What to do When Your Whole House Water Filter Gets Brown

Author: Jason Hollow - Published: 2022/09/28 - Updated: 2022/12/22

Disclaimer: This page may contain affiliate links. If you buy a product or service through an affiliate link, we may earn a commission but at no additional cost to you. You can view our full affiliate disclosure here.

There is nothing pleasant about the sight of brown water in your home, and while water discoloration is not necessarily a cause for concern, you should still take precautions.

And just like the water, your whole house filter itself may turn brown. There are many possible reasons for this, but all are fixable. The ideal solution will depend on the specific cause of the problem.

This article will discuss the different reasons for why a whole house water filter turns brown and how to deal with them.

So, here is our guide on whole house water filters turning brown!


  • Based on experience, the most common cause for a brown whole house water filter is that it’s simply due for replacement.
  • However, if your filters are quite new, have your water professionally tested to figure out the cause of why your water is turning brown. Common causes are the presence of iron, manganese, tannins or silt.
  • If such contaminants are the culprit, installing specific additional filters to target them will solve the problem.
  • You can also inspect and look for signs of rust or corrosion in your pipes and water heater and replace them if needed.

Reasons for a Brown Water Whole House Water Filter

brown whole house water filter thumbnail

It is important to understand what causes brown water to enter your whole house water filter leading to the discoloration.

Warning:  Avoid drinking discolored water until you know what is causing it.


Water discoloration is often a result of high levels of rust in your water supply, which could be due to a rusted water pipe or water heater. Both cannot only turn water brown but also affect its taste and smell.

Many homes also have naturally-occurring iron or rust in their water supply, especially in case of well water. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have any private well tested.

Furthermore, there are different types of iron that might cause your water to become brown:

  • Ferric iron: The most common iron in water is ferric iron. A reddish-brown color is usually associated with it and can stain fixtures and clothes.
  • Ferrous iron: Groundwater with low oxygen levels typically contains ferrous iron. Unlike ferric iron, it does not have the same obvious color, but you may notice a metallic taste.
  • Iron bacteria: Water can contain iron bacteria, which survive by consuming iron. In addition to discoloring your water, they can also cause your fixtures to develop slime.[1]


Tannins are organic substances in plants, such as leaves, bark, and wood. Tannins in water are not harmful. However, they can impart a disagreeable taste and odor. Tannins can also cause the water to turn yellow, brown, or red as they break down.

It is common for surface water sources such as rivers and lakes to contain tannins, and when you get your water from a private well, tannins from the soil may leak into it.


Manganese enters groundwater through rocks and soil as it is a naturally occurring element. Trace amounts of manganese do not pose a health risk but can cause your water to turn brown.

In addition, manganese is almost always found in compounds with other elements. For instance, you will likely find manganese in your water if it contains iron or rust.


Silt is a tiny particle found in surface water and groundwater. Water with a lot of silt won’t necessarily cause any harm to you, but it will taste bad and look hazy. You may need to replace your water filters more frequently if sediment is present in your water supply.

The presence of silt is also common in areas prone to erosion, and a damaged well component could allow silt to enter the well. Silt can enter your whole house water filter if you live close to a construction site or in a region with much soil disturbance.

Is Brown Water Safe to Drink?

The presence of brown water does not necessarily mean your water is harmful, but it may indicate that you have high levels of metals or other impurities in it.

You should contact your local water utility if you have questions about the safety of your water and consider having your water tested for contaminants.

What to Do About Brown Water?

Even though brown water rarely causes major health problems, you’re better off without it. The following tips will help you keep your water quality high and your whole house filter from turning brown:

Water Testing

hand holding water test strip

Testing your water is the first step to follow if you are unsure what’s causing a filter to turn brown. Using a water test, you can determine whether pollutant levels exceed safety standards and what type of equipment or procedure you’ll need to deal with it.

Public utilities provide free water quality reports. You can test your private well water with one of the many available DIY test kits or hire a contractor. You may find it more expensive to hire a professional to test your water, but it provides crucial information on the exact concentrations of all pollutants in your water, whereas a DIY kit might not be thorough enough.

Replace or Repair Rusted Pipes and Water Heaters

If you have old rusted water heaters or iron pipes, your water filter can turn brown. Technically, you could repair them, but replacing them is often the better solution.

It is advisable to hire a professional to handle any pipe work unless you are already an expert in this area.

Water Filtration

If you think that pollutants are creating the brown tint, you can eliminate them by installing an extra water filter. The type of filter you’ll need will depend on the cause of the discoloration.

Here are some of the possible filtering options you can use:

  • Iron and manganese filters – If your water has significant levels of iron or manganese, you’ll require an iron and manganese filter.
  • Tannin filters – You’ll need a tannin filter if tannins are turning your water brown. Tannin filters extract tannins from water by adsorbing the chemicals onto a carbon medium.
  • Sediment filters – Consider installing an additional sediment filter stage if sediment is causing your other whole house water filter to turn brown.

Replace Your Water Filters on Time

Your whole house water filter should be replaced frequently, even if you aren’t having any issues with it.

Filters become less effective over time, so if you don’t replace them when recommended, it could lead to more issues – such as brown color.

The specific replacement frequency will vary depending on the model and manufacturer, but in most cases, it’ll be between 3 and 12 months.

Use of a Water Softener

The process of water softening involves exchanging certain types of ions for sodium. The method eliminates impurities and prevents them from adhering to pipelines and appliances.

Using a softener may be beneficial if your water contains moderate amounts of iron or manganese.


The brown discoloration of your whole house water filter may be caused by rust, manganese, tannins or sediment. Even though brown water may not be harmful, it’s still a good idea to deal with it as soon as possible.

It is important to test your water before deciding what approach to take, as the test results will tell you what works and what doesn’t.

Generally, you’ll only need to install a water filter that targets the impurity causing the brown color to fix the issue.

Further Reading


Meet Jason Hollow

Jason Hollow Jason is the founder of Water Masterz and head of content creation. After six years in the industry, he has tremendous knowledge and first-hand experience on all things related to water treatment.

His credo: Not a single American should have to drink unhealthy water at home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 − ten =