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

Tank water heaters are a reliable way to provide a fast supply of hot water for your home. The presence of a storage tank ensures some hot water is always available. But over time, other substances may build up within the storage tank. This might be sediment or mineral buildup originating from the main water line or a crack in the pipes. Whatever the source is, this buildup will sometimes reduce the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and could even cause premature failure.

Fortunately, draining your water heater and removing sediment buildup is a relatively straightforward task. A certified plumber in the U.S. can handle the process, but you can also drain the tank on your own if you know what you’re doing. Either way, draining the tank now can help reduce the risk you’ll need premature water heater replacement.

Before You Begin…

Before you start draining the tank, you should 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 may need to drain the tank more regularly if you do), the water main delivers all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve shut will stop more water from entering the tank, allowing you to completely drain it.

You’ll also want to have a rubber hose, like one you could use for yard work. The hose allows you to safely drain the water heater tank without spilling water in 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 prevent the water from flooding back inside.

Finally, a screwdriver should 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 might be best to contact a certified plumber in the U.S..

Step 1: Shut Off the Water Heater

After you’ve shut 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 continue to stay on during flushing, but electric models need to be completely off. This is because of the heating elements electric water heaters have, which remain submerged. In a drained 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 started.

Even after you’ve shut off the water heater, you’ll need to wait for the water stored in the tank to cool down. It can be hours before the water cools to a safe temperature, so it is usually best to leave the rest of the process 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, go ahead and find the drain valve. Some models might have it covered up. Make sure the hose is firmly attached 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 inside the piping to sustain 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

Don’t forget that this water can 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.

Repeat this step until the water appears free of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of an obstruction, a trained plumber is likely 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. Retighten the drain valve, disconnect the hose and open the water supply to get things flowing again. As the water heater tank begins to fill, head back to the hot water tap you opened. Once cold water starts to flow, you know the pressure is back at appropriate levels.

At this point, you can open the gas valve or flip the breaker switch back on. Like we mentioned earlier, don’t forget that certain models may need to be totally 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 continue to be a great option for supplying your hot water needs. Draining the tank every 1-2 years will help clear out sediment buildup and keep things running at peak 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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