How to Treat Slimy Iron Bacteria

If you’ve noticed an orange or brown slime on your faucets and bath fixtures, it is likely caused by iron bacteria, the result of iron or manganese in your water. Iron bacteria is the common name used for a number of naturally-occurring organisms that feed on dissolved iron or manganese. 

The slimy deposits iron bacteria leave on water fixtures is unattractive and can clog devices and appliance that use water. They build up on laundry screen, inside pipes, and water tanks, clogging the system. Iron bacteria can also give the water an unpleasant odor or taste.
It is not unusual for iron bacteria to live in groundwater, or for iron bacteria to grow within a home’s water system if there is iron and manganese in the water. Another way iron bacteria can get into your well is during the well drilling process or while installing the water pump.
Proper and sanitary installation and drilling techniques are important to prevent contamination. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services provides a link to proper well drilling guidelines, but we at Skillings & Sons recommend hiring a certified well drilling company when doing any work that could impact the quality of your home’s drinking water.

Testing For Iron Bacteria

Figuring out whether the sediment is iron bacteria is an easy process you can do at home. Fill a clear glass with water and let the sample sit undisturbed until all visible sediment have settled on the bottom. If the sediment looks like a rusty powder, it is unlikely it is iron bacteria. If the sediment is fluffy, like strands of cotton fiber, then it is likely iron bacteria.

Treating Iron Bacteria

If the source of the iron bacteria is within your home’s well, it can be difficult to fully eliminate it. Disinfecting the well by adding chlorine is a common and practical method known to kill and control iron bacteria.

If the iron bacteria is forming within water tanks or pipes because there is iron or manganese in your home water supply, you may want to consider a water treatment system.

There are two common forms of these metals in home water: reduced and oxidized. Water with “reduced” iron and manganese will initially look clear but over time will form solid particles that are orange-brown or black. Water with “oxidized” iron and manganese will have visible solid particles when it’s immediately drawn from the well. Once you find out what kind of iron or manganese is in your water supply, you can narrow down the treatment options that will work best in your home.

Oxidation filtration injects oxygen into the water to remove impurities. While it is effective in removing iron, it requires additional chemical treatment, including chlorine bleach, to remove manganese.

A water softener is typically used to treat hard water, but it can also remove small amounts of reduced iron and manganese. Water softeners use an ion exchange process, during which the iron and manganese are replaced with sodium. These metals are then removed from the softener filtering resin through a backwashing process.

Professional Testing and Treatment

Although iron bacteria are easy to identify, there are a number of different causes for this slimy nuisance that require different treatment options. Before spending money on disinfecting your well or on a new water treatment system, you should consult a professional. Skillings & Sons has more than 250 years of experience and can provide you more information on testing and treatment for iron bacteria.