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Too much iron in your water can cause countless problems like orange stains, cloudy water and bacterial growth. Which is why it’s so important to control and filter iron! Anything above 0.3mg/L level is enough to become a nuisance.
A good quality iron filter is needed especially with well water because the water isn’t constantly flowing. This constant state allows the iron to oxidize and become ferric, and this is what turns water orange.
Luckily, I’ve been installing these iron filters for well water for a long time and I do know my iron-filtering stuff. The things I didn’t know…I learned since starting this site – stuff like manufacturing, outsourcing, and quality assurance practices.
This is a big problem for Minnesota wells
If you have worked with Minnesota well water you understand the challenges of removing iron from well water. I lived in Duluth for a few years and quickly grew to understand why they call the area the Iron Range.
Iron exceeds the Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels (0.3 mg/L) in about 70% of Minnesota wells (source). Although I was a house plumber, for those few years in Duluth, iron problems accounted for 20-30% of all my interventions.
And most of those were not as simple as installing iron filters. No, some of the projects called for a deep understanding of both the physics and chemistry of iron removal.
I remember a particularly nasty case in Grand Rapids that I only solved by addressing the staining and the hot water smell separately.
For the staining, I installed a permanganate system (which oxidizes the iron). For the hot water smell, I removed the classic anode in the heater and replaced it with a titanium anode.
If this all sounds like gibberish, don’t fret – I crafted this guide to offer actionable and specific recommendations of products that you can install yourself.
I just wanted to take a moment here to respond to the obvious question, “Why should I take advice from this guy?”
We’ll aim for one filter solutions
Iron filters have gone a long way since I worked the Minnesota wells, and you don’t need creativity if you know the chemistry behind it all; you can easily choose one product that will solve all your iron problems.
That’s what I’ll be aiming here – to crunch all the numbers on my side and leave you with simple recommendations that don’t require any plumbing experience.
These are not mere opinions
I gathered a ton of data for this in depth guide. Over time, I sought the help of many colleagues and analyzed 44 different products.
In the dedicated reviews of the iron filters below, you’ll see stats about particular filtration systems. To put it all in perspective, let me share what I did to get that data:
- I asked my fellow plumbers who offer well servicing for a list of iron filters that they preferred
- I gathered the data and came up with a system to quantify the quality of a system
- This left me with quality categories like how good a filter is at removing hydrogen sulfide and sulfur, ease of installation , longevity, efficiency , etc.
- I asked how good of a job a unit does with other minerals, like iron and manganese or manganese and hydrogen sulfide combo
- I asked about the technology preferences, like air injection
- I asked for their opinions on point-of-use vs. whole house filters
I then crunched all the numbers to get to the TOP 5 picks.
If You’re in a Hurry – My Tops Picks at a Glance
This is not a short guide, and I’ll get into greater detail about each of my TOP 5 choices further down.
But if you’re in a hurry or simply don’t want to read through the whole thing, let me get straight to the point.
If you ask me, there is one king of the hill that will be a solid choice for a vast majority of well owners. And it’s one of the filters on the cheaper side, too – the Iron Pro 2 Combination Fleck System.
If you already did some digging and researched the prices of these things, you know that the good ones cost an arm and a leg. And they’re worth it, too.
The Iron Pro 2 is the best value for money out there.
It’s a whole-house solution that works as a combination of a water softener and a robust iron filter. To be honest, I am still puzzled by the price of this thing. Knowing what goes into making one, that is.
If I had to guess, I’d say that this filter is what’s known in the industry as the “foot in the door” product. It’s a strategy of offering one product at minimal margins to get your brand name out there. If that’s the case, it’s working for AFWFilters (the company behind it).
At least it’s working on me.
Because of what I’ve seen this filter do, I bought and recommended tens of thousands worth of their products.
To be clear, they are not getting any special treatment from me here. I don’t know anyone from the company, and I have never received free products from them in exchange for my reviews, which tends to happen in this space.
Let’s move on to the specifics.
Best Iron Filter for Well Water – Top 5
- Ships Pre Loaded Water softener, iron filter, all in one!...
- Comes with AFW Filters install kit with sanitizer,...
- Fleck 5600SXT digital metered valve for efficiency and ease...
Most of the reviews I’ve seen out there barely scratch the surface. People simply list what you already know or can easily learn.
I’ll go way beyond that and talk about what it’s like to install and use, the media (what’s inside), how it works and, most importantly, the results I’ve seen with my clients after installing it.
First things first – Specs of the Iron Pro 2 Combination system:
- 95 lbs
- 52 x 12 x 12 “
- 45 Gallons Per Minute
- size in grains: 64,000
- voltage: 120 V
I’ve seen this thing do wonders on some of the worse well water you can imagine. Let’s dive right into what makes it better.
The engineering behind it is flawless
I’ve been installing these since 2018 – it’s not a new product; it’s a battle-tested system.
So, what I’m about to say is more about my process than the Iron Pro 2.
The first thing I do when considering a new contender for one of the top spots is to look at how well the science behind it is explained. There are many products with high user ratings that I didn’t even consider because of the “red light” in the manufacturer’s specs.
To any experienced plumber or well-water expert, it’s glaringly obvious that people behind the Iron Pro 2 know exactly what they’re talking about. That doesn’t mean much if the product itself doesn’t perform when faced with real-life iron issues. Iron Pro 2 does, and impressively so.
A rundown of what makes Iron Pro 2 Combination better
If I had to explain it in as few words as possible, I’d say that the secret behind the success of this whole house iron filter is the superior, “multi-attack” media inside.
This is what I mean by that:
This means that it can take out more iron and will work with high levels of both ferrous and ferric iron.
This part is crucial because it means it will work to filter hydrogen sulfide and sulfate.
5 pounds of KDF inside
KDF filter medium is a copper-zinc alloy that significantly reduces harmful contaminants, including chlorine, bacteria, and heavy metals through oxidation reduction (also known as redox). This type of filter media is crucial if you’re working with a combination of contaminants.
Is it right for you?
It will work with most well systems with solid pressure and backwash.
It might not work for you if…
Your well water system is not working properly, especially in terms of backwash and pressure. It’s because the Iron Pro 2 is a robust filter with media that will get heavy as it gets wet. If the pressure or the backwash is sub-par, you might see problems with the flow rate.
I’d say that if your water pressure is anywhere above 40 psi, you’re not likely to see any problems.
- Silver 10 air injection by AFW Filters for iron and sulfur
- No chemicals! All automatic AIS10-25SXT
- Easy to install, Comes with AFW Filters instructions plus...
The runner-up is a lighter filter with lower capacity (6 Gallons Per Minute).
Specs of the AFW Air Injection:
- 15.37 lbs
- 54 x 10 x 10 “
- voltage: 120 Volts
- removes up to 10 ppm of iron
In my tests, this was the top 3 best whole house iron filters system in terms of the balance between the ability to remove iron and not interfere with flow rates. I’ve only seen flow-rate interference in 2.5% of fittings.
It’s reasonably easy to install and features a Fleck 2510 valve, which is one of my top 3 favorites (and not only in this price range) in the whole house water filtration arena.
However, what makes it better is how smartly the iron removal system is thought out. I already mentioned that, when working with lower PSIs, the weight of the medium and the salt required to deal with the calcium and iron can mess with the flow rate.
Not with this air injection filter
As the water comes in, it hits the top basket of the tank, then oxidizes, solidifies, and remains in the medium. With each washback, the process repeats, which allows the filter to work efficiently without interfering with the flow rates, even at lower pressures.
This air injection system might not work for you if the pH of your well water is over 6.5. If that’s the case, work on your water quality before installing this system.
- Fleck Black Series Fleck 5600 SXT Digital air injection...
- 1. 5 Cubic Ft of Upgraded Centaur Catalytic Carbon
- Remove iron up to 12 ppm, Sulfur up to 10 ppm, Manganese up...
The runner-up is a simple yet powerful filter that can do an excellent job with up to:
- 12 ppm of iron
- 10 ppm of sulfur
- 2 ppm of manganese
Other specs of the Durawater Black Fleck:
- 90 lbs
- 12 x 12 x 48 “
- size: 1.5 ft cubic
12 ppm of iron is no small feat
Those who have already worked with high levels of iron know what it takes to remove iron from well at over 10 ppm.
What makes it better?
It’s a combination of the filtration media and the powerful air injection system. The 1. 5 cubic feet is the one aspect of the media that separates this Durawater from any competing iron filter in its price range.
The hefty carbon media makes it a great choice if your well water is high in manganese and sulfur.
A few interesting stats from my database:
- Durawater belongs to the top 2% of iron filters for wells in terms of sulfur removal efficiency
- It’s in the top 10% in terms of manganese removal and the top 5% in terms of water pressure interference (or lack thereof)
- It is one of the two highest-rated filters in the “value for money” category
It’s a hefty iron water filter at a very reasonable price point.
- Great for well water; for city water, consider model...
- Massive filter housings with 1-inch ports for the strongest...
- Multi gradient density replaceable sediment filter produces...
Specs of the Home Master:
- 48 lbs
- 24 x 9 x 25 “
- 15 Gallons Per Minute
- max pressure: 90 lbs per Square Inch
- warranty: 2 years limited on parts
This Home Master system is the top-rated iron filter in the category of under-sink and countertop systems (this means it is not a whole house filter).
It filters up to 95% of iron, sediment, and manganese. This massive system filters down to the finest particles (1 micron) and can handle a total load of 3 ppm of iron and other contaminants.
The size of the housing has two main advantages – the filter can easily handle high pressures (as high as 15 gallons), and there’s practically no interference with the flow rate.
These are excerpts from my testing:
- In terms of the ability to remove ferrous iron from well water, it is the single highest-rated iron filter both in its price range and category (under-sink)
- It belongs in the top 1.5% of the under-sink filters I analyzed in terms of capacity
- It removed 94% of iron from well water (on average, measured at the 1-month mark)
If you’re not looking for a whole house iron water filter but something to use locally, this is the system that ticks all the boxes.
- Water softener, iron filter, all in one -- Ships Pre Loaded...
- 48, 000 Grain Capacity, fine mesh resin designed for high...
- Fleck 5600Sxt digital metered valve for efficiency and ease...
Specs of the Iron Pro 48K:
- 53 lbs
- 54 x 10 x 10 “
- 45 Gallons Per Minute
- filtering ranges: 6-8 ppm of iron, 6 ppm of manganese
- capacity: 48,000 grain
- voltage: 120 V
The filtering range for iron on this one is not as impressive as the ppm of manganese its media can handle.
The smart part of the meter-based regeneration system is that it measures how much water you use and regenerates based on that. This is a nice water-saving touch.
The combination of air injection and fine mesh resin works well and allows the system to remove both ferric and ferrous iron more efficiently.
In my tests, I found the filter to be 3rd most effective in a high-iron environment and second-best in ppm of manganese it removes. Those are some impressive numbers.
Choosing the Best Iron Filter for Well Water – Key Considerations
I did make an effort to be as precise as possible in my recommendations. However, it’s only smart to take the time to understand what we’re talking about before you decide which of these is the best iron filter for well water for your particular set of circumstances.
Testing your well water – beyond the iron and the hardness
It’s a good idea to get a full test of your well water at least once to understand what exactly you’re dealing with. I’d start with a general physical, mineral, and bacteriological test.
This will give you a rundown of any minerals, metals, salts, bacteria, and pH level. In most cases, this should be enough to give you an idea about what kind of an iron filter for well water you need.
Knowing exactly what you need to remove will help you make smarter decisions when it comes to choosing an iron filtration system.
Note: if you are seeing any staining at all, I’d go beyond testing iron and hardness. Test the total dissolved solids, pH, and manganese.
If we’re talking about drinking water, test for e-coli and total coliform.
These are all tests you can do on your own with kits that cost under $100.
Answers in the toilet tank
A simple visual inspection of the toilet tank offers invaluable information about the kind of filtration system you might need.
Here’s what I mean:
If you are, for example, seeing a white scale on the float, you’re dealing with calcium hardness, and the solution is a simple softener.
With well water, you’re likely to see a combination of a few of these:
- Rust stains in the tank indicate that you’re dealing with oxidized iron
- If rust is combined with wiry reddish growth, you probably have an iron bacteria problem (the same goes if the water in the tank is frothing/bubbling)
- If the growth is gray, it’s an indication of sulfur bacteria
- Brown or black stains indicate iron, manganese, or (most likely) both
Smells of well water and what they mean
Iron contamination is pretty much always followed by a range of odors that can be an indication of the type of contaminants. However, more often than not, you won’t be able to precisely pinpoint the culprits because they rarely “travel” alone.
This is what you’ll probably smell:
Rotten-egg smell – indicates hydrogen sulfide or sulfur bacteria.
Cucumber smell – iron or, in some cases, sulfate-reducing bacterial growth.
Oil or asphalt odor – an indication of manganese.
Metallic smells – copper, manganese, iron, or any combination of the three.
Well water iron effects on health
Although there are some health concerns associated with iron in well water, it is officially considered an aesthetic contaminant, not a serious health threat.
That doesn’t change the fact that, once the levels go over the 0.03 PPM, it will change the color of the water and cause it to develop foul smells.
A closer look at Hydrogen sulfide and sulfate
Hydrogen sulfide – H2S
H2S has a strong odor that you can’t miss and poses a serious health risk. Hydrogen sulfide is known for being very corrosive to all metals, even stainless steel.
If present, it aggressively changes the “life” of your well – especially if your system is constructed with steel casing and has copper pipe fittings. You’ll also easily notice it by changes on your silverware – when exposed to hydrogen sulfide, silverware will develop a black tarnish.
The good news is that, in most cases, most of the best iron filters for well water will also remove the H2S and Manganese.
Hydrogen sulfate – HSO4-
Sulfate is another type of sulfur that can be present in well water. It doesn’t produce gas, and it has no smell, so you’ll definitely not confuse it with sulfide.
High levels of sulfate (250+ parts per million) can have severe laxative effects, cause dehydration, and is especially dangerous for infants. Since it’s odorless, the only way to find out if it’s in your well is by testing the water.
If the problem turns out to be small amounts of naturally occurring sulfate, reverse osmosis and distillation on the faucets will do the trick.
Tip: In the unlikely event that there’s no iron or manganese present, the cheapest way to eliminate hydrogen is aeration.
Aeration is typically performed in two ways: dedicated hydrogen sulfide removal tanks or by replacing the bladder-style pressure tank with some of the old-style tanks. I’d recommend the former.
The latter can work because old-style pressure tanks are exposed to air at the top. This can get rid of the hydrogen gas before the water is pumped into the house, but comes with complications of its own – complications that are beyond the topic of this guide. After all, we aim to use the modern iron filter system technology to move forward, not back.
Typical contaminants combos
Iron rarely travels alone. The rocks that “leak iron” into your water often carry other, potentially more dangerous minerals. The most common combos here are manganese and Hydrogen sulfide.
If manganese is present in quantities higher than 0.3 Parts Per Million (PPM), you’ll want to go with an iron and manganese filter combined with air injection.
DIY test of your pumps flow rate
The flow rate of your pump is a critical piece of information. Most well owners already know their flow rate. If you don’t, it’s pretty easy to determine. There are online calculators that can help you with this.
Iron types and applicable solutions
Oxidized and Colloidal Iron
The most common, reddish substance found in well water is Ferrous oxide.
Colloidal iron is also an oxide (Ferric). The mineral names for the two are hematite and wustite, respectively.
Colloidal is somewhat harder to recognize visually because it’s a fine substance that causes mild discoloration. If colloidal iron is present, your water will have a cloudy quality to it.
Why is this important?
Because even people who know well systems pretty well assume that it’s not an iron problem if there’s no red staining. I’ve seen it in the field.
Just as importantly, in most cases, both the iron oxides and dissolved iron is present.
If you’re dealing with dissolved iron, you’ll see red staining, but the water will not be rusty until exposed to air. Once it is, it turns reddish or orange, depending on how much iron is dissolved. You might also know it as “soluble” iron.
Tannins resin and organic iron
Tannins are a by-product of vegetation decay. They are particularly tricky because not only do they cause problems of their own, but can interfere with iron removal. They can bind to the iron molecule, making what’s known in the industry as “hemeiron.”
The good news is that they aren’t common in deep wells and are more of an issue with wells that are shallow enough to allow surface water to get in.
In the context of iron filters, it’s important to know the basics of what tannins are because they can be the reason behind stubborn iron. If even the best iron filter systems are not doing the job, check the tannin levels.
Organic iron poses problems similar to tannins. It’s not iron per see (like ferrous and ferric iron) but a compound that forms from organic acids and iron. When present, it can slow down the oxidative action of an iron filter for well water.
Iron bacteria and biofilm
Iron bacteria are iron-consuming organisms that generate deposits of metal and slime in a reddish-brown color called “biofilm.”
Iron problems can be aggravated by bacteria, even though the organisms themselves are not harmful to people. Options for eliminating or reducing iron bacteria include physical removal, heat, and chemical treatment.
The catch 22 here is that the bacteria need iron to survive, and they’ll die away on their own after an installation of a good iron removal system for your well. You’ll still need to deal with the biofilm buildup; it’s not going away on its own.
That’s why I’d advise against waiting for the iron bacteria to die and to remove them before installing your new system.
The most efficient approach for iron bacteria removal is shock chlorination of the whole well system. For particularly stubborn bacterial growth, a more granular approach might be warranted – like aeration and air injection followed by hydrogen peroxide treatment.
Tip: It sounds more complicated than it is.
What it all means for you
Here’s the skinny – if there was zero dissolved iron, a simple backwashing sand filter would do the job. That’s rarely the case, and you are far more likely to see a combination of the oxides with dissolved iron – this calls for an oxidizing whole house iron filter.
Most of the products I analyzed belong to this group of iron filters.
Avoiding well pressure problems after iron filter installation
Understanding the connection between the well pump and the pressure tank is crucial for choosing the best iron filter for well water in your specific set of circumstances. Meaning that, if you choose the wrong type of iron filter, you might end up with iron-free water but mess up your pressure.
An excellent example of that would be going with a cartridge filtration system that limits your flow. In this scenario, your well might be producing enough water, but not all of it gets through the filters, resulting in flow interference.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
Types of iron filters you’ll be choosing from
These systems can cause a flow problem if not chosen correctly. If I were you, I would skip this group altogether and go with something more robust.
Automatic backwash systems
The single most common mistake people make when choosing an iron filter is going too big for their flow rate. It’s an easy mistake to make because, intuitively, you might feel that you need an iron filter for well water with a higher flow rate than that of your well.
That’s not the case. If you use that logic, you’ll see your iron, Hydrogen Sulfide, or manganese problems coming back. Best iron filters for your well will work at the same capacity as your flow rate or lower.
Drawdown of a pressure tank
The primary purpose of a pressure tank is to store water at high pressure so that the pump doesn’t activate every time there’s a small, intermittent demand for water.
To put it simply – it’s the amount of water that can be drawn from the pressure tank before the pump even turns on.
In the context of iron filters, it means that you might use a larger unit.
pH and iron filters
This is probably the least understood aspect of successful iron removal. Even the best iron filter might produce sub-par results if the pH of the water you’re threatening is outside of the ideal range – 6.8 to 7.4.
I aim for 6.9 to 7.2, and I’ve seen it make all the difference. According to my data, the success rate of my interventions was at 95% if the pH is within that range. It falls to 85% for a wider range I mentioned above.
I have no data on working outside that pH range because I’ve never done it.
Tip: Getting the pH just right is pretty simple. Correct it with a soda ash feeder if too acidic (less than 6.9) or use neutralizing filters that contain calcite or ground limestone. To reduce alkalinity, use an ion exchange unit or a chemical feed pump.
Filter media explained
You might stumble upon this phrase, and if you’re new to water filtration, the word “media” can be confusing in the context.
In layman’s terms, “filter media” is just industry lingo for any substance/ or technology used in the filter – stuff like carbon, activated dioxide, manganese dioxide, reverse osmosis, etc.
For a whole-house iron filter, you’ll likely need a combination of oxidizing filters with one or two substances, like chlorine or carbon.
Tip: WQA gold seal (Water Quality Association) is a stamp of quality you might see with some filters. To be honest, I don’t attach much gravity to it, but that’s just me.
What we talked about above are all questions you should ask yourself before deciding which of the best iron filters we presented is suitable for you.
Here’s a rundown, just for the sake of clarity:
- Is iron my only problem? If yes, which type of iron I’m working against?
- Are there manganese or hydrogen compounds present?
- What’s my flow rate, and how does that tie in with my choice of iron water filter?
Step by step guide on installing an iron filter
After the filter arrives and you have reviewed that all the parts you’ll need are there, follow these steps to install it.
- If you’re turning off the water to your whole house and you have electric heaters, turn off the power, too.
- Choose a location for the filter – go with a spot that ties the well system to your home plumbing. The point of installation should allow for the filter to be level, dry, and not exposed to freezing. The range of the pressure at the point of installation should be between 20 and 90 PSI.
- Unpack and have all your parts in a visible, accessible spot. Ideally, you should have at least one person helping you.
- Follow the instructions on the packaging of the iron removal filter.
I understand that the last step above is vague. It’s because different types of iron filters for well water will come with their own instructions, and it’s practically impossible to cover it all here.
Not without running the risk of giving you bad advice.
A few additional tips:
- If you’re working with automatic iron filtration systems, always install them after the pressure tanks.
- Pay special attention to connecting your inlet and outlet pipes to the correspondent parts of the automatic filter for well water.
- After you install the unit, check the backwash to make sure it’s correct. Just fill a bucket with the backwash and time it, you’ll get the backwash in gallons per minute.
- Perform water pressure and leak checks after the installation.
- Use aerators to flush the pipes and faucets after the iron filtration.
- Allow a few hours for the old iron to clear up and then test the post-installation water quality. Test for any contaminant that you were looking to get rid of – ppm of manganese, ppm of iron, ferrous iron, ferric iron. The best iron filters will get things under control within 3-4 hours.
Installing your own iron filter vs. hiring a professional
This is probably one of those decisions that will give you pause when going through the whole project of iron removal.
It certainly is something you can do yourself, especially if you have a peg of experience. In my opinion, these are the advantages and drawbacks of installing an iron filter for well water yourself:
- Costs less – you save both on equipment and service calls in the future.
- It puts things into perspective, and you learn – you get to work on your well system and understand it better for any future projects. This might mean that it will be easier for you to pinpoint the issue when something does happen, especially if you’re installing a whole house iron filter.
- If you’re unlucky or inexperienced, there is a chance that you’ll stumble upon an issue that you don’t quite know how to solve
- If you don’t live in the facility where you’re installing the iron filters, you might still need someone else to do the servicing.
FAQs about Iron Water Filters
Yes, you definitely can remove iron from wells using a filter.
Water cascades over the media in the iron filter, binding soluble ferrous iron. The filter captures any residues that may form, leaving all the water filtered of iron.
There’s no simple answer to that. It depends on what you want to filter out.
Filters made with a high micron rating (> 25 microns) would filter out particulate matter such as dirt and are not effective at removing contaminants like viruses and bacteria.
If the ferric and ferrous iron settles to the bottom of the well, and you have a cartridge type filter (5 microns or smaller), then most of it should be removed.
However, in most cases, you want to do more for water quality than just remove iron. depending on the contaminant (like the ppm of manganese), going down to 1-micron filter media might be warranted.
If you are concerned about using chemicals to remove iron, there are filters and softeners that solely rely on natural filter media. High levels of iron call for dedicated filters that probably include some chemical media, though.
Yes, reverse osmosis can remove ferric and ferrous iron.
No, most water filter pitchers do not remove iron.
Yes, air Injection is the most popular pre-treatment method of pretty much any efficient filtration system.
Final Thoughts and Takeaways
I firmly believe that what we have here is one guide to rule them all when it comes to the best iron filters. So, even if you decide not to get one right now and to think about it some more, you should definitely bookmark this, for three reasons:
- It’s the most complete information you’ll find on the topic.
- As the market changes, I update this guide to follow that and make sure the information presented is fresh.
- Even though my database on iron filters is already mammoth-like, I add more data and tweak my rating system all the time. More data means more reliable recommendations.
Finally, you can ask me anything in the comments below.
Stay smart and savvy.