Whole House Iron Water Filters from Aquatell
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Whole House Iron Water Filters

Choosing The Perfect Iron Water Filter

We've been treating residential iron water issues for 15 years and we've developed a science-based system for helping customers to solve this terrible water issue. The key to selecting the right iron water filter is understanding two things: your water chemistry, and the flow rate your plumbing can provide. We explain the details below, but here's the high-level overview:

  1. Test your water to determine the iron level
  2. Observe your water to determine the type of iron
  3. Determine the flow rate your plumbing system can provide
  4. Choose an iron water filter to fit your need and your budget

Testing Your Water

This is by far the most important step in determining which style of iron filtration will work best for you. Understanding the chemistry of your water is absolutely critical to knowing what style of iron filter is best, what size you need, how well you can expect it to work, whether it will remove other contaminants that may be present, or if treatment is possible at all! They key components of your water chemistry as it relates to iron water filters and iron water treatment are:

  • Total Iron (must have)
  • pH (must have)
  • Total Hardness (nice to have)
  • Manganese (nice to have)
  • Sulphur (nice to have)

Many of our customers get their water tested from an accredited laboratory and they send us these results. If you have a lab test result please send it to us. We're experts at interpreting the results and explaining them in a way that makes sense and gives you actionable information.

If you haven't tested your water yet and you're looking for a quick and inexpensive way to do this, we sell our own test kit that will allow you to home-test the most important elements of your chemistry and report them back to us. It's called the Prep Kit and when you buy it, we give you a coupon equal to the value of the kit, that can be applied to your purchase.

Observe Your Water

Iron is a tricky element. It can exist in the environment in a number of different forms. Each of these forms is treated using a different treatment strategy. When a lab tests your water for iron (or when you use our Prep Kit) the result that you get for iron is called Total Iron. This is the sum-total of all of the iron in your water, in all the different forms it can be found in. So we need to use some observational data to figure out what form this "total iron" is in. Fortunately, the two main forms that iron can be found in, are easily observable and distinguishable from one another. These two forms are:

  1. Ferrous Iron
  2. Ferric Iron

Ferrous iron is often called "clear water iron". As you might expect, water that has clear water iron will look clear. Water with clear water iron looks this way because the iron is dissolved in the water and has't been oxidized.

Ferric iron isn't clear. Water with ferric iron will look yellow or orange or even brown. Ferric iron isn't soluble and isn't dissolved so what you're seeing with ferric iron is very small suspended particles of oxidized iron. Another name for oxidized iron is rust. So ferric iron is sometimes described as rusty-coloured water.

We have an article that describes how to do a clear water iron test at home. It's super easy and quite critical to understanding how to treat your iron water issue. It also will answer the very common question of "will a water softener fix my iron issue".

What Flow Rate Can Your Pump & Plumbing Provide?

It's not obvious why this is important - but it absolutely is! Iron water filters that use granular media and require periodic backwashing are by far the most common style of iron water filters for very high concentrations of iron and/or when ferric iron is present. There are a variety of media that are used in these systems but they all share something in common: they are very dense.

When one of these systems backwashes it reverses the flow through the iron filter and attempts to lift the granular bed to allow all of the trapped iron particulate to escape the bed and be sent to drain. The fancy word for this process is the fluidization of the media bed. The more dense the filtration media, the more flow rate is required to properly fluidize the bed. Since iron filtration media is dense, it requires quite a high flow rate to properly backwash it. Failure to provide this flow rate means that the system accumulates iron over time and eventually becomes clogged. This can happen really quickly in some cases. You'll find many online accounts of consumers spending thousands of dollars on iron-reduction equipment that works really well at first, but then fails after a year. Almost every time, this is because the flow capacity of the plumbing was never considered.

There are some really useful rules-of-thumb that you can use if you're considering a backwashing style of iron filter (often called an AIO):

  • The plumbing that goes from your water source to your iron filter needs to be at least 3/4" and can't have any points where it is restricted to a smaller diameter than this (this includes where it connects to your pressure tank). Remember that residential plumbing is named for its inside diameter - so 3/4" plumbing measures close to 1" on outside diameter.
  • If you have a jet-pump (these pumps sit on dry ground) then the largest system you'll be able to properly backwash is a system built with no more than 1.0 cubic feet of media
  • If you have a submersible pump you can likely go with a system larger than 1.0 cubic foot (but you still may not want to - read below)
  • Make sure the drain line is as short as possible
  • Try to avoid having other water filtration between your pressure tank and the iron filter

There is another way to more accurately characterize the flow rate that your plumbing and pumping system can deliver. You can read our article called How to Calculate Your Well Pump Rate to measure this.

Choosing the Right Iron Water Filter

There are three main ways to treat home water that contains iron. Below we describe each method and explain the type of iron it can address, how effective it will be, and what to expect in terms of performance, longevity, and maitenance:

Backwashing AIO Iron Filters

These systems are the most popular when any of the following scenarios are encountered:

  • ferric iron is present (aka oxidized iron)
  • a water softener is already present and not getting the job done
  • a very high concentration of ferrous iron (aka clear water iron) is present

Aquatell's AIO system uses a proprietary blend of advanced catalytic media and pH correcting media to achieve outstanding results for the removal of iron, manganese, and sulphur. This blend of medias allows us to deploy our systems in areas of low pH where many other systems fail. Many competitive systems are unable to manage sulphur (and are in fact destroyed by it) which is often present where iron and manganese are found. Aquatell's AIO system is completely chemical free, using atmospheric oxygen to power the reaction of dissolved iron, manganese, and sulphur into particles that can be filtered and periodically backwashed out. Media lifespan is excellent with most customers seeing 6 - 8 years of high performance before a media bed replacement becomes necessary.

Cartridge-Based Iron Water Filtration

Cartridge based filtration is a good choice when any of the following is true:

  • there's no drainage option available for a Backwashing AIO system
  • you need iron filtration in a cottage or seasonal application where you're not sure that you'll be able to drain a backwashing AIO system fully and it will experience freezing temperatures
  • you have a low iron concentration and/or very low water use

A common misconception about cartridge based iron filters is that they remove iron. They do not. Cartridge based iron filters convert the iron from the dissolved form (ferrous or "clear water iron") into the particulate (aka oxidized) form. The particulate form is far less reactive and can pass through the dwelling without causing the staining issues of the dissolved form. But usually a fine sediment filter is used after the iron cartridge system to catch the particulate material.

Water Softeners

If the iron in your water is ferrous iron (aka "clear water iron") then a water softener is a viable choice for you. Since clear water iron is almost always present with water hardness minerals, a softener can be an excellent choice since it solves both issues. But proceed cautiously! Every softener will remove clear water iron, but not every softener will survive the process! Iron is very sticky and very efficiently adheres to all surfaces - including water softener resin. Over time most water softener resin will become slowly fouled by the very iron it's meant to remove and this can dramatically reduce performance and softener resin lifespan. However, Aquatell builds a softener built with a very unique softening resin that remove massive amounts of iron (and manganese) and will not become fouled in the process. You can see that system here: water softener for iron removal.