Why Do I Have Red Staining in My Sinks and Tubs?

Red Stains in the sink and tub blog header

Red is great color for roses, but redish-orange stains in the toilet, sink and tub aren’t pleasant. Red staining generally indicates the presence of iron in the water.  So what can be done about it? How commonly is iron found in water? And is iron present in YOUR water supply?

Iron is Abundant!

Iron happens to be the fourth most abundant element on the earth. So it’s not surprising that as rainwater falls, it penetrates the soil and often dissolves iron in the sediment and bedrock, which then seeps into aquifers and runs into streams and lakes. Water can also pick up iron in pipes. Thus, iron in the residential water supply is a common problem many consumers face. 

Signs of Iron in Water

Iron in the municipal (residential) water supply can cause plenty of problems. The reddish particles formed by iron are commonly called rust. Although iron is seldom found at concentrations higher than 10 mg/L or 10 parts per million (ppm), concentrations as low as 0.3 mg/L can result in problems such as staining.

The following are common indicators of iron in water:

  • Red staining on porcelain sinks, toilets and tubs
  • Staining on clothes, linens (and everything that runs through the laundry)
  • Reduction in water pressure from iron buildup in pipes and water heaters
  • A metallic taste or odor

The best way to determine if you have iron in your water– and at what level, is to have a water analysis conducted by a water treatment professional.

Soluble vs. Insoluble

Iron can be present in water in two forms: either the soluble ferrous iron or the insoluble ferric iron. Tap water that has ferrous iron (also called “in solution” or clear water iron) may come out of the tap clear and colorless, but after left standing, may turn yellow or rusty brown/reddish color. This iron has not yet been exposed to oxygen or rusted, thus red/orange staining in tubs and sinks from a dripping faucet may reveal ferrous iron in the water.

Insoluble ferric iron is basically ferrous iron which has been exposed to oxygen (oxidized)–usually from the air. As carbon dioxide leaves the water, oxygen combines with the iron to form ferric ions and these oxidized particles are generally visible in poured water. Tap water may appear rusty or has a red or yellow color.

Solutions for Iron in the Water

Solutions for Ferrous Iron:  If you have ferrous iron in your water, ion exchange water softeners and conditioners such as the Reionator will not only remove hardness, but also have the ability to remove low levels of ferrous iron in water.

For higher levels of dissolved (ferrous) iron in your water, you may need more than just a water softener to remove these unwanted minerals. WaterTech’s FerroMAX water treatment system effectively reduces and removes iron or manganese (up to 10 ppm) while simultaneously reducing water hardness and preventing scale buildup. By eliminating these culprits, you can stop the staining and scale build up that can ruin clothes, stain plumbing fixtures and reduce the life of water using appliances.

Solutions for Ferric Iron:  Ferric iron cannot be removed or reduced by a water softener. It must be physically trapped in a filter. Talk to your local water treatment specialist on how to best address what’s in your water. The specialist can help you determine the levels of hardness, iron, manganese and other constituents in your water by conducting a water anaylsis. To speak with a local WaterTech dealer in your area, check out our Find a Dealer tool.

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