Why Is My Well Water Brown?
When it comes to tap water, everyone if not most would expect crystal clear water regardless of the source. However, that’s not necessarily the case. More often than not, you may turn on the tap and notice discolored, cloudy or brown water instead.
Water supply to residential homes can either be city water or well water, depending on where you live. For those that rely on well water, you need to know that the life of a well is about 30 to 50 years and well water can turn brown from iron and other reasons.
Why it’s Important to Check Your Well Water?
With well water, the responsibility for the water condition will lie on the well owner. Treating your own well water for impurities is vital to ensure safe, clean drinking water as well as to increase the longevity of your well.
Well water is used in many residential homes to cook, drink, and bathe with so it is important to ensure that the water stays healthy and pure. However, brown well water is a common issue, and you may need to do some troubleshooting to find out what is the cause of the discoloration.
Common Causes of Brown Well Water
If you have brown well water, you may be experiencing one or several of the impurities discussed below:
Iron is naturally present in the earth’s crust and can get into your well water supply via the underground aquifer. This becomes especially evident when rain or melted snow seeps into the ground. In addition to that, iron from corroded or rusty pipes and plumbing can also be another cause of iron leakage into your discolored water supply.
Having too much iron in your water doesn’t only discolor it, but also gives the water a metallic taste. It will also stain clothes and your laundry and appliances as well as lead to build-up that could clog up your plumbing. Some areas may have more iron content than others. There are three types of iron present in water:
Ferrous iron – water with ferrous iron comes out from the tap clear but it starts to turn red or brown after standing.
Ferric iron – water with ferric iron is red or dark yellow color when it comes out of the tap. Ferric iron is oxidized iron and may lead to brown water when mixed with other impurities.
Organic iron – colorless iron present in shallow wells or wells with direct surface access.
Make sure you don’t confuse organic iron with iron bacteria which is a type of bacteria that consumes iron and lives in well environment. These kinds of bacteria produce iron in the form of biofilms that appear as slimy deposits and are not harmful to humans. However, if the biofilm is present in high numbers, it can worsen the iron problem in water.
If you’re unsure whether the water is safe to drink, you should boil all water with a brownish hue before you do anything with it to kill off any dangerous microorganisms present.
Rust (Iron Oxides)
Iron oxidizes in the presence of water and oxygen to be converted into rust. The oxidation chemical reaction begins breaking down the iron and weakening it, which is how rusty pipes develop holes, crack, and break. It’s common to see reddish-brown rust stains on faucets, sink basins, toilets, bathtubs, and any other location where iron-laced water is exposed to oxygen.
Small doses of rust water don’t pose an immediate health concern. However, showering in discolored water containing dislodged rust may strip your hair and skin of their natural oils and result in dryness, itchiness, and broken hair strands.
Silt / Sediment
Even if your well is equipped with the best well water system, it could risk getting damaged or heaved out of place with the occurrence of earthquakes or intense flooding. When this happens, silt or sediment may start to dissolve in rainwater and get into your pump.
The accumulation of dissolved iron or other metal can cause your water to be cloudy, and once the water settled, the silt or sand will appear at the bottom or float on top.
These sediments can damage the plumbing, clog filters, and even erode pipes over time from repeated wear and tear. Water filled with sediment or silt will not only appear murky, cloudy and dirty, but they won’t be pleasant to drink either.
It’s not just the silt either, there may be bacteria cultures present in the water, such as e. coli and total coliform bacteria that can make you very sick once consumed.
Organic Material and Tannins
If your well water has an earthy or bitter taste, you may have tannins in the well water. Tannins are naturally occurring organic material formed from humic acid found in decaying, peaty soil and leaves. Tannins can be found throughout organic plant matter and are often present in large amounts in peat, coal, and ocean water.
While small amounts of tannins won’t make you sick, they’re bitter and astringent, making the water unpleasant to drink. They also cause stains in sinks and toilets, much like iron.
Why it is Important to Test Your Well Water?
One of the most crucial steps to getting rid of brown well water is to first determine the root cause of the issue. You can conduct well water testing for contaminants to quickly identify what is causing the brown hue. The test can help you figure out the best treatment plan to get back crystal clear well water that’s safe to drink again.
As discussed in the section above, there are many different contaminants that can cause brown, cloudy water. It’s also never safe to assume only one culprit before testing as well water often has many naturally occurring dissolved solids at various safe levels.
If you’re wondering what the safe levels are, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has a website on testing well water and common problems faced.
In terms of water testing kits, there are many different options available on the market today designed to help homeowners to check their water quality at home. These kits are also easy to use without the need for an expert.
The water test kit should include a pH, concentration of iron, hardness, dissolved solids, and iron bacteria test. You might also want to consider additional testing for e-coli bacteria, fecal coliform, and total coliform during the water test.
If you’re suffering from brown water, you can begin with iron and rust testing since they’re the most common type of impurity before using a broad spectrum test for other harmful contaminants. Silt and sediment are the most challenging to treat and may even result from structural issues within the pump or well itself.
If you’re willing to spend a little more money or if you’re uncomfortable doing the water test yourself, you can also arrange to send your water sample to a laboratory to test for specific impurities and the levels present. Once you narrow down your problem, you’ll be able to choose a suitable treatment to restore your well water.
How to Get Rid of Brown Well Water?
Once you’ve identified what exactly is causing your brown water issue, the next thing to do is to begin treatment. Contrary to belief, well water treatment doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming process provided you know what you’re looking for.
Brown well water is such a common problem and can happen quickly after natural events or changes in the aquifer, which is why many businesses have developed devices and methods to help remove and filter out such impurities. Most well water filters for brown water impurity adopts one of the following methods of filtration:
Ion Exchange Water Softener System
If you’re only dealing with relatively small amounts of iron and other impurities like manganese and calcium, then you can consider getting an ion exchange softening device that’s mainly designed to soften hard water. The ion exchanger is usually placed at the water supply’s point of entry into the house to remove calcium and magnesium from well water.
This softening process works via cation exchange process with sodium ions. Water hardness ions like calcium are exchanged with sodium, which is a non-hardness ion and will not cause stains. Ion exchanged-based water softeners are also capable of removing up to 10 parts per million ppm or iron and manganese – two of the most common brown water impurities.
However, you need to make sure that your well water does not contain iron and manganese of more than 10ppm, or you may find that your water softener’s lifespan gets reduced considerably. To maintain your water softener system’s integrity and longevity, you can consider installing a pre-treatment or special iron filter before the water softener system.
If your water has large amounts of ferrous iron minerals, you should look for filters created for iron. Many iron filters are specifically created to detect and remove iron components from well water.
Coming back to ion exchange, this type of filter usually also come with a sediment filter as a bonus to help remove silt and sediment before it makes your way to your water pipes and cold water tap.
Air Injection System
If your test kit shows high levels of iron and manganese in your well water, then you can consider air injection filters that are designed to inject oxygen into your well. The injection of oxygen will cause the iron to oxidize and precipitate. The iron oxide will be trapped in the air injection filter before getting flushed out of the system through a pre-set schedule to remove debris.
Setting up this system will require a plumber, but the treatment is virtually maintenance-free after installation. In addition to helping you remove iron from well water, most air injection treatments also come with sediment filters and salt-based water softener functions for added convenience.
While this system works well for oxidizing and removing iron and certain minerals, it won’t work for well water with tannin or bacterial culture problems.
Greensand filters work on the same principle as air injection oxidization where the system uses a manganese oxide coating instead of injecting oxygen into the water. The coating will oxidize the iron in the water and turn dissolved solids into larger particles.
Those iron or impurity solids will sink to the bed of the filter before getting washed away with the help of the potassium permanganate powder. Once that process is done, the system will reset and clean the filter once more.
The choice between air injection oxidation and greensand filters comes down to cost, installation, and personal preference as both methods are effective at removing dissolved iron from well water through similar processes.
Sediment filtration uses one or more filters to remove particulates like dirt, dust, and rust from well water. The process clears the water of larger matter but does not address smaller dissolved solids or chemicals.
Since sediment and silt can damage delicate filers, many water purification methods will also come equipped with a sediment pre-filter to remove larger particles before moving on to more delicate work.
UV purification or disinfection systems are designed to neutralize living organisms, such as bacteria and parasites by altering their DNA and preventing them from reproducing. The system does this entire process via ultraviolet wavelengths.
UV purification is a highly effective method for unsafe water. However, the system requires clear water as cloudy water and precipitates can interfere with the wavelengths. Hence, UV purification is usually set as the last step after other filtration methods to remove dead, invisible microorganisms.
Reverse Osmosis System
Another method for removing brown water is the reverse osmosis process. This type of filtration can remove up to 100% of organic material from water including bacteria, sulfur, lead, dissolved iron, and other undesirable pollutants.
The reverse osmosis system works by pushing dirty water through a membrane to filter and clean the water. However, the installation of a reverse osmosis system will likely require the help of a plumber as it’s not as straightforward and simple to install as other DIY treatments.
Replace Rusty Pipes
If your water test kit comes back positive for iron oxide, then it’s high time for you to change your pipes. The first step before filtration is to identify the source of the rust and replace it. While a filtration system can remove rust from water, it doesn’t fix the root cause if your pipes are rusted or damaged. If your pipes are rusty, iron oxide will continue to leech into the water supply.
Removing and installing pipes or other plumbing fixtures are better left to professionals so that you don’t risk any future issues. Though plumbing can be an expensive job, it’s worth it as new pipes can also help raise the curb appeal of your home as well as to provide safer and cleaner well water.