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How do you Filter Sulfur from Well Water?

Sulfur is a naturally occurring substance and in its normal crystalline state, it is tasteless, colorless and not harmful. The problem occurs when iron and sulfur bacteria that are present in ground water change sulfates into hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, which has an unpleasant smell similar to rotten eggs.

H2S in household water is normally at very low concentrations and is not a health risk. However, it does smell unpleasant and, in gaseous form, can be flammable and poisonous. When dissolved in water, H2S can corrode metals such as iron, steel, brass and copper, can darken silver and cause discoloration in copper and brass. It is, therefore, a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Well water concentrations are normally 1-5 parts per million (PPM) compared to the 100 PPM levels that can cause sickness and death. However, even limited exposure at the lower levels can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system while prolonged exposure can cause eye inflammation, insomnia, headaches, tiredness and digestive disturbances. Higher concentrations can result in more severe conditions such as nausea, vomiting, breathing problems and worse respiratory and eye irritation.

Identifying Sulfur in Well Water

H2S is often found in wells, especially those drilled in sandstone or shale, or near oilfields, coal or peat, and can also enter surface water via springs. Before dealing with it, however, you need to be sure of the source.

If your hot water has the distinctive rotten eggs smell but your cold water does not, the problem is with the water heater. This may have an anode rod that reacts with the sulfate to produce H2S gas. Replacing the anode rod with an aluminum version should fix the problem.

If your cold water smells, then the source of the water — the well — is the problem. A rotten egg smell indicates sulfur while other smells are due to various different contaminants such as manganese or iron. You should conduct a test to analyze the content of the water, so you know how to treat it correctly. Run water into a bucket as a sample and test it for pH levels, manganese, iron and hardness as well as sulfate and hydrogen sulfide.

When the water causes red or black staining, this is an indication of iron or manganese in the water. This will also need to be filtered out in addition to the sulfur.


Remedying Sulfur in Water

If the water smells of rotten eggs, treatment will depend on the extent of the problem and if there are other contaminants:

  • For relatively low levels of sulfur, use an air charger carbon filter that has no chemicals added and no filters to change. The carbon lasts for several years and peroxide can be injected to clean the carbon, so it lasts even longer.
  • When the sulfur gives out extreme odors, it’s best to shock the well with chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide. This should stop the smell for up to two months and a carbon filter with peroxide injections can be added for a longer-term solution.
  • If there’s rust staining due to iron or manganese in the water as well as sulfur, a chlorinator and iron filter should additional be installed.

By correctly identifying the problem and treating it with a mixture of chemicals and filters, you can sort it out quickly and cheaply. The result is well water that has no smell, tastes great and is perfectly safe to drink and for all other uses. If it’s something you can’t deal with, however, get in touch and we’ll solve your problem.

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