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Rusty Water = Laundry Problems

Rust Stains on Clothes


Rusty or Red Water Laundry Symptoms

  • Yellow, red or brown stains
  • Yellowing, especially when chlorine bleach is used

What is Red Water?

Rusty or red water is caused by iron that may be dissolved in the water, suspended as particles or as iron bacteria. The iron may come from the water supply or from a water heater or metal parts in a well that are rusty.

Getting Rid of the Red

If the level of iron is small, a mechanical water softener can generally remove the iron along with other hardness minerals. Another alternative is to hold the iron in suspension by use of a phosphate feeder system.

For moderate iron levels, a green sand filter or oxidizing filter may be adequate. It is important to have a filter sized to handle large quantities of water throughout the house.

For high concentrations of iron, a chlorination/filtration system treats water before it enters the lines. The chlorination/filtration system has two main parts - a chlorinator and a filter. An automatic chlorinator, generally using household chlorine laundry bleach, releases chlorine into the water system. The chlorine does two important things: It kills iron and disease-causing bacteria and it changes (oxidizes) colorless, soluble iron to insoluble, red iron particles that can be removed from the water by a filter in the system. Such an iron treatment system should be installed on the main water lines in the house before the water passes through the water softener and the water heater.

These treatments can be expensive. Always have your water tested by an independent lab before installing any system.

Replacement of a rusty water heater, pipes or storage container may solve the problem.

Fixing Laundry Problems

If it is not possible to pass the water through a water softener, a phosphate feeder or a chlorinating filter, laundry results can be improved by using a non-precipitating packaged water softener (usually contains phosphate) along with the usual amounts of regular detergent. Use amounts recommended in instructions on the package. Be sure to use the compound in the rinses as well as the washes to prevent rust stains.

To remove rust stains that have already occurred from white and colorfast washable fabrics, use a commercial rust remover following product directions. The important ingredient in these compounds is an acid - usually oxalic or hydrofluoric acid. The remover ingredients combine with the iron and loosen it from the fabric, then hold it in suspension in the wash water. The compounds are poisonous if ingested. Use them carefully according to the manufacturers' directions, and rinse the clothes thoroughly. Acid remaining deteriorates fabrics. Add an extra rinse cycle to every load to be sure all traces of rust remover are rinsed from the fabric.

Never put clothes with rust stains in the dryer as the high heat will set the stain and make it extremely difficult to remove. Never use chlorine bleach to remove the stains which will also set the stains permanently.

A more economical and eco-friendly method is to sprinkle salt on the spot and dampen it with lemon juice. Dry articles in the sun, then rinse. Test procedures on a hidden portion of the article first, since they may cause color change. Take non-colorfast fabrics to a commercial laundry for professional treatment.

Specific questions? Just ask here.

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