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Dealing with iron bacteria stricken water softener, advice?

29220 Views 36 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Huskymaniac
Alright guys, I am back with another dilemma. I have iron bacteria it turns out, which has killed my water softener. It is no longer softening according to a hardness test done by a local vendor and that is also evidenced by a slight hue of iron that is staining my bathtub.

I spoke to a local well place and they are going to shock the well to tame the levels of iron bacteria.

What nobody has been able to tell me, is how in the heck do I keep this from happening again?

I have a few options, one is a softener rebuild (its old, not too crazy about this idea). Then I could get a new softener. I am kind of in a jam here, the hard water really screws up my skin so its pretty important to me to get it fixed as well as I can.

Thanks everyone!

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The moment you all have been waiting for, photos. I think I can see iron bacteria scum in the well. Ill be doing the shock this coming weekend. Should I run the faucets to shock the pipes in the house along with the pressure tank etc?


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You have steel casing and a brass pitless adapter and it looks like you have a 3 wire pump with an above ground control box because of the 4 conductor cable; 2 hots, a start and a ground wires.

IRB (iron reducing bacteria) is made up of numerous types or aerobic and anaerobic bacteria that live in and under water in and on the earth. They are harmless but produce slime and encrustations that can reduce well production. They can produce odor problems and they can colonize a softener etc.. You can sanitize the softener with like a half cup of bleach and a manual regeneration stopping it in the Brining position for like 15-20 minutes and then plugging it back in and allowing it to finish on its own. DO NOT MIX bleach with any type of resin cleaner like Iron Out etc..

Shocking a well cab cause serious pump, water quality, cable and drop pipe problems. Repeated shocking of a well can make an IRB problem worse because they produce slime and encrustations that chlorine can not penetrate. Then you get into well cleaning and/or rehabilitation if it can be done.

Pellet droppers should only be used when absolutely needed. They can cause pump and cable problems but if the dose is fine tuned those problems don't happen; especially in a 5" or larger diameter well as you have.

About 99% of all softeners can have the resin replaced. Most control valves like Autotrol, Clack, Erie or Fleck can be rebuilt very affordably. Many national brands use those brands of control valves but don't tell you which one but it's easy to find pictures on the internet and compare. Some of those national brands use a proprietary version of the stock valves; like most of WaterCare valves.

You haven't said how much of a problem the IRB is. It may not be the cause of your softener's problem.

Any odor to this water?

How much iron in the water?

How much hardness?

What is the pH?

Are you interested in being a DIYer or do you want to be dependent on a local dealer for service and parts?
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Okay I have done a little more research;

My hardness is 13 grains right now, pre softener.

I don't know how big of a problem the bacteria really is, there is no funky smell or anything offensive. The ONLY reason I am concerned about it is that my water softener stopped working and the water treatment company suggested that it was clogged with Iron bacteria.

Now, this softener is OLD! Like 20 years +. It seems to cycle normally and there are no real apparent issues with it. It just won't soften.

I purchased a new kenmore unit with auto regeneration etc.. to cut down on salt use. There is only two of us living here at this time. Hypothetically I can return it.

If the iron bacteria is gauranteed to kill a softener every 10 years, whatever. I can live with that. This unit failed within a year of me moving in.

I find it hard to believe that the previous owner shocked the well or did anything to maintain it judging by the rest of the house.

So are you saying I can essentially force feed it bleach in an attempt to clean out the brine tank? That would be amazing. Ill do it tonight. How would I introduce the bleach into the softener? Putting it into the brine tank?

I am definitely a DIY'er and do not trust water treatment companies to be square with me.. I am very hands on, and very stubborn when it comes to paying people for advice and work that I don't trust.



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Gary, I understand your concern as far as the softener goes, the place that my softener came from is hellenbrand.

How much does resin cost and where do I get it? How much would I need? The resin tank is about 8-10" diameter and 4' tall or so. I just put new timer in my old softener so essentially the only other thing that can go wrong is the valves.

I do have the iron sludge crap in my toilet tanks etc... so I am pretty confident that there is iron bacteria. My only real concern is keeping it from ruining my water softener.


EDIT; Just added bleach and started the regeneration process.
But if the toilet tank hadn't been cleaned in years, you may not have enough IRB in the water to do anything to the softener. To treat IRB you must kill it with a disinfectant like chlorine of ozone, hydrogen peroxide usually doesn't work well on reducing type of bacteria.

You can buy resin from any online or most local dears. An 8" diameter tank, the model number on the label gives you the size, an 844 is a 3/4 cuft and 948 is a 1 cuft etc..
How long is normal for a cycle time for a water softener? I just replaced the timer on it because it was noisy and dying. I just turned the softener to regenerate and it didn't even seem to be moving....... it stayed on backflush for over an hour??



Aw man! I just figured out that I left out a spring washer that engages the assembly to ensure it moves through the cycles at the correct speed. I took it apart and was confused as to how it worked.. then I saw the SS spring washer sitting right in front of my face.


Not sure if the softener is working correctly still. I think the diagnosis of iron bacteria is accurate. There is a fairly gross film on top of my brine tank. I also replaced the sediment filter which was downright nasty. Red as could be. It was doing its job. Maybe the skin is somewhat normal ontop of the brine water but I don't remember it being that bad when we moved in. I took the brine tank out and power washed it before we moved in. In the last year it has gotten scummier (is that a word?) than it was when we moved in.

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Gary, I have a fleck 5600 valve on this unit BTW. I figured that out after looking at your site. I also found a local source for resin, I have today off so I am going to go get some.

Alright, took the bull by the horns and replaced the resin and rock today. Man, thats pretty easy stuff...

Thank you for your encouragement.. now hopefully it works!

Gary, I tried emailing you through your site without any luck. Please send me an email regarding a rebuild kit for the 5600.


BTW; The resin and rock was so inexpensive @ 100 bucks that I decided to leave the well and see how long it takes to clog this media up...
sanitizing the well and water system

Here is one of many websites: or ( google to find many more) that tell you how to sanitize your well and all your plumbing. If your Ph is very high (above 8 or so) you may not get the effect you want for the given amount of chorline suggested. Also be sure to include all your indoor piping (including the water heater) when you introuce chorine into the home. Note that you should "backflush" your softener after you let the water stand for 24 hours or so, before you clear the water lines. This should help eliminate your current problem with the softener hopefully.

The one thing to pick out of the info is that if you have a high concentration of iron in your well , there is a high probability that you will have to continually deal with iron bacteria occuring.

HAVE FOUND IN MY 150 FT. WELL THAT THE CHORINE SMELL IS GONE IN A FEW HOURS AFTER TURNING ON AN OUTSIDE FAUCET. If you R concerned about the pump when you run the water to clear the chorine, then run the water faucet in increments.

I have to deal with iron bacteria also, but after doing a shock cholorination once a year, I only drop a few tablets down the well once a month and it seems to keep the problem from coming back (I have an acitivated (centaur) carbon whole house filter to keep the cholrine out of my water lines). An alternative to placing the cholrine oin the well is to have a holding tank, as previously suggested and install a chorinator chmical feeder. There R other ways as well(from one vendor's source):
Injection of small amounts of chlorine directly into water line with no retention tank, and not using well for retention. Most commonly used for sulfur smell (rotten egg smell) removal. Most inexpensive method of chlorination. OR:
(2) Chlorination Inside the well itself (using the well as a retention tank) OR:
(3) Chlorination Outside the well with an add on retention tank OR:
(4) Chlorine/Aeration Open-Air System

Good luck
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Thanks for the help, Ill check out your suggestions and information. I appreciate it.

My water looks a hint of orange if viewed in a gallon container.

More iron bacteria questions

Hi - I'm new to this forum. I found it googling when I was told I had minute traces of iron bacteria in my new well. It seems there are some pretty informative people here so I thought I'd ask a few questions. Here goes:

1. We sometimes notice pale yellow water in the toilet bowl:) and that's when we requested water testing. We have a water softener and use rustout softener tables. Is the yellow from the bacteria? Or the rust? Shouldn't the iron out softener tablets remove the color? If we eliminate the iron as the water comes into the house, wouldn't that also take care of the bacteria as there is no source/food for it to thrive?

2. I understand the chlorine shock treatment is hard on a septic system so you don't let the clorine treatment go through it. What about the iron bacteria in the septic system. Will it grow and clog that also? Or will the Rid-X (as suggested here) keep that from happening?

3. How did the iron bacteria get in my well? Was it contamination when the well was drilled, or is the bacteria naturally there? If the bacteria is naturally there, does well depth make a difference? Is it more apt to occur in a deep well, versus a shallower well, or vice versa?

Thanks for any help you can give!
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There is no reason for why iron bacteria shows up it just does. It doesnt need iron to live all it needs is dissolved oxygen. As for the iron remover salt it does not remove iron it actually just helps clean the cation resin that is in a water softener. it will not alone "remove" iron from water.
I read that someone metioned a pellets chlorinator that drops tabs down a well. That is a BIG NO NO. It will destroy a well by either rotting out the casing if it is a steel well or the pellets will build up around the pump and when the pump needs to come out of the hole it will be stuck!! (steel or PVC casing it doesnt matter). So just a friendly worning dont use them!!!!
visit for product to place upstream of water softner.

One other option may be to use a filter containing nanoalumina Argonide or Ahlstrom disruptor.
The first thing mentioned above is called metalease it was developed by a compnay called safewater tech. in chicago ill. It works, sometimes but i have had bad luck with it. The second thing called microfiltration it is used in some bottled water manufactuers but is a fairly new technology and very expensive for a single home. (so ive heard never priced one out)
I R B = iron reducing/related bacteria.

From the name alone it says IRB eats iron, no? And most things that run out of food die right? Right. IRB doesn't need iron... wrong.

As the colony increases in size, they eat themselves out of their food source and the colony collapses. The iron content of the water will fall while the colony is growing and then increase as the colony dies off, that is one cause of fluctuating iron in well water.

The BARTS tests prove IRB eat iron, it's why 70% is it of the Titanic is gone. And that's where IRB was identified, and made the guy that proved his theory that there was an iron eatig bacteria, a very wealthy man. That was about 20 years ago, right after the Titanic was found.

Pellet droppers done right are not the problem most guys gossip about, and most guys that are against them and gossip about them, have never sold one. I've sold a small number of them over the last 15 years and they work very well IF you can and will pay atention to detail and get it right. They require fine tuning after installation, but once tuned properly, they use very little chlorine and so far I've not heard of any problems from any of my customers.
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