Not all iron is the same. Many homes on well water in Northeastern Illinois are subjected to different types of iron such as ferrous iron, ferric iron, and iron bacteria. Many people are familiar with ferrous and/or ferric iron because it will stain clothes and water fixtures. Both ferric and ferrous iron in your water are easily removed using a combination of a pre-filter, water softener, and/or an iron filter. In the case of iron bacteria, no filtering system will remove its presence. Why? It’s a bacteria.
Although iron bacteria are not harmful to one’s health, they are a nuisance. Iron bacteria are small living organisms that naturally occur in soil, surface waters, and shallow ground water; however, they can be troublesome to private well water. These bacteria combine with oxygen or other nutrients to produce a slime or biofilm that attaches to the inside of a private well system or inside the piping of a home.
Interestingly, only a small percentage of homes experience iron bacteria. When iron bacteria is present, a wall of iron bacteria is formed in thick layers keeping chemicals or disinfectants from penetrating beyond the surface making it difficult to remove. Water containing iron bacteria will have a red, yellow, or orange color and can produce a sheen on the top of water. Iron bacteria can also produce an odor especially when water isn’t used for a period of time.
The easiest and most cost effective means to detect if iron bacteria are present in your water is to check the sides of a toilet tank. First, lift open the top of the toilet tank and feel the sides of the tank where the water sits. If a slimy feel exists, then iron bacteria are present. When you feel iron bacteria are present, but are unsure it’s best to contact your local water professional.
Measures can and should be taken when your well is being constructed, tested, or repaired through disinfection of all materials and tools. If a well is heavily infested with iron bacteria, it can be extremely difficult to terminate. It is advised to contact a certified well driller for extreme cases. It is difficult to completely remove iron bacteria because of its makeup, but a homeowner can take steps to help contain iron bacteria from becoming worse. For preventative measures, a homeowner should chlorinate their well annually. A well chlorination is not a cure all, but it is inexpensive and easy to perform. This procedure does have its limitations and may only control and/or prevent the issue.
The next time you feel you are getting iron staining in your home’s fixtures, don’t blame your water treatment equipment, instead check your toilet tank for a slimy feel. It could be iron bacteria. The earlier you detect and prevent iron bacteria, the better off your water will be. Remember, the best practice for iron bacteria is prevention.