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Have you noticed, when filling a glass of water from your kitchen faucet, that your water has taken on a brownish hue? If you’re using your own private well, you might be experiencing a number of contaminant problems that can result in brown well water.
Some cases of brown water are more serious than others – and whether or not your health is at risk depends on how contaminated your water is. No matter what the situation, if your water is coming out brown, or leaving brown stains on your sinks and bathtubs, you need to know how to fix the issue.
In this guide, I’ll be sharing what you need to know about brown water contaminants in wells, including how to get rid of brown well water.
🤔 Why is My Well Water Brown?
Brown water in wells is an indicator of one or several of the impurities listed below:
Iron can get into your well water supply from the earth’s crust or from corroded, rusty pipes and plumbing. Iron from the earth can enter a well via the underground aquifer, especially when rain or melted snow seeps into the ground. If you live in an area where iron is a common groundwater mineral, it’s pretty much inevitable that your pump will admit it into your well when it rains.
There are several different types of iron that can result in brown water from rain-water seepage: ferrous, ferric, and iron bacteria. Even if you can’t see the iron in your well water, it can affect water’s taste and smell and leave brown staining on your plumbing fixtures and faucets. Iron bacteria tend to be the worst of the iron types and can leave slimy deposits that clog your water supply pipes.
Iron oxidizes when it has been exposed to water and oxygen, and is converted into rust. It’s common to see reddish-brown rust stains on faucets and in sink basins, toilets and bathtubs, and in any other location where iron-laced water can be exposed to oxygen.
Rust is responsible for pipe corrosion, and a high iron concentration may eventually result in your pipes cracking and weakening. If you wash in discolored water containing dislodged rust, you may also have problems with your skin and hair, as a high level of this contaminant can strip your hair and skin of their natural oils and result in dryness, itchiness, and broken hair strands.
Silt, or sediment, isn’t supposed to get into well water via your pump. But if your well components, such as the well pump, the well screen, casing or the bed rock at the bottom of the aquifer, are damaged, dissolved solids from rainwater may be sucked into your well via the pump. Well drilling, either for a new well water system or maintenance to an existing well, can also release silt particles through the casing into your well, which will be sucked up by the pump and end up on the bed rock surface when water is turned on and the well water system becomes operational.
Brown water that’s laced with silt may pose an issue to your home and your health. Sand, silt, mud and suspended solids from rainwater could be causing damage to the water pipes in your house and even affect water flow. Sediment-heavy drinking water will taste unpleasant and may take on a cloudy, murky appearance. It may also be colored brown or grey. Silt in your water is relatively harmless on its own, but it’s usually a sign of total coliform, fecal coliform or E. Coli bacteria, which can make you sick when ingested.
Tannins are naturally occurring organic material that are usually found in decaying, peaty soil and leaves. They seep through the earth when there’s snow or rain and can pass through soil and leaves into a well via the aquifer. Rain water containing tannins can stain clothes, fixtures, taps and china with a yellowish tint. If tannins are present in your well, may notice that your water has an earthy smell and a tangy aftertaste. These impurities can turn your water brown or yellow, like the color of tea.
In small amounts, tannins don’t pose a health risk, and they’re mostly considered an aesthetic problem. Discolored water laced with tannins is unpleasant to drink and can cause annoying problems in your home.
🧪 Determine the Culprit – Test Your Well Water
Before you learn how to get rid of brown water, you need to understand what’s giving water its brown color in the first place. You might have an idea of what you’re dealing with if your well water is brown and you have rust stains or cloudy water, but it’s best not to guess at your brown water problem.
The easiest way you could properly determine the culprit, if your water turns brown all of a sudden, is to test your well water. Head to Amazon and you’ll find plenty of well water testing kits that are designed to detect hardness, iron, bacteria like total coliform and fecal coliform, lead, and much more.
You’ll find it difficult to get your hands on a well water test kit that can test for all the brown water contamination culprits listed above. Testing for tannins and sediment is particularly difficult, and you may need to buy a kit that’ll exclusively test for these impurities, rather than a broad test that detects a variety of impurities, but not all the brown water causes you necessarily want to test for.
A simpler solution is to buy one of the more widely-available well water test kits that detects iron and rust. Iron is one of the most common causes of brown well water, so it’s wise to test your water for this cause of contamination first.
Alternatively, for a more thorough understanding of what has caused your brown water well issue, you could pay to get your well tested by a laboratory for these specific problem impurities. A complete water test will cost you more than if you test your water yourself, but a laboratory won’t just indicate which impurities are present in your water – you could also be provided information on exactly the level of these impurities in your sample.
Once you’re certain which impurities are causing your water well to turn brown, you can move onto the important bit: how to get rid of brown well water.
✅ How to Get Rid of Brown Well Water
Luckily, brown well water is such a common problem in the US that there are plenty of tailor-made solutions that are designed to provide a brown well water fix. No matter why your well water turned brown, I’ve highlighted the five most popular treatments you could consider below.
Ion exchange is a process that takes place inside a salt-based water softener. This type of whole-house water softener is installed at your water’s point of entry, before your water heater, to provide your showers, taps and water-based appliances with softened hot and cold water.
Ion exchange is renowned for tackling water that’s high in hardness, but that’s not the only issue it can resolve. When you switch on your faucet, water from your well will flow into the ion exchange tank. Here, water hardness ions and iron minerals are attracted to a positively-charged media bed and stick to it, while sodium ions are released into the water. The result is that calcium, magnesium and iron minerals – the culprits that have caused the brown color of your water – would be completely removed.
The bonus of an ion exchange water softener is that it usually comes with a sediment pre-filter, which will remove silt from your water before ion exchange takes place.
Note that not all water softeners are designed to rid water of large amounts of iron, especially in the form of bacteria. You would need to look for a softener that’s specifically designed for iron removal if that’s the reason why your well water turns brown.
Air Injection Oxidization
Air injection filters typically treat contaminated well water by introducing oxygen into a pressure tank containing water. This will oxidize iron and manganese, which in turn will cause these oxidized particles to stick to the surface of the media bed. On a programmed schedule, the media bed will regenerate, properly flushing itself clear of the collected impurities to begin the process again.
This solution would work well for particular impurities, but it’s not the widest-ranging option if you’re also looking for bacteria or tannins removal, for instance.
Greensand filters are coated with manganese oxide, which, like an air injection filter, oxidizes iron and manganese and turns them into solids. These impurities then sit on the surface of the media bed until they’re backwashed away and a fresh, clear media bed is restored.
Air injection oxidization and greensand filters use slightly different means of achieving exactly the same results, so if you’re stuck between the two, your ultimate decision would most likely be based on your budget and ease of installation.
A sediment filter can be used as a sole filter or installed at the beginning of a whole-house water filter system. This type of filter is best for dirty, discolored water with a sediment problem, and usually has pores of 1 to 5 microns in size, which are designed to remove dissolved solids like dirt, sand, dust and rust. It’s best to use this water treatment option alongside another filtration solution, such as a reverse osmosis system (see below).
Reverse osmosis is a highly effective contamination treatment that can properly remove almost 100% of organic material from dirty water. You would typically install a reverse osmosis system before your water heater to provide your whole house with clean, clear water, though systems can also be installed at your kitchen sink to give you access to clean water from your cold water tap.
In a reverse osmosis system, dirty water flows through several stages of filtration and a reverse osmosis membrane, which can remove everything from bacteria to lead, pH hardness, sulfur and other harmful contaminants. By the time drinking water reaches your tap, it’ll have a much-reduced concentration of impurities.
RO units can be a little difficult to install at your piping yourself, and you may need to consider a plumber for the job.
Replace Rusted Pipes
If your brown-colored water is being caused by rusty pipes, the only way to solve the problem is to replace the pipes in your house. This is a big job, and unless you’re a qualified plumber, it’s best to leave it to the experts.
The work would cost between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars depending on which plumber you choose and the number of pipe replacements needed, but for the sake of your health, getting rid of harmful rust is something you should strive to do sooner rather than later ignore.