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Thread: Water Test - Iron Symptoms but no Iron

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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    Default Water Test - Iron Symptoms but no Iron

    Hello! Hopefully I'm not straying too far from the purpose of this forum. In a round about way, it does involve my softner.

    We have had what I had considered what might be signs of clear water iron in our new house. Water that sat for a while seemed to turn brown. For example, the water in my brine tank is brownish once the water comes in sight if I let the salt get too low. I was using solar salt. And where the water dispenser on the fridge (unsoftened) drips a bit after each glass, we have a brown deposit. On a tub we hadn't used for six months, the water came out brownish when we turned the tap on. And the toilet tanks had a brownish residue on the sides of them up to water level.

    I know that the items above are a mix of softened and unsoftened water, but the prior owner was a bit of a putzer who tended to screw with things. We have one of the softners where you dial in hardness and number of people and I had no idea if his settings were right. So, I figured I'd get a water sample to confirm my softner settings and test for iron at the same time.

    While I was waiting i thought I would try Iron Out and see what happened. Followed the instructions for toilet tank cleaning (pour 1/2 cup in overnight and let sit), they came out white and near spotless. Did a cleaning on my water softner per the instructions, I can tell you that the water went clear in the brine tank after adding it.

    Then my test results came back. 326 mg/l hardness, which I think is roughly 22 grains if I did the calc right. No iron. Assuming this test is valid (I followed procedures and the lab is private/state certified) then I appear to be barking up the wrong tree.

    I am running a 50 micron big blue filter after the pressure tank, but that would be it for water filtering. When I change it, there is a very thin layer of reddish stuff which easily comes off. I can rub it between my fingers and it has no granularity or anything, just smooth.

    Any thoughts? Should I retest? I'm no professional, but would assume an iron test would be hard to screw up. Will Iron Out put other substances back in solution (ie my water going clear and the toilet tank cleaning)? My only other wild guess is I have a bit of clay in my water, but it's only a wild guess and I would assume would need to be confirmed by a professional.

    Thanks for any thoughts!
    Last edited by TWG1572; 05-24-2012 at 06:33 AM.

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    In the Trades Tom Sawyer's Avatar
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    Have you had the water tested for tannins?
    [B]No, plumbing ain't rocket science. Unlike rocket science, plumbing requires a license[B]

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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Sawyer View Post
    Have you had the water tested for tannins?
    I have not, but the thought did cross my mind for some random reason. Water tastes fine though and does run out clear. I've been filling a lot of 5 white gallon buckets to water plant in the last week and I haven't noticed any cloudyness, color, etc.

    As of now, we've only done the set of tests when the house transferred last summer (pesticides, bacteria, nitrates, metals, etc) and then this year when I did the annual recommended tests per the Wisconsin DNR. Those were bacteria, nitrate, arsenic and I threw in the hardness and iron.
    Last edited by TWG1572; 05-24-2012 at 07:21 AM.

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    In the Trades Tom Sawyer's Avatar
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    Fill a clear glass with water and let it sit over night. In the morning see if there is any accumulation of "brown stuff" at the bottom of the glass.
    [B]No, plumbing ain't rocket science. Unlike rocket science, plumbing requires a license[B]

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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    Will do. I'll report back tomorrow. Thanks!

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post
    We have had what I had considered what might be signs of clear water iron in our new house. Water that sat for a while seemed to turn brown.

    For example, the water in my brine tank is brownish once the water comes in sight if I let the salt get too low. I was using solar salt. And where the water dispenser on the fridge (unsoftened) drips a bit after each glass, we have a brown deposit. On a tub we hadn't used for six months, the water came out brownish when we turned the tap on. And the toilet tanks had a brownish residue on the sides of them up to water level.
    Iron usually shows up as an orange or reddish/orange color. Manganese usually is black but could be brownish. Iron or manganese reducing bacteria (IRB MRB) can be anything from clear to brown black snotty, slimy.

    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post
    I know that the items above are a mix of softened and unsoftened water, but the prior owner was a bit of a putzer who tended to screw with things. We have one of the softners where you dial in hardness and number of people and I had no idea if his settings were right. So, I figured I'd get a water sample to confirm my softner settings and test for iron at the same time.
    For much better salt efficiency than a number of people setting, click on the link in my signature and learn how to set the number of gallons rather than using the people dial. You probably have a Fleck 5600 control valve. To set up for higher salt efficiency, you must use a 24 hr reserve capacity.

    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post
    While I was waiting i thought I would try Iron Out and see what happened. Followed the instructions for toilet tank cleaning (pour 1/2 cup in overnight and let sit), they came out white and near spotless. Did a cleaning on my water softner per the instructions, I can tell you that the water went clear in the brine tank after adding it.

    Then my test results came back. 326 mg/l hardness, which I think is roughly 22 grains if I did the calc right. No iron. Assuming this test is valid (I followed procedures including pumping my well for 15 minutes pre test, and letting water run out of the pressure tank spigot for 5 minutes before testing simultaniously. The lab is private and state certified, for what that is worth) then I appear to be barking up the wrong tree.
    You don't run the water like that before using it, so IMO you shouldn't have run it like that to see how much iron etc. you have to deal with.

    Labs do make mistakes but their reason for running water like that before you collect the sample is usually related to attempting to get a Coliform bacteria free test result. You didn't test for bacteria...

    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post
    I am running a 50 micron big blue filter after the pressure tank, but that would be it for water filtering. When I change it, there is a very thin layer of reddish stuff which easily comes off. I can rub it between my fingers and it has no granularity or anything, just smooth.
    I do not suggest a prefilter ahead of a softener unless the water is visibly dirty. And there is no sense in filtering invisible dirt IMO. The prefilter usually isn't changed when it should be based on 15 psi pressure drop across the filter, they are replaced based on how they look or based on time, like so many months. Either way they reduce water flow to the softener during its regeneration which prevents proper backwashing which leads to problems with the softener's resin.

    Have you allowed the softener to run out or low on salt? Maybe two manual regenerations at the max of 15lbs/cuft of resin right after the other with no water use during or between them would help.

    Yes IO should remove manganese but shouldn't do anything for clay.
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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    Just an update. I did leave a glass of water out all night 12+ hours. No brown stuff. I'll be gone over the weekend, so I figure I'll let it keep sitting and see what the prognosis is on Monday night.

    Gary - I took a quick peak at your website and will dive in deeper next week after the Memorial Day crazyness is over. Since I'm on a septic, salt efficiency = good from what I've heard. I've not let the system run out, I did let the salt go about 6 inches under water level at one point but that's about it. Can't vouch for the prior owner, who was having financial issues. There was a little salt in it when we bought the house.

    I'd read about the pressure drop vs. time issue on filters from some of your other posts here, and made a mental note to have a plumber slip a gauge in next time they are out for something. It looks easy enough, but plumbing repairs and I have a love hate relationship. I'm usually a handy guy, but plumbing always seems to be my Waterloo.


    I'm wondering if sending an iron/manganese test in again would be worth it? I know a large municipal utility 20 miles up the road has manganese issues in some of their wells, I'd just forgotten about them till now.
    Last edited by TWG1572; 05-25-2012 at 06:00 AM.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post

    I am running a 50 micron big blue filter after the pressure tank, but that would be it for water filtering. When I change it, there is a very thin layer of reddish stuff which easily comes off. I can rub it between my fingers and it has no granularity or anything, just smooth.

    Thanks for any thoughts!
    A 50-micron, big blue will you do quite well. Obviously, you are aware a very basic maintenance. This is a cheap insurance to keep your big investment running well. Is it a foam-, string wound-, or a pleated-type?

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    Water systems designer, R&D ditttohead's Avatar
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    Just a thought, a softener typically filters water poorly for dirt, sediment etc, and what little physical filtering it does is usually backwashed from the resin during backwash. You also have a 50 micron BB filter, 50 micron is a very wide open filter that will catch only the largest particles. The cheapest and simplest way to test for silt/clay would be to drop in a melt blown 1 or 5 micron filter. You should not notice any flow reduction since a BB melt blown filter can flow 15 GPM or more with little to no pressure drop. You should see a considerable build up of sediment on the 1 micron filter, and maybe the 5 micron filter if clay is the issue.

    Brown water in the brine tank, that is normal. Most Salt is 99.9 pure, leaving .1% dirt, or "other" so after a thousand pounds of salt, several pounds of dirt would be "acceptable" according to the salt manufacturer. Depending on your region and where the salt comes from, some salts may be very dirty, others can be almost pure.

    When you do not use a bathtub for months, dont expect the water to come out crystal clear, or any fixture for that matter. This is normal.

    You can add pressure gauges to the BB filter by simply drilling the cap and tapping it on the inlet and outlet. If you have a pressure relief, you can remove it (on most models) and use that area for the pressure gauge, mirror the exact same location on the other side of the BB housing for the other pressure gauge. Simple, cheap.

    Or, if you are not confident in your plumbing and tooliong abilities, have a plumber do it.

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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ditttohead View Post
    Brown water in the brine tank, that is normal. Most Salt is 99.9 pure, leaving .1% dirt, or "other" so after a thousand pounds of salt, several pounds of dirt would be "acceptable" according to the salt manufacturer. Depending on your region and where the salt comes from, some salts may be very dirty, others can be almost pure.
    That certainly makes sense. The one question in my mind is if Iron Out would drive the dirt back in solution?

    And speak of the devil... I did buy one of the Pentek 50/5 filters for my next change out. It's sitting on the shelf downstairs - maybe I'll just swap it over sooner and see what happens.

    I'll take a closer look at the filter and see about the pressure gauge. I get nervous because I'm a weekend warrior, and it's my main water supply. I screw up and I've got a plumber coming over at double time, if I can get one here at all.

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    Water systems designer, R&D ditttohead's Avatar
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    Yup, those evil plumbers and their obscene profits. I would change the filter to the 50/5 and start watching it.

    As to Iron out, if it got into your plumbing, or even when it used in a softener, it will break a lot of junk free and it is not uncommon for some noticeable problems to occur. The rinse cycles of a softener should take care of it so you dont notice it, but these cycles are only estimated times and do not guarantee complete rinsing. These problems will quickly disappear.

    Good luck and let us know what you find.

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TWG1572 View Post
    That certainly makes sense. The one question in my mind is if Iron Out would drive the dirt back in solution?
    I don't think it will have any effect on dirt but...

    That filter you have, it doesn't seem to be working to keep the brownish stuff out of the toilet tanks, the salt tank or the non softened drinking water. So now you're going to go to a lower micron rated more expensive 4.5" cartridge... Ya know, cleaning the toilet tanks and not worrying about the 'dirt' in the salt tank (it's normal depending on the type salt used), lessens stress and expenses.

    So I question why go through the aggravation of changing the cartridge and suffering the cost of them? And maybe having an obscene profit motivated plumber install not one pressure gauge but the required two ,one each side of the housing, at some point in the future.

    Talk abut stress levels... There is also the fairly good possibility of going to change the cartridge one day, maybe like on a Saturday afternoon, of a holiday weekend, and dropping the sump as you unscrew it while it is full of water and a loaded up 4.5" x 10 or 20" long cartridge; and having no water until you can get a new sump or by pass this one (yourself if no plumber is available). All so there is no invisible dirt build up that easily wipes away with the swipe of a hand with a dish cloth in it...

    There is little sense in letting more water sit around looking for a color change when you've already had numerous 5 gal buckets full doing that over some time.

    And if your softener is set up right for an on average once every 7-9 days regeneration, and don't have a water powered wonder control valve (like Kinetico; the one and only water powered control valve in the US) that gags on the slightest build up of invisible dirt, you don't need to worry about this 'dirt' harming it.

    Didn't you say the softener was years old before you bought the house from a putzer type owner? Isn't the softener removing all the hardness? Well if that and this dirt hasn't harm it, I wouldn't be trying to fix what isn't broken.

    How long had it been since the toilet tanks were cleaned? People mostly don't look in there let alone be anal enough to clean them say weekly; or annually for that matter. And how do you know how long it takes for the build up to show up? It might have taken years.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

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    DIY Junior Member TWG1572's Avatar
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    So.. just because sarcasm doesn't always come off on forums I feel the need to clarify that I've got no issues with paying plumbers double time on the weekend - I'd charge it if I was them. It was more of a smart comment about my bad luck. Sorry if anyone took it to mean anything else.

    Anyway, I'm pretty much at the point where I've learned enough through this thread to conclude that I'm probably on a bit of a witch hunt. I was curious if I could ID the issue, which seems like it may be silt/clay in the water. Whatever it is gets through the filter on the fridge, which is supposedly 0.5 Microns.

    One thing I did learn is that my softener seems to be undersized. I worked through the capacity calculations - my softner is a Hellenbrand 1200 with .75 cu feet of resin. With 22 grains of hardness and the current salt setting of 8, my math is telling me the capacity is around 700 gallons. Whoever set it up set the capacity at 600 (assuming I'm reading it right - the white dot on the dial is on the 6). Throw a reserve in there, and with four people I'm regenerating every other day.
    Last edited by TWG1572; 05-30-2012 at 02:12 PM.

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    In the Trades Tom Sawyer's Avatar
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    Yea, that's way undersized for the load. Some options would be to scrap it and get something properly sized or if the tank is big enough you may be able to increase the size of the resin bed but if the unit is more than 10 years old I think that's a bit of false economy.

    Your sarcasm worked just fine on most of us. I do get lots of money for service calls and even more for after hours and weekend service calls but if folks had any idea just how much it costs to run a plumbing company these days, especially with all the freeking taxes and the governments hand permanently in my wallet.
    [B]No, plumbing ain't rocket science. Unlike rocket science, plumbing requires a license[B]

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    Water systems designer, R&D ditttohead's Avatar
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    I enjoy sarcasm, and correct, most of us get it, some people have no sense of humor nor an ability to turn on/off a sarcasm filter. I agree with Tom, it is time to upgrade your system to a properly sized unit. The minimum size would be a 1.5 Cu. Ft, but a 2 Cu. Ft. system would probably serve you better.

    A simple calculation to determine system capacity. 4 people x 60 gallon x 22 grains hardness x 7 days between regenerations = 36,960 grains. A 1.5 cu. ft system has a real world rating of 30,000 - 36,000 grains depending on salt efficiency settings.

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