With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

One of the hardest things to remove from any surface is rust stains. There are many remedies, but if you’re tired of scrubbing with baking soda and soaking with vinegar or coke, there is a solution. When you install a whole home water softener system in your home, you can get rid of the rust entirely!

What is the Source of Rust Stains?

When you have rust stains in your water, it’s a sure sign that you have high concentrations of iron present. In fact, it doesn’t take much iron to cause staining. If you have 0.3 ppm (parts per million), that’s enough. To put this into some perspective, 1 ppm of iron would be equivalent in size to a single grain of sand that had been dissolved in water.

Iron is one of the most common elements on Earth, it is found in nature everywhere, and it’s present in soil too. If you’ve ever been out hiking in nature and seen rusty water, it’s usually a sign of an iron deposit nearby. When water falls as rain, it soaks into the ground, where it then passes through various layers of sand, soil, and rock. Water is a solvent; it dissolves the surfaces of materials it passes through and adds them to its makeup. The water then flows into aquifers and waterways to be used in private wells and municipal water delivery networks.

Another possible source of iron in your water supply could be located in or around your own home. Cast iron was a popular material used to make plumbing pipes because it’s strong and easy to work with. But, over time, iron degrades and corrodes, which leads to breaks and corrosion problems. When rusty iron pipes are releasing rust into the water passing through them, it can cause staining. This may be an issue in older homes, but it’s less common as years go by because many homeowners are upgrading their plumbing systems with better materials.

How Can I Remove the Rust?

Firstly, it’s important to state that the level of iron found in your water isn’t likely to harm your health. But, it is an annoying problem; it can shorten the useful lifespan of water using appliances and lower the value of your home. Aside from the daily annoyance of scrubbing and cleaning, you may notice that your fabrics are stained. The only way to deal with this problem effectively is to contact your local water treatment specialist and ask them to install a water softener in your home.

There are many types of water softener systems, but the most reliable models use an ion-exchange process. This exchanges the ions that cause hard water, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron, with sodium or potassium. The mineral content is left on the surface of resin beads that are periodically washed clean with a regeneration cycle.

Both sodium and potassium are salts, they are more benign, and they make the water soft and easier to use. If you’re sensitive to salt, you can go with a potassium based water softener salt because it’s gentler than a sodium based solution. If you’re in doubt about which water softener salt to use, consult your physician first.

Can a Water Softener Remove Iron and Heavy Metals?

As we mentioned earlier, it doesn’t take much iron in the water supply to cause staining problems. But, this may be the least of your problems if you have very high concentrations of iron present. When you have a lot of iron in water, it has an unpleasant metallic tang, and it can smell bad. This makes it an unpalatable choice for drinking, and it can be hard to stay hydrated. In this case, your local water treatment specialist may recommend a water softener that’s specifically designed to deal with iron rich water. Alternatively, a dedicated iron filter can be added to certain existing water softener systems to add an additional layer of protection.

Sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach because water conditions can vary a great deal. For this reason, it’s advisable to get your water professionally tested each year to see how the water makeup has changed. Certain water characteristics, such as dissolved oxygen content, temperature, alkalinity, pH levels, and the type of iron present, will affect the efficacy of iron removal systems. A standard water softener will remove small quantities of iron, but if the iron concentrations are high, it can degrade the resin life quickly.

3 Types of Iron Contamination Explained

There are three main types of iron contamination that you may need to remove. You may have one or more present at any one time, and they can have different effects on your home. Let’s take a look at them in more detail:

  1. Ferrous or “Clear-water” Iron

When you look at ferrous iron rich water, you cannot notice any staining in the water as it runs from the plumbing fixture. The clarity of the water is not affected, but you may notice staining on surfaces that come into contact with the water, including fabrics, ceramics, and others. When you run the tap, the water will appear to be clear, but if you leave it to stand in a container, you can see a yellow or brown tint. Ferrous iron is completely dissolved in water, and it will pass through a basic water filtration system. If you notice reddish or brown stains in sinks, tubs, toilets, and the shower, it’s caused by ferrous iron. A water softener can remove low levels, but higher concentrations can be removed with an oxidizing filter. It may be necessary to flush the resin bed clean with Rust Out to protect the longevity of the resin bed.

  1. Ferric or “Red” Iron

This turns the water an orange color, and the cause is ferrous iron that has been oxidized to become ferric iron. This is an iron particle that can also cause clogging inside plumbing pipes, showerheads, and water filters over time. The best way to deal with low levels of ferric iron is to install a sediment filter. But, if you have high concentrations of ferric and ferrous iron, you’re going to need one of the solutions detailed above.

  1. Iron Bacteria

This is a black or reddish slime that you may see inside your toilet tanks or in a poorly maintained well. This is the least common type of iron contamination, and it requires some special solutions. A well may require a chemical injection to kill the bacteria and further cleaning to flush the system clear.

If you want to remove the iron from your water supply, contact your local water treatment specialist today.