By Mark Nelson — President, Nelson Water

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.

Regardless of whether you have city water or are supplied by a private well, it is hard to miss the signs of iron, particularly if your water has developed a metallic taste and you notice rusty stains around your home. Iron can not only cause aesthetic problems at home, but it can also be a costly issue, so here we will explore the effects of iron in your water.

How Iron Enters Your Water Supply

Iron is naturally occurring, so it may enter private wells from deposits in lakes, aquifers, and rivers. The corrosion of iron pipes and industrial activity can also be a contributing factor. Rusty tap water can appear from public water supplies if there is a break in the water main or a fire hydrant has been turned on. Finally, any changes in the water flow or water pH can force rust deposits in the pipes to be broken up and allow iron particles to be washed into your water supply.

The Health Implications of High Iron Water Content

Iron is not considered to be a dangerous contaminant. While it does cause cosmetic, technical and aesthetic issues, high iron water is not considered a danger to health. Even if your water does have an alarming taste and appearance, local water providers are not obliged to regulate iron levels in water.

Although it does not pose a danger, iron is often accompanying hard water minerals in water supplies, which can have effects on the body. These can include a dry, itchy scalp, dull, brittle hair, dry skin with an increased likelihood of eczema and quicker fading of colour treated hair. So, while high iron levels may not be dangerous, it can create irritating issues that need to be addressed.

The Impact of Iron Water in Your Home 

The most significant impacts of high iron levels in your water supply are to your home and wallet. If left untreated, the problems caused by high iron levels can add up to costly issues. Iron can cause brown or red staining on clothing, rust stains on your plumbing fixtures, slime clogging up pipes and pumps, increased chance of appliance breakdown and increased utility bills.

The Different Types of Iron in Your Water

There are four forms of iron in water supplies, and each will require a different treatment method. If you have red water, it is likely to contain oxidised iron. These particles turn the water a bright red colour and can clog up your water treatment equipment. So, you will need a special set of filters to protect your appliances and water softener.

If your water is still clear, it may contain dissolved iron. This type of iron only oxidises in open air, so while it runs clear from your taps, it will leave rust coloured stains. This type of iron is known as soluble or ferrous iron and requires different treatment compared to red water iron.

Organic iron contains tannins or decaying plant matter to create a yellow or brown hue to the water. This usually occurs in surface water or shallow wells, and it is resistant to oxidation, so requires specialist treatment.

Finally, your home may be affected by iron bacteria which grows when iron particles combine with organic material or certain forms of bacteria. This creates a yellow or brown sludge that has a bad odor. This sludge can clog appliances and plumbing fixtures, quickly causing damage if not addressed.

For iron water problems, you should consider contacting a certified water treatment professional.