water heater maintenance

How to Flush Your Water Heater

Flushing your water heater is one of the many annual home maintenance tasks that should be on your to-do list this summer or fall. Our team explains why this task is necessary and breaks down the process for you to complete this DIY!

Why Is it Important to Flush Your Water Heater?

If you live in an area that has hard water, you may already know the benefits of flushing your water heater. Hard water is caused by minerals such as calcium, limescale, and magnesium in our water. As water flows through its natural cycle, it can run through areas of rock and mineral, picking up and carrying these minerals with it until it ends up in your drinking water, shower, or dishwasher.

Hard water isn’t inherently dangerous to your health, but it can cause complications for your home appliances and inconveniences for your family. Some commonly experienced side effects of hard water include:

  • Itchy, dry skin
  • Dry scalp and hair
  • Visible hard water spots on plumbing fixtures
  • Sediment buildup in plumbing
  • Stiff, dingy clothes and fabrics
  • Decreased water pressure
  • Decreases lifespan of appliances such as water heater

There are different measurements of water hardness throughout the United States. According to the United States Geological Survey, New Jersey has an average water hardness of 106 PPM.

What is PPM?

PPM stands for parts per million. In regards to water hardness, this is the measurement of diluted minerals in a water source. 'Percent' is a measurement of something out of a hundred (cent = century), and per million is a means of measuring concentrations of something — typically in water or soil.

How to Flush a Traditional Water Heater

Because of the number of minerals commonly found in our water, flushing a traditional water heater (one that has a tank) once every six to 12 months is ideal. Unlike most water heater maintenance jobs, this is a task that a homeowner can complete on their own. Simply follow these steps:

Setting Up

These first steps will get your tank ready for draining.

  1. Turn off the cold water supply to your water heater. The water supply shut-off is typically located where the main water line enters your home.
  2. Turn off the water heater thermostat. Turn the water heater thermostat off to prevent the heating element from turning on while the tank is empty. Some systems have a ‘vacation mode’ that you can turn on the achieve the same effect as turning off the thermostat. For gas appliances, close the gas supply line before continuing.
  3. Connect a drain hose to the drain valve. The drain valve is usually located on the bottom of the water heater tank. Once you’ve secured the hose, coil it into itself in a small circle, or extend it into a bucket. This ensures that you can catch and supervise all sediment that comes out of your water heater.
  4. Open hot water faucets throughout the home. This step helps to create a vacuum which makes the tank drain more quickly.

Flushing the Water Heater

Now that everything is set up correctly, it’s time to drain and flush the tank.

  1. Draining the tank. The water should flow out on its own as soon as you open the water heater drain valve. Stand by to monitor the amount of sediment released from your tank and to keep pets and children at a safe distance — the water may still be quite hot as it leaves the tank.
  2. Rinse all loose leftover sediment. When the water is all drained, turn the cold water supply back on and let the water run through the tank and back out of the hose. When the water begins to run clear, turn the water supply back off.
  3. Clean the drain valve. Disconnect the hose from the drain valve and grab a shop vac — vacuum the opening of the drain valve to prevent any sediment from forming a blockage that could impact the seal.

Cleaning Up

Don’t forget to complete these final steps before turning the water heater back on!

  1. Clear the faucets. Leaving all faucets open, turn the cold water supply back on. Some rust or sediment may run from the taps as it clears out your plumbing — once the water runs clear, switch the faucet back to the ‘off’ position.
  2. Reset water heater settings and refill tank. For gas water heaters, open the gas supply valve back up and follow the manufacturer recommendations for reigniting the pilot light. Reset the thermostat and maximum temperature on your water heater. Most average water heater tanks will refill in 30-40 minutes.

Have questions? Need help? Contact Bailey Plumbing Heating Cooling at (800) 717-1793 for assistance or any water heater repairs and replacement needs!