Ultimate Guide to Well Water Treatment

Approximately 13 million households across the United States use private wells to get their drinking water. Because these wells are on private land, they aren’t subject to government regulation. If you live in or are considering purchasing a home with a well, you might want to know more about well water and treatment.
Because well water is unregulated, homeowners must understand that there’s a potential for contaminants and how to remove them. Before the removal process can take place, testing must occur. In this guide, we’re outlining the basics of well water, the water’s source, how to test it, and filtration methods.

What is Well Water

When you hear the term “well water,” it refers to any water from a groundwater source or aquifer. After seeping below the ground’s surface, wells can collect that water. Seepage occurs through spaces in rock and minerals before becoming part of your property’s water table.

The water that a well contains isn’t treated. After drilling the well, a pump pulls water from the source to the surface. Then, the pump continues pulling the groundwater into your home’s piping system. You can continue pumping well water at its primary source for between 25 and 100 years.

Where does water come from in a well?

Well water pumps from groundwater sources. These groundwater sources include natural underground springs and porous water-bearing formations. There are three different ways wells can get water.

Artesian wells

These types of wells occur when groundwater escapes from the aquifer. When that happens, a natural artesian spring forms. These are common in mountainous areas where impermeable rock traps the water and creates positive pressure. After digging through higher levels of the location’s porous rock to access the water, it flows from the well naturally due to hydrostatic pressure.

Spring-fed wells

Though it isn’t common, you might have a spring-fed well. If this is the case, the natural spring feeds into the available groundwater supply. These wells are most common where underground natural springs are known to flow into groundwater supplies and require a residential spring well design.

Standard water wells

When you’re pulling water from aquifers in the earth, then your property has standard well water. Aquifers feature an underground permeable rock layer combined with other materials. These materials include gravel, sand, and silt. The water is held within these materials until the well’s pump draws it out. Aquifers receive water naturally due to the earth’s gravitational pull. Water pulls from the earth’s surface, and, in doing so, it naturally finds an aquifer.

What’s the difference between well water and city water?

You might have lived your entire life getting water from a municipal source. Then, you move to a rural location where you must now use well water. Or the opposite might be happening. No matter the situation, that leads many to wonder about the differences between well water and city water.

Well water

In many rural areas, residents have wells drilled into their properties. It’s also common for small towns and water supply companies to pull water from a deep well. The main reason for drawing from a groundwater source is because it requires less treatment than surface water supplies.
There also aren’t as many contaminants in well water compared to surface water sources. Surface water sources include lakes, ponds, rivers, and other moving bodies of freshwater. Wells contain water that goes through a natural filtration process as it moves through layers of rock and soil.
Compared to surface water, the water in wells often contains higher mineral content. Typically, these minerals don’t cause too many issues. However, if your well water contains high calcium or magnesium levels, you have hard water. It’s beneficial to invest in a water softener if this is the case.

City water

When you have city water, that means it comes from a municipal water supply. This supply is typically surface water that comes from a pond or river. These water sources tend to have a significant number of contaminants. Therefore, the water must undergo several cleaning procedures and purity tests. Local water treatment facilities conduct these tests daily.

During this testing, municipalities add chlorine and fluoride when treating the water supply. Even though treatment facilities test the water daily, contaminants from old infrastructures and water lines can still get into your home’s water supply. The most common complaint about city water is that it has an unpleasant smell or taste. If you have a water filtration system, those issues resolve quickly.

Benefits of Well Water

Having access to well water has many benefits for your health, independence, and wallet. Many homes across the country depend on municipal water sources. However, if it’s possible for you to dig a well, you’ll experience the following benefits:

Well water is free

If you have a municipal water line or have lived where there’s one, then you know that you must pay for the water coming into your home. However, after paying for the well’s installation, you don’t have to pay for the water coming into your home.

Having a well isn’t cost-free, however. You must pay for the electricity to run the well’s pump, and there are maintenance costs. Depending on the well’s water condition, you might also need to invest in water filtration or softening system.

Well Water Is Dependable

As long as the drilling equipment can fit into the location, companies can drill anywhere into a water table. Therefore, it’s possible to have your well close to your home. That’s different from municipal water lines that have to run for miles before reaching your home.

When water must travel that many miles to reach your home, you’re paying for that service and depending on the city’s infrastructure. Having well water means you don’t have to rely on anything besides the water lines running from it to your home. Therefore, there’s less chance of interrupted service.

Well Water Is Healthy

Some believe that, because wells draw water from the ground, they’re not filtered to the same standards as municipal supplies. However, that isn’t the case because well water filters naturally. That way, you’re getting the same benefits without having to add chemicals like chlorine or fluoride.

Some also believe that well water tastes better and is more refreshing than municipal water supplies. While that might be a personal preference, the fact that well water comes from a natural source and doesn’t go through a treatment facility helps support that claim.

Dangers of Well Water

While there are many benefits of well water, you must also consider the drawbacks and dangers. Because well water comes straight from a ground source, that means it’s more susceptible to contamination. You’ll find this is especially true if flooding occurs in your area or other natural disasters.

Remember that well water is essentially rain that moves through your property’s soil and into the well’s aquifer. Therefore, it can absorb many different kinds of contaminants, including lead and other dangerous chemicals. Because some of these contaminants aren’t safe to drink, you must have your water tested to see what kind of filtration system you might need.

We learn from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that there are six potential contaminants in well water:

 

  • Fluoride: You can find fluoride in aquifers and private wells. If the levels are too high, that could cause health problems.
  • Heavy metals: In addition to lead, the well water might also contain arsenic, chromium, copper, and other heavy metals.
  • Microorganisms: These contaminants include bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Consuming these microorganisms can lead to infections and illnesses.
  • Nitrate: If your home is near or was once on land treated with chemical fertilizers or animal waste, that could contaminate private wells. High levels of nitrates cause the body’s blood to carry less oxygen.
  • Organic chemicals: Improper disposal of household products, including disinfectants, paints, and sealants, could cause well water contamination. High levels of these elements could damage a person’s circulatory system, liver, and more.
  • Radionuclides: These elements include radium and uranium. Coal mining, nuclear production, and uranium mining and milling are common causes of this contamination. Consuming this contaminated water could increase a person’s risk of cancer.

What you need to know about owning a home with a well

If you’re new to owning a home with a well, there are several points you must consider. For example, if you’re purchasing a home in a rural area after living in the city, you might not have access to a municipal water supply. Here are some additional considerations:

Well Water Comes from the Ground

When you use well water, it’s untreated groundwater. The only thing between the water in your home’s pipes and the aquifer is the well and well pump. While it isn’t impossible to find drinkable groundwater, that doesn’t mean it’s always safe for consumption.

Well Water is Usually Hard

It isn’t uncommon for groundwater to absorb or dissolve minerals found in soil. If the water contains an abundance of minerals like calcium or magnesium, that means it’s hard water. Because these minerals are typical, most homes with a private well require water softening.

Can Smell or Cause Stains

Moving into a pre-existing home with a well means you’re likely going to see staining in the sinks, toilets, and tubs. Most of the time, this occurs when hard water creates limescale. However, if the well has a high iron content, the staining is frustrating. Iron changes the taste of well water and creates unsightly orange stains in porcelain fixtures.

Can Become Contaminated

It isn’t uncommon for well water to contain contaminants from naturally occurring elements. Examples of these elements include arsenic, radon, and uranium. As it moves through soil and rock, these elements dissolve into the groundwater. You’ll find that these elements occur at different levels throughout different areas of the United States.

Must Be Tested

At least once annually, you must test the well’s water. The main reason is that the well water’s quality is under constant flux. Even though well water is unregulated, it’s still essential for you to take this step to ensure the water you’re drinking is safe. If you notice changes in your water’s appearance, odor, or taste, then those are signs that it’s time to complete a test.

How to test well water

You can pick up or send away for well water testing kits at county health departments. These tests typically look for bacteria and nitrates in well water. If you would like to test for other contaminants, request information for state-certified drinking water testing labs from your county’s health department.

You can also receive a list of testing labs from your state’s laboratory certification officer. The EPA also has a list of certified water testing laboratories for each of the country’s states. Once you receive a test, proceed through the following steps:

  1. Go to your kitchen or bathroom faucet and remove its strainer.
  2. Run cold water from the faucet for a minute or two to ensure you’re testing water from your well and not the home’s pipes.
  3. Use the lab-approved container to collect the well water.
  4. Avoid touching inside the container or its cap.
  5. Record the appropriate information on any labeling provided with the kit.
  6. Put the faucet’s strainer back in place.
  7. Deliver the water sample within 24 hours to the laboratory or test collection site.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that well water should be tested annually. Test for contaminants, including total bacteria and dissolved solids, nitrates, and pH levels.

Filtration systems that are best for wells

You can remove contaminants from your well water using a filtration system. Removing these impurities from your drinking water makes it safe. These water filters also improve your private well water’s appearance, odor, and taste. 

Consumers have access to two main types of filtration systems for their wells:

  • Whole house filtration systems: These filtration systems install directly to water lines, so all water entering the home is treated.
  • Under sink water filters: Using this type of system means that water is filtering at a specific tap within the home. It isn’t uncommon to see this filter called a point of use system.

In this section, we’re going to get into greater detail about these filtration systems to help simplify your selection process. Choosing a water filtration system is an overwhelming process for some. The following information is available to help ease that frustration.

Whole house filtration systems

If you decide to install a whole house well water filtration system it means all of the well water entering the house receives treatment. These systems install directly into the main water line. You might also see them listed as a point of entry (POE) water filtration system.

These systems differ from the point of use (POU) system. POU systems are faucet fixtures or countertop systems that filter water in that specific area. Instead, a POE system decontaminates all the water entering your home. That means every water fixture is dispensing filtered water.

Many whole house water filtration systems remove up to 99.9% of contaminants. Some of these contaminants include arsenic, chromium 6, lead, and volatile organic compounds. Choosing the best system means ensuring it takes care of all of these issues while delivering healthy and safe drinking water.

Keep in mind that the quality of whole-house systems is going to vary. Be sure to look for systems that feature manufacturing and replacement filters that are rugged. That way, you don’t waste money on a system that doesn’t target your water issues or function correctly.

Because well water typically has low water pressure, a reverse osmosis whole house filtration system isn’t ideal. If you’re looking at ultraviolet (UV) or ozone purification systems, they can kill but not remove bacteria. These systems also use a considerable amount of electricity. 

Your best option for well water is an ultrafiltration membrane water system. Not only do these systems disinfect, but it also purifies the water. As a result, you’ll have water that’s great-tasting and safe. When the membrane gets full of contaminants, it allows you to flush it clean.

Under sink water filters

If you would like clean drinking water at a specific faucet, under the sink filters are an excellent option. You’ll typically find these installed underneath kitchen sinks. This water filtration solution means you’re using one that conceals underneath your sink. 

Consumers often like this solution because they want clean water for cooking and drinking. Like a POE system, under sink water filters install directly to the home’s water line. You can find options that include a dedicated faucet, or one that allows you to use your sink’s tap.

Those who are looking for targeted filtration benefit the most from these systems. For example, if you would prefer not to filter laundry water or toilet water, this system is ideal. They’re excellent for families who are concerned only with the safety of their drinking water.

Water delivery is a straight-forward process. Water from the well passes through the waterline and into the filter. Plastic tubes attach directly to the cold water line underneath the sink. The tube diverts water into the filter and to the dedicated faucet or tap. If you have a dedicated faucet, then the sink’s regular cold and hot water lines remain independent.

If you live in an apartment where there’s well water, under sink filtration systems are an excellent choice. The main reason is that they save counter space. That space is already at a premium in an apartment. Therefore, there’s less worry about losing any of it if you opt for an under sink water filter. 

The best systems filter approximately 1,000 gallons of water. That translates to the filters lasting for about one year. A notable feature of these systems is that they use pressure to move water through the filter. That means the filters can have more density, which results in removing a broader range of contaminants.

Extra Tip: How to Shock a Well

When someone says that they’re going to shock their well, that’s another way of saying they’re completing shock chlorination. Shock chlorination involves using household bleach and water to disinfect your home’s water supply system. In this case, it’s your home’s well. This method works effectively at removing bacteria from domestic wells and a home’s cold water line.

Steps for shocking a well:

  1. Fill a 10-gallon bucket full of water and mix in two quarts of bleach.
  2. Pour this mixture into your well
  3. Use a hose to rinse off the interior walls of the well.
  4. Turn on a faucet to determine if there’s a strong chlorine odor. Turn on and off each tap connected to your home to detect if there’s an odor.
  5. If you cannot detect chlorine, add more bleach to the well.
  6. Empty your water heater and let it refill with chlorinated water.
  7. Flush all of the toilets in your home.
  8. Fill the 10-gallon bucket with water again and add two more quarts of bleach. 
  9. Pour this mixture into the well.
  10. Let the chlorinated water stay in your home’s piping system for between 12 and 24 hours.
  11. Turn on an outdoor faucet and let it run until you can no longer detect the chlorine smell.
  12. Turn on each faucet throughout the home until the smell is either faint or gone.

Because chlorine can persist in wells for between seven to 10 days, it’s a good idea to have your water tested during this timeframe. That way, you’re sure it no longer contains any contaminants. 

Conclusion

Understanding what well water is and where it comes from is essential before identifying its differences from city water. While there are several benefits to having access to well water, you must also be aware of the potential dangers. Understanding what you need to know about owning a home with a well also helps you identify potential issues you might need to resolve.

Before picking out the best filtration system for your well’s water, testing must occur. That way, you know what type of water filter you need and if the well needs to be shocked.

I hope this guide was helpful for you. It’s always best to make sure the water you’re using in your home is clean and healthy.

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