Why, when we are gone for several days and not using hot water, does our hot water get a grey-purple looking fine sediment, discoloring the hot water? The less water used, the darker the water. It was suggested we purchase a new water softener, or that the sediment was from our copper hot water pipes. We just returned after a week’s absence and the hot water in all faucets was purple. We drained 15 gallons from the bottom of the hot water heater until the water was almost clear. I then drained the hot water into the laundry tub and that was as purple as the rest. After draining 22 gallons from that faucet it was still quite discolored.

It sounds like the material could be coming from the water heater’s anode rod. Anode rods are made from a variety of metals that corrode more easily than the steel of a water heater tank. If there are any substances in the water that can corrode metal, the anode rod will “sacrifice itself” and corrode first, so the tank will not corrode and leak. Corrosion products from the rod drop to the bottom of the tank, and the sediment should be periodically flushed out through the drain valve. NOTE: Sometimes drain valves don’t seal completely after closing. As a backup, consider having a threaded cap on hand to install on the valve.

Water heater manufacturers typically recommend checking the condition of the anode rod once a year. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, remove the anode rod and inspect it. The color of the rod may be similar to the sediment found in the water. After significant corrosion, the rod will have holes in it somewhat like Swiss cheese, so it may be time to install a new one.

We have a 30-year-old private well in Lake Elmo with a 15-year-old water softener, and we’re suddenly having a lot of trouble with our water. Clothes are not getting clean and whites are coming out of the washer with a dingy, rust-colored tint. Dishes are not getting very clean in the dishwasher either; toilets looks rusty within a day or two of being cleaned, and the water just doesn’t taste or feel right. I am not sure where to start. Is it the well, the water softener, or something else?

There are multiple symptoms you describe that are not easily diagnosed without an onsite visit by a water treatment professional. Based on your description, it sounds like your 15 year old water softener is not working as it should. A water softener will in many cases remove the iron causing the rusty discoloration you experience. It also will aid in making your clothes cleaner and brighter. I would suggest you call a reputable water treatment dealer, a member of the MN Water Quality Association is always a good place to look, have them out to check the reparability of your existing softener, test your water from your well, and make a recommendation as to the most economical solution.

We’re looking at home water treatment systems. We live in the country and have our own well. Our water has tested as follows: hardness=18, clear water iron=2 ppm, nitrates=0. One test showed heavy precipitates. Presently, there are considerable iron-colored stains in our bathtub, toilets, sinks, and clothes. Recently we replaced 6 ft. of copper pipe coming from our pump which was clogged with iron-colored deposits. Any information and recommendations regarding our problem would be greatly appreciated.

Based on the water analysis you’ve given, a water softener is your best option for both hardness and iron removal. The caveat would be to ensure that all your iron is in fact clear water iron. If so, a softener will remove it. It will be the least expensive and most maintenance free system for treating your water. It also may be prudent, but not completely necessary, to use a resin cleaner to aid in cleaning the softener of trapped iron mixed in with your softener salt. This could reduce long term maintenance. As for the precipitates , an in-line sediment filter before the softener would do the job effectively and most economically. An on-site inspection of your system and problems is highly recommended. As always, be certain you are working with a water quality association certified representative and that they are a member of the Minnesota Water Quality Association to ensure you’re dealing with a knowledgeable and ethical company.

My well water has a brownish tint. Would a whole-house filter help?

A. Whole house filters are the right choice for iron in well water, particularly where a water softener alone has proven ineffective. A successful filter will be a bed or set of filter beds that backwash with water – a system selected specifically for your home. Well water treatment varies in each application, so is best accomplished by an experienced contractor. Experience is a big factor in this field. He or she should take into account your well, your water tests, your pressure tank, your family size, the fixtures in your home, your septic system and other factors. Call one or more of the vendors listed on our web site and assess their approach.
In addition, any contractor, whether MWQA member or not, should:

  • Carry a license from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry as a Water Conditioning Contractor
  • Carry a Bond registered with the State
  • Have a good rating with the Better Business Bureau

I am wondering if my water softener is operating properly. I notice that there is gritty sediment in the bottom of my pets’ metal water bowls after the water has sat for awhile. In addition, there are white marks on the metal bowls that are difficult (if not impossible) to remove. However, I am satisfied with the amount of lather that I get when I use shampoo, soap etc.

As water sits in the bowl, some of it can evaporate. The materials that were dissolved in the water remain in the bowl, and they become more concentrated. Eventually, they may become so concentrated that some of them combine to form solid particles, or scale. The identity of the scale depends on what was originally dissolved in the water.

If there is hardness in the water, the most likely deposit is hardness scale, calcium carbonate. Hardness scale will dissolve in acid. If you add some vinegar to the water bowl, hardness scale will dissolve and fizz like carbonated water. If that’s what you see, either the water conditioner is not working properly or, in new installations, existing hardness scale in the piping is dissolving and re-depositing in the bowl. If the particles don’t dissolve, you may need to have them tested by a laboratory.

A white ring around the bowl, where the top of the water meets the side of the bowl, may be due to silica precipitating from the water when the water evaporates. Silica deposits are not easily dissolved by chemicals; they must be scrubbed off. Silica is not removed by a standard water conditioner (softener). You may need a reverse osmosis drinking water system to reduce the silica level.

I am concerned about all the news regarding pharmaceuticals in water. Should I be?

Home filtering systems provide best protection for drinking water. As news reports about pharmaceuticals in water circulate, here are several facts to consider:

  • Filtering systems in the home provide the highest technology available for treatment of drinking water. Less than two percent of all water consumed is ingested by humans, making these “point-of-use” systems the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
  • While utilities are required to meet safety standards set by the U.S. EPA, home filtering systems act as a final contaminant barrier and can further purify water for drinking.
  • While specific product performance standards have not yet been developed for pharmaceuticals, many point-of-use technologies have proven effective for some of these emerging contaminants. Nano-filtration and reverse osmosis systems removed drugs tested by the Colorado School of Mines at full-scale facilities in Arizona and California. Activated carbon, distillation, ozonation, and advanced oxidization have likewise shown promise in removing many of these contaminants. Individual manufacturers can also test products for specific pharmaceuticals if they choose.
  • According to Utah State University Extension, up to 90 percent of oral drugs can pass through humans unchanged. These often then move through wastewater into streams and groundwater. It is generally cost prohibitive for utilities to use systems such as nano-filtration, long contact activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. However, these top technologies have proven successful at removing many contaminants in home water treatment systems.
  • In addition to pharmaceuticals, water quality experts are examining other emerging contaminants, such as those found in personal care products and pesticides. These are often referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals. Home filtering systems have also been proven to treat threats such as lead and mercury. WQA provides Gold Seal certification for products that remove a variety of contaminants. Consumers can learn about different treatment systems and find locally certified dealers by visiting the WQA’s Water Information Library online http://www.wqa.org/technical/, which includes a search feature.