Yellow well water looks alarming. Thankfully, the common causes of yellow drinking water from a well aren’t usually harmful to the human body – and they’re usually easy enough to fix.
In this guide, we’ve shared the 5 likely causes a yellow water supply in a well, and the easiest ways to fix them.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Contaminants like iron, tannins, rust, sediment, iron bacteria, and algae can all turn your well water yellow.
- Thankfully, most of these contaminants don’t pose a health risk, but they can affect water’s taste, smell, and appearance, and may cause expensive plumbing damage.
- You can address most of the causes of yellow water in a well by installing a suitable water treatment system and, if necessary, repairing your well to prevent further contamination.
Table of Contents
🧪 Why Is Your Well Water Yellow? 5 Causes & Solutions
Let’s jump into the 5 most common reasons why your well has yellow water, and how to fix them.
1) Ferric Iron
Ferric iron is the most common cause of yellow or orange well water. If your water has a yellow tint and a metallic taste, iron is the likely culprit.
Groundwater supplies often contain iron because this contaminant leaches into the water from iron-bearing rocks as it seeps through the earth.
Iron is a natural mineral that doesn’t pose a health risk in small amounts, but it has noticeable aesthetic effects in your water and your home, including a poor taste and smell, and orange iron deposits in your plumbing and fixtures.
Iron and manganese are often present together in well water systems. If your tap water contains both iron and manganese, it may leave both yellow-orange and black stains on your fixtures and appliances.
How To Fix It
Installing an iron filter is the best way to fix yellow tap water caused by iron in your well.
You’ll need to find a water filter that can remove ferric iron: oxidized iron in water that gives it an orange-yellow tint.
One of the most effective water treatment systems for iron removal is an air injection oxidation system, which removes around 10-15 PPM of both ferric and dissolved iron (it oxidizes ferrous iron into ferric iron before removal if needed).
Air injection systems are installed at the main water line’s point of entry into your home. They send water through an air bubble, then remove the oxidized contaminants from water in a filter media bed (usually made from birm or manganese greensand).
Check out our Iron Filter Buying Guide for Well Water
Tannins are another common well contaminant that turn the water yellow.
Tannins are natural organic materials that give water a tea-like color. These materials get into water as it flows through decaying vegetation and peaty soils. If your water contains tannins or similar organic materials, it’ll likely also have a musty smell and a bitter taste.
Again, tannins aren’t dangerous to drink and don’t pose a health risk, but they give water a bad taste and smell, and make it look unappealing.
How To Fix It
You can fix tannins by removing them from your tap water with a dedicated water treatment solution.
There are a few different water filters that remove organic material from well water:
- Ion exchange systems, which exchange tannins with harmless ions in water (some manufacturers sell water softener systems with additional tannin removal abilities)
- Reverse osmosis systems, which remove up to 99.99% of all organic and inorganic matter (they often require pre-treatment when treating well water)
- Activated carbon filters, which can usually remove 99% of tannins from yellow water, improving its taste and odor
Again, install your treatment system of choice as close as possible to water’s entry into your home, to protect your entire water supply from organic material.
3) Rusty Pipes
Yellow water in your well might not be caused by contaminants in your water supply, but by impurities from rusty pipes and water lines.
Old pipes may begin to corrode, and the force of the water flow through the pipes may cause bits of rust and metal to break off and enter the water.
In this scenario, your yellow water will likely have floating bits of orange or yellow rust, or rust particles that settle at the bottom of a drinking water glass. You should notice that your water clears up after running the taps for a few minutes.
How To Fix It
The only effective way to eliminate rust from your well water is to replace your corroded pipes.
Hire an experienced plumber to inspect your pipes and confirm your suspicions – you don’t want to replace your pipes unless absolutely necessary since it’s an expensive job.
If you don’t have the funds to buy new pipes for your plumbing system, you should be able to remove the rust from your water with a sediment filter.
Just remember that rusty pipes could increase the risk of potentially catastrophic leaks in your home, so you’ll need to replace them eventually.
Sediment is one of the most common well water contaminants. Well aquifers naturally contain silt, gravel, sand, and other sediment that could get pumped into your well system. Small amounts of sand or silt could give your well water a yellow tinge.
Excess sediment in your well water might also be caused by a problem with the well itself. For instance, over time, sand and silt can build up in the aquifer beneath the well pump. This sediment may accumulate to the point that when the pump draws water in, it also draws in a substantial amount of sediment.
Plus, a broken or degraded well screen could develop holes that allow large amounts of sand to get pumped into the well system, rather than being blocked out.
If you have sediment in your water, you may notice tiny particles that settle to the bottom of a glass. In large amounts, sediment may also affect your water pressure.
How To Fix It
The best way to fix the problem of sediment in your well water is to install a sediment filter.
There are a couple of types of sediment filters available:
- Spin-down sediment filters target large sediment particles and are best for removing visible sediment, like sand
- Cartridge sediment filters usually target smaller particles of sediment that might be invisible to the human eye
You might need to install multiple sediment filters with various pore sizes to trap sediment of numerous sizes in your water. An automatic backwashing sediment filter is best if you want a low-maintenance solution.
If your water contains a lot of sediment and you think your well might have issues, contact your local well contractor. They’ll be able to inspect your well and advise on whether any repairs or maintenance is required.
5) Iron Bacteria
Iron bacteria, formed when iron and manganese particles combine with bacteria that are naturally occurring in soil and surface water, is another cause of yellow water in a well.
Iron bacteria contamination causes yellow or orange sludge-like deposits on your pipes, water lines, and fixtures. You might also notice floating bits of iron bacteria, and your water might have an unpleasant smell.
Aside from giving your water an unappealing appearance, iron bacteria will also clog up your water-using appliances, including your water heater, shortening their lifespans and slowing your water pressure.
Thankfully, iron bacteria have no known health risks. But you’ll still want to remove these impurities from your water to prevent major clogging in your plumbing.
How To Fix It
To fix yellow tap water caused by iron bacteria, there are a couple of methods to consider.
You might need to shock chlorinate your well to get rid of iron bacteria that have been building up over a long time.
There are a few long-term solutions that might be more suitable if iron bacteria is an ongoing problem in your water supply. These include:
- Chemical injection – injecting chlorine into your water to kill bacteria and other microorganisms
- Filtration – a filtration system that filters out oxidized metals and the disinfection chemicals used in the chemical injection stage
📑 Final Word
So, yellow water in your well is thankfully easy to fix – but only if you successfully identify the problem.
We recommend testing your water to learn exactly what it contains. Don’t guess based on pictures you’ve seen online. You want to know exactly what you’re dealing with so that you can fix the problem as effectively as possible.
Laboratory testing will give you the most accurate results, but you can also use an at-home DIY test kit if you want a cheaper way to get an indication of the impurities in your tap water. Once you have your test results, you can determine the best solution to remove the problem contaminants.
Also, make sure the yellow water issue is in your entire home. If only your hot water is affected (not your hot AND cold water), the problem might be isolated to your hot water heater.
If you’re concerned about your water supply and you want a second opinion, switch temporarily to bottled water and contact a water treatment professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
❔ Yellow Well Water: FAQ
What does it mean when well water is yellow?
If your well water is yellow, it usually means that the water contains specific contaminants that are known to give water a yellow or orange tinge, such as tannins, sand and other sediment, algae, iron, and rust. Yellow water doesn’t necessarily mean that the water is unsafe to drink, but you’ll probably need to install a water treatment system to improve overall water quality.
Why does my well water go yellow after rain?
If your well water turns yellow after rain, it’s likely caused by surface water leaking into your well. If you suspect this issue, you should treat it immediately, since surface water is more likely to contain dangerous impurities like fertizilers, pesticides, and E. Coli from animal waste.
Can I shower in yellow well water?
Yes, you can usually shower in yellow well water. None of the contaminants that make water yellow are absorbed by the skin, which means that showering in yellow well water is harmless. Just make sure not to ingest any of the water as you shower, especially if you’re concerned about iron bacteria contamination.
Is it safe to drink yellow well water?
Yes, it’s usually safe to drink yellow well water since yellow coloration is often caused by contaminants that have aesthetic issues but don’t pose a human health threat, like iron, tannins, and sediment. However, it’s still a good idea to test and treat your water if necessary, especially if there’s a chance that these contaminants are accompanied by other more harmful impurities in your drinking water supply.
Why is my water yellow all of a sudden?
If your well water has suddenly turned yellow, it may be that naturally occurring sediment has recently been disturbed in your well water supply, or that your well pump has started to draw sediment into your well. This could be due to a natural buildup of sand and sediment beneath the pump, or because the well screen has degraded or corroded to the point that silt and sand can now be pumped into your well system.