Brown water is caused by iron and manganese, rust, poor well structure, tannins, broken-down water softener resin beads, and silt.
Thankfully, brown water is rarely a cause for concern – and it’s such a common problem in well water that there are plenty of ways to restore your water to a cleaner, clearer state.
In this guide, we’ve shared the common causes of brown or discolored water in your well, and how to get rid of brown coloration with a permanent solution.
Table of Contents
🟤 Causes of Brown Water
We’ve listed the most common causes of brown water below.
Iron & Manganese
Ferric iron or manganese from rainwater, melting snow, or iron-bearing soil can give water a dark brown, orange, or black tinge. The corrosion of iron pipes or steel well casing can also cause dissolved iron to enter the water supply, causing it to turn brown. Iron and manganese are harmless, but they’re known to affect water’s taste and odor.
You’re most likely to notice ferric iron stains when water comes into contact with the air, which oxidizes the iron.
Looking to remove iron stains with less cost? Here are the Cheapest Ways to Remove Iron from Well Water in 2023. 👈
Rust from your water pipes is another cause of sudden brown water. If you notice that you have brown iron water in certain parts of your home but not others, you likely have an issue with rust in some of your piping. Rusty water is caused by ferrous iron, or oxidized iron, which turns water reddish-brown.
Rust may also be found in your hot water heater. If only the water from your hot tap is brown, you likely have a rusty heater.
Surface Water Seepage
If you have a shallow well hole and your water has a brown appearance and a musty or earthy odor, it’s likely caused by surface water seeping into your well. Surface water isn’t as pure as groundwater as it doesn’t filter through layers of rocks and soil before reaching your well.
Areas with shallow groundwater levels are most likely to experience surface water seepage. The brown tinge and musty smell come from minerals and organic material in the water.
When iron and oxygen combine, iron bacteria is formed. This type of iron deposits bacterial cells and rust, creating a slimy material that sticks to the insides of piping or plumbing fixtures.
If you notice orange or reddish brown slime in your toilet bowl, bacterial iron is likely a cause of the water discoloration.
Want to completely get rid of iron bacteria? Read our Iron Bacteria Treatment Guide. 👈
Poor or Failing Well Structure
The structure of your well may also be the cause of your discolored water.
A detached well water pump may end up against the side of the well home. The well pump could also be too low in the well, causing it to suck up sediment and giving the water a brown, cloudy appearance.
Tannins can get into your well water through decaying organic material, such as peaty soil and leaves.
When it rains, water seeps through this organic material, carrying it into the well aquifer. Tannins give water a brown, yellow, or orange color, a bitter aftertaste, and an earthy smell. While tannins aren’t dangerous to drink, they can be unpleasant in large amounts.
Broken-Down Water Softener Resin Beads
Water softener resin beads have a lifespan of 6-10 years.
If you’ve owned your water softener for a long time and you notice your water has a black or brown tinge, this could be caused by broken-down resin beads that have been released into your water. You can fix this issue by replacing the resin bed.
Silt & Sediment
Silt and sediment are found in all well water aquifers. The majority of this silt shouldn’t be able to get into your water. However, silt can cause your water to suddenly turn brown if your well screen becomes damaged or worn. Silt and sediment cause brown, cloudy water, or dirty water.
While sediment itself isn’t a cause for concern, it may indicate that other, more harmful contaminants can enter your well, like E. Coli bacteria.
📤 How to Get Rid of Brown Water
The best ways to get rid of brown water are:
Installing a sediment filter is the most effective way to fix brown water caused by silt or sediment. Sediment filters can be installed as standalone filters or pre-filters to a whole house well water filtration system.
Sediment filters use physical filtration to trap contaminants in their media. Some sediment filters can be manually flushed to extend their lifespan. Different filters have different pore sizes, removing contaminants from 1 to 50 microns (or more) in size.
Air Injection Oxidization
Air injection oxidation is an ideal method to fix brown water caused by iron and manganese. An air injection oxidation system uses an air bubble in a pressure tank to oxygenate these contaminants, then filters them out of water with a birm or manganese greensand media.
Most air injection filters can greatly reduce iron concentration. Some systems can remove up to 15 PPM (parts per million) of iron in water, as well as 5-10 PPM of manganese.
Reverse Osmosis System
A reverse osmosis water system is the most thorough at-home water treatment for removing all dissolved solids, including those that give water a reddish-brown color. RO systems send water through multiple filtration media and a semi-permeable membrane, which removes more than 99.99% total dissolved solids.
Most RO systems are installed as under-sink units, providing filtered water from your cold water tap. Complex whole home reverse osmosis systems, which are installed upstream of your hot water heater, are less common.
Reverse osmosis can remove low levels of iron, tannins, and sediment. However, pre-treatment is required for water that has a high sediment or iron content, which could clog the RO membrane.
Greensand filter media doesn’t always have to be combined with an air pocket to remove rusty water contaminants.
Used alone, greensand media is coated with manganese oxide, which oxidizes manganese and iron in well water, turning them into solids that can be washed away when the system backwashes.
Water Softener System
A water softening system is the best way to improve water quality by removing minerals and iron from well water. Water softeners are installed at your home’s main water line and treat water before it enters your hot water heater. These systems can tackle virtually all hard water issues and around 5 PPM of iron.
If faulty well components are turning your water brown, you’ll need to repair your well to eliminate the issue.
For instance, if your well screen is worn, you’ll need to replace the screen to prevent sediment and silt from clogging up your well. If your well pump is too close to the bottom of the well, you’ll need to arrange for the pump to be lifted to reduce the sand and sediment content in your water.
Finally, if rusty pipes are the cause of your water discoloration, the best solution may be to replace your water pipes.
You could choose to install an iron filter to deal with the after-effects of rusty pipes, but replacing your pipes is often more cost-effective in the long run. Contact several local plumbers and ask for quotes to find out the cost of replacing your pipes.
📖 How to Choose the Right Water Treatment System to Fix Brown Water
To choose the best water treatment system to fix brown drinking water, follow these steps:
Step 1: Get Your Water Tested
You might be able to guess the cause of your brown well water – but it’s still best to conduct a complete water test, so you know exactly what your water contains.
The most thorough testing option is to buy a laboratory test package. Laboratories can test for tens of the most common well water contaminants, giving you clear insight into the causes of your brown water.
Once you know what your water contains, you can narrow down your options to water treatment systems that can remove these contaminants. You can also prioritize which contaminants to remove based on their potential health risk or aesthetic damage.
Step 2: Determine Your Budget
Next, work out how much you’re comfortable spending on a water system for your brown well water. The average whole house treatment system is $900-$2,500. Some systems are more expensive than this, depending on their capabilities and maintenance requirements.
Alongside the upfront cost, many water systems have an annual ongoing spend. You may need to replace the filters or media, or pay for additional water usage for backwashing or electricity for system programming. The average annual spend of a well water system is $50-$250.
Step 3: Size Your System
Finally, once you’ve shortlisted several treatment systems based on their performance and your budget, choose the right sized system for your home.
Some systems come in multiple sizes for different water usages. Choose the most suitable system size for the number of bathrooms in your home to prevent issues with decreased flow rate or water pressure.
🧠 Why Is My Well Water Brown All Of A Sudden: FAQs
What does brown tap water mean?
Brown tap water is usually caused by iron, manganese, or sediment buildup, tannins, or rusted pipes. You can determine the exact cause of brown water by testing a water sample.
Is it safe to drink brown water?
Usually, drinking water that’s brown is safe. However, it’s best to test your water if you notice it suddenly turn brown. Chances are, your water just contains iron or tannins, but you need to rule out dangerous contaminants that may have entered your well water alongside the brown-causing impurities.
Why is my water brown when I first turn on the tap?
If your water is brown when you turn on your hot and cold water taps, but eventually runs clear, you’re probably dealing with rusty plumbing or rust in your hot water heater.
Why is my well water suddenly dirty?
Your well water might suddenly be dirty if your well screen becomes worn or broken, allowing high sediment into your well. This will give water a cloudy, murky, brown-tinged appearance.
Is it safe to use brown water?
Yes, it’s safe to use water that’s brown. However, certain contaminants that turn water brown, like iron, can be damaging to your home’s plumbing system. So, while it’s safe to use brown, orange, or yellow water, the contaminants in your water may leave stains in your pipes and cause them to corrode.
Is brown water an emergency?
Brown water is rarely an emergency, although it depends on which contaminants have caused your water to turn brown. Usually, brown water is caused by iron and manganese. However, if you notice your water suddenly turn brown, it’s best to conduct a water test to make sure nothing dangerous has seeped into your well.
Can brown well water make you sick?
No, brown well water rarely makes you sick. Most likely, brown water will have a metallic, earthy, or bitter taste, and may leave rust stains in your well system and plumbing.
Why is the water in my toilet brown?
Brown water in your toilet tank or bowl is likely caused by iron or iron bacteria. Iron leaves rust stains on surfaces when it’s oxidized by air, while iron bacteria is a thick, slimy orangey-brown substance that often builds up in stagnant water.