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.
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.
Lower 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 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