How to Treat Turbidity in Water (2023 Ultimate Guide)

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If you’re on a private residential well and your drinking water is discolored, cloudy, or has floating particles, you probably have a turbidity issue.

Here, we’ve shared our top tips on how to treat turbidity in water, based on the type of turbidity present. We’ve also shared a few methods to remove turbidity from surface water in the backcountry.

๐Ÿ“Œ Key Takeaways:

  • Turbidity in water is cloudiness or murkiness that reduces water’s clarity.
  • Silt, sand, tannins, clay, algae, and iron are all common causes of discolored, murky, or turbid well water.
  • The best methods to treat turbid well water are sediment filtration, tannins filters, iron and manganese filters, chlorine injection systems, and revere osmosis systems.

๐Ÿ”Ž What Is Turbidity In Water?

Turbidity in water is cloudiness, discoloration, or murkiness, caused by the presence of suspended particles.

Suspended or dissolved solids scatter light, reducing water clarity. The level of turbidity in water is measured in NTU, or Nephelometric Turbidity Units.

Turbidity in water is regulated: the US Environmental Protection Agency has established a secondary drinking water standard of 5 NTUs due to the potential aesthetic effects of many contaminants that contribute to turbidity.

Measurement of turbidity in well water
source: United States Geological Survey (

๐Ÿค” What Causes Turbid Water?

There are a few different causes of turbid well water, including:

  • Sand
  • Silt
  • Tannins
  • Clay
  • Algae
  • Bacteria
  • Finer particles of organic matter
  • Precipitated iron
  • Other colored organics

These particulates come from a variety of sources. River water may be turbid as a result of erosion from river banks. Many human activities contribute to, or speed up, the erosion process.

In groundwater, turbidity is typically caused by the presence of sand, gravel, and sediment in the well aquifer.

You’re more likely to have high turbidity if your well pump is positioned closer to the bottom of the aquifer, causing it to draw sand into the pump with the water, or if your well screen is damaged or degraded.

A leaking septic system in the vicinity of the well, high iron levels in the soils and rocks around the aquifer, damaged well casing, and a broken or damaged well cap may also contribute to turbidity in a well.

๐Ÿšฑ Is Turbid Water Dangerous?

In the majority of cases, moderate-to-high turbidity levels in drinking water aren’t dangerous to human health.

Most of the contaminants that contribute to turbidity don’t have health effects, although they may cause abrasive damage to your well and plumbing, clog your pipes and appliances, or stain surfaces.

However, it’s possible for contaminants like pesticides, toxic organic compounds, heavy metals, and microorganisms to attach themselves to suspended solids in water, and many of these contaminants do pose a health risk.

That’s why it’s important to test your water to find out what it contains – beyond what you can see.

Turbid water in a test tube

๐Ÿ’ง Treatment For Turbidity In Municipal Water

Water treatment plants use several processes to treat water turbidity, making public drinking water supplies clean and safe to ingest.

These processes include coagulation and flocculation, which causes colloidal particles to aggregate (clump together) and be more easily removed with sedimentation.

Settling and decanting, when water is left for several hours until particulates settle at the bottom of the container and the clear water at the top can be decanted elsewhere, is another method that may be used in a treatment plant to reduce turbidity.

Additional stages, such as gravel/sand filtration, may then be used to remove fine particles.

๐Ÿงช How To Treat Turbid Well Water

The best way to remove turbidity in well water depends on the cause of the turbidity.

Here are some of the options to consider:

Sediment Filter

A sediment filter is the best solution to remove suspended solids like sand, gravel, dirt, and rust, which may be contributing to turbidity.

There are several different types of sediment filters, including cartridge-style pleated or spun filters, and spin-down filters.

The type of sediment filter that’s right for you depends on the size of the suspended particles that are causing your water’s turbidity. Cartridge-style filters are best for smaller sediment (around 5-50 microns) while spin-down filters are best for large sediment particles (100-200+ microns).

You can buy dedicated whole-home sediment filters, which we recommend if you want to remove turbidity from your entire water supply and protect your plumbing, fixtures, and appliances from sediment damage.

Many water treatment systems, such as reverse osmosis systems, whole home filtration systems, and water softeners, have a sediment pre-filter to remove turbidity as early as possible and prevent damage to the later treatment stages.

Sediment filter removes sand, gravel, and dirt that cause turbid water

Tannins Filter

A tannins filter is the best method of turbidity removal if your water turbidity is caused by tannins.

There are a few different filter processes that can reduce or remove tannins, including ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and oxidation.

Some manufacturers sell treatment systems that are specifically designed to remove tannins, and are clearly labeled as so.

If you want to buy a system that removes a range of contaminants, check for test data that shows it can remove tannins, or contact the manufacturer to make sure.

Iron/Manganese Filter

If your discolored, cloudy water is due to the presence of iron or manganese, a well water iron & manganese filtration system will offer the most effective method of turbidity treatment.

There are several different types of water treatment methods to remove iron and manganese, including:

  • Air injection/oxidation systems
  • Chemical injection systems
  • Oxidizing media systems
  • KDF cartridge-based filtration systems
Iron and manganese whole home water filter for turbidity removal


To treat turbidity caused by bacterial contamination, we recommend a continuous chlorination system.

Chlorine injection systems treat water with a measured amount of chlorine, which kills microorganisms like bacteria

Chlorination is one of the only residential water treatment methods that effectively kills iron bacteria – a slimy substance that may give your water a murky quality and clog your well and plumbing system.

Reverse Osmosis System

If your turbid water is caused by a combination of several types of suspended particles, all of which are present in relatively low levels, a reverse osmosis system is the best way to reduce turbidity.

RO systems use a multi-stage filtration process that includes sediment filtration, carbon filtration, and membrane separation. The reverse osmosis process is effective enough to reduce up to 99.99% of all total dissolved solids in water – meaning that the cause of your water’s turbidity has a very good chance of being removed.

However, there is one caveat: an RO system can only be used to treat mild-to-moderate turbidity levels. If your well water has very high levels of sediment, iron, or organic matter you’ll need to install a pre-treatment system to reduce these particles and prevent them from clogging the RO filtration system.

Reverse osmosis system for removing low levels of turbidity

๐Ÿšฐ How To Remove Turbidity From Water In The Backcountry

Traveling in a remote location and wondering how you can treat turbid water to make it safer to drink?

Here’s what we recommend:

Cloth Filtration

If you need a DIY water filtration solution ASAP, the cloth filtration method will suffice.

You just need a cloth, a neckerchief, or another clean item of clothing.

Stretch the cloth tight over the top of a bucket or container, then, while holding the cloth in place, pour water slowly over it. The water will filter through the material and collect in the bucket, while the large sediments and suspended particles will be collected on the material’s surface.

Cloth filtration is a simple way to reduce turbidity, but its filtration capacity and effectiveness depend on the material used, and it won’t remove pathogens or make your water microbiologically safe.

Portable Water Filter

A portable water filter, otherwise called a backpacking water filter or an emergency preparedness filter, will do a great job of removing turbidity from your water source in the wild.

Portable water filters use microfilters with tiny pores, which trap all contaminants, from large suspended solids down to tiny microorganisms. The filters are backflushable, so you can clean the debris from the filter media and reuse it again and again. Treated water is safe to drink and has a more appealing appearance and quality.

๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿผโ€๐Ÿ”ง Explore our expert-recommended selection of the best portable water filters if you need a filter to remove turbidity in the backcountry.

Portable water filter for removing turbidity in the backcountry

๐Ÿ“‘ Final Word

The best method of turbidity reduction for you depends on exactly what you’re dealing with.

Turbidity in water looks different from one well supply to the next. If you’re not sure what’s causing your water’s turbidity, test for all the possible contaminants mentioned in this guide.

You can then decide on a suitable treatment method to improve your water quality and prevent damage to your well or plumbing system.

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