Water heaters are crucial components in every home, and they must be carefully cleaned and maintained to work properly. It’s recommended that your water heater be flushed every two to three years, depending on the model, to control the buildup of deposits and various debris. When flushing the water heater, you can also clean its interior, thus making it more fuel-efficient and energy-saving while providing necessary maintenance to extend it’s working life.
Here’s how to drain and clean your water heater:
Step 1 – Turn off the power to the water heater
Before you do anything, your first step is to locate the power switch on your water heater and turn it off in order to prevent any accidents.. Find the fuse box or the thermostat, if you have a gas heater. The breaker/fuse box is usually located next to the water heater, on the wall, and has a small power panel. The thermostat will feature a small, red knob which can easily be turned OFF, ON or on PILOT.
Disable the fuse which powers the water heater or set the thermostat to PILOT, for gas heaters. Depending on your electrical system in your home, the fuse may be connected to other electrical circuits. Be careful when you deactivate the fuse, as in some homes it can leave the whole house without power. If you have any trouble or if you can’t disable the power, ask a professional.
Step 2 – Turn off the cold water supply
After you turn off the electrical power supply (or the gas), you will need to turn off the cold water coming to your heater. It should be located near the main cold water intake pipe, or near the water heater itself. Rotate the water shut-off valve clockwise with your hand, or if it is stuck, with a wrench. Depending on what type of valve you have, turning off the water requires a different type of rotation.
If you have a ball valve, an easy 90-degree turn will open or close it. A gate valve however, requires more rotations to close or open. Gate valves also have a “bump” or “stop” before being closed — make sure you turn it past that stop. For gas water heaters, the gas and propane valves can be left on, but only if the heater is non-electric. Simply take a note of the temperature setting and turn the thermostat on PILOT setting.
Step 3 – Discharge the water
Open the hot water faucet and let the water pour into your sink or bathtub. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve near the heater. Direct the hose to a metallic bucket and let the water pour out. Make sure you don’t overfill the bucket. Dump the water in a safe place or store it until it gets cooler. If you use a hose, direct it to a safe place outside the home. Some people prefer to store the water and to use it later for their garden or lawn.
Don’t use it for delicate plants or flowers, as it can have dangerous sediments. Keep in mind to use high quality hoses and buckets, as the water is hot, and it can damage some materials. Drain the water slowly and allow it to cool in order to avoid skin burns and other accidents. Fill up a test bucket and see whether the water has any sediments. If it does, continue to flush the water heater until the water is clean.
You can also use various commercially available agents to clean the inside of the water heater during this step. Simply pour the cleaner into the water heater and let it sit for a while. Again, repeat this process until the water is clear.
Step 4 – Restart the water heater
Your water heater is now clean, but you will need to get it started again. Close the drain and remove the garden hose. Turn off the water faucet and close the pressure-relief valve if you opened it. Turn the cold water supply back on and fill up the tank. Reopen the pressure-relief valve to allow trapped air to escape and open the hot water tap for the same.
Power your water heater back on and give it some time to heat up before you test it. In about an hour, you should have clean, hot water again.
Armed with this knowledge, you can safeguard the life of your water heater. Always remember to take every precaution — electricity, gas, and scalding water can be harmful to you and damaging to your home.
If you aren’t comfortable with performing this kind of maintenance yourself, or if your model of water heater is particularly difficult to work with, don’t hesitate to call a professional plumber like the folks at A1 Service Plumbing in Orlando.
Flaviu Mircea is a freelance writer and family man who contributes articles and insights into the blessings and challenges of family life and home ownership.