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

Tank water heaters are a dependable way to provide 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, foreign substances may build up in the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup coming from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup can negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can plug up drainage and could even lead to premature failure. 

Thankfully, draining your water heater and clearing out sediment buildup is a relatively simple task. An experienced 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 minimize 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 might need to drain the tank more frequently if you do), the water main provides 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 get 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 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 stop the water from flowing back inside. 

Finally, a screwdriver can help you loosen stubborn screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you stumble upon a problem with the water heater or nearby piping. At that point, it may be best to contact 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 continue to stay on during flushing, but electric models need to be completely off. This is due to the heating elements electric water heaters use, which remain submerged. In a drained tank, they can quickly overheat. You should also check the model’s manual, as some water heaters need to 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 may be hours before the water cools to a safe temperature, so it is usually 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 have a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re sure 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 inside the piping to deliver 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 exit the tank. By heading to the nearest faucet or spigot, you’ll release 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 wash away stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank. 

Repeat this step until the water appears clear of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of a clog, a trained plumber is likely required. 

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

If everything proceeds like it’s supposed to, you should be able to take care of most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Seal up the drain valve, detach the hose and open the water supply to get things working again. As the water heater tank starts 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 some models might need to be entirely full before the water can be safely heated. Make sure you review 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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