Electric Water Heater Maintenance: DIY Cleaning Tips and How Tos

An electric water heater is an essential home appliance that provides hot water for various household activities such as bathing, cooking, and cleaning. However, like any other appliance, electric water heater maintenance is essential for ensuring efficient and cost-effective water heating, as well as avoiding potential safety hazards and prolonging the lifespan of the unit.

Neglecting your electric water heater can lead to various issues such as sediment buildup, stinky water, and noisy operation, which can eventually result in costly repairs or replacements.

Electric water heater
photo: hotwatertalk.com

In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to maintain your electric water heater to prevent such problems. You’ll learn about the importance of regular cleaning and tune-ups, as well as some DIY tips and tricks to keep your unit running smoothly and efficiently.

So, whether you’re a new homeowner or have been using an electric water heater for years, read on to learn how to keep it in top condition.

Compared to its gas counterpart, an electric water heater has a simpler and less complicated design, making it easier to maintain. While basic maintenance tasks can be done by homeowners who are DIY enthusiasts, more complicated tasks, especially those involving electrical work, should be left to licensed contractors.

If you don’t want to read this step-by-step guide and prefer to have someone else handle the maintenance, you can contact a plumber.

Electric Water Heater Maintenance: Checklist

To ensure proper electric water heater maintenance, you should regularly check the following:

  • Storage tank
  • Heating elements
  • Thermostats
  • Temperature and pressure relief valve – TPR
  • Anode rod
  • Dip tube
  • Drain valve

Before performing any maintenance on your electric water heater, we highly recommend that you carefully read the manufacturer’s manual. It’s also best to prepare all the necessary tools a day before the scheduled maintenance to ensure you have everything you need. This can help you perform the maintenance more efficiently and effectively.

Required Tools

  1. Adjustable wrench
  2. Multi-meter
  3. Screwdriver
  4. Shop-vac
  5. Sandpaper
  6. Brush 
  7. Bucket 
  8. Garden hose
  9. Teflon tape

Basics – Visual Inspection

The first step in maintaining your electric water heater is to perform a visual inspection. This involves checking for any leaks, corrosion, obstructions, deformations, and other unusual conditions. Leaks, for example, are often caused by a rusty storage tank or loose connections, resulting in a water puddle at the base of the unit. By performing a visual inspection regularly, you can identify any issues early on and prevent them from becoming more serious problems.

How to Maintain an Electric Water Heater: Draining and Flushing Tips

One of the significant issues with tank-type electric water heaters is the buildup of mineral sediments, dirt, and deposits at the bottom of the tank. This problem is mainly caused by hard water, affecting the heater’s efficiency, hot water output, and durability. Hard water and similar issues are often related to home plumbing systems connected to well water.

To prevent sediment buildup in the heating system, you could consider installing a water softener, although this has its pros and cons. Alternatively, regular electric water heater maintenance can be adequate if done correctly and frequently.

Experts suggest draining 1-2 gallons of water from the tank every month to clean it from dirt. Draining is a simple operation that helps the heating system run smoothly.

  • The drain valve is typically located at the bottom of the electric water heater. Before beginning any maintenance, it’s important to turn off the water supply using the shut-off valve and turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker.
  • You will need a garden hose, a bucket, and gloves (if the water is still hot). Connect one end of the hose to the drain valve and the other to a floor drain or an outdoor area. Then, open the valve to release the water from the electric heater.
  • To ensure smooth draining of water, open the pressure relief valve to allow air into the tank. Alternatively, you can open a nearby hot water faucet.
  • It’s normal to see dirty, brownish water when draining the tank. This is due to the minerals and sediments that have accumulated inside.
  • Depending on the size of the storage tank, it may take several hours for the tank to completely drain.
  • To flush out any remaining sediments, turn on the cold water to the tank and turn off the hot tap. When the drained water runs clear, the process is complete.
  • To refill the tank, close the pressure relief valve and drain valve and open the main water valve to allow water to flow into the tank. The tank must be completely full of water before turning the power back on.

For more detailed instructions, refer to articles about draining and flushing your electric water heater.

How to Clean Heating Elements

Draining and flushing will not only remove the scale buildup from the heating elements but also improve the energy transfer, resulting in almost the same efficiency as that of new elements. Moreover, draining and cleaning will eliminate the hissing or singing sound that occurs when the heating elements are covered with limescale.

Alternatively, you can follow this guide to remove the heating elements and use a solution of vinegar and water to clean the scale buildup.

How to Test a Water Heater Thermostat

Use a multimeter to test the thermostats to ensure they are functioning correctly. Larger water heaters have two thermostats, while smaller ones with a capacity of fewer than 30 gallons have only one. It is important to test both thermostats. The goal is to check if power is reaching the elements and to tighten any loose wires. Refer to an article about thermostats to learn more about installation, testing, and replacement.

Check the settings on the thermostat and ensure it is within the range of 120-125 F, which is the factory setting to prevent scalding burns and reduce high energy bills. If the water heater is older, consider putting an insulation blanket around the tank to reduce energy loss.

Anode Rod Maintenance

An anode rod protects the water heater from corrosion. It is known as the sacrificial rod for a reason. It sacrifices itself by deteriorating so that the metal tank is protected from aggressive water action. It is made of steel and coated with a magnesium or aluminum-zinc compound, making it softer to be used up before the metal tank.

An anode rod can last an average of 5 years, sometimes longer depending on water quality and usage. If not regularly maintained and replaced when needed, the lifetime of a water heater can be shortened.

As part of regular unit maintenance, checking the anode’s operating status can make a difference in the unit’s condition and performance. Also, when replacing the old rod, proper selection can make a difference between having a rotten egg smell or no odor.

The anode rod is installed on top of the heater and submerged into the water and can be easily removed for checking using the correct tool, such as a wrench or 1 1/16 socket.

Before removing the rod, turn off the power on the circuit breaker and shut off the water on the main valve. Drain a few gallons of hot water through the drain valve before removing the rod.

Inspect the rod, and if more than 6″ of the core wire is exposed on either side of the anode, replace it. Refer to an article that explains how to replace an anode rod and get more information.

Some manufacturers recommend frequent inspection of at least once a year, but it depends on water quality, such as hardness and water softener usage.

How to Check a Water Heater Dip Tube

Proper electric water heater maintenance also includes checking the dip tube.

The dip tube, also known as the cold water inlet, brings cold water into the water tank heater. Cheaper heaters often have low-quality dip tubes, while more advanced models have better dip tubes that can last longer and help reduce scale buildup inside the tank.

As the water heater ages, the dip tube, like other elements, can lose its functionality and may break, crack, or split. When this happens, instead of bringing cold water to the bottom of the tank, the deformed tube delivers it to the top of the heater, where it mixes with the hot water, resulting in less hot water and colder showers.

Additionally, the brittle element can break into small pieces, leaving white fragments that can clog the fixture aerators and other elements, reducing the efficiency and performance of the unit.

Therefore, it is important to inspect the dip tube at least once a year or when experiencing problems such as those described above.

Removing the dip tube for testing or replacement is easy; just follow the instructions.

How to Test a TPR Valve

TPR valve (photo: wikimedia.org)

Electric water heater maintenance is crucial to ensure that the temperature and pressure relief valve  (TPR valve) is working correctly because it is a safety element that protects the unit from extreme pressure development. Repairing the TPR valve is not recommended; it should be replaced.

The TPR valve should be tested at least once every six months or more often if there is a reason, such as scale buildup due to hard water or well water supply.

If water is dripping from the TPR valve and cannot be closed properly, it should be replaced immediately.

If the TPR valve fails, the pressure inside the tank can build up so high that it will cause damage to the unit, rupture, or even explosion.

To test the TPR valve:

  • Shut off the electricity.
  • Turn off the cold water supply to your electrical heater.
  • Put a bucket under the drain tube connected to the pressure release valve.
  • Lift the lever on the pressure release valve for a few seconds. If there is no vapor, air, or water coming out, or it doesn’t shut off, you have to replace it. Be careful as the vapor/water coming out is hot. Test the lever several times to ensure that there is no debris that could prevent the valve from closing.
  • Replacing the pressure release valve can be combined with the above step when the tank is empty and before you flush the heater.
  • To unscrew the TPR valve use the pipe wrench.

What to Do When on Vacation

If the heater remains idle for a while (you are on vacation or absent for some time, for example), the electrical power and water should be turned off. A water heater should never be left empty.

Proper electric water heater maintenance is essential for efficient and economical water heating. It is not as difficult as maintaining the gas unit, but it still takes a few hours. Maintenance becomes simpler with the listed and explained procedures, as seen in the above text, resulting in plenty of hot water and less problems and fewer complaints.

Similar Posts