How to Remove Sediments from a Water Heater and Boost Performance

Are you tired of lukewarm showers and reduced water flow from your trusty water heater? Sediments could be the sneaky culprits behind your plumbing woes. But fear not!

In this comprehensive guide on how to remove sediments from a water heater, we’ll equip you with the DIY know-how and simple tools necessary to restore your water heater’s functionality without the need for professional repair.

By following our step-by-step process, you’ll save time, money, and potential headaches, all while enjoying the benefits of a clean and efficient water heater.

Check out the tools to remove the sediments from a water heater
photo: pixabay

Sediments in a Water Heater and What You Can Do About It

What Are the Sediments?

Water heater sediments refer to mineral deposits or solid particles that accumulate and settle in the storage tank of a water heater. These sediments can include various substances such as sand, particles from the water source (e.g., well water or municipal water supply), limescale buildup, and rust.

Over time, these sediments can accumulate at the bottom of the tank, on the heating elements, and on other internal surfaces of the water heater.

The presence of sediments is influenced by factors such as water hardness, water type, and the effectiveness of the water heater’s self-cleaning mechanisms. Sediments can impede the performance and efficiency of the water heater and may require periodic cleaning or maintenance to ensure optimal operation.

What Causes Sediment Buildup in a Water Heater?

There are several causes of water heater sediments:

  • Minerals in the water: Many water sources contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. These minerals can precipitate out of the water and form sediment in the water heater over time.
  • Hard water: Hard water refers to water that has a high mineral content, particularly calcium and magnesium. When hard water is heated, the minerals can form scale and sediment in the water heater.
  • Water source: The source of water can contribute to sediment buildup. Well water, for example, may contain sand, sediment, or other particulate matter that can settle in the water heater.
  • Aging tank: As water heaters age, they can become more susceptible to sediment accumulation. Over time, the tank may develop cracks, rust, or corrosion, providing surfaces for sediment to adhere to.
  • Lack of maintenance: Regular maintenance, such as flushing the tank and cleaning the heating elements, is essential for preventing sediment buildup. Neglecting maintenance can lead to increased sediment accumulation.
  • Inadequate self-cleaning mechanisms: Some water heaters have self-cleaning mechanisms designed to reduce sediment buildup. However, if these mechanisms are not functioning properly or are absent, sediment accumulation can occur more rapidly.
  • Anode rod degradationAnode rods are sacrificial rods inside the water heater that help protect the tank from corrosion. When anode rods degrade or become depleted, corrosion can occur, leading to sediment formation.

Signs of Water Heater Sediments (With Problems)

The accumulation of sediments in plumbing and water heaters can have various detrimental effects. In order to avoid the dangerous situation, homeowners should be aware of the signs of sediment buildup. These signs of water heater sediments can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Discolored or cloudy water: Sediments can cause the water to appear rusty, muddy, or discolored. If you notice brown, yellow, or reddish water when you turn on the hot water tap, it may indicate the presence of sediments in the tank.
  • Reduced hot water flow or pressure: Sediments can accumulate in the bottom of the water heater tank and also cause clogs in valves, and faucets, restricting the flow of water. This can lead to decreased hot water pressure or a noticeable decrease in the amount of hot water available during usage.
  • Strange noises or rumbling sounds: Sediments at the bottom of the tank can cause water to be trapped and create pockets of air. As the water heater heats up, these air pockets can produce popping, cracking, or rumbling sounds, indicating sediment buildup.
  • Fluctuating or inconsistent water temperature: Sediments can act as an insulating layer at the bottom of the tank, preventing efficient heat transfer. This can result in fluctuating water temperatures, where the hot water may suddenly turn cold or vice versa during usage.
  • Longer heating times: Sediments can create a barrier between the heating element or gas burner and the water, causing the water heater to take longer to heat up. If you notice a significant increase in the time it takes for your water to reach the desired temperature, sediment accumulation might be the cause.
  • Increased energy consumption: Sediments act as an insulating layer that forces the water heater to work harder to heat the water. This increased workload leads to higher energy consumption, which can be reflected in higher utility bills.

Please note that common complaints from users regarding water heater issues include: lack of hot water, insufficient hot water, fluctuating water temperature, and the presence of popping, rumbling, or sizzling noises.

Also note that popping or sizzling noises occur when water is trapped under the limescale near the heating elements. Even if the noise disappears due to changes in the water scale structure, it doesn’t mean that tank flushing is unnecessary. It is essential to be aware that the tank or heating elements can still fail.

As water is heated, lime buildup intensifies, particularly with higher temperatures, increased water hardness, extensive usage, and larger heating surfaces. Deliming, therefore, becomes a necessary operation that should be incorporated into regular maintenance and servicing routines.

In some cases, sediment problems can be significant, rendering the tank difficult or not worth cleaning. In such situations, purchasing a new electric or gas appliance may be the only viable option.

How to Remove Sediments and Limescale From a Water Heater

To ensure the optimal performance of your water heater, it’s important to address any issues promptly. If you observe any of the previously mentioned signs, it’s crucial to take appropriate action.

Deposits in the heater are often in a loose state, making them relatively easy to remove. However, delaying the maintenance process can result in the water scale hardening and making it more challenging to eliminate.

To address water heater sediment-related problems, several solutions can be implemented:

  • Flushing the water heater tank: Regularly flushing the tank helps remove accumulated sediments and debris. The flushing frequency may vary depending on the water hardness and usage, but it is generally recommended to flush the tank once or twice a year.
  • Installing a sediment trap or dirt filter: A sediment trap or dirt filter can be installed in the water supply line to catch solid particles before they reach the water heater. This helps prevent sediment buildup in the tank and protects the components of the water heater.
  • Water softening or treatment: If the water supply has a high mineral content, installing a water softener or using other water treatment methods can help reduce the formation of sediment. Water softeners remove minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are responsible for scale and sediment formation.
  • Using a delimer solution: One solution to remove sediments, including limescale, from a tank-type heater is to use a delimer solution. This solution involves dissolving the residue using substances like phosphoric acid or vinegar and flushing it out. For instance, vinegar can be poured through the opening after removing the anode rod for inspection and replacement. Allow the vinegar to sit for several hours to dissolve the limescale, and then flush it out.
  • Scraping. Another solution is to manually scrape certain elements. However, this method can be time-consuming and challenging to reach all parts, making it difficult to achieve thorough cleaning.
  • Anode rod inspection and replacement: Anode rods are sacrificial components designed to prevent corrosion in the water heater tank. Regularly inspect the anode rod and replace it if it becomes heavily corroded.
  • Professional maintenance and inspections: Schedule regular maintenance appointments with a professional plumber or water heater technician. They can inspect the water heater, identify any sediment-related problems, and perform necessary maintenance or repairs.
  • Consider a tankless water heaterTankless water heaters are less prone to sediment buildup compared to traditional tank-style heaters. However, they still require periodic maintenance and descaling to prevent issues related to mineral deposits.

It’s important to note that the best solution or combination of solutions may vary depending on the specific circumstances and type of sediment problem.

YouTube Video: How to Clean, Flush, and Drain Sediments From a Water Heater


Prevention and regular maintenance are crucial in addressing water heater issues and ensuring optimal performance and longevity. By following a few simple steps, you can prevent sediment buildup and maintain the efficiency of your water heater. This is how:

  • Turn off the electricity or gas: Before starting any maintenance procedures, ensure that the power supply to the water heater is turned off. For electric models, switch off the electricity, and for gas models, either turn off the gas valve or set it to “Pilot.”
  • Shut off the cold water supply: Locate the valve that controls the cold water supply to the water heater and turn it off. This prevents additional water from entering the tank during the maintenance process.
  • Connect a garden hose: Attach one end of a garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the water heater. Make sure the other end of the hose is positioned in a safe drain location, such as a floor drain or a sump pump pit.
  • Open the hot water tap: Open a hot water tap in a nearby sink or tub. This helps relieve pressure inside the tank and prevents vacuum buildup while draining the water heater.
  • Drain the water heater: Open the drain valve to allow the water to flow out of the tank through the garden hose. Let the water drain completely. If the drained water is not clear, indicating the presence of sediments, proceed to the next step.
  • Repeat draining if necessary: If there are still sediments inside the tank after the initial drain, half-fill the tank with cold water and drain it again. The cold water will help loosen the remaining sediments, allowing them to be flushed out.
  • Perform additional cleaning (if needed): If there are stubborn sediments or deposits inside the tank, you can use a brush or scrubbing tool to clean the interior surfaces. Be cautious and gentle to avoid damaging the tank.
  • Reassemble and refill: Once the tank is drained and cleaned, close the drain valve and disconnect the garden hose. Close the hot water tap and open the cold water supply valve to refill the tank. Ensure that all air is bled out from the tank by opening the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve and running the hot water tap until water flows continuously without sputtering.
  • Restore power or gas supply: After the tank is refilled and all air is bled out, you can restore power to the electric water heater or turn the gas valve back to its regular position for gas models.

Tools that you need to do the job:

  • Garden hose
  • Socket wrench
  • Bucket
  • Teflon tape
  • Brush for scrubbing

Note: In the case of electric water heaters, it is crucial to avoid exposing the heating element to the air when the tank is emptied of water. This exposure can lead to the element burning out over time.

Therefore, before conducting any maintenance, ensure that the power to the electric water heater is turned OFF. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the tank is filled with water before restoring power. To achieve this, bleed out any air trapped in the tank by using the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve and opening the hot water tap. The hot water tap should be left open until a continuous flow of water is observed.

By following these steps, you can safeguard the heating element from damage and ensure that the tank is properly filled with water before reactivating the power supply.

Highlights of the Problems Caused by the Sediment Buildup

  • Not enough hot water
  • Noisy operation
  • Longer heating time
  • Shortened heater’s life
  • Reduced efficiency
  • High operating costs
  • Increased energy consumption

How Do Some Water Heater Manufacturers Fix the Sediment Build-Up Problem

Below are examples of how some prominent water heater manufacturers in North America address the issues caused by sediment and limescale deposits in the tank.

DynaClean is a patented automatic cleaning system developed by AO Smith, a leading water heating company. It incorporates a specially designed dip tube that creates turbulence in the tank, effectively reducing the accumulation of sediments and lime buildup caused by hard water.

Hydrojet Total Performance System is another patented system from Bradford White. It combats mineral buildup in the tank while also extending the first-hour delivery, ensuring optimal performance.

Everkleen Self-Cleaning System is Rheem’s patented technology that uses the high-pressure spiraling stream.

All these self-cleaning systems contribute to improved operating efficiency and extend the lifespan of the tank. They help maintain high energy efficiency, maximize output, and ultimately save energy and money.

Note: It’s important to note that in most cases, the manufacturer’s warranty does not cover heater failure resulting from rust, scale, lime buildup, or deposits.


As the owner of a tank-type water heater, it is crucial not to overlook the issue of sediment buildup, even in its early stages. Although sediment buildup may not be immediately harmful in soft water, neglecting the problem over time can lead to various complications. Deposits can cause inefficiency in the system, clog valves, corrode the metal tank, and eventually result in leaks.

While there are methods available for breaking up sediment buildup and removing deposits from the tank, the easiest and safest approach is to adopt regular maintenance practices, such as draining and flushing the unit. Prevention is the key to avoiding sediment-related issues and ensuring the longevity and efficiency of your water heater.

By taking proactive measures to address sediment buildup and performing regular maintenance, you can mitigate the risks associated with sediment accumulation, maintain the optimal functioning of your water heater, and avoid costly repairs or premature replacement. Remember, prevention is the most effective strategy for preserving the performance and reliability of your water heating system.


Is Water Heater Sediment Dangerous?

Water heater sediment is not inherently dangerous, but it can lead to issues such as reduced efficiency, decreased capacity, and potential tank damage. While sediment itself may not be dangerous, addressing and preventing sediment buildup through regular maintenance is important for optimal performance and to avoid safety hazards.

Can I Vacuum Sediment Out of the Water Heater?

No, vacuuming sediment out of a water heater is not recommended. Sediment tends to settle at the bottom of the tank, and using a vacuum to remove it can potentially damage the tank or disrupt the sediment layer, leading to clogs or other issues. The most effective method to address sediment buildup is by flushing and draining the water heater following proper maintenance procedures.

What Causes Black Sediments in Water Heaters?

Black sediments in a water heater can be caused by factors such as corroded anode rods, mineral buildup (manganese or iron), bacterial growth, or decomposing organic matter. The exact cause may vary depending on specific circumstances and water quality.

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