How to Purify Well Water for Drinking (Top Methods Revealed)

If you get your water from a private well, there are probably several benefits you enjoy. You don’t have to pay a water bill, and you have constant access to your very own water supply.

However, owning a well means taking on responsibilities that municipal water users don’t have. Your biggest duty is to make sure that your water is safe for your family to drink.

This guide explains the best ways to purify your well water, including: UV purification, chlorine disinfection, reverse osmosis, boiling, distillation & more.

🆚 Water Purification Vs Filtration

First, a quick definition of water purification.

💡 Water purification involves disinfecting or modifying a water supply to remove, kill, or deactivate harmful contaminants that could make you sick, such as bacteria and viruses.

Purifying water isn’t the same as filtering water. Filtering water with a water filtration system might remove certain contaminants affecting water quality, but it doesn’t guarantee purification. You can filter water without purifying it, and vice versa.

Examples of well water purification methods are UV purification and chlorine disinfection. Examples of well water filtration methods are sediment filtration and activated carbon filtration.

💯 5 Best Well Water Purification Methods

Keen to maintain microbiologically safe well water? Below, you’ll find our list of the 5 top tried-and-tested methods for purifying well water.

UV Purification System

A UV purification system is the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to purify your well water. UV purifiers target microorganisms with ultraviolet light, which alters their DNA, preventing them from replicating.

UV purification units consist of a UV lamp in a quartz sleeve. Well water flows through the UV system and the lamp emits UV rays, which penetrate the quartz sleeve and enter the water. This provides instant disinfection, killing bacteria, viruses, protozoans, cysts, and more.

Uv purification system

UV Purification Pros

UV Purification cons

  • UV is less effective if water is turbid, and may not provide 100% protection against microbes
  • UV purification doesn’t physically remove dangerous microorganisms from water, so you can’t check that the process has worked with a before-and-after water test
  • Ultraviolet light is only effective against microbiological contaminants, and can’t treat rust, sediment, or other common well water impurities

👉 Continue Reading: 4 Must-Buy UV Water Purifier Systems of 2022

Chlorine Disinfection

Chlorine disinfection is a well water purification method that mimics the disinfection process used for public water supplies. There are two ways to disinfect well water with chlorine: by shock chlorination and with a chemical injection system.

Shock chlorination is typically used to disinfect a well on an emergency basis if a microorganism like coliform bacteria has been detected. Chemical injection systems are designed to keep water microorganism-free on an ongoing basis. These systems inject a measured amount of chlorine into water that’s proportional to the flow rate of water traveling through the system.

chlorine injection system

Chlorine Disinfection Pros

  • Chlorine disinfection is a tried-and-tested method of water purification that has guaranteed outcomes
  • Chlorine lingers in water once it is added, protecting your pipes and appliances from algae and slime
  • Chlorine disinfection is used to treat public drinking water supplies, so you know it’s reliable against the majority of microorganisms

Chlorine Disinfection Cons

  • Some people would rather not drink disinfection chemicals in their water, even in trace amounts – and chlorine is known to have disinfection by-products, which may cause cancer
  • A constant supply of chlorine is needed for a chemical injection system, so regular maintenance is required. Plus, installing this type of purification system is fairly complex
  • Chlorine is relatively ineffective at killing protozoans in water

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is a filtration and purification process in one. Reverse osmosis water filtration systems target hundreds of contaminants, including microorganisms like coliform bacteria. The systems use a semi-permeable membrane, which has tiny pores and acts as a physical barrier to contaminants, trapping even the smallest of microorganisms.

Bacteria, viruses, protozoans, algae, and cysts are all effectively removed by the reverse osmosis process. RO units are most commonly installed as point-of-use applications (such as an under-sink filtration system), although whole home reverse osmosis systems are becoming more popular today.

Tank-Based RO System

Reverse Osmosis Pros

  • RO protects you from all the likely germs and pathogens in your well water, from viruses to protozoans to cysts
  • Reverse osmosis is one of the few disinfection methods that also filters other common contaminants out of water, including volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and chemicals
  • RO systems significantly improve the taste, smell, and appearance of drinking water

Reverse Osmosis Cons

  • Reverse osmosis water filtration systems are expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars upfront
  • RO units waste water during the treatment process. While some RO systems are more efficient than others, water waste is an unavoidable feature of a reverse osmosis unit
  • Often, reverse osmosis needs a pre-treatment system if used to treat well water. This protects the RO membrane from high levels of sediment and hardness minerals

👉 Continue Reading: 6 Best Reverse Osmosis Systems Worth Your Money

Boiling

Boiling water is a safe, cheap way to disinfect your well water. Due to the time and effort that goes into boiling water, we recommend this method for emergency situations only, and not for daily water treatment.

To make your drinking water safe by boiling, fill a large pot with well water and bring the water to a rolling boil for three minutes. This will kill parasites and germs that may be present in the water. Cover the pot and leave the water to cool before storing it in containers or drinking it immediately.

Boiling water

Boiling Water Pros

  • Boiling water is cheap. You only pay for the energy it takes to heat the water for three minutes
  • Boiling water is a chemical-free process. This method doesn’t add anything dangerous to your water
  • The boiling method is reliable. You can boil as much or as little water as you want, and achieve the same result every time

Boiling Water Cons

  • Boiling water takes work. You have to fill a pot with water and heat it on the stove every time you want a drink
  • The boiling process is lengthy. Not only do you need to wait three minutes for water to boil, but you also need to wait for the water to cool before you can drink it
  • When you boil water, some of the water evaporates. That means that certain contaminants that boiling can’t remove – such as heavy metals – are present in equal quantities in a smaller batch of water

👉 Continue Reading: Boiled Water vs Filtered Water: Which is Better?

Distillation

Distillation is a similar process to boiling, but with an extra stage. After boiling water in a chamber until it evaporates, a distiller sends the water vapor along a cooling corridor. The water vapor cools and condenses into water droplets, which exit the distiller into a separate container.

The distillation process doesn’t only kill microorganisms – including bacteria, protozoans, cysts, and most viruses – it also eliminates all impurities that can’t vaporize with water particles, including chemicals, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and other contaminants.

Distillation Process

Distillation Pros

  • A distiller is a cost-effective purification system. Once you’ve bought a distiller, you’ll only need to pay the low electricity costs of operating the system
  • The distillation process disinfects water and removes common contaminants. A distiller acts as a water purifier and a water filtration system in one
  • Distillation is a no-chemical process and is safe to use for drinking water

Distillation Cons

  • The process of distilling a single-gallon batch of water takes hours. You won’t get instant access to purified drinking water with this method
  • Distillation removes water’s natural minerals and electrolytes, giving water a “flat” taste
  • Distilled water is prone to metal leaching, so you need to be careful with how you store it

👉 Continue Reading: 10 Water Distillers Worth Investing in 2022

📖 3 Best Well Water Filtration Systems

If you’ve realized that you actually need to filter your well water – by physically removing impurities like metals and organic contaminants – you need a water filtration system. We’ve listed a few of the best filtration systems for well water, as proven in our own testing, below.

Oxidation Filters

An oxidation filtration system uses chemicals or oxygen to oxidize dissolved impurities in well water, like manganese, iron, and hydrogen sulfide. This type of drinking water filtration system uses a bed of media, like birm or manganese greensand, to trap the oxidized contaminants, removing them from water as it flows through the tank.

Oxidation filters provide ongoing water treatment and don’t have filters that need to be replaced. The systems perform frequent backwashing to flush the media bed, removing the trapped contaminants.

oxidizing media water filter

Oxidation Filters Pros

  • Oxidation is the most effective water treatment method for targeting iron, manganese, and sulfur. Some systems can remove more than 20 PPM (parts per million) of iron
  • An oxidation water filtration system that uses air injection offers a natural, chemical-free filtration process
  • Oxidation systems require minimal maintenance. They’re set to automatically regenerate, requiring no work from you

Oxidation Filters Cons

  • Oxidation only usually targets three contaminants in well water
  • Oxidation systems are large, bulky units that can be challenging to install
  • When these filtration systems regenerate, they waste a small amount of water

👉 Continue Reading: Our Favorite Oxidation Iron Filters for Well Water

Sediment Filters

Sediment filters are the best water treatment option for a high-sediment well water supply. A sediment filtration system physically removes large particles of sand, silt, dust, dirt, debris, and other solid contaminants from water. These impurities are more common in well water than in city water because they’re often found in the well aquifer.

Some sediment filters are installed as a first stage in a multi-stage water filtration system, while some are intended to be standalone water filters.

sediment water filter

Sediment Filters Pros

  • By removing large particles from your well water system, a sediment filter protects your pipes and appliances from sediment damage
  • Sediment filters are affordable upfront and cost-effective to operate in the long run
  • Sediment filtration is low-maintenance. Some sediment filters have valves that automatically flush the filter, extending its lifespan

Sediment Filters Cons

  • While a sediment filter can treat even the dirtiest water, it can only tackle large water contaminants. Smaller contaminants, like metals and heavy metals, will pass straight through
  • If your water has a high sediment content, you’ll need to replace or flush your sediment filter more frequently
  • Sediment filters can’t remove bacteria, viruses, or pathogens from a private well

👉 Continue Reading: Top 5 Sediment Filters for Well Water in 2022

Carbon Filters

Carbon filters have a natural media that adsorbs (grabs onto) contaminants like chlorine, fluoride, VOCs, and pesticides. The filters are found in a variety of private purification systems, including whole house well water filters and smaller point-of-use systems, such as a faucet-attached water filter. Carbon can either be loaded into a large tank or compacted into a small filter cartridge.

Carbon filters for well water are often combined with KDF to remove iron, copper, zinc, and other water soluble heavy metals. Activated carbon is the most common kind of carbon filter available today.

Activated Carbon media

Carbon Filters Pros

  • An activated carbon filter is natural and environmentally friendly. Most carbon filters can be recycled after use
  • Carbon filters are ideal for well water containing pesticides and volatile organic compounds
  • Catalytic or activated carbon in a tank-based system lasts up to seven years, offering a low-maintenance water filtration solution

Carbon Filters Cons

  • Carbon filters don’t target some of the most common well drinking water contaminants, like iron, manganese, heavy metals, and most organic contaminants
  • Depending on the quality of your well water, activated carbon water treatment tends to be fairly slow, and may affect your water pressure
  • Carbon water filter cartridges need to be replaced frequently (usually every three-to-six months, depending on their size)

🚰 Is Your Well Water Safe to Drink?

Well water is often safe to drink, but this isn’t guaranteed. There are several factors affecting the safety and quality of your well water supply, including:

  • Your local surface and underground geology
  • The quality of the well’s construction and when the well was built
  • Whether you’re located near an industrial site or a farm offering confined animal feeding operations
  • How frequently, and how well, the well is inspected and maintained
  • The depth of your well, and how far underground water travels to reach the aquifer

Ultimately, your well water might be completely safe to drink – but there’s no way to know this purely by looking at or drinking your water. That’s why testing your well water is essential (more on that below).

Water Quality Map
Source: United States Geological Survey

🧫 How Well Water Becomes Contaminated

Well water becomes contaminated mostly through pollution, surface runoff, and natural absorption of minerals, metals, and electrolytes in the earth.

Some of the most common sources of well water contamination are:

  • Leakage from cracked or overflowing septic systems, septic tanks, or a wastewater treatment system containing animal or human feces
  • Runoff from snow melt or rainfall, causing microorganisms to seep into the ground or be washed into the well
  • Industrial pollution, causing organic contaminants to leach into the environment
  • Naturally occurring mineral absorption as water seeps through layers of rock and earth

Testing Your Well Water

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Ground Water Association recommend that well owners test their drinking water at least once a year for total coliform bacteria, total dissolved solids, nitrates, and pH levels.

You should also test your water for other local water contaminants based on previous testing outcomes and information from your local health department.

Other reasons to test your well water outside of routine testing are:

  • You’ve noticed a change in your water quality, such as taste, smell, or appearance
  • One or several members of your family has experienced recurring gastrointestinal illness
  • There are known problems with the drinking water or groundwater in your local area
  • There are nearby areas of industrial activity, coal mining, or intensive agriculture
  • You’ve replaced or repaired any part of your well
  • Your local area has experienced flooding or an earthquake

Constant water testing will offer peace of mind that your drinking water is safe for consumption. We recommend using a laboratory well water testing package, like the packages offered by SimpleLab Tap Score, to test for common contaminants and water quality indicators and get an accurate understanding of what your well water contains.

completed tap score water test

🚫 How to Reduce the Risk of Well Water Contamination

Nobody has complete control over the external contributors to well water contamination. Putting a stop to industrial or agricultural pollution is, unfortunately, difficult to achieve alone.

However, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of contamination in your private well:

  • Slope the ground around the well to send surface runoff away from the well.
  • Make sure your well cap is sealed and properly in place.
  • Record well maintenance and make sure to keep up with regular well inspections.
  • Don’t mix or use hazardous chemicals, like fuels, degreasers, pesticides, or herbicides, near your well.
  • Ensure that waste and septic systems are properly distanced from your well. Septic tanks should be at least 50 feet from your well, while liquid-tight manure storage should be at least 100 feet away, and manure stacks should be at least 250 feet away.
  • Regularly inspect and pump septic tanks every half a year, minimum.
  • Check with your local health department that agricultural and industrial sites are safely distanced from your well.
Concrete well cap not sealed properly

✅ How to Keep Well Water Safe

When you’ve done everything you can to protect your private well and treat your well water with a specific filtration system, it’s important to make sure your filtered well water is safe to drink.

To keep your filtered well water safe after treatment, make sure to:

  • Store your water in a clean container. Wash out the container every day to prevent a buildup of bacteria.
  • Avoid storing water in metal or plastic containers that could leach contaminants into your water. This is especially important for water with a low mineral content that’s susceptible to leaching, like distilled or RO water. Glass containers are best.
  • Keep your water away from direct sunlight. A cool cupboard or the refrigerator are ideal locations for filtered water.
  • Cover your stored water to prevent re-contamination from airborne impurities.
  • Drink your water as soon as possible to reduce the risk of re-contamination.

🧠 How to Purify Well Water for Drinking: FAQs

What is purified well water?

Purified well water is well water that has been treated to remove or kill pathogens and germs, like bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. Purified well water may also be free from common chemical, mineral, and metal impurities. The quality of purified well water depends on the process used to treat the water.

Do you need to filter well water for drinking?

No, not all wells need their water to be filtered for drinking. However, suppose your well contains high quantities of certain contaminants, like metals, chemicals, or VOCs. In that case, it’s strongly recommended that you filter your water to prevent it from causing health problems or making you sick. Test your water to find out what it contains – that will tell you whether or not you need to filter it.

Is it safe to shower in a well water supply?

Yes, bathing or showering in well water – even if the water contains microorganisms – is safe. Just make sure not to ingest any of the water, and you’ll be fine.

What is the best way to filter well water for drinking?

The best way to filter well water for drinking is to combine a combination of capable well water filters . For instance, if you have an issue with iron and bacteria, you can install an air injection system alongside a UV purifier for the best protection against these contaminants. The best filters for you depend on what your water contains and what you want to remove.

Can you drink tap water from a well?

Yes, you can drink tap water from a well – and, in fact, hundreds of thousands of people in the US drink well water every day. However, to make sure your well water is safe for drinking, you should test your water annually and use a water treatment system to remove certain contaminants if necessary. This will improve the quality of your drinking water and prevent it from making you sick.

How can I naturally purify my well water?

The best way to naturally purify your well water is to boil it. Boiling water removes bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens, making water safe to drink. However, this method won’t remove other contaminants commonly found in well water, like iron, manganese, heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants. So, boiling well water doesn’t technically make it pure. We recommend using a combination of water filters and other private purification systems to remove all contaminants that show up in your water test report.

Do water purifiers work on well water?

Yes, most water purifiers work on well water. However, some water filters, like water pitchers, may not be suitable for sediment-heavy or very hard well water. Some systems, like reverse osmosis systems, may need to be protected by a pre-filter, such as a sediment filter, to prevent damage to the RO membrane. Contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure whether a certain product is suitable for treating your well water.

Do water softeners purify well water?

No. A water softener is designed to remove calcium and magnesium minerals that contribute to hardness in surface and groundwater supplies. So, while a water softener is an essential system for very hard private well water, no water softener can purify, kill bacteria, or remove contaminants from water. Some well owners combine a water softener with another water treatment system, such as an air injection water system or a UV system, to filter, purify, and soften water simultaneously.

Can you drink water straight from a well?

In some cases, you can drink water straight from a well. However, it isn’t recommended, as raw well water could contain dangerous levels of chemicals, metals, microorganisms, and other contaminants and pollutants. It’s best to only drink well water that has been tested for a range of impurities and either deemed safe for drinking or treated to remove harmful trace contaminants.

Does my well depth affect water quality?

Yes, the depth of your well affects the quality of your water. The deeper the well, the better the water quality. That’s because water in deep wells has passed through layers and layers of rock and soil, which filter the water and introduce minerals along the way. Plus, water in deep wells is exposed to fewer pollutants and contaminants (i.e. from surface runoff or air pollution) than water in shallow wells.