appliances, that’s a classic sign of iron in the water.
Your water may also have a reddish-brown tinge to it, especially if it contains ferric iron.
The taste of the water can also give you a clue. Iron in water can sometimes introduce a metallic taste.
But the best way to tell if their iron in your water is to get it tested. A lab test will not only tell you whether there’s iron but what type and in what concentration.
Knowing this is important when you are choosing an iron water filter.
Yes, a reverse osmosis system can remove low levels of iron and other minerals like manganese from water.
But unless the RO system has been designed for iron removal (meaning it has an iron pre-filter), it’s not a good idea to use it with well water.
The iron will clog the membrane quickly, drastically reducing its lifespan.
If you have to use an RO system, install an iron filter before it to remove most of the iron.
Yes, a water softener can remove iron in water using the same ion exchange process it uses to remove hardness minerals.
But iron can significantly reduce the life of the resin. So it’s not a good idea to use a water softener to remove iron unless the manufacturer specifies that you can do so.
A good example is the DURAWATER Fleck 5600 SXT Iron Pro that can remove hardness minerals as well as iron.
No. Most water filter pitchers and faucet water filters do not remove iron in the water.
No, boiling water does not remove iron or any other dissolved solids.
Ed is a water specialist in Tampa, FL. He built CleanerSofterWater.com to help his friends and family learn about DIY solutions to common water quality issues in the home.
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