View Full Version : Problems with well water?

Tim Brazelton
15-Apr-2005, 10:19
Hi everyone,

After living and developing in California for 15 years, we are moving to Chester County, Pennsylvania. I've been very pleased with my developing for about the last 5 years and all of my developing protocols have evolved using the same city water for fix and washing (I use distilled water to mix developer). We're in the process of purchasing a home with well water, an issue I've never dealt with before. I know that sediment and some minerals in well water can be decreased with filters, reverse osmosis systems, and water softening. My specific question is: Before we purchase a home is there anything I should be testing for in well water that is not reasonably fixed and that would prevent me from using it for washing in the darkroom? As you may have surmised, I am very picky about my developing and since we are in the process of selecting a home I still have some ability to avoid serious well water problems. Thanks, Tim

Calamity Jane
15-Apr-2005, 11:28
I don't know about the U.S.A. but in Canada any property that is supplied by a well must have the water tested as part of the sale contract. You should be entitled to a copy of the test results. Although the test for for suitability for drinking, it will give you a good idea of the water quality.

I live in a rural area with a surface water well and am blessed with the best water for MANY miles around. Most wells suffer from varying degrees of "hardness" and, depending on the concentration and type of minerals, most can be filtered. Very hard water requires a chemical softener. With good filtration and a softener, you end up with quite a good quality of water.

To further enhance water quality, you can add some very fine filtration, reverse osmosis, or even distillation (in order of effectivness). I recently moved to steam distillation for my darkroom mixing water as it removes the seasonal variations in the quality of my well water.

I would suggest, as a prelude an offer to purchase, that you have a complete water analisys done by an independant lab. For the few dollars it will cost, it will give you a wealth of information about the water.

If you can't check water quality late in the winter (when it is at its worse), have a look in the toilet tank - that will give you an instant indication of how much (or little) desolved mineral there is in the water. Nobody ever thinks of cleaning the toilet tank when they put a house on the market ;-)

15-Apr-2005, 11:36
I also have well water in a rural area. Jane is right about the testing and checking. One thing to note. Here in NY, you have to specify to have certain tests done. They don't normally test for pesticides, nitrates and other farm run-offs! A standard test also will not tell you the hardness or amount of iron or sulfur in the water. In our area, the water is of course hard, but we also have a huge amount of iron. We are lucky not to have much sulfur. Some in this area can not use the ground water without filtration because of the sulfur.

Talk to the testing lab and explain what you want. They know what tests can be performed. Be concerned about pesticides, farm run-off, lead, arsenic, and other poisons! The hardness, iron and sulfur can be filtered out...

And by the way. I use unfiltered water and have no problems at all!

Gem Singer
15-Apr-2005, 12:34
Hi Tim,

Even with the availibility of city water, I still continue to use distilled water for mixing my film and paper developers. It's probably not an absolute necessity, but using distilled water gives me added peace of mind. As far as your doubts about using well water for washing film and prints, filter your wash water through an inexpensive 5 micron filter, to remove the particles and impurities, and don't worry about it. If the water is drinkible, it's O.K. for washing film and paper.

Tim Brazelton
15-Apr-2005, 12:46
Thank you for the thorough answers thus far. I understand the general well water testing procedure and results. I'm just not sure how to interpret them. For example, is there a concentration of iron or sulfur that others been unable to adequately remove and that has a detrimental impact on their developing? Are there any substances not included in the normal water testing panel that affect development and that typical filtration systems cannot adequately remove? I'm perfectly willing to experiment some and to install filters and a water softener if necessary. I would just hate to purchase a home only to find out that even the filtered and softened well water is in some way unusable for top quality developing. I'm certain that washing with almost any water will give you an adequate image with some experimentation but as I mentioned I pride myself on my developing skills and much of the "look" of my images is based on sublties of my developing process. Basically, after working for a long time to fine tune my developing and develop my own style I'd hate to lose it. Thanks again, Tim

Brian Schall
15-Apr-2005, 14:02
I hate to throw a fly into the ointment but, if you are on a well, then there's a good chance that you are also on a septic system. Be careful what you discharge to the septic system. The discharge does eventually go to your groundwater.

I know this discussion has been hashed over and over on many forums. The usual answer is there is nothing wrong. Coming from where I am, I am the technical person for the "septic tank" program for the New Mexico Environment Dept. My professional advice is to be careful of what you discharge to a septic system because eventually you or some will end up drinking it.

Jeffrey Sipress
15-Apr-2005, 15:05
I don't see whay anyone using a chemical darkroom, and who wants the cleanest spot-free prints, would not spend the $150 on an aquarium type of RO/DI H2O system, such as the ones made by Kent Marine. And they privide the finest drinking water, too. Water softeners just replace one mineral with another.

Steve Clark
15-Apr-2005, 17:59
I have been using well water for many years. The minerals were never much of a problem, but the iron is. After doing a little bleaching on prints, the iron would invaribly leave blue stains that could not be removed. We are still on a well, however in a different area with much better water. We use a softener, but I still find it best to mix all chems. with distilled water and use a final rinse with distilled water.

Simon Knight
17-Apr-2005, 11:53
I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania and do find my well water fairly acid. I found developer useful life short with the well water so now I mix stock developer solutions with distilled water, but use regular water for final dilution. I also use distilled for any final rinse. I have no problems with B&W film (D76H, Xtol) and paper developing, E6 or palladium.

17-Apr-2005, 18:39
Seems to me the big factor in water quality is in the final rinse.

My water always leaves a white residue after washing my car or dishes. I hate to think what it will do when I get my darkroom finished and start processing film.

19-Apr-2005, 11:57
Here in Florida with a 4" well set to 165' depth, I filter at point of entry to the house (large cartridge) and filter again(purifier) at the tap . . . and when I am ready to mix my chemistry, I climb into my truck and go to the Publix super market and buy pure distilled water. As far as the wash, the film will just have to go with the flow! grin

All kidding aside, a quick run to the market will give you gallons of the cheapest purified distilled water for your chemistry. I also keep extras for my 1:1 mixing. If you go into doing color work you have all kinds of chemicals to deal with and lots of water usage as well.

I can't speak for discharge to the septic field but I am aware that issues have come up. If in doubt you should check with your local codes department or agricultural agent which will have copies of the forest service soil surveys for your region.

Hope this helps, Paul