Does A Water Softener Remove Iron? (Alternative methods)

If you’re a homeowner who gets their water supply from wells, there’s a solid chance you’re getting high iron water in your system.

While it’s not harmful for your health specifically, high iron water causes homeowners a lot of trouble in the cleaning department, from leaving ugly stains on clothes to discoloration on walls and even trapping iron bacteria in the plumbing and toilet tanks.

Now we understand that most homes that source water directly from wells have a water softener system in place. Your average water softener uses resin beads to perform an ion exchange process and remove hard minerals like calcium.

But often times iron in water persists even if you have a softener installed- so why is that? Are water softeners not useful to remove iron? Is there some other one-size-fits-all solution? These are some of the questions we’re answering today. So let’s dive in.

Does a water softener remove iron?

As we mentioned above, water softeners rely on resin beads to treat hard and impure water. If you use the resin to treat both hardness and excess iron, its lifespan shortens significantly. Eventually, the iron simply slips through the resin and remains dissolved in the water.

Normally, water softener systems (such as the Water-Right) remove about 1 mg of iron per liter (or 1ppm). Since iron in water starts staining at about 0.3ppm, sometimes softeners are adequate to clean ‘dirty’ iron water.

However, this is less removal capacity than the quantity of iron present in groundwater of many regions, such as those seeing rainfall in bouts.

On top of that, even if softeners do end up cleaning iron efficiently, they eventually degrade and pass iron in slugs thanks to the fouling of the bed.

Fouling occurs due to adherence of iron precipitates (ferric hydroxide) to the resin. In other words, getting iron out of the softener bed is extremely difficult as it forms a sticky, gelatinous mass that binds to the resin bead.

Once enough iron has accumulated in the bed, it can clog your ion exchange system, in turn impacting the softening of the water itself. In cases of mild fouling, cleaning of this resin bed can be done with a combination of acids and dispersing or reducing agents.

However, if slugging continues and buildup continues to form, most homeowners will end up having to replace the ion exchange resin altogether. 

If you don’t clean or replace the resin, not only will you have to deal with the staining, but iron bacteria can grow and damage your softener system further, rendering it useless.

Because softeners are not built to treat a high amount of iron (which is common in well water and old plumbing systems), it’s advisable to use a second approach.

Alternative methods for removing iron from water.

With that cleared up, let’s have a look at some alternate water purification options. Remember that these only supplement your softener, and can’t clear hardness on their own.

Iron Filters

Iron Filters

The best choice in treating water for iron is using an iron filter. Iron filters are installed in the main line, so pure water is supplied to every faucet in your house. Clean water that passes through an iron filter not only helps you avoid stains on clothes and surfaces, but is completely safe and healthy to drink.

Iron filters work well for both borewell and domestic water supplies. Since it’s non-electric, it’s always reliable if cleaned properly. Many iron filtration systems also have chlorine generators installed to kill germs. 

Iron filtration systems are long lasting, and need replacement once every 5-6 years. To increase their lifespan, periodic backwashing with purple powder is recommended (4 oz per cubic foot).

Media replacement on the other hand is needed less frequently. If you add dissolved oxygen to the filter bed as a cataylst, then media replacement won’t be necessary at all.

Iron filters do come with limitations depending on their models. Not all filters can clean as much as 10-15ppm of iron, and if your water has huge amounts of iron, backwashing will be required regularly. Likewise, cheaper filters might not have the capability to kill bacteria.

Oxidizing Filters

Oxidizing filters tactfully convert ferrous iron to ferric ions, which is insoluble in water and easy to eliminate. As the name suggests, they carry greater oxidization strength, and are better to clear iron combined with organic matter.

The most powerful oxidizing filter is manganese greensand- when iron comes into contact with the filter, its oxidized and pulled out of the water in the form of solid particles by the greensand media.

Manganese greensand filters are easy to upkeep, only requiring occasional back-washing by purple potassium permanganate powder. This treatment is necessary to regenerate the manganese greensand media.

Manganese greensand filters can remove up to 15ppm iron, enough to clean borewell water.

If all else fails, you can also go with a chemical/oxidizing pump, in which oxidizing agents like hypochlorite are fed. The pump is installed to the main line to provide clean water. Hypochlorite doubles as a disinfectant too.

Price comparison- Iron filters vs Oxidizing filters.

Oxidizing greensand filters typically cost about $1,200-$1,500. A new 0.5 cu greensand media box retails for $90.

Meanwhile, iron filters come in a wide price range. The heavy duty ones like Matrixx InFusion, designed to get rid of high quantities of both iron and bacteria range around $2,100-$2,800.

iSpring also offers affordable filters like WGB32B 3-Stage, which retails for between $500-$550. However, they only clean 3-5ppm of iron.

So what you opt for depends on a mix of your budget and needs. For example, greensand filters are good mid-range options for medium-sized homes. Heavy-duty iron filters are excellent if your softeners have already degraded and hosting sulfur and bacteria.

Conclusion | Does A Water Softener Remove Iron?

So, does a water softener remove iron? The short answer is yes, but in a limited quantity (1ppm on average). Homeowners who use borewell systems or have a domestic supply with high iron quantities are better off using alternatives like iron filters or oxidizing filters.

FAQ | Does A Water Softener Remove Iron?

How much does a water softener system cost?

If you have little iron in your water and don’t need a separate filter, you can rely on a water softener system alone. Typically, water softener systems cost between $1,000 to $3,000, and $1,500 on average.

Smaller units, such as those installed underneath sinks are less costly. If you get significant plumbing work done or get a smart system that detects hardness levels, your budget can peak to $6,000 or more.


This is my blog about the ways and solutions that can help you improve your health by taking more value from drinking water. As improving health means a lot to me, I decided to create the Water On Top project with the purpose to reveal the benefits of water, the finest products to take our daily water to another level, and much more great stuff about water that I believe is on top of our nutrition.

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