The Removal of Iron Buildup in Copper Water Lines


One of the most important parts of maintaining the quality and safety of your home water supply is to monitor the water for the presence of high levels of metals, such as manganese and iron. These metals typically do not present health risks to anyone using the water, but they can corrode plumbing pipes -- whether you use copper or any other type of pipe. Should you discover iron buildup in the water lines in your home, you can address the issue with a few simple steps.

Iron and Water Pipes

  • As noted, iron buildup inside pipes typically does not present health risks to your family. But the buildup of iron deposits in your plumbing can surely be problematic. Iron deposits can constrict water flow inside the pipes, forcing your plumbing system to work harder (thus, less efficiently) to move the same amount of water. Iron buildups can also cause malfunction and diminished performance from water treatment systems, such as water softeners. Maintenance costs can spiral out of control when iron buildups necessitate repair or replacement of parts of the treatment systems.

Chemical Treatments

  • Several chemicals can be added to your water system to react with and dissolve iron deposits in your piping. Polyphosphates are commonly used for this purpose, but there are many other chemicals that can be used to the same end. Look among chemical treatments labeled for use for iron treatment in water systems and apply them to your water system, according to the manufacturer's directions.

Other Methods

  • Should chemical additives fail to break down the iron deposits in your plumbing, several other methods may be available as well. Shutting off the water to your home and removing the pipes can provide an opportunity to drill the deposits out of the pipe, but this method can be potentially dangerous and usually should only be performed by a professional. Replacement of the pipe with another material is often recommended, but copper is considered to be the plumbing material most resistant to metal buildup. Therefore, if you already have iron deposits on your copper plumbing, iron levels in your water are likely so high as to render pipe replacement futile at best.


  • The most important part of removing iron deposits from piping -- particular if iron levels are so high that iron is building up on copper piping -- is to take steps to prevent iron buildup in your plumbing in the future. Several types of water treatment systems can be used to remove soluble iron from water supplies, including chlorination (oxidation), greensand (adsorptive/oxidative) filtration and ion exchange treatment. The choice of which type of treatment system to use should be based on the iron levels in your water and on your available budget. It is wise to install at least one of these treatment systems to prevent costly and frustrating iron buildup problems in the future.

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