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Is Rusty Water Safe to Bathe In? | The Answer is Complicated!

is rusty water safe to bathe in
Written by Kai Michel

Is rusty water safe to bathe in?

The answer is a bit complicated. It might be true that bathing in rusty water is medically safe for most people. You can even drink a small amount without any serious health concerns.

Even so, there is a small number of people with a rare hereditary condition named “hemochromatosis” that can be vulnerable to rusty water. Their condition makes them absorb more iron than they should, resulting in stomach problems, nausea, and vomiting.

Rusty water is safe for most people to bathe in, or even drink. That is if you don’t have issues with the nasty appearance and stains rusty water brings along.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared rusty water as a secondary contaminant, meaning it has aesthetic and cosmetic consequences. Rusty water is not dangerous to consume or bathe in if you can ignore your stained outlook or appliances.

What Causes Rusty Water

Iron is the most widely available mineral across the planet. Whether you are using a tap or a wall, the water can come in contact with iron in many ways.

Additionally, most of the iron minerals are water-soluble, meaning the flow of water will dissolve the minerals over time.

Iron particles can seep in from the earth’s crust into a well/reservoir. Even the iron pipes in your plumbing system can produce rust over time.

No matter how well your precautions are, some rust will eventually find its way into your house.

Is Rusty Water Safe to Bathe In?

As said before, the answer is a bit complicated. It might be true that bathing in rusty water is medically safe for most people. You can even drink a small amount without any serious health concerns.

Even so, there is a small number of people with a rare hereditary condition named “hemochromatosis” that can be vulnerable to rusty water. Their condition makes them absorb more iron than they should, resulting in stomach problems, nausea, and vomiting.

Rusty water is safe for most people to bathe in, or even drink. That is if you don’t have issues with the nasty appearance and stains rusty water brings along.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared rusty water as a secondary contaminant meaning it has aesthetic and cosmetic consequences. Rusty water is not dangerous to consume or bathe in if you can ignore your stained outlook or appliances.

Rust and Water: How the Solution Destroys Your Home

Stains everywhere

Iron leaves a harsh trail of stains everywhere. If the water supply of your home is rich in iron, you’ll see discoloration/stains here and there. Even a tiny amount of iron presence (less than 0.3ppm – parts per million) is enough to stain your appliances.

Everything that comes in contact with the iron-rich water will become stained over time. Even your clothes, hair, and skin will follow suit.

Spoiled Taste

Iron also leaves a bitter metallic aftertaste and an unpleasant, sharp odor in water. Any food or beverage made from iron-contaminated water will darken and leave a residual dirty, earthy flavor. Even in drinking water, iron can create a brown, orange, red, or yellow tint.

Clogged pipes

Iron residue is heavier than water. It can pile up inside your plumbing system and restrict the water flow. As a result, one or more taps, showers, and pipes will become clogged.

Every appliance that comes into contact with rusty water will eventually become clogged and need early and costly replacements.

Brittle and discolored hair

When your hair is soaked in iron-contaminated water over and over again, oxidized (red to yellow) or unoxidized (clear) iron leaches moisture from your hair and makes it brittle and dry. In the end, your hair will lose its softness and become rough.

Oxidized iron also works like peroxide, which is very harmful and darkens the hair. Eventually, It changes hair color to orangey-red.

Early Wrinkles And Dry Skin

In normal conditions, bathing means your skin will get enough moisture it needs from water. However, the opposite happens when the water contains iron. Iron leaches out the moisture from your skin instead of adding it.

At a point, you will notice your skin is heavily drying. You may even need to use artificial moisturizers to keep your skin healthy. You may also notice early wrinkles or long-term damages in your skin if your skin gets over-saturated with iron.

Acne problem

Iron in water can clog the pores of your skin and prevent the oil coming out of your skin through these pores, which can hamper the natural cleaning process. This trapped oil may cause acne problems out of control, especially for those who have oily skin. You may also notice acne in your body where it shouldn’t be.

Stain in clothes and discoloration

Your clothes can also get damaged if the water you use to wash them has oxidized iron or iron getting oxidized in the process. Your light-colored clothes and dishes may get permanently discolored, even when your washing machine is working properly.

Types of Iron in the Water

Ferrous iron

This ion is water-soluble and yet to rust. You won’t be able to distinguish iron particles from the water since they will neither create any residue nor change the color of the water.

However, once the water is exposed to the environment, it starts to oxidize and turn into ferric ions, creating sediments at the bottom. Ferrous iron also has staining capability.

Ferric iron

You can identify ferric iron in water by the cloudy orange, yellow, or reddish tint. The iron is not water-soluble and has already rusted, so it will create sediment at the bottom of the water. They are the easiest form of iron to remove since they can be filtered away.

They can pose another harm though. Excessive ferric iron sediment is the primary reason to get your pipes, faucets, and showers clogged. They usually pile up in the joints and restrict the water flow.

Bacterial iron

This is the nastiest/trickiest form iron can get into. It happens when the bacteria in the water consume the iron and create a bright red sludge. It isn’t harmful itself but can act as a breeding ground for many other harmful bacteria.

Bacterial iron is a common phenomenon for well-owners. It also has a musty or swampy odor. The soup-like slimy iron will turn your water softeners, water booster pumps, and sediment prefilters useless.

How to Get the Rust Stain off Your Skin?

Whether you took a shower in rusty water or get your skin stained from a rusty piece of iron, the stubborn stain can be removed easily. We don’t recommend stain removers because the chemical can be potentially harmful to your skin.

This is how you get the rusty stain off your skin:

Tools needed

  • A small bowl
  • A tablespoon
  • Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Salt
  • Warm Water

Steps to follow

  1. Take 1-2 tablespoons of salt in a small bowl
  2. Slowly pour Lemon juice or vinegar into the salt and make a paste
  3. Apply the paste over your skin and rub gently for a couple of minutes. The acid in lemon juice/vinegar will remove the stain and the salt will work as an exfoliant, clearing out the layer of stained skin cells
  4. Rinse your skin with warm water to remove any remaining salt-vinegar/lemon juice paste
  5. If you are not happy with the result, repeat the process

How to Fix Rusty Water?

1. Flush and replace

If the contamination level is low, simply flushing your faucets and taps for about 15-20 minutes will solve the problem. This might occur when your leave your iron water pipes unused for a long time. Run all your taps for a couple of minutes until the water is clean and clear again.

A small amount of iron contamination is natural if you are using iron pipes for water supply. Flushing out the water should combat the problem. If the problem still persists, contact your plumber and replace the iron pipes.

2. Water softeners

They are also known as Ion-exchange water softeners and are the perfect solution for low-level ferrous ion contamination on hard water (water rich with calcium and magnesium).

Water softeners exchange negatively-charged sodium ions with positively-charged mineral ions and collect the residue around the resin beads. You just have to flush the system regularly.

However, they can’t treat ferric and bacterial irons. You’ll need stronger elements for that. If you have soft water on your system, you can get similar results with an oxidizing filter.

3. Manganese greensand

If you have ferric iron contamination or want to convert ferrous ions into ferric ions, manganese greensand can help you out. It is a powerful oxidizer and can dissolve the clump of ferric iron into a solid particulate matter.

Manganese greensand has the capability of removing up to 15ppm of ferric/ferrous ions from well water.

However, you’ll need to back-wash the oxidizer with potassium permanganate to restore its full potential after use. We recommend you handle potassium permanganate carefully since there could be skin irritations.

4. Birm

It is another type of oxidizing media that can eliminate ferrous iron in an alkaline environment.

Birm doesn’t need help from a chemical oxidizing agent to work. Instead, the pH level of the water needs to be high. Most systems use calcite to increase the pH level so that Birm can work its magic and clear your water.

5. Shock chlorination

This is for clearing bacterial iron from your system. Generally, “shocking the water” means applying a high concentration of chlorine (around 200ppm) into the water. This will clear the water from even the most stubborn of bacteria or algae.

Regularly shocking your water will help you get rid of the yucky slime of bacterial iron. You can also use a chlorination system to keep your water safe from any contamination. Don’t forget to flush out the system or use a filter to catch all the sediments produced after shocking.

How to Prevent Rust in Water?

1. Sediment filters

Sediment filters are equipment that is used to capture the sediment that has built up over time or due to the cleansing process. They use mechanical filtration to catch all the insoluble sediments.

These filters are used as a primary defense against dirt, debris, and iron residue. Sediment filters are best effective if used as prefilters for other filtration systems. Sediment filters can not remove any chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals, or dissolved particulate matter.

2. KDF

KDF is a bacteriostatic media that can also help you with eliminating iron contamination and other heavy metals. They are usually made of high-purity granular zinc and installed at the point from where water enters your home.

KDF works by converting the ferrous iron particles into ferric iron particulates and then filtering them. Many inline iron filter cartridges use KDF to fix iron contamination.

FAQs

1. How do I test for rust in water? 

Ans: The easiest way is to take a glass of the sample water and leave it to rest for a couple of hours. If you notice any sediment gathering up on the bottom of the glass, that is a clear indication of iron/rust contamination. You can also use test kits to be sure about it.

2. Is rust water bad for my health?

Ans: No, contrary to what many believe, rusty water is not a health concern if you have healthy skin and if the odor/appearance doesn’t bother you.

However, people with hemochromatosis may absorb more iron than they should and have stomach problems, nausea, and vomiting.

3. Can I get tetanus from rusty water? 

Ans: Tetanus is caused by Clostridium tetani, a bacteria that lives in soil/manure and is easily found in places where you usually find rustic objects. The rust itself doesn’t cause tetanus.

The bacteria enter the human body through cuts, burns, and punctures. If you don’t have any of those, you will not be at risk of getting tetanus even if the water contains Clostridium tetani.

4. Can I get poisoned from rust? 

Ans: No. As per the EPA, you can’t get poisoned from rust unless you are diagnosed with hemochromatosis. The best rusty waters can do is to annoy you with their foul appearance, odor, taste, and stain. It may also cause skin rashes in some rare cases.

5. What are the symptoms of iron poisoning?

Ans: You have no chance of iron poisoning from ingesting rusty water. However, consuming too much iron or people with hemochromatosis will showcase the below-mentioned symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • bloody vomit or stool (in case of a child)
  • Discolored skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fast/weak pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration and lethargy (if not treated adequately)

About the author

Kai Michel

Hello, this is Kai, addressing homeowners in need of some help with their home renovation projects. I’ve worked on numerous toilet repair projects over the years that incorporated a wide variety of tasks, from repair to renovation and maintenance. Besides acquiring a degree on the legal codes and procedures, I gathered vast insights into bathroom settings, toilets, showers, fittings, and other household appliances, fixtures, and components. This helps me guide my clients through their home improvement and interior development plans. Since maintenance is my area of expertise, I can assist people in all phases of the actual ‘improvement’ process. To get my messages even further, I contribute to this site through my blog posts. Check my content here for expert suggestions!

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