What You Need to Know About Iron in Drinking Water

Iron is a metal found naturally in the Earth’s crust, which means it can be found in your well or spring water. 

Health concerns: Is iron harmful to my health?

Consuming water containing iron is not harmful to your health. High levels of iron may cause: 

  • A metallic taste

  • A bad smell

  • Rusty-colored water

  • Mineral deposits on toilets, sinks and bathtubs

  • Sedimentation (for example, small particles of iron settling at the bottom of a water glass)

  • Reddish or orange staining on laundry or surfaces that come in contact with the water

None of these effects poses a health risk.

High levels of iron may also allow the growth of iron bacteria, which produce a slime that can clog filters and plumbing. Although these bacteria can make water taste or smell bad, there do not harm your health.

Source: How does iron get into my water?

Iron is a metal found naturally in the Earth’s crust. As rainwater moves through natural rock formations underground, it can dissolve iron and carry it into aquifers that serve as sources of drinking water. 

Testing: How do I know if iron is in my water?

Testing for iron is the only way to know if it is the cause of an issue. Other naturally occurring elements, such as manganese, can cause similar color and taste issues and could be harmful if not fixed. 

The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for iron (and manganese) every five years. You can order an inorganic chemical test (Kit C) from the Health Department Laboratory, or you can use another certified drinking water lab to test for inorganic chemicals.

Test results: Is my result a problem?

The drinking water standard for iron is 0.30 mg/L (milligrams per liter). It is called a secondary maximum contaminant level, or SMCL, because the level is based on aesthetic (color and taste) reasons rather than health effects. 

If the iron level in your water is at or above 0.30 mg/L, there may be: 

  • A metallic taste

  • A bad smell

  • Rusty-colored water

  • Mineral deposits on toilets, sinks and bathtubs

  • Sedimentation (for example, small particles of iron settling at the bottom of a water glass)

  • Reddish or orange staining on laundry or surfaces that come in contact with the water

None of these pose a health risk. You may consider treatment to improve the taste and appearance of your water. 

Need help understanding your drinking water test results? Find out how to read your results

Treatment options: Can I remove or lower the levels of iron in my water?

When treating for iron in drinking water, it is important to consider whether there are other contaminants that should be removed, such as manganese, which causes similar aesthetic (color or taste) problems. Additionally, some things – like the pH, hardness and amount of iron in the water – may impact how effective a treatment system is. A water treatment professional will be able to determine which treatment system is best for your water, but in most cases, iron levels can be lowered by using one or more of the following treatment systems listed below. 

If fixture staining is a concern throughout the home, a whole house system (point-of-entry or POE) is recommended, which includes:

In some cases, for large particulate iron or fine iron sediments, a 5 or 20 micron sediment filter may fix the problem.

If you would like to treat just the water you drink or cook with, you may consider installing a point-of-use (POU) system, which include:

Re-test your drinking water for iron after any treatment system is installed to make sure levels are below the drinking water standard.

Financial assistance: Is there funding available to help me pay for my water system or treatment?

New Grant Opportunity for Vermonters

This summer, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is offering grants to Vermonters who have failed drinking water systems. A failed drinking water system means:

  • You have an inadequate water supply (for example, your well runs dry in the summer).

  • Your water has high levels of some contaminants (for example, arsenic, bacteria or lead).

  • Your water supply is contaminated from known sources (for example, an underground fuel storage tank).

Find out if you're eligible and sign up today

Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund

This program, also known as the On-Site Loan Program, is available to certain Vermont residents for the repair or replacement of failed water supply and on-site wastewater systems. The On-Site Loan Program is funded and administered by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation with loan underwriting and servicing provided by the Opportunities Credit Union in Winooski. Your drinking water supply has to be a failed system and you must be living in the residence on a year-round basis to be eligible. The family income cannot exceed 200% of the state median household income. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, call the On-Site Loan Program at 802-461-6051.

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont

The NeighborWorks Alliance is made up of five local organizations offering full affordable housing services for income-eligible individuals. You may qualify for help from this program if you need money to install a water treatment system, drill a well, or repair or replace your septic system. For more information on eligibility, contact the local NeighborWorks Group in your region.

Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants

This program offers loans and grants to existing homeowners for well construction, repair and sealing. It's administered by the Rural Development office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is for low-income families who live in a rural area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The family income cannot exceed 50% of the median county income. Individuals who are 62 years of age or older may qualify for a grant or a combination of a loan and a grant. Younger applicants are eligible only for loans.

Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Winooski and parts of Colchester are ineligible for the program. Even if your property is in an eligible area, your eligibility is still subject to income limits. For more information or to find out if your property is in an eligible area, call the USDA Rural Development Office at 802-828-6022.

Last Updated: September 29, 2023