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I installed a Rheem 75 gallon propane ( LPG ) gas water heater for new home construction in Lincoln. Rust in your hot water is a common occurrence. Nearly all hot water tanks are made out of steel, and everyone knows that if you allow water to stay in contact with steel long enough, steel will rust.
The first problem with sediment on the bottom of your hot water tank is that it will act as an insulating barrier between the flame and the water, meaning you’ll burn way more gas (and spend way more money) every day to heat the water in your tank. However, most people never realize they’ve got a thick layer of rusty sediment sitting at the bottom of their water heater until it builds up high enough to touch, or get close to touching, the end of the dip tube (shown in blue in the above image) where cold water comes into the tank and sends rusty particulate swirling around the tank, where it gets sucked into the hot water tube at the top of the tank (shown in red above), which causes rusty water to come out of your faucet or shower head. If that happens, or if you want to prevent it from happening, you need to flush your water heater.
As a preventative maintenance step, you should flush your water heater at least once a year, or even every six months. Connect a standard hose to the drain valve at the bottom of your hot water tank. You can use your garden hose, but I recommend buying a shorter hose from a home improvement store just for this purpose, and then storing it in the same room as the water tank. If you have a recirculating pump for your hot water line, turn it off, and close the valve that feeds back into the water tank. Turn on (all the way) the hot water tap at a sink that’s closest to your tank and leave it open.
Once the tank is mostly drained (you can tell when the drain hose has just a trickle of water), turn the cold water valve back on while leaving the drain valve open. Let the cold water refill your tank for a couple of minutes, then shut off the cold water valve again and open the drain tube. After at least 3-4 flushing cycles, close the drain valve, remove the hose, and make sure your cold water valve at the top of the tank is open, allowing the tank to fill completely.
Turn the temperature setting on your gas valve back to your normal setting, and re-enable your recirculating pump and valve (if you have one). When the hot water faucet you opened in step 6 starts flowing normally again, you can turn it off. Anode rods are relatively cheap. I buy them for around $25 online or at plumbing supply stores, which is way cheaper than prematurely replacing your water heater. From time to time, you should inspect your anode to see how corroded it is, and whether or not it needs to be replaced. If you have a standalone anode in your hot water tank (like we do at our Seattle house), you should be able to see the hexagonal head on top of the tank (unless it’s under some sort of access cover). With either type of anode, once you’ve got it free, pull it up out of the tank and and inspect it. If it needs to be replaced, take the old anode with you to a plumbing supply or hardware store so you can get the right size replacement, or measure it and order one online.
When installing an anode, I recommend using plumber’s teflon tape to help ensure a tight seal, prevent rust, and make removing for inspection every six months far easier. In most cases, the magnesium anode rods are preferable over the aluminum ones, as they will last longer than aluminum ones. If you have extremely hard water, aluminum anode rods are often your best choice. Magnesium anode will only last 1 or 2 years  against really hard water. You can experiment with the different types over a few years to see which metal work best for you. OK, so maybe you’re not quite ready to hang out with Mario and Luigi professionally just yet, but just knowing that your water heater has a user-replaceable anode is more than most people.
Oh, and if you ever need a 300lb Icelandic power-lifter black belt to remove a rusted anode, sing a Viking ballad, or scare the women and children in your village, I know one that makes house calls.


Thanks for the excellent post Steve, one of the MANY things I am sure I am supposed to be doing to take care of my homes that I have never even heard of! ROck-on, thanks for the tip, always looking for an excuse to buy a new tool, and anything to save time is worth every penny! If you are consistent with flushing, (every six months), it is not necessary to turn off the water supply, and you only need to flush for ten to fifteen seconds.
We had been getting alarms on the intelivent controller for our HWT (2006 new) so after scouring for info we came to the conclusion that the corrosion anode needed changing. The anode itself was partially corroded away but not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Filled the tank back up and now waiting on heater to finish heating water, then we play the waiting game to see if the alarm comes back up. I love coming to a blog like this and getting perfeclty detailed instructions like you have provided. About Steve Steve Jenkins is an Internet entrepreneur, tech CEO, all-around geek, speaker, consultant, martial arts black belt, PADI rescue diver, obstacle course racer, and self-proclaimed technology Jedi and business samurai who is passionate about anything that has blinking lights, a throttle, a trigger, or a Swiss movement. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
Mechanism cutting off the flow of electric current when the temperature of the water exceeds a set value. Device that senses changes in temperature and automatically switches the upper heating element on or off.
Most water heaters are coated on the inside with a layer of porcelain enamel to help slow down the corrosion, but even that interior lining will eventually wear down and allow the steel to corrode. Repeat steps 7 and 8 a few times, filling and draining, until the water coming out of your drain hose is clear.
You should also go to every hot water fixture in the house and turn them on for a few seconds to allow all the air in the hot water lines to blow out. We already discussed the fact that most hot water tanks are made out of steel, and that the basic chemical formula of steel plus water equals rust.
A great time to remove your anode for inspection is while you’re flushing your water heater. The manufacture date shown on the side of my water heater was 1996, and I didn’t even realize my water heater had an anode until 2012, so I had to go to extreme measures to remove mine, like spraying it with anti-seize bolt loosener (available at most auto parts stores) and asking my 300lb Icelandic power-lifter and black belt karate buddy Axel Adalsteinsson to supply the muscle with a cheater bar.
With the tank partially drained and the cold water valve off, use one wrench to hold the anode in place while you loosen the hot water line with the other wrench.
They’re slightly more expensive than magnesium or aluminum rods, but are worth the upgrade come replacement time if your hot water smells like rotten eggs. I didn’t include this in the main article, but if you really want to speed up the draining steps (which is usually what takes the longest) you can use a small pump that uses garden hose hookups. I had to flush the system numerous times before the water coming out at the other end came out clean.
After numerous flushes, the water seemed clean, but it appears to have the same rusty color in my hot water when i fill up the tub. You can purchase test strips from most home improvement stores, and test to see if it shows positive for lots of sulfur. He enjoys listening to others' opinions before politely pointing out that they're completely wrong. As the steel corrodes, it flakes off and settles at the bottom of your hot water tank, and then eventually breaks down further into fine particles of rusty sediment.


If you have a drain in the floor of the room where your hot water tank lives, that’s the ideal spot to put the hose. You should hear water draining from the tank and down the drain, or outside, or into the bathtub, or wherever else you put the other end of the hose. So, in many water heaters, a long metal stick made of aluminum, or magnesium, or zinc, or some combination of those metals, is inserted from the top of the water heater down into the tank.
Make sure the cold water valve is turned off, and that at least some of the water is drained from your tank so that water doesn’t spill out the top of your tank when the anode is removed.
You might also consider using an impact wrench if you don’t have an Icelandic buddy handy.
Once the hot water line is removed (have a towel handy, it will drain a bit), gently grip the non-threaded portion of the exposed collar and turn counter-clockwise to loosen where the anode is threaded into the tank. I keep a spare anode next to each water heater, so that when I inspect the old one and discover it’s time to replace it, I can install the spare right away, then purchase a new spare later.
However, I still recommend plenty of Teflon tape, because the threads of the anode don’t need to touch the tank in order for it to work properly. It’s possible that there is a rusty spot on the interior wall of your tank (which would be bad), or it might also mean that there is an iron fitting somewhere inline to your tub. The previous owner mentionned that he acquired that tank in 2007, but who says that the owner before him actually wasn’t renting that tank until he acquired it, meaning paid the remaining balance in 2007.
That rod is a sacrificial anode, and it works using a chemical reaction called electrolysis, allowing the anode to corrode (on purpose) instead of the steel inside the tank. But if it’s been a while and icky stuff is coming from your tank, best to do the full Monty. In fact, most anode mounting threads (on the female side) will have a plastic insulator between them and the tank, meaning even without any tape, the male threads of the anode still wouldn’t be making contact with the sides of the tank! Never managed to unscrew the anode though and I don’t have a 300 lbs icelandic friend to do the job! There must be a spot on the tank where one can actually find out when the tank was constructed, right? If you take care of it (including flushing), you’ll get many more years of life from it. But take comfort in knowing you’re fixing it now, and will never let it get that bad again.
The problem I have still is that the water is still somewhat rusty in colour and I was hoping that the remaining sediments, that is probably still in the water, would fall to the bottom eventually.
I was hoping after I flushed the tank that the rusty color cause by the suspended sediments would settle after a while, but that was two weeks ago.
If it stays yellow, even after a long while, that’s probably sulfur in the water source. And because aluminum, magnesium, and zinc are all less noble than steel, they make great anodes. Does it take a while after you have flushed the system for the the water to completely clear out?
There are services online where you can send a water sample and they do a full analysis for safety and content.



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