Almost every home in the United States has a water heater, and you surely want this appliance to work properly when you are ready to take a shower in the morning. However, you probably will need a replacement at some point within 15 years. Specifically, an electric heater will probably last about 15 years, while a gas one may need to be replaced after 12. Some people think they need to buy a new appliance before the 12 or 15 year mark if they hear gurgling or popping sounds, or if the unit continually turns on. An increase in energy usage may be another reason why you may opt for a new unit. These are actually signs that sediment has built up inside the tank. You can easily flush out the sediment and extend the life of the water heater.

Understanding Sediment Build Up

Water heaters are large water containment units that are typically made out of steel. This metal makes up the inner part of the unit and this tank is covered with a protective glass coating. A layer of insulation lines this tank and an enamel covered shell sits around the insulation. Inside the water tank sits either one or two anodes made out magnesium or steel that help to prevent any exposed steel in the tank from rusting, and a heating element or burner heats the water in the unit.

Unfortunately the metal burners, anodes, and the glass lining in the tank can all become encrusted with debris. Debris can flow into the tank through the water lines, and rust or other small inconsistencies drop to the bottom of the tank and remain. Also, the minerals from your hard water like calcium and magnesium build on the tank parts and interfere with the normal function.

Removing Build Up

The best way to extend the life of your water heater is to remove the build up from the inside of the tank. To begin the process, shut off the tank itself. You can set the tank to the lowest thermostat setting, turn off the gas, or flip the breaker that provides the unit with power. Once you do this, turn the valve on the cold water supply line to the off position. Attach a hose to the bottom drain spigot of the tank and drain the water. To keep the mess contained, make sure the other end of the hose is placed in your basement sink or sump pump pit. Once the tank is emptied, turn on the cold water supply for about five minutes to help loosen some of the build up and flush it out of the tank.

Vinegar Cleaning Solution

You need to dissolve the minerals inside the water tank at this point. You can do this with a store bought product meant for this purpose, or you can use white vinegar. Vinegar is a wise choice, because it will not harm you or your family if a bit of residue is left behind after the cleaning. You will need a lot of the fluid though, so purchase enough to create at least a 25% vinegar and 75% water solution. Divide the capacity of your water tank by four to figure out how much vinegar you need. For example, if you have a 40 gallon water tank, then you will need about 10 gallons of vinegar.

To get this vinegar inside the tank, you will need to slide the anode out of the tank first. Usually, the anodes are connected at the top and can be easily removed in case a replacement is needed. Use a wrench to remove the nut holding the anode in place and slip it out. Place a funnel in the opening and pour the vinegar in. Replace the anode and turn the  cold water intake to the on position. Allow the rest of the tank to fill with water and turn the tank back on. Allow the vinegar mixture to warm up and dissolve the minerals overnight. Afterward, shut off the cold water inlet valve and drain the tank. Turn the valve back on to rinse the tank for 10 or 15 minutes with the drain spigot open. Close the spigot and use your water heater normally at this time. Contact a local water heater service for more information. 

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