Can I use a water softener to remove iron?

Iron is a common problem with well water applications.  In the past, many of these applications used a water softener exclusively for iron and hardness treatment.  In some cases this works fine but in other cases a water softener is just not adequate.  Also, in applications where a softener is removing both iron and hardness, the softener resin life is greatly reduced.  Iron will eventually coat and clog the resin matrix and prevent it from working properly.  Typically, this is discovered when there is iron staining occurring but the water tests soft.  Iron will always show up (come back) first before hardness when there is a failure with the softener operation.

The problem is usually caused by precipitated (non- soluble) iron that plugs up the internal parts of the water softener or the resin is coated and clogged with iron, and there is no ion exchange occurring.  If the internal parts are plugged there is a very good chance that they will continue to plug again once they are cleaned.  Older iron systems that used potassium permanganate to regenerate had re-occurring problems with the internal parts clogging.  This was a very labor intensive and messy fix.  FusionII-Oxi-System

If you know you have iron,I would recommend an iron filter to remove it.  A water softener will work much better and longer if there is iron treatment before it in the treatment system.

US Water Systems has several iron treatment methods.  The method depends on the water chemistry and the level of iron to be removed.  I have broken this down into three categories.


The most robust system US Water offers is the Fusion Oxi-Gen iron and sulfur removal system.  These systems utilize hydrogen peroxide to oxidize the iron.  After peroxide (H2O2) is injected into the water stream, the water is directed to a catalytic carbon filter to remove the oxidized iron, manganese or sulfur.  These systems can treat very high levels of iron, sulfur and manganese.  Typically in a 4 person household 30 gallons H2O2 will last 8-12 months with a cost of around $350 annually.  These systems are guaranteed to remove the iron.  In 17 years, we have not seen an application where these systems do not work.  Because the oxidizer (peroxide or H2O2) is similar to water (H2O), it is safer than chlorine and other oxidizers.  When peroxide is injected into the water the extra oxygen molecule oxidizes the iron and the by product is H2O.  So the chemistry neutralizes and diverts to water (H2O).  The catalytic carbon then captures the oxidized iron and removes it from the water source.

Mid-Level Iron

inFusionFilterLower levels of iron can be removed by an air injection system.  This system utilizes an air pocket in the tank to oxidize the iron and catalytic carbon to remove the oxidized iron.  US Water Systems offers the Infusion Chemical-Free Iron & Sulfur Eradication System for mid-level iron removal.  This system is great for smaller homes with less than 500 gallons per day of total water usage.  In applications where there is more than 500 gallons used daily, these systems are not the best choice.  Because we use an air pocket to oxidize we are limited by the amount of water that can be treated by the system because the air pocket can be depleted before the end of the day.  These systems are easy to maintain and operate but the capacity has daily limits depending on the amount of contaminants and the daily water usage.

Low-Level Iron

Low levels of iron can be removed with iron reduction cartridges or softeners.  But again, it is better to have system to remove iron exclusively.  We talked about the problems with iron removal when using a softener and the iron reduction cartridges are really not intended for complete removal.  This is especially true in whole house applications.  Typically these cartridges are used at one point-of-use.  For whole house applications it is better to go with a larger more robust removal system.  Iron reduction filters only “reduce” the iron level.  Complete removal is the goal.

As you can see there are some different ways of removing/treating iron and although a softener can handle lower levels of iron it is better to have an exclusive system.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding iron removal, please give us a call.  1-800-608-9792

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This article has 35 Comments

  1. Can you be more specific? What are the iron ranges that apply to each of the removal methods? Aren’t there two different types of iron in water to consider? And, how does this relate to a water’s innate Oxygen Reduction Potential reading?

  2. Actually, it’s hard to be specific because there are dozens of variables. The lower the pH, generally the better the iron is removed, but there are many variables there too. The ORP of the water has little to do if a softener can remove iron – that would apply more to filtration and oxidation.

  3. I was talking to a water systems installer that told me that if iron is really high that peroxide systems will clog the carbon filters with iron algae. This sounded crazy to me since peroxide kills the iron algae. And a properly backwashed carbon filter should removed the precipitated iron.

    In some cases where the peroxide is too high, I can imagine that oxidation is so complete that some very small particles will pass through to the the large carbon filter but I would not think they would get through a one micron tall blue house filter.

    Have you ever seen a peroxide system clog the carbon filter with gel like algae?

    I am located in Florida and I really don’t think our iron is as bad as it is in other places like Georgia or Texas but that guy claims to be in the business, though he said a lot of other peculiar things that I knew were fictional. I just have no experience in regard to this gel clogging filter claim.

  4. Does a kdf85 filter in a water softener work to remove iron and sulfur and do think it’ll blug up.

  5. Hello, I have a small weekend summer cottage with a well that has low levels of iron (.55 mg/l) and I installed a softener which did the trick for 5+ years. We are now seeing signs again of cloudy water and brown twinges of staining of the toilets again.

    I am assuming that changing the media will be the first thing I should try to see if that clears up the problem. What type of media do I need and where can I buy it?

    Do you sell it and ship (or maybe I can pick up)

    What is correct amount for standard Pentair Fleck 6700XTR Downflow system

    I am in Belmont, NH

  6. We have a summer cottage with a well. It has a water softener. I don’t like the feel of the soft water, so I was going to install a blending valve to mix back in some of the hard water. Does a blending valve create any problems? Like the return of iron to the water? We do not have any iron problems now, but I assume that is because the softener is removing the iron.

  7. Yes, that is exactly what it would do. Some people do not like the feel of soft water, but I love it and cannot stand hard water. I can’t tell you that you will love it, but if you understand why it is that way, maybe that will help.

    Read this is you want:

  8. We are on well water and had really hard water with a lot of iron. We did not have it tested but a friend gave us a Rain Soft water conditioner that we had installed. The water is clear but we continually have some brown in the washing machine and toilets, as well as the shower. I have not added ANYsalt to it in having it for about a year.
    Please let me know the steps I should take in getting this problem worked out.

  9. I would like to be contacted about what to do with hard water 150ppm iron problem. Salt system is ruining my home. What are my options other than moving?

  10. I just found out the county I moved to water has a lot of iron in it. I am glad that you pointed out that there are more water treatment machines out there that’s the whole purpose is to pull the iron out of the water going into your home. That is good for me to know because I really don’t want to be driving or using iron infused water.

  11. Sir, earlier softeners output was 6000 m3. Now softeners give 2000 m3. Iron content in water is 0.09 mg/l. Total hardness is 146 mg/l as caco3
    Suggest what to do for increase regeneration level.

  12. Good morning! We have an impression series aeration system to remove iron and manganese. It was installed in the summer of 2014 and we have not yet changed media. I just learned that our hot tub motor corroded, and we were told the cause is usually softened water. Before we installed the aeration system, the water was neither soft nor hard (lab test). Would removal of iron and manganese cause the water to be considered soft? Thanks so much.

  13. Whoever told you that softened water would corrrode a pump is mis-informed. Softeners do not cause corrosion. PERIOD!

    It is possible that aeration (introducing oxygen) into the water could increase corrossion, but that seems unlikely. Soft water will not hurt a pump.

  14. The drinking water test was approx 1.3 ppm of iron, (obviously I prefer not to install any water treatment systems), but what would you suggest?

  15. What is your opinion on the water softener’s that you purchased from Home Depot !! I know several people in my neighborhood that on them !!

  16. We call them “throw away” water softeners. They last a year or two and then you throw them away. They are usually small and when people get ours (which is much larger) they often say: “I guess I never had soft water before.”

  17. Should an iron : sulfur system go before the water softener? I have a water shield sulfur block system that was installed after the softener , the softener continually smells bad water not so soft

  18. Hi what would you recommend
    iron 0.79 mg/l
    manganes 0.0609 mg/l
    hardness 50 mg/l
    ph 7.45 uph
    turbidity 13 utn

    Thanks for your help

  19. I have, I am told 10 parts iron in my well water. We have had the place about 10 years and the Knetico water softener there when we purchased the place has worked well. ( I had it re bedded once about 4 or 5 years ago). It has always worked pretty well for our family of 5. I am now experiencing low water pressure in the house again and I have recently replaced the pump in the well and cleaned the pipe to the surface out. I have good flow at the well head running straight well water about 16g per min.
    I read on line that injecting air from my compressor at the well and opening faucets down the line would also help clean out he sediment and iron slime build up from the pipes. I tried this after isolating my softener and I did get a lot of crud out of the pipe. I am thinking that perhaps my softer is clogging up like it did before. What system is the best for treating hi iron? I don’t really want to spend another $1,200 or more to rebuild a system that will most likely clog again in 4 or 5 years. I am looking for something that will last 10 to 20 years.

  20. I tested my well water it shows 1.6 PPM of iron
    For my house where the main line is 3\4

    They offered me a Katalox light in a 10 x 54 cilinder with a 5600 Fleck Backwash valve, to be installed before the water softener that is already install ed for several years

    Do you think that this level of Iron will be removed by the Katalox media

    How can I know if the softener is damage by this level of iron

  21. Mark,
    We just bought a home that was vacant for about a year. We’ve chlorinated the well to successfully eliminate coliform bacteria, and noticed rust stains in the new bathtub and sink while flushing. we are planning to use a softener with a hardness in the 30-35 range, but are concerned about the iron. What suggestions do you have? The water test results are as follows.
    pH – 7.4
    Lead – <4micro grams/l
    Iron – 277 mg/l

  22. I have hard water and have had a water softener for about 8 years. I just installed a whole house filter before my water softener. Is that the right place for it or after the softener. My fiance has white hair and feels she can not keep the color right with iron in the water. I have a fine filter cartridge in it to see if it helps her. Just want ting to make sure I have the filter in right place. The softener is a 42000, grain and I keep the setting a little high for the iron tratment. I use the iron removal pellets as well and keep it stocked pretty much full as I can. It never gets below level 3.

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