How to Drain Your Water Heater: A Step-by-Step Guide 

Tank water heaters are a dependable way to secure a fast supply of hot water for your home. The addition of a storage tank ensures some hot water is readily available. But over time, other substances can accumulate inside the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup coming from the main water line or a flaw in the pipes. Whatever the source is, this buildup could negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and could even lead to premature failure.

Fortunately, draining your water heater and removing sediment buildup is a relatively simple task. A certified plumber in the U.S. can handle the process, but you can also drain the tank yourself if you know what you’re doing. Whatever you choose, draining the tank now can help lower the risk you’ll need premature water heater replacement.

Before You Begin…

Before you start draining the tank, you’ll need to shut off the cold water supply. The supply valve connects your water heater with the main water line. Unless you have access to a well (and you might need to drain the tank more often if you do), the water main supplies all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve shut will stop more water from reaching the tank, allowing you to completely empty it.

You’ll also want to get a rubber hose, like one you can use for yard work. The hose allows you to safely drain the water heater tank without spilling water all over your garage, utility closet, attic or wherever the water heater is stored. Make sure you leave the other end of the hose far away from your home to keep the water from seeping back inside.

Finally, a screwdriver will help you loosen stubborn screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you come across a problem with the water heater or adjacent piping. At that point, it may be best to hire a certified plumber in the U.S..

Step 1: Shut Off the Water Heater

After you’ve turned off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This should be on the thermostat for natural gas water heaters or through a breaker switch for electric models. The pilot setting on gas water heaters can remain on during flushing, but electric models need to be completely off. This is due to the heating elements electric water heaters have, which remain submerged. In an empty tank, they could quickly overheat. You should also review the model’s manual, as some water heaters must be completely full before the heating elements are reactivated.

Even after you’ve shut off the water heater, you’ll have to wait for the water stored in the tank to cool down. It could be hours before the water cools to a safe temperature, so it is often best to leave the remaining steps for the following day.

Step 2: Connect the Hose to the Water Heater’s Drain Valve

Tank water heaters are designed with a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re confident the water supply is disconnected and the water heater itself is off, locate the drain valve. Some models might have it covered up. Make sure the hose is securely fastened to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.

Step 3: Open a Faucet or Other Hot Water Tap

Your home’s plumbing takes advantage of pressure within the piping to maintain a consistent flow of water from the main water line to the rest of the house. This pressure will have to be relieved before the hot water can actually drain out of the tank. By heading to the nearest faucet or spigot, you’ll alleviate the pressure inside the piping. All you have to do is open the hot water tap to relieve the pressure before heading back to the water heater.

Step 4: Release the Drain Valve

Keep in mind that this water could still have some residual heat. Open the drain valve and allow all the water to drain from the tank. This should carry sediment buildup out of the tank and away from your home. But some buildup might be stuck to the inside of the tank. Turning the cold water supply back on will help flush stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank.

Keep repeating this step until the water looks clear of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of a clog, a trained plumber may be required.

Step 5: Re-Shut the Valve Before Refilling the Water Heater

If everything proceeds normally, you should be able to clear out most excess sediment stuck inside your water heater. Seal up the drain valve, detach the hose and open the water supply to get things flowing again. As the water heater tank begins to fill, return to the hot water tap you opened. Once cold water starts to flow, you know the pressure is back where it needs to be.

At this point, you can open the gas valve or flip the breaker switch back on. Like we mentioned before, don’t forget that certain models may need to be completely full before the water can be safely heated. Make sure you check your manufacturer’s instructions before starting the process.

Keep Your Water Heater Sediment-Free for Best Results

Tank water heaters are still a great option for supplying your hot water needs. Draining the tank every 1-2 years will help remove sediment buildup and keep things running at maximum efficiency. If you think your water heater is past the point of efficient heating, consider looking for water heater replacement in the U.S. from a technician you trust.

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