Does a water softener remove iron?

Last updated on: June 1, 2024.

Iron makes up at least five percent of the earth’s crust and is one of the earth’s most plentiful resources. When rainfall seeps through the soil, it dissolves the iron in the earth’s surface, causing it to enter almost all of the natural water supply, including well water. Iron is usually found at concentrations less than 10 milligrams per litre (mg/l) or parts per million (ppm). In some regions, iron levels can also be high enough to harm our health. 

After hard water, the common problem with water is high amount of iron present. Water softeners are ideally designed to remove calcium and magnesium and provides softened water. Learn more whether a water softener can remove iron or not and tips from technicians on how to treat water with high iron content.

What is a safe level of iron in drinking water?

drinking clean water

Iron is generally not considered harmful to health. On the contrary, iron is essential because it transports oxygen in our blood. In the United States, most tap water may supply less than 5 percent of the dietary requirement for iron.

According to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules, iron is considered an ‘aesthetic’ or secondary contaminant. The recommended limit for iron in water, 0.3 mg/l (ppm), is based more on its taste and appearance rather than on any negative impact on health.

For example, when iron levels in water are more than the 0.3 mg/l limit, it shows as yellow, red, or brown stains in the laundry, household fixtures such as bathtubs and sinks, glassware, and dishes, etc.
We may also notice that the water tastes metallic and has a slightly offensive odor. Over time, the piping and other fixtures in the water system piping can also become clogged.

When water conforms to the standard of iron content at a maximum of 0.3 mg/l, it will be clear and have no smell. Iron is considered a non-threatening nuisance chemical according to the EPA:
Therefore, the desirable level is a maximum of 0.3 mg/l, and the highest permissible level without causing ill health is a maximum of 1.0 mg/l. 

Is high iron content in water harmful?

There are two main types of iron in our water: ferric iron and ferrous iron.

Ferric iron is more visible as it is not a dissolved form. We can see ferric iron particles in the water.
Ferrous iron is not always visible as it is in a dissolved iron form. One way to see iron in our water is by filling a glass and leaving it for a few minutes. We can see that the water was clear at first but has turned cloudy, or red or yellow in color.

High levels of ferric iron and ferrous iron in water may have a few unpleasant side effects, including weakness, fatigue, bowel or abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, and vomiting. 

Iron bacteria depend on excess levels of iron in drinking water and leave behind deposits of iron waste. These deposits cause the staining of laundry and fixtures and cause the water to smell and have an unpleasant taste. They also tend to emit a slime that invites more bacteria and increases health hazards. It is best to test the water for iron levels as soon as it begins to appear cloudy or tastes different.  

Iron in water effects on skin:

Iron-contaminated water can be bad for our skin. Each time we shower or bathe, our skin gets soaked in oxidized or unoxidized iron. Oxidized iron is yellow or red in color, while unoxidized iron is usually clear. The mineral leaches the moisture from our skin and leaves it dry.

Other conditions such as acne may also occur when our skin is exposed to high iron levels as it clogs the pores. In some extreme cases, iron particles have been known to damage skin cells. 

Iron in water effects on hair:

Just as the moisture is leached out of our skin, high levels of iron can cause hair to become dry and brittle. Our hair will become rough and lose its texture. 

Oxidized (colored) iron in the water acts as peroxide and will darken light hair and add an orangey-red tint, in addition to drying and roughening the texture. 

How to test for iron in water?

testing iron in water

There are a number of testing options to determine the iron levels in our water. Laboratories are available that will send technicians to come home and test the water. If that is not possible, we may need to take a few samples of the water to the labs. A precise analysis of the water will be essential to take precautionary measures if required. 

It’s also quite easy to test the water on our own for iron levels with the Iron test kits in the market. 

How to perform the iron test:

➡ Place the iron reagent tablet in the test vial and fill the vial with a water sample to within a ¼ inch of the top.
➡ After placing the cap on the test vial, shake it for about a minute or until the reagent tablet is completely dissolved.
➡ Now, dip the test strip in the sample for around 22 seconds. 
➡ Take the strip out and shake it once. Then, wait for another 60 seconds. 
➡ By placing the strip on the color chart, we can determine the amount of iron in the water sample.

Will a water softener get rid of iron?

Ideally, water softeners must be near the source of water or a drain. Usually, they are installed near a water heater to keep the unit in a centralized location. But, space constraints in homes may be a factor to consider where water softeners can be installed. 

How to remove iron from water at home? [7 Helpful Tips] 

The removal of iron from water depends on the type of iron and its source. Here are a few ways to remove iron successfully:

🢚 Shock Chlorination
🢚 Chemical Oxidization
🢚 Catalytic Filtration
🢚 Phosphate Treatment
🢚 Oxidizing filters
🢚 Water Softeners
🢚 Iron Removal Filter

Removing bacterial iron from your well can be labor-intensive, but it is a way to remove the slimy, invasive contaminants from the water. Shock chlorination introduces an intense concentration of chlorine (around 200ppm) to the well to disinfect both the water and the physical well.

The entire depth of the well, walls, well pump, and the pressure and distribution system will need to be exposed to the shock chlorination. This process can eradicate the bacteria binding the iron and get the remaining iron with an oxidizer, sediment filter, or a water softener.
Injecting phosphate compounds into the water system can dissolve low levels of the iron present, along with manganese. Phosphate helps prevent the minerals from oxidizing.
Oxidizing filtration is a process where the soluble iron and manganese are converted into insoluble forms for easy removal. 

Using manganese greensand is also a way to remove iron from the water system. It is a type of glauconite that has manganese oxide coated onto it through special processing. When iron and manganese make contact with manganese greensand, they are oxidized from a dissolved form into solid particulates. The precipitate ferric iron can then be pulled out of the water by the manganese greensand media.

However, this media needs to be back-washed by potassium permanganate. Potassium permanganate flushes the ferrous iron flecks down the drain and regenerates the greensand media, restoring the oxidizing capacity. Chemical oxidization with potassium permanganate can cause skin and eye irritation and should be handled carefully. 

The ion-exchange water softener can easily remove low levels of ferrous iron from the water. Water softeners are primarily used to remove hardness from water through ion exchange, i.e., sodium ions are exchanged for positively charged mineral ions.

Since iron is positively charged, it will be attracted to the spherical anion resin beads and exchanged for a sodium ion, just like the calcium and magnesium ions. You may still need a sediment pre-filter to ensure that the water softener is not getting clogged with ferrous iron particles. 

Moreover, water softeners are most efficient at removing iron from hard water. There needs to be an adequate ratio of water hardness and iron for the ion exchange to sufficiently remove iron from the water. For soft water, using an oxidizing filter is more effective at reducing the ferrous iron content of your water. Water softeners will need regular flushing of the system and the resin bed to ensure the longevity of the resin beads.  

Which is the best water softener for iron removal?

Water Softener With Iron Filter

Iron Pro 2 Combination water softener iron filter Fleck 5600SXT digital is the best water softener for removing iron. It has a 64,000-grain capacity, a fine mesh designed to remove high levels of iron, and a digital metered valve for ease of use. It removes hardness from the water and iron up to 6 ppm, manganese up to 6 ppm, sediment, sand, and rust. It comes with a five-year warranty.

It can also eliminate scale buildup, the white flaky substance we find on our household fixtures. It removes manganese that brings a slimy stain to the fixtures. The meter-based regeneration process means that the water is measured, allowing the system to regenerate only when necessary.

Our Review:

What we liked the most:

⮞ It offers a combination of iron removal and water softening;
⮞ The digital readout helps with pertinent information;
⮞ It has programmable regeneration settings for our convenience;
⮞ It comes with a 48-hour memory backup, so it is not affected by power cuts;
⮞ It also has a fine mesh resin for optimum performance;
⮞ The double back-wash enables efficient regeneration.

Scope of Improvement:

⮞ The water softener is big and occupies a lot of space
⮞ The installation instructions may not be easy for everyone;
⮞ The upfront cost can be high for the combined water softener and iron filter system.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Do you need an iron filter and a water softener?

For low concentrations of iron, a water softener can be effective. For higher levels of inorganic iron, you may need an iron filter as a supplement to your home’s water softener.

2. Will a water softener help with sulfur?

Generally, household water softeners do not remove sulfur odors from water. In fact, softeners easily become fouled or clogged, reducing their hardness removal capacity.

3. Can tap water cause skin problems?

The skin can absorb the chlorine and other contaminants from tap water, and poison our bodies. Chlorinated water can also accelerate the ageing process. Chlorinated water can deplete the skin of its natural oils that hold moisture in, leading to dry and itchy skin.
Chlorine can kill the bad bacteria along with the good bacteria.

4. Why is softened water better?

Soft water is free of contaminants and minerals that can harm your body. It is gentle on our skin and does not remove all the natural oils. Softened water also protects our household fixtures by preventing scale-buildup.  

Conclusion [Does a water softener remove iron]

Water is essential for our survival, which is why it is of the utmost importance to have access to clear and clean water. High levels of iron and other contaminants can cause irrevocable harm to our health. Therefore, using water softeners that can remove hardness along with the different types of iron commonly found in tap or well water, is imperative.

About The Author

Our Web Producer

Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.