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Podcast Q & A 2: “Can I use a softener to remove iron? I know I have iron problem because we get stains on our fixtures and tub.

Hey! Welcome to the Clean Water Made Easy podcast Q & A episode 2.

My name is Gerry Bulfin and I am a WQA-Certified Master Water Specialist and Water Treatment Contractor here in Santa Cruz, California and every week we get lots of questions and trying to pick up the best one and answer one.

So here’s one from David and David asks:

Can I use a softener to remove iron? I know I have an iron problem because we get stains on our fixtures and tub. Right now I have nothing but my father once said he will buy us a water softener.

Don’t really think we have a problem with hard water but he says that will take our iron out, too.  What do you think? I was thinking about getting a whole house water filter from Home Depot  but I don’t like the idea of having to change the filter

Very good question, David.  Okay, here’s what it is. So, basically your father could be right but it really depends on a few factors.

You need to have your water tested. You can get a do-it-yourself test kit for this type of thing or you can take it into a lab and have it analyzed. But essentially, you want to know how much iron is in the water.

If it’s a low level of iron, water softeners do better than high levels. So, for instance, 1 part per million, less than 1 part per million, 0.3 parts per million is the standard. If you have more than that, you will get stains. So, somewhere in low range of iron, the water softener works better. The other thing you want to test for is pH. How acidic or alkaline.

If your water has a high pH say, well over 7, 7.5, 8 then, the softener will work as well because the higher the pH more likely, the iron is going to turn into rust. It’s not going to be a clear ferrous iron. And you can check this too with a white 5 gallon of bucket. Just fill that up with water right from the well and if your water is crystal clear, then the softener is more likely to work better and be less trouble than if it’s rustier discolored.

Is there any odor in the water? You didn’t mention odor but if there is an odor, generally, softener again, it becomes fouled. And then you want to know how hard the water is because if your water isn’t hard, to begin with then maybe you don’t want a softener for iron removal because you don’t need it for softening and then you got to deal with the salt. So, basically, water softeners work by iron exchange which means they have resin beads inside that pull ions out such as calcium, magnesium and iron and substitute sodium in its place.

So, what can happen is: the iron.  If there’s significant iron in the water and if it’s especially ferric iron or has chance to turn the ferric iron inside the water softener, what happens is that it can soak into the resin beads and can cause fouling.  Then it doesn’t work well and sometimes the water actually can come out worse out of the water softener. Then what’s going in when it becomes fouled and that’s true you can clean that softener resin  with different types of  rust removing salt and chemicals but it’s a pain to deal with and it’s more expensive.

So, it really boils down to that and if your water is neutral pH 7 or slightly acidic and you want  soft water and you don’t have a lot of iron, you could use a water softener. But for the most part, you’re better off using the backwashing iron filter. Iron filters have specific media inside that takes up the iron and then it backwashes once or twice a week. Say, for instance, middle of the night and just cleans all that rust out.

A lot of the iron filters don’t use any kind of chemical, they definitely don’t use salt so it’s just a lot less trouble to deal with.

The other thing is that you talked about getting the whole house filter if you have rusty water where you have mostly ferric iron which would be unusual if you have a normal, deep, well-constructed well. If you have a shallow well, or you have iron bacteria, you might have more rusty water but anyway, you can get a cartridge filter, might help a little but if you think about it, the water is coming out of the ground and had iron in it but the water is clear. So that means it’s dissolved in the water.

It’s just going to pass through most filter cartridges.  Eventually, the cartridge can get iron bacteria growing on it or slime and it can cause pressure loss, pressure drop. So, it’s just one more thing you got to mess around with. Generally, cartridge alone won’t do the trick. Water softener isn’t the best for iron but it will work under those conditions that I just mentioned.

Low-level iron and pH that is neutral or even a little acidic, if your water is very acidic like say 6 or less than 6 or even 6.5, I would hesitate to put water softener in as well. It’s too acidic because rig softening the water normally, will not make your water corrosive. If you remove the last bit of hardness in already very acidic water then you can make your water more corrosive. So, it’s not a good idea to use a water softener in those conditions as well.

Hey, I hope that answered your question and if anyone else has questions, please go to our blog and you’ll see on the side on the right, a blue button and just click on there and you can record, send us a voicemail right from your mobile phone or computer, if you have mic. Or the old fashion way, just call us up or send us an email and we’ll get back to you. Phone number is 888-600-5426 or you can email us at info at

Thanks for listening.

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