Unlike tap water, which comes pre-treated and is generally safe for consumption (though not always the case), well water is collected directly from private wells. As such, it may contain harmful elements that exist in the air and earth in the same area.
Contamination levels are different from well to well, and levels of water use also vary between households. If you’re using well water for drinking, cooking, and sanitation purposes, you need a water filtration system that targets the exact contaminants, if there are any, and has a suitable capacity while also within your budget.
In this article, you will learn how to recognize common drinking water contaminants and the steps to finding the right whole house filter for your well water. We also review several models in the latter half of the article for your consideration.
Common Well Water Contaminants, Signs and Symptoms
There’s an endless list of substances that can cause trouble in well water. The table below features some of the most common ones, the signs they’re in your water, and the possible damage to your health, plumbing system, and water appliances.
|Sediment (sand, dirt, dead animals/plants)||Visible particles |
Water that’s not clear
|Clogged faucets and showerheads
May contain harmful bacteria and parasites
|Sulfur/Hydrogen sulfide gas and sulfur bacteria||Rotten egg smell||Clogged pipes or water appliances
Black stains on silverware
|Iron/Manganese||Yellow, orange, or brown water|
A metallic taste/smell
|Stains on your clothes, toilet bowl, bathtub|
|Heavy metals (lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium)||No signs||Damage to organs such as the brain, kidney, lungs, liver, and blood
|Nitrates/Nitrites||No signs||Blue baby syndrome|
|Bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, etc.)||No signs||Gastrointestinal problems
Headaches, fever, fatigue
|Parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, etc.)||Some types are visible to the naked eye||Gastrointestinal problems
Other water-borne illnesses
How to Choose a Well Water Filter for the Whole House
Get Your Water Tested
Some pollutants, such as sediments, are visible to the naked eye. Some others, sulfur for example, are recognizable by their smell. Many contaminants, even deadly ones such as arsenic, are not detectable by taste, smell, or a total dissolved solids meter (TDS meter).
A test kit may be a good starting point to determine if there are such contaminants in your water. Some test kits may be able to detect dangerous levels of lead, nitrates/nitrites, copper, or several types of harmful bacteria. If the water in your area is known to be contaminated with a particular pollutant, it’s a good idea to test for it using the kit.
The best way to know, however, is to run a complete analysis of your water. We strongly recommend this for well water users even if you can’t see a problem with the water and currently aren’t experiencing any health issues.
Call the nearest state-certified laboratory (here’s the contact list by the EPA) and take it from there. Depending on the number of contaminants you’d like to test for, the cost could be anywhere from $25 to $500. You may want to ‘shop around’ a bit before deciding on a suitable lab. This is one of the few things on which people hope the money spent will be a waste.
Determine Your Water Usage
Aside from contaminants, water usage in your household is another important deciding factor when buying a filter.
Most filters have a lifespan based on their capacity, i.e. the gallons of water they can handle. You will have to pick one with the right balance between cost and capacity. Buy one too small and you’ll have to change it every month. Buy an oversized one and you’ll overspend on your budget and have problems finding space to install it.
To get the exact figure, check your water bills and calculate the average amount of water used within the last 12 months. Divide the filter’s capacity by that number and you will have an idea of how long it will take before a replacement is needed.
Alternatively, use the following formula to calculate the amount:
Monthly water use = Number of persons x 82 x 30
30 is the average number of days in a month, and 82 gallons is the estimated average amount of water used each day by one person.
Get a Certified Filter(s)
Once you’ve figured out the contamination levels and filter capacity, it should become easier to decide on the type of filter to deal with the problem.
Make sure to get the ones that are certified to remove the exact contaminants that exist in your water. In the water industry, a popular standard is the NSF/ANSI system. You may see filters that are certified to work against lead (NSF 53 for filters or 58 for reverse osmosis systems), sulfur (NSF 42), or bacteria (NSF 55 for UV light).
Whole house filters do not usually get certified as a whole system, but if their components come with NSF certifications, it’s a good sign it will work.
The Best Whole House Water Filter for Well Water
To narrow down your choices and save you the time, we’ve consolidated a list of the best systems that target the most common, but less health-detrimental contaminants in well water. If you have heavy metals or harmful chemicals in your water, we urge you to speak to a professional water specialist to get the problem sorted.
The best whole house water filtration systems include
- Springwell WS1: Best Whole House Water Filter for Well Water
- Pelican WF4-P/WF8-P: Best Iron Filter for Well Water
- Home Master HMF3SDGFEC: Best Sediment Filter for Well Water
- Express Water: Best Sulfur Filter for Well Water
- iSpring WGB21B: Best Carbon Filter for Well Water
- Springwell UV5-15: Best UV Filter for Well Water
1. Springwell WS1: Best to Buy in 2021
The Springwell WS1 well water filtration system boasts the ability to remove up to 8 ppm of hydrogen sulfide, up to 7 ppm of iron, and 1 ppm of manganese while requiring minimal maintenance. This is the filter you need if you’re a well-owner with water aesthetics concerns.
- Simple installation
- Controllable via phone app
- No maintenance required
- Certified components
- Effective on low levels of contaminants
Air Injection ft. Green Sand
The Springwell filter works using air injection technology. When water enters the filter, an air bubble at the top oxidizes the contaminants. Next, a greensand bed underneath further oxidizes and traps them, allowing only clean water to run through.
The trapped contaminants are washed out through a process called regeneration, after which, the filter is ready for the next cycle.
A new generation filter, the Springwell allows you to control the filter settings with an app on your phone. You can see water usage history, adjust valve settings, or start a backwash cycle without touching the system. If you find no fun in trips to the garage or climbing up to the water tank in lousy weather to check things out, this is the system for you.
The combination of air injection and greensand in a self-regenerative system makes the Springwell filter highly effective against the three common well water contaminants: iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide. It’s one of the most economical choices, too, when you consider that it requires zero maintenance.
For increased effectiveness, you may want to install a sediment filter before the air injection system. Also, air injection doesn’t work very well on water with high contamination levels. If that’s the case with your water, consider going for the Pelican system (details below), which can handle up to 10 ppm of iron.
2. Pelican WF4-P/WF8-P: Best Iron Filter for Well Water
If your well is heavily contaminated with iron (more than 6 – 7 PPM), an air injection filter isn’t going to solve the whole problem. In this case, consider the Pelican WF4-P/WF8-P iron-manganese filter with chlorine and greensand. It removes up to 10 ppm of iron and has a capacity of 600,000 to 1,000,000 gallons.
- Highly effective against iron
- Works on a wide variety of contaminants
- Two capacity options
- High initial price
A Complete System
The Pelican WF4-P/WF8-P comes at a high price (more than $3,000), but it includes everything you need for good quality well water filtration.
It boasts a 5-micron sediment filter to clear the water of large particles and prepare it for filtration.
After pre-filtration, the water will go through a chamber that houses a chlorine auto-injector. Chlorine is a much stronger iron oxidizing agent than normal air, allowing it to handle higher concentrations. During the next stage, a Greensand Plus bed collects the iron and removes it via a backwash process.
Iron is not the only contaminant the filter can remove: chlorine and greensand have just about the same effect on manganese and hydrogen sulfide.
At the final stage, the water goes through a carbon filter, where any remaining particles, odors, or unpleasant taste are removed.
Pelican offers two capacity options for their iron filter system: WF4-P (600,000 gallons) for homes with fewer than four bathrooms and WF8-P (1,000,000 gallons) for homes with four to six bathrooms.
With that kind of capacity, you’ll enjoy at least 5 – 7 years of clean water with this system. The expected lifespan, however, extends to 10 to 12 years.
With more parts and a chlorine chamber, the system requires more maintenance than the Springwell. You will have to check the level of the solution tank twice per month and fill it with bleach and clean water as needed. There’s also the work of changing the injector pump and pre-filter, but only about twice per year.
3. Home Master HMF3SDGFEC: Best Sediment Filter for Well Water
When your main concern about well water is sediment, go for a filter with multiple levels of filtration in separate cartridges so you can change them at different times and maximize the system’s lifespan. The Home Master HMF3SDGFEC offers just that.
- Filters coarse and fine sediments
- Reduce iron, sulfur, and chemicals
- Low maintenance
- Multi-gradient filter may need replacement more than once a year
Three Levels of Filtration
The HMF3SDGFEC features three stages of filtration. The first is a four-gradient sediment filter, which can filter out sediments from 25 microns down to 1 micron. To give you an idea of how fine 1 micron is, a human hair is 70 microns across.
After this stage, the water should be free of any visible particles, dirt, and even rust.
The second and third stages work to remove even finer sediments and reduce the presence of iron and chemicals such as sulfur, pesticides, and herbicides. Together, they can handle a combined load of iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide of up to 3 ppm, making significant improvements in the color, taste, and smell of well water with mild contamination levels.
With a large cartridge size and one-inch ports, the Home Master HMF3SDGFEC can deliver 15 GPM. That’s strong for a system with three filtration stages. It has a capacity of 95,000 gallons, which covers water use for a family of three to four persons for a whole year.
If sediment levels are high in your water, however, we recommend changing the first cartridge every 6 – 9 months to keep water pressure stable.
4. Express Water: Best Sulfur Filter for Well Water
As we’ve seen, air injection and chemical injection are very effective at treating water with sulfur or hydrogen sulfide — the culprit behind the rotten egg smell in water from wells and hot springs. However, if you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars just to remove an odor, Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) is an excellent alternative. On the Express Water system, KDF constitutes one of the main filtration media.
- Highly effective against sulfur and hydrogen sulfide
- Works on other contaminants
- Easy installation and maintenance
- May affect water pressure
Like many other traditional filtration systems, the Express Water system sports a sediment filter to reduce the workload of the ensuing chemical filters. This pre-filter is multi-gradient, with the innermost layer only letting through particles as small as 5 microns across.
The second stage boasts a cartridge full of KDF85, one of the most effective media for removing heavy metals, chemicals, and of course, sulfur and hydrogen sulfide. Any contaminants that make it through this stage will come across an activated carbon block, another strong media famous for its porosity and ability to reduce a wide range of pollutants.
Most of the remaining sulfur and hydrogen sulfide, along with any foul odor, will be cleared out during this last stage, leaving you clean water that smells and tastes crisp and fresh.
Given its price range, the Express System understandably doesn’t include any fancy accessories. It does, however, have pressure gauges so you can monitor its activities and make necessary adjustments or replacements when needed.
Replacements are simple and most of the time don’t require a plumber. The interval depends on the source water quality, but at a 100,000-gallon capacity, you shouldn’t have to worry about changing the filter more than twice a year.
5. iSpring WGB21B: Best Carbon Filter for Well Water
When problems with water from your home well are mostly aesthetic, splurging on a fancy filtration system is just overkill. A carbon filter will be enough to bring you pure, fresh-tasting water. The iSpring WGB21B does a fine job of purifying water without breaking the bank.
- Low price tag
- Two-stage filtration
- Minimal impact on flow rate
- Only works on water with mild contamination
- Moderate capacity
Normally, a carbon filter works well on its own, but with well water, a high concentration of sediment means the filter can get clogged up quickly. When this happens, you will see a gradual drop in water pressure. Sometimes, this happens only after a few weeks.
That’s why the iSpring WGB21B comes with a pre-filter cartridge. This filter consists of several layers of polypropylene that work together to remove particles down to the size of 5 microns. This reduces the chance of clogging and significantly increases the carbon filter’s lifespan.
CTO Activated Carbon Filter
Once the water is free of particles, both large and small, it will then run through the main carbon filter. This is where the activated coconut shell carbon traps any traces of herbicides and pesticides, as well as any bad taste and odor, in its numerous tiny pores, resulting in clean, fresh water.
This type of carbon filter may not be as strong as a carbon block. However, it provides better water pressure and is still a game-changer when filtering water that’s cloudy or has mild taste/odor problems. You will definitely notice a clear, immediate improvement in water quality.
The system has a 50,000-gallon capacity; nothing to write home about, but it can provide five to six months of pure water for a family of four.
6. Springwell UV5-15: Best UV Filter for Well Water
Bacteria and viruses are nothing new in well water, and if you want a chemical-free solution to the problem, look no further than UV-Light. You can use a UV light system as a standalone purifier or upgrade and strengthen your filtration system with a germ-killer. In either case, the Springwell UV5-15 could be the answer.
- Powerful light
- Compatible with different kinds of filters
- Lamp life indicator
- High price tag
A Strong Capacity
The Springwell UV5-15 features a lamp with an output of 30mj/cm2. That’s high enough a dose to kill or deactivate more than 99 percent of pathogens, including E.coli, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia lamblia. It retains its power throughout a period of 12 months, after which a replacement is required.
The system can handle 15 gallons of contaminated water per minute. The best thing about this UV lamp, and the method in general, is that it works without hindering the flow. Thus, there will be no impact on your water pressure.
The UV5-15 comes with an LED screen that displays the remaining lamp life and water status. It will also show error codes for quick troubleshooting.
Note that sediment will hinder the effectiveness of UV light, as the light can’t penetrate through particles. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a micron sediment filter system before the UV lamp.
High hardness or ppm will also hamper its efficacy. If your supply is hard water or water with iron higher than 0.3 ppm, you will either have to deal with the iron and minerals first or skip the lamp altogether. (Read our guide on how to recognize and deal with hard water).
If you already have a complete filtration system, install the lamp as the last stage, after the post-filter, so the light’s effect will be maximized.
Is There a Whole House Filter That Works for Well Water Containing Arsenic?
Unlike sediment or iron, arsenic is an extremely harmful contaminant and the cause of many illnesses due to its severe effects on our health. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the harder ones to remove using a residential filter.
Arsenic comes in different forms, of which the most dominant in well water are arsenic III and V. A high-quality reverse osmosis (RO) system, such as the Home Master TMHP Undersink HydroPerfection, can reduce more than 90% of arsenic V. However when it comes to arsenic III, the percentage falls to somewhere in the range of 55 – 65.
A common solution is to use a chemical, such as chlorine, to transform arsenic III to arsenic V before removing it from the water with an RO system. Because you can get arsenic poisoning not only by drinking and cooking with arsenic-laden water but also by skin contact, water in the whole house has to be treated, which proves a complicated and expensive process.
That’s why on finding out your water has arsenic, you should immediately contact a licensed water professional for advice (and a health professional too, for that matter). Then, they can propose a solution based on the concentration level, the status of the water in your area, and your budget.