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What Does it Mean to Have Water with Iron in It?

Published by Passaic Bergen Water Softening on


We have all heard about buildings with iron in the water. Many of us have at one point or another born witness to the tell-tale signs of water with high iron content. A brown, yellow, or orange ring in a sink or toilet, clothing that discolors in the wash, water with a metallic taste. But what does it actually mean to have water with iron in it, and is it necessarily a bad thing?

How Does Iron Get Into Water?

Iron is an element that is present in much of the earth’s crust. It oxidizes readily when exposed to oxygen in water to form rust. Well water is more susceptible to high levels of iron than that from a municipal water system. Rust-colored water is a dead giveaway to the presence of iron. This is the result of oxidation and is known as “particle form” iron. The rust color characteristic of particle form is just that- particles of rust are in the water. But iron can also be dissolved in water, known as a “reduced” state. Dissolved iron is harder to detect because the water is clear and looks normal.

Elevated iron levels can also be the result of pipe corrosion. This frequently happens when pipes are unused for a prolonged period. In this case, running water usually presents a rust color that clears after a few minutes.


Iron is an essential component of a healthy body. It is key to proper transportation of oxygen to body tissue. Insufficient iron often leads to anemia. Ingesting enough iron is essential. However, food is the usual means of iron intake, not drinking water. Just as too little iron in one’s body is a bad thing, excess iron is likewise dangerous. Iron overload, known medically as “hemochromatosis,” occurs whenever there is an accumulation of iron in the body from any cause. The most common cause of this condition is “hereditary hemochromatosis,” which is genetic. It can also result from multiple blood transfusions.  Less-common causes are the result of excess iron supplements and excess dietary iron.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency does not regard elevated iron levels in water to be a health problem. They, therefore, do not set any limit on iron in drinking water. There is little to no evidence to suggest that water with elevated iron levels contributes to iron overload unless you already have hemochromatosis. There is, however, potential for water with iron concentrations that are high to contain bacteria. Although we know that rust harbors toxic bacteria, the bacteria in water with iron is usually regarded as harmless.
Rust-colored slime in plumbing often indicates the presence of this bacteria in water.

Other Effects

Aside from the aforementioned discoloration of surfaces, water with iron can cause discoloration of hair, teeth, and anything washed in it, such as clothes. Metallic taste and smell are also common. Perhaps the worst effect is on plumbing. This is especially true of oxidized iron. Particles accumulate around couplings, joints, screens, and filters and cause clogging and corrosion.


There are numerous remedies for iron in your water. First, determine whether your iron is oxidized or reduced. Treat oxidized iron with a mechanical filter. The filter catches particles and keeps them out of the plumbing. Typically, treat reduced iron with water softeners. But, sometimes it needs to be oxidized to render it into particle form. Then, filter it out mechanically.

Water with iron rarely causes adverse health effects, but it is rarely desirable. Every situation is, of course, unique and there is not a one size fits all solution.  Contact us to find out more about how to mitigate water with excess iron.



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