The principal ions found in water are calcium, magnesium, sodium, bicarbonate, sulfate, chloride and nitrate. A few parts per million of iron or manganese may sometimes be present and there may be traces of potassium salts, whose behavior is very similar to that of sodium salts. From the corrosion point of view the small quantities of other acid radicals present, e.g. nitrite, phosphate, iodide, bromide and fluoride generally have little significance. Larger concentrations of some of these ions, notably nitrite and phosphate, may act as corrosion inhibitors, but the small quantities present in natural waters will usually have little effect.
Chlorides have probably received the most study in relation to their effect on corrosion. Like other ions, they increase the electrical conductivity of the water so that the flow of corrosion currents will be facilitated. They also reduce the effectiveness of natural protective films, which may be permeable to small ions.
Nitrate is very similar in its effects to chloride but is usually present in much smaller concentrations. Sulfate in general appears to behave very similarly, at least on carbon steel materials. In practice, high sulfate waters may attack concrete, and the performance of some inhibitors appears to be adversely affected by the presence of sulfate. Sulfates have also a special role in bacterial corrosion under anaerobic conditions.
Another mineral constituent of water is silica, present both as a colloidal suspension and dissolved in the form of silicates. The concentration varies very widely and, as silicates are sometimes applied as corrosion inhibitors, it might be thought that the silica content would affect the corrosive properties of a water. In general, the effect appears to be trivial; the fact that silicate inhibitors are used in waters with a high initial silica content suggests that the form in which silica is present is important. (reference)