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How To Flush a Water Heater

a water heater

Hot water at home is a luxury. There’s no better feeling than having a steaming hot shower after a long day. But, did you know you have to take care of your water heater to keep enjoying the comfort and relaxation that hot water brings?

Water heaters are one of the most overlooked appliances for many homeowners. Homeowners often tend to forget to clean them. If you haven’t given yours any TLC in a while, here’s a guide on how to flush a water heater. With regular upkeep, you can keep it running smoothly for years.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Flushing Your Water Heater

If you haven’t flushed your water heater in a long time, or have never done it, expect a lot of sediment buildup. To prevent any long-term damage and keep your water heater running efficiently, experts recommend cleaning it or getting it cleaned by a professional at least once a year. First, you’ll want to gather the supplies you’ll need. Here’s what you’ll need and how to go about the process:

  • Bucket
  • Garden Hose
  • Channel locks
  • Towel
  • Flashlight

Step 1: Turn Off the Power Supply

Water heaters run on either electricity or gas to heat large amounts of water. Turn off the water heater’s power source before flushing it out to prevent damaging it. If you have a gas water heater, look for the thermostat on the unit’s body. It’s usually near the gas pipe and has a red knob. Make note of the current temperature, then turn it to “Pilot,” which is the lowest possible setting.

For those with an electric water heater, use the breaker or fuse box to cut off the power supply. If you have a breaker, locate the water heater’s branch breaker and turn it off. But if you don’t know which one it is, you’ll have to use the main switch and turn off the power in your home. If you have a fuse box, find the fuse for the water heater and remove it. Again, you will have to cut the power in your home if you don’t know which fuse is which. Have a flashlight ready if you turn off the power supply in the house.

Whether you use a gas or electric water heater, switch off its power source the night before. That way, you ensure you won’t burn yourself during the cleaning process. You can also use the water for other things, like watering the plants, instead of just pouring it down the drain.

Step 2: Drain the Hot Water and Turn Off the Water Supply

If you don’t have time to let the hot water cool down overnight, turn on the faucet and let the water run until it becomes cold. That will replace the hot water in the tank with cold water. However, it is not the best technique because it involves wasting water. Only do this if you are in a rush. You can skip this step altogether, but there is a higher risk of getting burned with hot water.

After draining the hot water, you can turn off the water supply valve. You’ll usually find it at the top of the water tank where the supply pipe enters the unit. Most models have a blue valve. If you have a gas-powered water tank, you don’t have to shut off the gas supply valve. Put the thermostat on the lowest setting to prevent the unit from heating the water.

Step 3: Find the Drain Valve and Attach a Garden Hose

Find the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater unit and connect it to a garden hose using channel locks. The drain valve should look like the typical hose bib on the exterior of houses, but it might be plastic and not metal. After attaching the garden hose to the drain valve, lead the other end to an area where it is safe to drain water. Find a spot that can withstand pressure, heat and high volumes of water.

Use a towel to wrap the connection between the drain valve and the garden hose. That will keep you and your clothes from getting wet. In addition, open a faucet to relieve any internal pressure inside the tank that may be trapping water inside the tank. Leave it open for the entire flushing process.

Step 4: Open the Drain Valve and Drain the Tank

Once the connection between the drain valve and garden hose is secure, open the drain valve and let the water in the tank flow out. You can also open the pressure-relief valve to help improve water drainage. Place a bucket below the discharge pipe to prevent water from going everywhere. Do these steps carefully if you didn’t let the water cool the night before. Protect yourself with gloves and a face shield.

If you have an old water heater unit, the drain pipe might be faulty and hard to open. Don’t exert too much force because it might break and cause a bigger problem. It is best to leave this issue to a professional plumber. They have the necessary tools and expertise to deal with it safely.

Step 5: Check the Water for Sediments

The goal of flushing the water heater is to eliminate any dirt and sediments that may have accumulated over time. Let the tank drain for 15 to 20 minutes, then get a bucket and let it fill with water. Let the water rest for a minute, then check to see if it’s clear. If you can still see particles at the bottom of the bucket, drain the tank for another 10 minutes. Keep repeating these steps until the water is clean.

Step 6: Wrap Things Up

Once you are satisfied with the results, you can close the drain valve and detach the garden hose. Keep the hose pointing upwards until you’re outside to keep water from spilling all over the house. Keep the pressure relief valve and faucet open to let trapped air escape.

Turn the water supply valve back on and let the tank refill with water. You can turn the electricity back on or return the thermostat to its original temperature setting. The last step is to close the pressure relief valve and faucet. After the entire flushing process, wait 30 minutes before checking the water temperature.

If you encounter any problems during these steps, don’t hesitate to contact a professional plumber. They will assess the damages and risks and recommend the best solution. If the flushing process sounds too complicated, you can leave it to the pros entirely.

a bathroom in a home

How Often to Flush Water Heater

Proper water heater maintenance involves flushing it at least once a year. But if your area has hard water, consider cleaning it out twice a year. The minerals in hard water can speed up the sediment buildup in the tank and cause severe damage. The particles can hamper your water unit’s efficiency, block the drain and pressure relief valves and erode the parts inside.

In extreme cases, your water heater may start leaking. Another sign it’s time to flush your water heater is when your water temperature is no longer consistent. Strange sounds, like your water heater making a popping noise, and smells are other red flags you shouldn’t ignore. The best way to prolong your water heater’s life is to let a professional plumber clean and check it regularly.

a plumber checking a water heater

Common Water Heater Problems 

Water heaters are supposed to make life at home more comfortable. But sometimes, they can cause us trouble and unnecessary stress. Here are the most common water heater problems homeowners face.

Cold or Lukewarm Water

The most frustrating water heater issue is when it doesn’t give you hot water. Instead, you have to shower with lukewarm or cold water. Solving this issue might be as simple as correcting your thermostat’s settings. It can also help to reset your water heater and check the breaker box. But if these fixes don’t work and your water heater is not working, it’s time to hand things over to a professional plumber to diagnose the problem.

Smelly Water

If you turn on the shower and the water smells like rotten eggs or some other foul odor, it might be your water heater’s fault. To confirm your suspicions, only turn on the cold water. If the smell disappears, then your water heater is to blame. There might be standing water in the tank that’s causing bacteria buildup. A professional plumber will know how to disinfect the tank.

Leaking Unit

A water heater leaking can either be a big or small problem. If you’re lucky, the drain valve is just loose. The leaking will stop if you tighten it. But if that doesn’t solve the issue, you might be dealing with a damaged drain valve. In that case, you must let a professional plumber take over.

The Bottom Line

Knowing how to flush a water heater is a helpful skill for homeowners. However, it is a long and arduous process. Instead, contact a professional plumber who can do everything from start to finish. The pros will come to your home at your convenience and address all your plumbing concerns. By the end of it, your water heater will be in tip-top shape again.

ABC Can Help With All Your Water Heater Service Needs

Water heater problems can cause large disruptions in your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing issues, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals will efficiently fix any water heater issues you may be having.

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