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Sediment, The #1 Killer Of Water Heaters – Here’s How To Deal With The Threat
Bacteria problem in water heaters
Sludge can cause many problems with your water heater. Bacteria grow in it. These are not usually disease-causing bacteria, but they do oxidize and corrode the water heater lining. This is mixed with high amounts of heat and sludge can be very destructive.
Remember, if you smell sulfur or rotten eggs, you may have a bacterial problem in your water heater. Don’t be confused by a possible natural gas leak that may smell similar. Both of these are serious problems that should be corrected immediately.
Build up of sludge (scale) inside water heaters
All the water that flows into your water heater contains those natural minerals. When water is heated, the minerals come out of solution and fall to the bottom of your water heater tank. In most parts of the country, the sediment is calcium carbonate. At the gas water heater the sludge falls to the bottom of the tank and sits on the burner plate where the flame is directly below. Sludge is a barrier through which heat cannot easily pass. The glass lining on the inside of a tank-type water heater will begin to slowly disintegrate at temperatures of 160 degrees or higher. The metal on the bottom burner plate may also be deformed.
A build-up of sludge can cause a water heater to leak. Your electric water heater can suddenly release as much hot water as it was producing a few days ago. Most likely the lower heating element is covered by sediment. If you have a gas water heater and it’s noisy, you may have sludge build-up. A sulfur smell is a symptom of a sludge build-up problem.
Softening the hot water will slow down the build-up of sludge but it will shorten the life of the anode rod in your hot water heater.
If we reduce the water temperature to 130 degrees, the sludge can be reduced. Sludge can grow rapidly in heat of 140 degrees or higher, but 130 degrees still kills bacteria that can harm humans. The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease thrive at temperatures up to 115 degrees.
Here’s how to control sludge
Fill a container full of hot water at a household faucet. Make sure it’s hot. Place a meat thermometer in it. Note the temperature. Now if you have a gas water heater, you can turn the control knob on the bottom hotter or colder. The knob on it says ON OFF PILOT.
Sometimes there is a small adjustment knob in the center of the on/off pilot control. It can be used to reduce the size of the flame on the burner plate.
In an electric water heater, you can install a low-watt density element in your tank to produce a higher temperature and thus reduce sludge in your tank. Don’t worry, your water will still be just as hot because the low-watt density element is twice the size and has twice the surface area to heat the water from.
If the water pressure in your home is over 50 psi, have your water heater pressure reduced by a plumber. High pressure causes sludge to form quickly.
Chemical dissolution of sludge
You can with AO Smith’s chemical descaler called Mag-Erad. It can only be used when the gas is off and there is no water in the gas water heater. Instructions may tell you to keep the gas on while using the product. Don’t or you’ll damage the flu. You can use this product for electric water heaters, no problem, just empty the water heater first. You should have a licensed plumber install the curved dip tube and flush tee water heater.
Curved dip tube flush method of sludge removal
Most water heaters are equipped with straight dip tubes as standard. Water enters the bottom of the water heater through the cold water inlet and dip tube. The force of the water only cleans a small area at the bottom of the water heater, but the rest of the water heater’s dome-shaped bottom is covered with sludge. Draining the water heater with the drain valve will remove some of the sediment near the drain valve.
Installing a curved dip tube allows the water to circulate around the dome-shaped base of the water heater. The sediment-laden circulating water can now be flushed out of the drain valve with five minutes of full power flushing.
Installing a curved dip tube starts with turning off the water coming into your home and then removing the cold water nipple on the right side of the water heater. Insert a pair of plastic-handled tongs into the cold water inlet and open the original dip tube. Use pliers to lift the dip tube up and out of the water heater. Remove any rust that prevents you from doing this. Mark the direction of the curve in the new curved dip tube with a marker. Wrap the nipple on its threads eight times with Teflon tape and insert the new curved dip tube into the opening with the marked side pointing toward the wall but extending from the bottom of the water heater toward the drain valve.
Have a plumber install a 3/4 inch ball valve for the drain valve. It is cleaner with a larger opening compared to plastic drain valves.
Removing sludge from commercial water heaters
If you’re getting a lot of noise or a bad smell from your commercial water heater, you need to remove the built-up sludge.
Removing sludge from a commercial gas water heater will save 5% on energy bills, but not much savings with a commercial electric water heater.
If you have a commercial water heater, turn off the gas or electricity and shut off the water to the cold line as well as any recirculating systems. Next, open the T&P valve to relieve pressure in the lines and allow water to drain through the drain valve. Connect the water hose to the drain valve to drain the water. If nothing comes out, sediment is blocking the drain line. Remove the drain valve and break off the sludge with a screwdriver. Remove the rust there too. A drain pan should be placed below the open drain valve port. Continue to flush as much sediment as possible. If you want to remove all the sludge, hire a plumber for it.
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