Discolored Well Water and What Each Color Means

We all want our water to be clean, fresh-tasting, and, perhaps most importantly, clear! It’s natural to associate purity and health with water that has absolutely no color.  

Not all of us are that fortunate, however, especially those whose water comes from their own private wells. If your water takes on a peculiar color, it’s important to know what is causing the coloration so the substance can be filtered out or otherwise eliminated before it gets to your family’s drinking glass. 

Some contaminants that add undesirable colors to water are harmful, some are harmful when the quantities get too high, and some may not be harmful but simply have no place in your drinking water. 

Discoloring Contaminants in Well Water

Here are some of the contaminants that could make their way into your well water and then your drinking glass. 

  • Blue or green: copper particles. New copper piping will add copper particles to water for a while. Low pH water can cause copper particles to leach into the water even from old piping. Not especially harmful unless levels get too high. 
  • Red or brown: iron or manganese particles. These will come from naturally-occurring mineral deposits. They are not harmful to health but can stain household items. But again, you don’t want levels to get too high. 
  • Yellow: colors picked up from peaty or swampy soil. The addition of decaying organic matter colors the water and adds a swampy smell and bitter taste. It is not harmful, however. 
  • Black or yellow: iron bacteria. See below for more information about iron bacteria.

Coloration can result from a combination of contaminants as well.

More About Iron Bacteria in Wells

Iron bacteria is worth a special mention. Iron bacteria are a type of bacteria that combines iron or manganese with oxygen, resulting in the formation of deposits that look like rust. These deposits are slimy and stick to the walls of well pipes and plumbing fixtures. The bacteria, if consumed in drinking water, may not directly cause disease but other organisms that can cause disease may thrive in areas where there are plenty of iron bacteria. E. coli and Salmonella may be found in these areas. 

In addition to adding color to water, iron bacteria can also add smells: swampy, sewage, petroleum, cucumber, rotten vegetation, or musty. The water can become slimy or develop an oily sheen.

Water contaminated with iron bacteria alone is safe to drink but the water should be tested to rule out the presence of other bacteria or nitrates. 

Removing Coloration from Well Water

Harmless or not, it’s not fun to drink water colored by these substances. The first step in providing pure, clean, uncolored water to the household is testing it and finding out what the culprit is. A comprehensive test will provide a detailed profile of the contaminants. 

Removing the contaminant(s) could require filtering the water or repairing and/or disinfecting the well. 

  • Copper can be removed through reverse osmosis, distillation, and ion exchange filtration.
  • Iron and manganese can be removed with reverse osmosis, ion exchange and oxidizing filters.
  • Swampy, peaty smells and tastes can be removed with one of the activated carbon filters on the market. 

In the case of iron bacteria, eliminating it from the well can involve a complicated process of cleaning and scrubbing the well, followed by disinfecting it. Sometimes a type of acid must be used to break down the slime. This process should only be attempted by a professional well service. Disinfecting a well contaminated with iron bacteria is an important investment, however, because this bacteria can clog a pump and disable a well. 

The Value of Regular Well Water Tests

The best way to ensure good quality well water for your family is to perform regular tests. If your well has never been tested, then get the most comprehensive test you can afford. Thereafter, do a more limited test once a year. Check out our water tests to see your choices.

If your water quality changes or there are illnesses or allergies showing up in the home, order a new test at that time. 

If you choose one of our water tests, give us a call when you receive your results. We’ll go over them with you and help you understand what’s happening to give you discolored or smelly water so you can make the right corrections. We have many years of experience helping well owners keep pure, clean water flowing into their homes and we would love to help you correct any situation you have as well. Call us at (800) 344-9977.