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I Have Rusty Hot Water: What’s Wrong?

a water heater

Imagine coming home after a long day and hopping in the shower. You turn on the water, expecting a comforting warmth to envelope you. But instead, rusty hot water splashes down and covers you from head to toe. No, your house probably isn’t haunted. But, you most likely have a plumbing issue that needs immediate attention.

Before you worry too much, it’s a common problem that many other homeowners experience. You can troubleshoot it yourself if you’re confident in your DIY skills. But it’s best to let a professional plumber take over if you want to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

What to Do When You Have Rusty Hot Water at Home

It’s concerning when rusty hot water gushes out of your shower or faucet. It looks and smells terrible. The good news is it’s likely not health-threatening. The worst it can do is stain your dishes and laundry. But, that doesn’t mean you should live with it. If you’re dealing with this issue, here are its most common causes and how to troubleshoot them.


Corrosion is a likely culprit if you have rusty hot water at home. Water tanks are metal on the inside, and they can get rusty after years of exposure to water. Older water tanks are especially prone to this issue.

If your water tank has rust on the outside, you can assume its inside is corroding. It’s never normal for water heaters to develop rust spots on their exterior. That can only mean there’s damage to the interior and the water is leaking. Unfortunately for homeowners, swapping your old water tank for a new one is the only solution.

The pipes in your home can corrode, too. And when that happens, the rust can seep into your water supply, explaining the odd color. Corroded pipes require immediate cleaning or replacement before they cause a more severe problem.


Bacteria might be to blame if your water at home has an undesirable rusty tinge. Most water tanks and plumbing lines contain iron-reducing bacteria. That bacteria can accelerate corrosion if there’s insufficient movement or oxygen in the water.

You can enjoy crystal clear water again by shocking your water system. That will kill the iron-reducing bacteria that’s discoloring your water. Flushing out the system is another solution you can explore. However, it’s time to replace your water tank if the corrosion is severe.

Sediment Buildup

Water from wells carries various kinds of sediment, including sand, clay and mud. That could explain why you have unsightly rust-colored water at home. You might experience a similar problem if you have a newly built house. Dirt and other sediments can enter the pipelines and lend a rusty tinge to the water.

That’s why homeowners should schedule regular water heater maintenance. Your plumber will remove any sediment buildup so you can enjoy clean water while you bathe or wash the dishes.

Malfunctioning Anode Rod

The anode rod plays a crucial role inside the water heater. It attracts corrosive particles to prevent them from damaging the metal tank. But, this component doesn’t last forever. A malfunctioning anode rod will cause the corrosion to speed up, resulting in unpleasant rusty water.

You can only expect your water heater’s anode rod to work efficiently for around five years. It might be time to get a new one if it’s any older than that. Replacing this part and flushing out the tank will restore the clarity of your water. It will also help your water heater last longer.

Rusty hot water is a nasty problem to have. But it doesn’t have to be the norm in your home. Scheduling regular maintenance with a professional plumber will help you avoid this unpleasant situation. The plumber will perform the necessary repairs and replacements to slow corrosion and keep your water heater in good shape.

a home's bathroom

What Happens If You Do Not Flush Your Water Heater?

Water heaters make our lives much more comfortable. Without them, showers would be more shocking than relaxing, especially in the winter. But as with any appliance, they need maintenance to work their best. The usual cause of water heater issues is the lack of regular maintenance and forgetting to flush it out.

So, what happens if you don’t flush your water heater? Sediment buildup is the most impactful consequence. The water that comes into our homes contains different minerals, with some areas having higher concentrations of minerals than others. These particles will sink and collect at the bottom of your water heater tank. As they accumulate over time, your unit will show more problems.

Sediment buildup speeds up corrosion, shortening your water heater’s lifespan. It also blocks the unit’s pressure and relief valves. That means dealing with annoying leaks and other complications. These issues make for a less efficient water heater, costing you more in the long run. Unfortunately, that’s not all.

As the particles increase, they’ll take up more room, leaving less space for water inside the tank. Sediment buildup can also damage your entire plumbing system if it’s left unaddressed. You can avoid all that trouble by hiring a professional plumber to flush out your water heater at least once a year. The plumber will clean out all the gunk and restore your unit to its original efficiency. The water will heat up faster, leading to lower utility bills.

a technician working on a water heater

How to Get Sediment Out of a Water Heater

Homeowners spend a lot on appliances, including the water heater. It’s disheartening when something breaks down before you can get your money’s worth.

Sediment buildup can lead to all sorts of water heater problems. It can cause the temperature to fluctuate and the water heater to make rumbling noises. The water might not even heat up at all. A professional plumber can help prevent these issues. They know various effective methods to remove the sediment buildup in your water tank, including the following.


Flushing is the best solution to sediment buildup. The plumber will start by shutting off your unit’s gas or electricity so they can work safely. Next, they’ll turn off the cold water valve to keep water from refilling the tank. A nearby hot water faucet will be turned on to prevent a vacuum from forming in the pipes.

After the prep work, the plumber will attach a hose to the drainage valve and let the hot water and sediments drain into a safe area. They’ll finish by reopening the cold water valve to flush out the tank. Your water should run clear after the treatment.

Temperature Check

If your water contains calcium and magnesium, it leaves behind this chalk-like substance called scale inside your water heater. Eventually, scale buildup can cause your unit to malfunction. This problem worsens when your thermostat setting is too high. That’s because the hotter the water, the more minerals it leaves behind when it evaporates.

If you’re having issues with your thermostat, let a professional plumber figure it out. They’ll adjust it to the ideal setting to keep scale buildup to a minimum. The plumber can also install a new one for you if it’s time for a replacement.

Vinegar Soak

Vinegar is more than just a cooking ingredient. Its uses go beyond the kitchen, powerful enough to remove hard water stains on appliances. Your plumber can use the vinegar soak method to clean up any buildup that’s hampering your water heater’s performance. Because vinegar is acidic, the scale doesn’t stand a chance.

After draining your unit, the plumber will close the drain valve and pour vinegar inside the water tank. The vinegar will stay for a few hours to do its magic. After the plumber drains the vinegar, you’ll have a squeaky clean water heater.

Water Softener Installation

The truth is sediment prevention is a lot of work, especially if the water in your area has a high level of minerals. If you want a long-term solution to this problem, installing a water softener system is the way to go. It’s quite an investment, but it will preserve your water heater’s life and help it perform at its best. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Water softeners work by filtering out the calcium and magnesium in your water and swapping it out for sodium ions. The result is significantly less sediment and scale buildup. Installing this device requires extensive plumbing knowledge, so let a pro handle it.

Dealing With Rusty Hot Water? Turn to the Professionals for Help

There are ways to have clean and clear water running through your home again. The best solution is to seek professional help.

A professional plumber will assess the situation and identify the cause. It might be corrosion inside the water heater, bacteria or sediment buildup that’s turning your water ugly brown. Whatever it is, you’ll get an effective solution. In addition, you can let your plumber do regular maintenance checks on your water heater to prevent recurring issues.

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, like the water heater leaking from the relief valve.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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