How to Troubleshoot Smelly Water from Your Water Heater

How to Troubleshoot Smelly Water from Your Water Heater
May 16, 2013 Lorelie
water heater

Water Heater Troubleshooting

Many people who have a water heater at home tend to forget about taking good care of them unless something is definitely wrong with it.  There are many problems that can happen to your water heater such as: not enough hot water, the water is too hot, the water heater is leaking, the tank is rusty, the water heater is noisy, dirty water, smelly water, etc.  There are many ways on how to solve these different water heater issues, and some of them can be done all by yourself.

The Cause of Rotten Egg Odor or Smelly Water

Have you ever wondered why there are instances that the water coming out from your water heater unit seems to have a bad smell – somewhat resembling that of a rotten egg?  The most common cause of smelly water is anaerobic bacteria that thrive in some water.  The anaerobic bacteria tend to have some kind of reaction with the magnesium and aluminum sacrificial anodes (which are usual components with most water heater units), thus producing hydrogen sulfide gas -  the gas that is responsible for giving off that recognizable rotten egg odor.  This kind of water heater problem is most commonly found in municipal or private well systems.

Things You Should Not Do when Getting Rid of the Rotten Egg Odor or Smelly Water

There are many handymen or plumbers who advise homeowners to take off the sacrificial anodes from their water heater units as a way to get rid of the smelly water in them.  It could be a possible fix; however, this will actually cause the water heater unit to rust out in a short period of time.  Also, taking off the sacrificial anodes can void the water heater unit’s warranty.

In addition, homeowners have been told to replace a water heater’s magnesium anode with an aluminum anode.  Do not do this because just like magnesium, aluminum also causes that rotten egg odor.

Another thing that you should not do is to try to soften the water.  Softening can actually make smelly water even worse.

A Quick Fix to Get Rid of that Rotten Egg Odor or Smelly Water, but not Permanent

There is a quick fix to help you get rid of that rotten egg odor or smelly water from your water heater unit.  It is simple, effective and cheap, but keep in mind that this fix is not permanent.  First, you need to shut off the cold water valve to your water heater unit.  Open a hot tap to relieve pressure, drain some water from the tank, open up the plumbing on one side and then put in a few pints of hydrogen peroxide.  You can use chlorine bleach as well instead of hydrogen peroxide, but keep in mind that hydrogen peroxide is much safer to use.

After that, close everything up, and then turn on the cold water again.  Let some water to run from all faucets.  Every one of them should be odor free by now, until the time comes that the water heater unit will be unused for some time, especially when you are out of town.  By the time you get back, you will encounter the smelly water again coming out from your water heater unit.

If you think that the water is smelly at one sink but not in all of them, then put some hydrogen peroxide into the basin overflow, not into the water heater unit itself.  There are instances that the bacteria can build up inside there as well.

The Ultimate Fix to Get Rid of that Rotten Egg Odor for Good

In a lot of cases of rotten egg odor or smelly water from the water heater, this problem can be fixed by simply replacing the standard aluminum or magnesium anode rod with an aluminum/zinc alloy anode rod, and this usually solves the problem.  It is a must to include the zinc because if you only use pure aluminum anodes, it will smell really bad.

For many homeowners, the aluminum/zinc anode rod is the most inexpensive solution for this problem; and this is most often the first solution to be implemented before trying out other troubleshooting techniques, unless the water you have in your household is softened.

There are 4 kinds of anodes available in the market: standard hex-head anode, flexible hex-head anode, standard combo, and flexible combo.

Hex-head anodes often go into their own hole at the top of the water heater unit.  In many water heaters, you will easily see the hex head.  If it is not visible, then the anode is either hidden under a plastic cap or under the sheetmetal, or your water heater tank has a combo anode.

Combo anodes typically share the hot-water-outlet port. If you are not certain that there is anode present inside, you can try to run a long screwdriver down it.  If there is an anode present, then the screwdriver will not go inside for more than a few inches deep.

There are some models of water heaters nowadays that have two anodes in them.  It is very important to place an aluminum/zinc anode into the water heater, but you have to keep in mind that it is also very important to remove all of the previous anodes in your water heater unit or else, if you do not, the hot water coming out from your unit will still smell.

Closing Thoughts

There are many circumstances wherein homeowners replaced their water heater unit and then realized that they have smelly water with their new one even if they did not have this problem with their previous one.  No one really knows for sure what causes the smelly water from water heater units, but there are some speculations that may explain why they happen.  Most people believe that water is a chemical concoction and that it constantly changes.  The water that comes out of the faucet this morning may be quite different from the water that comes out at night, which may be because of what is in the ground or maybe because the water company have changed their water supply sources or added something to it.

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