Water Heater Repair: Remedies for Sediment and Bad-Smelling Hot Water
Sediment and foul odors in your hot water may be a sign of problems with the water heater. Fortunately, there are relatively simple solutions to many water heater problems.
How to Remove Sediment
Flush the water-heater tank at least once a year to remove sediment buildup, help lengthen the life of your heater and improve energy efficiency. This can help remove particulates in your water. It also helps with chlorination and other remedies explained below, because built-up sediment can protect bacteria from chlorine.
First, turn off the breaker to an electric water heater or turn the gas valve knob to the “pilot” position on a gas heater.
Connect a garden hose to the drain at the bottom of the tank, open the valve and flush for about five minutes. Then shut off the cold-water intake and open the hot water faucets to let air in the line and fully drain the system. For further flushing instructions regarding your specific model, check your owners’ manual or manufacturer’s website, or ask a reliable plumber.
Drain the other end of the hose onto a light-colored patio or other area that won’t be damaged by the hot water but will allow you to see the water draining. If you keep seeing sediment until the tank is empty, you may want to fill and drain the tank again.
How to Treat Foul-Smelling Hot Water
Foul-smelling hot water may be caused by bacteria buildup in water heaters. There are three possible solutions to this problem — inspect and replace the magnesium anode, boil away the bacteria or chlorinate the system.
• A degraded anode tube should be replaced. Water heaters are lined with corrosion-resistant glass, but tiny cracks and holes in the glass can still rust. To prevent rust, anode tubes (typically made of magnesium) in the tank shed electrons that fill the tiny holes. However, excessive electrons can also “feed” the bacteria and generate stinky hydrogen sulfide gas. If the anode tube looks degraded, replace it. Consider replacing the manufacturer’s magnesium anode with a zinc anode, which may work better.
• You can save energy by lowering the water temperature in your heater most of the time. However, raising the temperature to 160 degrees for a few hours and flushing the system will kill most bacteria. Before trying this, make sure your heater has a pressure release valve. Also check the owners’ manual or the manufacturer’s website to confirm that this solution is recommended for your system. Finally, keep children away from this potentially scalding, overheated water.
• To combat a severe problem, you can try to use a chlorine feeder to maintain one milligram per liter in the hot water system to inhibit bacteria growth. The more typical option is to periodically disinfect and flush with a chlorine solution.
Other Water Solutions
If the hot and cold water both have sediment or foul odors and smells, it may not be a water-heater problem. Here are a couple of other possible remedies:
• If you have metallic-tasting water, brown sediment in standing water, or brown stains in tubs and toilets, you may have dissolved iron in the water. To solve the aesthetic problem, you can install a polyphosphate feeder in the cold-water line going into the water heater. This device wraps harmless polyphosphates around iron particles, keeping them from causing stains. For the taste problem, look for a high-capacity water softener designated to remove iron.
• If you have rust or black specks floating in the water, you may have oxidized iron and manganese compounds. Use a cartridge filter either on your tap or under the sink.
• Other foul odors or tastes in water may be caused by other pollutants in the water. You might want to install an activated carbon filter.
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