Unlike city water, private well water doesn’t benefit from filtration and disinfection before it reaches your home.
Well water doesn’t need to meet certain standards set out for public water supplies, either – but, of course, you’ll still want to make sure your drinking water is clean and safe to drink.
To eliminate common well water contaminants, such as sulfate, nitrates, iron, and coliform bacteria, you’ll need to install a well water treatment system.
Water softeners, whole house water filters, disinfection systems and distillers are all effective options when it comes to eliminating the bad stuff from your well water.
In this guide, I’ll be comparing the different water treatment methods, helping you to come to the right decision about which one is best for you.
Table of Contents
📑 Importance of Well Water Testing
Wells collect untreated groundwater (surface water) that might contain a whole host of contaminants, some of them dangerous, and some of them less harmful but likely to affect the taste or smell of your water.
The level of contaminants your water contains depends on your local area’s natural levels of minerals and impurities in the earth, and also human related activity such as ruptured septic tanks or agricultural runoff nearby.
You must get into the habit of testing your well water, as you need to make sure that your water is consistently safe to drink.
Getting your well water tested won’t only tell you if you’re drinking dangerous levels of a particular contaminant that has made its way into your surface water; it’ll also make you aware of high levels of other impurities, like hard water minerals and iron, which might damage your home’s pipes, plumbing, fixtures, and water-based appliances.
It’s best to get your well water tested by a state-certified laboratory, as recommended by the EPA. Contact your local laboratory to see if they offer any packages for testing for multiple well contaminants at once. A lab can help you to understand the level of impurities in your water and the problems they may cause.
🧪 Understanding Your Water’s Chemistry
Understanding the characteristics of your well water – the combination of impurities that affect your water quality and pH – will help you to determine which water treatment solutions are best suited to your needs.
Some of the most important potential contaminants to test for in your well water include coliform bacteria, calcium and magnesium, lead, arsenic, iron, sulfate, nitrates, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and VOCs.
Varying levels of each of these impurities will cause various issues in your homes and require different forms of filtration or removal.
For instance, having high drinking water hardness problems means you’re best looking at a dedicated water softener, which will exchange hard water minerals with ions that are unable to form scale.
If bacteria is the cause of issues in your drinking water, a disinfecting system, such as a UV system or a chlorination system, will be your best option.
For the removal of specific problem minerals or ions, such as sulfate or iron – which may be responsible for corrosion, affect water taste and odor and make household cleaning more difficult – you’ll be best looking at a whole-home well water filtration system or a reverse osmosis unit to treat the issue.
🚿 Understanding Water Pressure & Flow Rate
The ideal water pressure for a well is between 40 and 60 PSI. A failing well pump or pressure tank could result in a decrease in pressure, so make sure to get your well inspected regularly for faults and problems, particularly if your water pressure is lower than desired.
Adequate water pressure is important whether you’re planning to install a well water treatment system or not – it’ll ensure that water can get around your home quickly enough and allow you to run multiple appliances at once. But when you have a water treatment system installed, it’s even more important that your water pressure is high enough, as sending water through a filter or resin will slow it down somewhat.
A poor flow rate may prevent a system from being able to work properly, especially in units that rely on fast flow, like reverse osmosis. Equally, if your water pressure is too high, your water treatment systems may be damaged by the force of the water against the filter media or resin.
Attaching a pressure gauge to your main water line will give you a fast and easy reading of your water pressure. If you do find that your pressure is inconsistent, installing a constant pressure system will prevent your pressure from drastically dropping when you’re using multiple appliances at once.
🔠 Types of Well Water Treatment Systems
There are several types of well water treatment systems, each of which are suited for the removal of different contaminants in your water supply. These systems include:
A water softener is installed at your main water line for whole home use. One of the biggest aesthetic problems with private well water is hardness, which can form scale that has the potential to damage appliances and slows down water flow. Water softening systems tackle calcium and magnesium minerals, which are responsible for water hardness, and eliminate them from water.
There are two treated water softening options: salt (or sodium)-based water softeners and saltless softeners (conditioners). Salt-based softeners use the ion exchange process to swap hardness ions for harmless sodium ions, which prevents water from being able to leave scale deposits. Water conditioners don’t actually remove hardness minerals from private well water – they simply alter the composition of these minerals, without affecting water taste, so that they’re no longer able to stick to surfaces.
Some water softeners can also remove low levels of iron and sulfur, but if your well water has an abundance of these contaminants, it’s better using one of the suggested options below.
Read my guide on the best water softeners for well water in 2023 right here 👈
Whole House Filters
Whole house water filtration systems usually consist of two tanks: one small tank to protect a sediment pre-filter and the larger of the tanks holding a related filter media that can effectively remove impurities that commonly enter a groundwater source, including iron, arsenic, nitrate, sulfate and heavy metals.
Typically, this type of whole house filtration system uses the oxidation process to effectively eliminate these common private well water contaminants. When well water flows through an air pocket, its sulfate, manganese and iron impurities oxidize. The filter media then traps the contaminants present, allowing only clean, filtered water to pass through. Every so often, the system will automatically backwash to remove the contaminants from the media bed.
Some whole-house treated water filters will also treat the presence of dissolved metal or chemical contamination with a carbon filtration stage, depending on what you opt for.
If your local well water supply contains a specific contaminant, such as manganese or sulfate, double-check that the well water filtration system you’re looking at is up for the job, as their exact capabilities vary from product to product.
Related: Guide on how to deal with brown well water
Reverse Osmosis Systems
Reverse osmosis filtration systems can either be installed to deliver water to your whole family or provide you with filtered tap water at your kitchen sink faucet. This kind of well water treatment system is considered one of the most effective for removing a broad range of contaminants that could pose a safety risk when present, from harmful bacteria to fluoride, heavy metals, arsenic, chemicals and more. With it being so universal, and with the option to install at a dedicated sink or your home’s point of entry, reverse osmosis is a fantastic option if you’re looking to tackle a broad range of contaminants in your private well water with one unit.
There are a number of filtration stages in an RO filter that can improve water quality – typically, water flows through a sediment filter and a carbon filter, which remove large impurities and aesthetic contaminants, improving water taste, smell, and making well water safe for drinking. Reverse osmosis units also contain a semi-permeable membrane, which has tiny pores that act as a sieve, allowing only tiny water particles to pass through.
As expected, a reverse osmosis water filter is one of the most expensive water treatment systems for well owners, but for most people, the initial investment is worth it in the long run.
Related: Learn all about reverse osmosis systems and how they work
Chemical Disinfection Systems
Chemical disinfection mimics the large-scale disinfecting process that takes place in municipal water treatment facilities. In this type of drinking water filter, a disinfectant (usually chlorine, ozone or chlorine dioxide) is injected in measured quantities into a water supply. Typically, a chemical disinfecting system will store water in a large tank, allowing the chemical enough time to disinfect water before it passes into your home.
This type of water treatment is fairly costly, but cheap and easy to maintain – you just need to make sure you replenish the chemical disinfectant when required. You may prefer not to use chemical disinfecting treatment systems if you’d rather you didn’t affect your water quality by introducing chemicals, though the amount of chemicals added isn’t enough to affect your health.
UV Disinfection Systems
UV disinfection aims to achieve the same result as chemical disinfecting, but without the use of chlorine or a similar chemical. In UV disinfecting treatment, water flows through a chamber with a UV light. The ultraviolet rays produced by the light are capable of killing more than 99.9% of common microorganisms found in private wells that include viruses, disease-causing bacteria (like E. Coli), mold, yeasts and algae.
Most water filters for wells aren’t capable of removing microorganisms because they’re small enough to fit through the filter pores. Ultraviolet light, however, doesn’t filter these pathogens out of water – instead, it damages their DNA, killing them and preventing them from being able to duplicate.
Because ultraviolet water systems are naturally designed for targeting living, difficult-to-filter microorganisms in wells, they won’t remove or kill any other common contaminants that affect water quality. For that reason, many well owners combine separate UV disinfecting with a whole house water well filter or softening system for the best results.
Related: The best UV disinfection systems in 2023
Distillation systems offer a highly effective means of producing batches of pure, clean water from your well. This method of water treatment works by boiling water until it evaporates, then allowing it to cool and condense into a carafe. Because the majority of contaminants cannot change state, they remain trapped in the boiling chamber.
Some of the contaminants a distillation water system reduces or removes are bacteria (like E. Coli), chemicals like chlorine, heavy metals like lead, and minerals like hardness ions, sulfate, iron and manganese.
There’s clearly a lot going for this form of water treatment – it’s portable, requires no installation, and is one of the most thorough options on this list. But it has its disadvantages, too. The majority of distillers take around 4 hours to produce a single batch of pure water, so they’re not the best option if you’re looking for immediate access to high quantities of water.
✔️ Which Type of Treatment System Do I Need?
To determine which professional drinking water treatment system might be best for you, consider which contaminants you need to reduce or remove (water testing can help you if you don’t currently know what your well water contains), and your budget. Once you have a price range in mind, you can look for systems that are both affordable and effective in removing your targeted contaminants.
The bigger your budget, the more options you’ll have – but you don’t always have to spend a lot of money, especially if testing has revealed that you only have one or two problem contaminants in your well water.
❔ Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does it Cost to Treat Well Water?
It depends on the treatment system you opt for. Some household systems use more equipment and require more maintenance than others. Some systems for wells need more money spent on them upfront but require very little maintenance or special care throughout their lifetime. For instance, a household well water filter can cost between $900 – $3,000 and can last up to 10 years with no extra maintenance required whatsoever.
How Do I Get Rid of Bacteria in My Well Water?
Bacteria contamination is one of the most problematic issues with groundwater. Though it’s hard to eliminate the cause of bacteria, you can remove this pathogen before it reaches your household water supply and causes health problems.
Your average carbon filtering cartridge won’t remove bacteria from tap water, as this microorganism is small enough to slip through the cracks. The best solution for treating bacteria contamination is to use a disinfecting system, such as a UV system or chlorinating system, at your home’s point of entry. This will kill bacteria, making water safe to drink.
How Long Should You Wait to Use Water After You Chlorinate a Well?
When chlorinating your contaminated well, you must let the water sit for at least 12 to 24 hours. This means not running your water from your faucets, using water-based equipment or flushing toilets in this time. After 24 hours, you can run your faucets and use water-based equipment again, but it’s recommended that you wait between 1 and 2 weeks before you drink from your faucet.
How Often Should You Chlorinate Your Well?
To protect your household from contamination, one solution is to chlorinate your well water supplies if a water test shows up positive for certain dangerous contaminants, you have an old well, or if you have reason to suspect contamination (e.g your well pump or aquifer has sustained damage, you’ve heard reports of problems with the local groundwater etc). You must also to sanitize your pump (a well or pump contractor can help you with this if you need assistance).
It’s essential that homeowners should get their water properly tested at least once a year for disease-causing bacteria, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You only need to treat your well with chlorine if your test determines that your water isn’t safe to drink.
I Need More Information About Treating My Well. Where Can I find It?
Your local health department should have some useful information online. You could also contact your local health department if you had any pressing questions or worries. Two other good sources of information about national surface water and local water wells are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website and the National Ground Water Association website. Your local certified well contractor or a similar expert can also offer safety tips and advice to homeowners, especially if you think you need to replace an existing well or you have a reason for serious concern, and these professionals will know the water source in the areas near your home really well, too.