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 presence of a storage tank ensures some hot water is always available. But over time, foreign substances can build up inside the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup arriving from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the source is, this buildup can negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can plug up drainage and may even result in premature failure. 

Fortunately, 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. Whatever you choose, 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 drain it. 

You’ll also want to have a rubber hose, like one you can 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 place the other end of the hose far away from your home to stop the water from seeping back inside. 

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

Step 1: Shut Off the Water Heater 

After you’ve shut off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This will 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 must be completely off. This is because of the heating elements electric water heaters use, which remain submerged. In an empty tank, they could quickly overheat. You should also find 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 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 confident the water supply is disconnected and the water heater itself is off, go ahead and find 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 within the piping to maintain 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 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 

Don’t forget that this water can still have some residual heat. Open the drain valve and allow all the water to drain from the tank. This should pull sediment buildup out of the tank and away from your home. But some buildup may 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. 

Repeat this step until the water appears free 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 like it’s supposed to, you should be able to clear out most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Close the drain valve, detach the hose and open the water supply to get things flowing 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 before, don’t forget that certain models might 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 are still 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 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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