How to Test for Iron Bacteria


Iron bacteria is a plague all too well known for people who use wells as a water source. Water afflicted with iron bacteria will often have a foul odor and rusty appearance. Left unchecked, iron bacteria can lead to a plumbing system failure by clogging your pipes with bacterial sludge. Some simple methods to test for the presence of iron bacteria can help you address the problem early on.

Things You'll Need

  • Large water glass
  • pH strips
  • Laboratory test kit
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Order a water testing kit from a water testing laboratory. Collect several water samples from different water sources throughout your house. If you have a well, take a water sample directly from it. Also collect a hot water and a cold water sample from every shower, bathtub and sink. Screw the cap on the water sample bottle, making it airtight. Label each sample with a marker according to the location and time it was taken. Securely package the water samples and ship the package back to the laboratory as per the laboratory's guidelines.

  • Fill a large see-through drinking glass with the afflicted water. Allow the glass of water to sit undisturbed for at least a day. Although iron is naturally present within drinking water, iron bacteria convert iron into iron oxide (rust).

  • Check for an orange- or red-colored layer of sediment on the bottom of the glass. If nothing appears, try boiling a larger quantity of water, because smaller infestations of iron bacteria may produce little visual residue.

  • Investigate other symptoms of an iron bacteria infestation. These signs include orange stains in toilets, bathtubs, showers and the kitchen sink. The water will also impart a negative flavor to food cooked in it and taste odd when drunk.

  • Test the pH by dabbing a pH strip in a glass of the afflicted water. If it is below 6.5, the acidity of the water could be corroding your pipes, releasing the iron, which is the ultimate source of the problem.

  • Make a cup of coffee or tea with the afflicted water. Tannins are present in coffee and tea, and they will react with iron and create a black residue. Tannins are a form of iron that has combined with an organic acid typically found in water from wells.

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  • Photo Credit well image by Tomasz Plawski from
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