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Is Sediment Slowly Slaying Your Water Heater’s Life Expectancy?


When well maintained, a water heater can provide up to 12 years of faithful service. However, there are a number of things that can cut your appliance’s lifespan in half, and one of those is sediment buildup in the tank. This blog covers how to tell if your water heater is suffering from this malady and how to cure your appliance.

Signs Your Water Heater May Be in Hot Water

All water has minerals in it, but hard water has significantly more minerals than soft water. When water heats up, these minerals split from the water molecules and settle at the bottom-or attach to the sides-of the water heater tank. Over time, this sediment builds up and can cause a number of disastrous side effects to the water heater, including reduced efficiency and structural damage.

There are a number of signs your water heater has a sediment problem. These include:

  • Running out of hot water faster. As the sediment builds up, there’s less room for the water.
  • Water that smells like rotten eggs. Sediment accumulation allows bacteria to grow in the tank. These bacteria produce a smell that is similar to rotten eggs.
  • Rusty water. The sediment itself can discolor the water. However, discolored water is most often caused by corrosion inside the heater.
  • Relief valve leaks. Sediment can cause the tank to heat up hotter than normal, causing it to expand and putting pressure on the water inside. The relief valve is simply doing its job to alleviate that pressure.
  • Popping or hissing sounds. Water trapped under the sediment will typically boil and release steam, making these noises.
  • Cracks in the tank or connections. As noted previously, your water heater may rapidly expand due to excessive heat, which can lead to cracks in the appliance over time. As a result, you may find puddles of water around the tank.

If your water heater is exhibiting any of these symptoms, you need to clean it out as soon as possible to avoid expensive repairs or even total appliance replacement.

Two Ways to Slay Sediment

There are a couple of ways you can eliminate sediment in your tank. Flushing it out is the easiest option. You do this by attaching a garden hose to the drain valve on the tank, opening the valve, and letting the water flow out until it runs clear. You may need to refill the tank a couple of times to accomplish this. Be sure to either open the pressure valve on the tank or turn on a faucet in your home to alleviate the air pressure that’ll build up.

This method works best when you notice sediment buildup in its early stages. If you’ve never flushed your water heater before or the problem has progressed to the point where the symptoms are obvious or structural damage is present, you may need to use a more aggressive treatment option.

Another thing you can do to eliminate mineral buildup is use a chemical agent to dissolve the deposits. You can find products designed for this purpose at a local home improvement store. The benefit of using chemical agents is they can typically do the job within a few hours. However, you’ll need to thoroughly flush your tank out several times to completely eliminate any chemical residue.

If you’re concerned about contaminating your water with chemicals, an alternative is to use vinegar to get rid of the sediment. Flip off the circuit breaker to the water heater, disconnect the cold water supply line, and drain a few gallons of water from the tank.

Locate the anode rod on your water heater-it’s usually on top of the tank-and use a wrench to remove it. Pour up to three gallons of vinegar into the opening. Reinsert the anode rod, and turn on the cold water supply line again to refill the tank. Let the solution sit for a minimum of 6 hours, and then drain the tank. Refill and drain the tank at least once to wash away any vinegar residue.

Getting rid of sediment buildup is pretty easy. However, if you’re not comfortable performing this bit of maintenance or you feel the sediment has damaged your water heater in some way, give us a call. We’ll be more than happy to take care of this issue for you.

Posted in: Plumbing

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