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Treating well water with high iron and minerals for espresso making

Postby Mach on Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:40 am

A question for anyone who gets their water from a well. Our water is delicious, but after a few months the basic filter I have on the system shows a fair amount of reddish sediment that I assume has quite a bit of iron in it (have not had it tested). On the advice of my plumber I don't change the filter until I notice a pressure drop, which usually takes about 6 months. In any case, my question is if I am courting scale buildup in my ECM Cellini and if I should get a Brita? My hesitation comes about because of a discussion several years ago with a coffee person after a trip to Kentucky where I came across a lot of wretched, under-brewed drip. He speculated that because of the high mineral content there, coffee brewed with the usual amount of coffee would have more than the usual amount of flavor because the minerals increase extraction and that to combat that people were putting less coffee in their machines. Don't know if any of that is true, but he cited as evidence a device that is used to put minerals into water before it enters an espresso machine to ensure flavor is extracted (I've not looked for info on such a device so can't say whether any of that is true, either).

Thanks, James
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Postby drminpa on Mon Dec 10, 2007 1:02 pm

I am in the process of determing what steps to take regarding water treatment for the Vetrano I am getting for Christmas. :D

You should read The Insanely Long Water Water FAQ at http://www.big-rick.com/coffee/waterfaq.html to answer most of your questions. I'd suggest getting your water tested so you know what you have - that's the route I am going. Once I get the results back I will know which path to choose.
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Postby spro745 on Mon Dec 10, 2007 1:37 pm

Well, I'm glad you asked because I have alot of experience with your situation. I live in North Carolina and have all my life. I did live in a small town up until 3 years ago. The water there was OK but we did have a softener installed by Rainsoft and all was OK. Until my wife saw an awesome piece of property in the same county and we did end up buying it. We wondered why it hadn't sold after being on the market over 2 years. That is until we saw what the toilets, sinks, etc. looked like. Everything was orange! We had the softener transferred thinking it would help, as they can with small amounts of iron. It was no match for the problem we were having. I know there are lots of options out there, but we had a Rainsoft technician come out, test the water and make a few recommendations. Our average iron level is 2-3 ppm, and it does fluctuate depending on how much water is used daily, rainwater, etc. We also had low PH levels, being around 5.8. However, the hardness was relatively low, around 3ppm. He said we could go with an iron filter and a PH neutralizer, but they have their limits and may not be able to handle larger amounts of iron. The 2nd option was a chemical injection system in which there is a retention tank (120 gallons), 2 chemical pumps and tanks, a Hysulex carbon filter, our softener and a large household filter. The first pump injects alum (aluminum sulfate) which is a floculant and that pulls all heavy particulates out of the water. They drop to the bottom of the retention tank and are flushed out. The 2nd pump injects caustic soda which raises the PH and helps clarify the water. It also injects chlorine to disinfect the water and is mandatory in NC with this type of system. All chemicals are food grade and all residual amounts are removed with the Hysulex filter and softener. In effect we have great water and all plumbing fixtures were saved. It was expensive (around $4,200) and does have monthly costs because of the chemicals, but to own this house it's necessary. I use pool test strips weekly to judge how things are working and that allows me to make changes as needed. I have absolutely no concerns with putting this water in my machine.

One more thing, I wouldn't listen to what a plumber says regarding when to change the filter. I never wait for the pressure to drop to change them out. Go by the look of the filter. If you wait until the pressure drops it's not doing its job and I'd say iron and other sediment is escaping.

You might want to go with a filter that has a higher micron rating and that may help with the iron somewhat, but most has to be extracted with other methods. One other method I recently found out about is air injection. Basically the retention tank has a compressor mounted on top and when water is used it pumps air into the water and this attaches to the iron and drops it to the bottom of the tank. The only issue is that it is only effective to 9-10 ppm.
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Postby narc on Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:20 pm

Mach, I'm on well water. Up here the hardness and iron content from area to area can really change. I got lucky. Water hardness is up there at between 7 and 10 grains of hardness based on Hatch test strips. The fresh Brita pitcher filter and the inline tank type of filter knock down the hardness to below 5 grains. To prevent scale build up on the HX/E61 machine I would twice a year descale with a solution of citric acid. Examination of the boiler and pulling of the heating element has shown no scale build up after ~6 years of 24/7 use. Minimal steaming. Maybe 4-5 caps/latte per week. Remember to citric acid flush the HX as well as the boiler. For the lever machines it is water straight from the Brita. After ~5 years of regular use on the MicroCasa a Leva there is no visible build up. I citric acid descale only about once a year. Check your water hardness. If not too bad you may get by with just a Brita pitcher.

IMO bottled deionized water makes flat tasting anything that you drink. You need some mineral content. How much & of what? No idea.

Are you sure the deposits on your filter are iron sediment. Can you taste iron in your water? Bayfield Brownstone a form of sandstone & ancient Balsalt(?sp) is what my well aquifer is located in. Occasionally a bit of sandstone sediment gets sucked up. I have a 10micron filter that catches all the sediment. So far the filters have been lasting couple years. I try to change every spring but have forgotten a few times. The filter starts looking brown-red with some sediment in the bowel after couple years. Dry the sediment becomes a red brown dust. Might have some iron in it. Just have never tasted any iron. Also no iron deposit in toilet or any other fixture.
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Postby Mach on Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:54 pm

Thanks everyone. Not at all sure there's iron in my water so a test is my next step. We don't have real staining on the fixtures, not what I would imagine iron does. Based on that and your thoughtful comments I suspect more general sediment, and since I use the machine only on weekends I'm not going to worry too much. I'm thinking of calling the company that drilled my well to see if they can shed any light on the matter (I paid 'em enough).
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Postby Psyd on Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:10 pm

Mach wrote:Thanks everyone. Not at all sure there's iron in my water so a test is my next step.


Hmmm. Iron is attracted by a magnet, I wonder if Iron Oxide (which is what you'd have, if it were reddish orange)? Would a really strong magnet on a feed line have any effect?
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Postby roel on Sat Jan 26, 2008 5:49 pm

Maybe you need a new filter? I found a site with filters with G http://filters.ultra-blogs.com/
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Postby iginfect on Sat Jan 26, 2008 8:25 pm

Mach, where in NY? If in the city, the iron is probably from the pipes. Upstate north of the Catskills the water is hard and I have iron and sulphur in my water and use a whole house filter and a water softener with an attachment that removes the sulphur and iron. Minerals in your water will deposit in your boiler and ultimately destroy your machine. If any hardness, use citric acid to descale.

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