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 can build up within the storage tank. This may be sediment or mineral buildup coming from the main water line or a crack in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup could negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can plug up drainage and might even lead to premature failure.

Fortunately, draining your water heater and removing sediment buildup is a relatively straightforward task. A certified plumber in Charleston 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 lower 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 regularly if you do), the water main provides 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 fetch a rubber hose, like one you would 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 put the other end of the hose far away from your home to prevent the water from flowing back inside.

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

Step 1: Shut Off the Water Heater

After you’ve turned off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This will 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 must be completely off. This is due to the heating elements electric water heaters use, which remain submerged. In a drained tank, they may quickly overheat. You should also check the model’s manual, as some water heaters have to be completely full before the heating elements are started.

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 reaches a safe temperature, so it is often best to leave the rest of the process for the following day.

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

Tank water heaters possess 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 secure 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 needs to be relieved before the hot water can actually drain out of the tank. By heading to the closest 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 returning to the water heater.

Step 4: Release the Drain Valve

Remember that this water may 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 appears clear 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 take care of most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Seal up the drain valve, disconnect the hose and open the water supply to get things working 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 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 some models might need to be entirely 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 Charleston from a technician you trust.