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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, foreign substances can accumulate in the storage tank. This might be sediment or mineral buildup arriving from the main water line or a flaw in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup could negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and could even result in premature failure. 

Fortunately, draining your water heater and clearing out 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 on your own if you know what you’re doing. Whatever you choose, 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’ll want 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 regularly if you do), the water main supplies all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve sealed will stop more water from entering the tank, allowing you to completely empty it. 

You’ll also want to grab 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 keep the water from flooding back inside. 

Finally, a screwdriver will help you loosen tight screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you discover a problem with the water heater or adjacent 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 via 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 may quickly overheat. You should also check the model’s manual, as some water heaters need to 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 may be hours before the water cools to a safe temperature, so it may be 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 have 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 will 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 uses pressure within 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 flow from 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 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 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 remove most excess sediment stuck inside your water heater. Retighten the drain valve, detach 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 look through 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 flush 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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