What Does Iron in Water Smell Like?

person smells iron in a glass of water
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Water is an essential component of life and as such, it should be safe to drink. Unfortunately, many water sources contain trace metals like iron, which can cause water to have an unpleasant odor.

In this article, we discuss what iron in water smells like and its potential health side effects. Additionally, we provide some tips for reducing iron from your tap water.

Key Takeaway
  • The odor produced by iron in water is often described as a metallic or rusty smell.
  • The acceptable iron level in water is 0.3 mg/L.
  • Iron can be removed from water by installing an iron filter.

How Does Iron Get in Your Water?

Iron is a common element in the earth’s crust and is naturally present in rocks and soil. As water flows through these materials, it can dissolve small amounts of iron and pick up particles. This is how iron gets into your water supply. 

In addition to natural deposits, man-made sources such as corroding pipes or plumbing fixtures can introduce iron into your water. Older homes with galvanized pipes are particularly prone to this issue, as the protective coating on the inside of the pipe wears away over time, exposing the iron underneath.

manganese and iron in water

How Does Iron in Water Smell Like?

Although iron is an essential nutrient for our bodies, excessive amounts in drinking water can cause some unpleasant effects. One of the most noticeable results of high iron levels in water is its distinctive smell. 

The odor produced by iron in water is often described as a metallic or rusty smell. This smell is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas, produced when bacteria break down organic matter in the water supply. The gas reacts with the iron to produce ferrous sulfide compounds, which give off a rotten egg-like odor.

Acceptable Iron Levels

The acceptable levels of iron in drinking water are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and differ based on whether the water comes from a public or private source. Public sources must adhere to a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 0.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L), while private sources should not exceed 0.3 mg/L as well. These regulations are set to ensure that people consume safe and healthy amounts of iron in their drinking water.

Testing Your Water for Iron

There are many ways for testing well water for iron and determining whether or not it contains high levels of iron. One method is to use a home testing kit, which can be purchased online or at most hardware stores. These kits typically come with strips that change color depending on the amount of iron in the water. 

Another option is to get the water tested by sending its sample to a professional laboratory for analysis. This method provides more accurate results than home testing kits and can also detect other contaminants.

rusty water plumbing

Signs of High Iron Levels in Water

Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs to function properly. However, too much iron in your drinking water can cause many problems. Here are some signs that you may have high iron levels in your water:

Metallic taste  

High levels of iron in drinking water can be problematic in several ways. One common complaint is the metallic water taste which can make water undrinkable for many individuals. If water tastes metallic, it is a sign that you have excess iron levels in your well water. 

Clogged pipes and plumbing

Clogged pipes and plumbing may be signs of high iron levels in the water. When water with high iron content flows through water heater pipes, it can react with oxygen and form rust or sediment buildup that can clog up your pipes. If left unchecked for extended periods, this could lead to costly repairs or replacement costs for corroded pipes and appliances.

Stained laundry and dishes

Another common sign of elevated iron levels in water is the appearance of reddish-brown stains on clothing or dishes after washing. These unsightly stains are caused by iron oxide particles that cling to fabrics and surfaces. If you suspect your household water contains high iron levels, it’s important to act as soon as possible i.e.using water softeners or look for an iron filter. 

home sink with iron stains

How to Reduce Iron From Water?

Reducing the amount of iron in water is necessary for ensuring clean and safe drinking water. For this purpose, there are many types of water treatment equipment (water softener, vinegar, lemon) and water filters that homeowners can use.

Homeowners can reduce iron in the well water with various methods such as:

Ion Exchange

One effective method for reducing metallic minerals in water is through ion exchange. Ion exchange involves the removal of ions from water by exchanging them with other ions on a resin bed. In the case of iron, a resin bed containing sodium ions replaces the iron ions in the water. The process occurs as the water passes through the resin bed and sodium ions are exchanged for iron ions. 

Ion exchange has several advantages over other methods for removing mineral buildup. It requires no chemicals or electricity and can be operated continuously without interruption or maintenance issues. Furthermore, ion exchange systems are cost-effective and have a long lifespan when maintained properly.

Iron Removal Systems

Another effective way to reduce iron from water is installing an iron removal system. These systems use special filters which trap the mineral particles from flowing into your home’s plumbing system. Some systems use oxidizing agents like chlorine or hydrogen peroxide, converting ferrous ions (dissolved) into ferric oxide (solid). The solid ferric oxide particles are filtered out through a sand bed before sending clean drinking water.

Filters to purify drinking water at home

Reverse Osmosis System

Reverse osmosis is a widely used water filtration method that has been proven effective in reducing the amount of iron and manganese in the water. Reverse osmosis forces water through a semipermeable membrane that removes impurities like iron, bacteria, viruses, and other dissolved solids. The process ensures that only pure water molecules pass through the membrane while leaving behind any contaminants.

Reverse osmosis systems are designed to remove up to 99% of all excess minerals present in the water supply.


Iron in water can produce a metallic smell, but other odors are also possible. The intensity of the smell and type may vary depending on the source of the iron and its concentration in the water. The signs of high iron levels in well water are a metallic taste, clogged pipes and plumbing, and stained laundry and dishes. So, using a reliable iron removal system that can effectively remove iron in your well water is important.

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