Tips For Treating Common Hot Water Tank Troubles

Posted on: 18 February 2016

Your hot water heater should always produce water that is clean and free of any added contaminants. Unfortunately, as hot water heaters age, they can start to deteriorate, which may cause discoloration of the water and even bacteria growth. As a homeowner, it's important that you are able to recognize the signs of some of the more serious contaminations. It's equally important to understand how to deal with these problems, including when to call a plumber for help. Here's a look at some of the things you should watch out for.

Discolored Water

If you're faced with discolored hot water that's rust-colored or brown, there's a pretty good chance that your hot water heater is to blame. Many homeowners remember the older metal tank liners and assume that the discoloration is just due to rust. However, most new tank models don't have the metal liners, which means that discoloration is often caused by bacteria growth, not rust.

Some of these bacteria feed on iron, reducing the iron content in the water significantly. The higher the soluble iron in your water, the easier it is for this type of bacteria to thrive. The discoloration you see in the water is a byproduct of the bacteria feeding. When left unchecked, it can cause discoloration of the fixtures. Over time, it can even discolor your laundry.

Sulfur Odor

If you turn on the hot water faucet only to be met by a sudden odor of rotten eggs, that's a definite indication that your hot water tank has been affected by bacteria that will convert sulfates to sulfides. The odor you smell is a direct result of the sulfides coming into contact with hydrogen in the water. The combination produces hydrogen sulfide gas, which is the source of the smell. In most cases, the bacteria develops and thrives when your hot water tank sits for an extended period without use, such as over a long vacation or in a seasonal home.


No matter which of these problems you're struggling with, the solution is to disinfect the tank. Start by draining the tank to flush out whatever's in there. In some situations, you may even need to treat the tank with chlorine.

Start by turning off the gas to the tank or unplugging it if it's electric. Then, close off the incoming water supply line so that the tank cannot draw more water in. Turn on a hot water faucet or two to drain the tank of any existing hot water. Once the tank is drained, close the faucet.

Pull the anode rod from the tank, then put a funnel in the hole where the rod goes. Pour about a gallon of bleach into the tank, then put the anode rod back in place. Open the water supply line and let the tank fill. Once the tank is full, turn on all of the hot water faucets in the house. Let them run until you can smell bleach. As soon as you start to smell bleach, turn the faucets off.

Turn on the dishwasher and the washing machine and allow those to run until you smell bleach, too. That way, you get chlorine bleach in all of the water lines. Then, let that bleach sit in the water lines for an hour or two to disinfect everything. Then, close the water supply line on the tank and open a faucet to drain the hot water tank completely. Once it's drained, you can open the supply line again and fill the tank. Flush each faucet, the washing machine and the dishwasher until you don't smell any bleach anymore.

If you find that your hot water tank is repeatedly developing problems with bacteria, you may want to install a chlorine filter or other system that will purify the water in the tank on a consistent basis. Talk with your local plumber to find out if this would be beneficial for you. Contact a company like Belfair Plumbing & Drain Service to get started.