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There's iron in the toilet water

QuestionWe live in Spokane County in a new 2005 home and draw household water from a well on the property. Our toilets get rust stains even though we have a water softener. It's difficult to remove the stains, even with scrubbing, and they quickly return. Is there a filter or some other way of stopping these rust stains? Once they are there, what's the best—and easiest—way to remove them? Thanks.

AnswerThere are several products on the market that will address the rust stains in your toilets, and I'll discuss them later. In the meantime, if you are scrubbing the toilets with a scouring pad and abrasive scouring powders, stop immediately. These abrasives will eventually damage the toilets' porcelain surfaces and the only way to correct it is to replace them.

Prevalent in the Spokane area (as well as in other areas throughout the US and Canada), hard water contains dissolved minerals, commonly calcium or magnesium. When these two elements precipitate out of the water, "scale" forms inside pipes, water heaters, teakettles, etc. Additionally, hard water reacts with soap to reduce the soap's ability to lather and to produce a sticky scum.

A water softener replaces the calcium and magnesium ions in the water with sodium ions. Because sodium does not precipitate out or react negatively with soap, both problems of hard water are eliminated. Unfortunately, and I'm guessing here, your water softener isn't designed to address well water that may have a high concentration of iron and/or manganese in the water.

Iron is the most common of the two elements, but manganese is closely associated with iron since they are typically found together. These two non-hazardous contaminants are chemically similar and cause similar problems, such as staining.

In deep wells, where oxygen content is low, the dissolved iron and manganese-bearing water will be clear and colorless at the tap. After exposure to air, they become oxidized, leaving a solid reddish-brown stain on laundry, plumbing fixtures, porcelain, etc. Manganese, acting in the same manner, causes brownish-black stains.

Iron occurs in water in several different forms, so it is important to know the type of iron that is present and its concentration when considering water treatment. Each well has its own unique characteristics; in fact, the iron content of two nearby wells may be quite different.

A laboratory test of the water will yield the extent of the iron and manganese contamination. The lab can also test the water for additional water parameters, such as pH, silica content, oxygen content, hardness, and sulfur, all useful information to help determine the appropriate water treatment system for your well.

As you already know, your water supply is slowly damaging the plumbing fixtures throughout your home. You have a couple of options to consider: obtain an alternate water supply or use some type of treatment to remove the contaminants.

An alternative water supply would be to hook up to community water, if it's available, or drill a new well in a different area or a deeper one into a different aquifer. Note that a new or deeper well may not yield a satisfactory water source.

There are five basic methods for treating the water: oxidizing filters, an ion exchange water softener, chemical oxidation followed by filtrations, pressure-type aeration followed by filtrations, and phosphate compounds.

The best advice I can give you is to bring in a water specialist to help get the situation under control. A Water Treatment Contractor can assist in getting the water tested to determine whether you have iron and/or manganese in the water and the concentration of these elements. Based on test results, the water treatment contractor can recommend an appropriate water treatment system.

Check the yellow pages under "Water Purify & Filter Equipment" or "Water Treatment Equipment, Service, & Supplies." Make appointments with at least three companies to learn which water treatment system they recommend as the best fit for your unique circumstances and, of course, to keep the bids in line with your budget.

One rust stain remover I can suggest to you from others who have been in similar situations (I have not used the product) is Super Iron Out. The same company also produces Instant Rust Out, and both products are designed to remove rust stains. To learn more about these products, go to www.ironout.com.

Three other products to consider (again, I have not tried them) are by Whink: Rust Guard Toilet Tablets, Rust & Iron Stain Remover, and Rust Stain Remover. Learn more about them at www.whink.com.

You can find all these products on the internet, and they may also be available locally at home improvement and grocery stores.

Let me know what type of water treatment system you went with and the outcome. I'm also interested to learn what cleaning product did the best job. Your feedback will help other readers in our area who may face a similar situation.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.


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