Do I Need to Drain My Water Heater?

Water heaters require maintenance, just like the other important equipment and appliances in your home. One important element of this maintenance is to drain a water heater, which removes buildup and protects the integrity of the unit.

Mr. Plumber’s licensed Indianapolis plumbers share more information on how to drain the water heater, why to do it, when to do it, and when not to. ***Be sure to read the warning below before you perform this task!*** If you’d rather leave water heater maintenance up to us, we are happy to help! Contact us today to schedule plumbing service.

Why Drain the Water Heater?

The water that moves through your home’s plumbing system carries minerals and other matter within it. As the water spends time in the hot water tank, this matter falls from suspension and settles down in the bottom of the tank.

Sediment buildup in the hot water tank causes problems for your system. It is especially an issue in homes with hard water, as more minerals are left within the water supply – homes with soft water and water filtration systems often experience less sediment buildup in their hot water tanks. As sediment builds up, the unit loses efficiency, so you need to drain the water heater to maintain the system and its efficiency. 

When sediment settles in the hot water tank, it creates a layer of insulation between the water and the burners that heat it. The water heater’s burners must expend more energy to effectively heat the water supply because of this, which costs you more in energy expenses, adds stress on system components, and leaves you with hot water supply issues.

Additionally, the sediment layer keeps heat trapped at the tank’s bottom, which overheats it. As the metal lining of your water heater overheats, stress cracks eventually form, which allow leaking and lead to premature tank failure. The glass lining found in some water heater models is also damaged by sediment buildup.

Issues produced by sediment in your water heater tank that clue you in to the need to drain the water heater include:

  • Uneven temperatures from your hot water supply
  • A reduced hot water supply
  • Higher energy bills
  • Popping or rumbling from the unit as it runs

The popping or rumbling sound heard from the water heater is a clear sign of sediment buildup. This noise can be quite loud and occur suddenly, which may shock those nearby. As burners turn and heat the layer of water below the sediment layer, steam forms. As it rises and attempts to move through the sediment layer, it sometimes pops and makes a rumbling sound.

However, that’s not all – a lack of water heater maintenance allows sediment deposits to get out of hand, and they eventually cause more serious (and expensive) problems, such as:

  • Clogged drain valve
  • Blocked water lines
  • Premature system failure

Avoid these problems when you regularly drain the water heater throughout its service life. This fairly easy maintenance task can end up saving you the hassle and expense of replacing your unit earlier than expected.

When to Drain the Water Heater

Most equipment manuals recommend that you drain the water heater tank every six months to one year to remove sediment buildup. However, it really depends on the water quality in your home. Homes with hard water need to drain the water heater more frequently than those with soft water. 

To gauge the frequency in which you need to drain the water heater tank, see how it goes during your second regular draining to understand how quickly sediment builds up within. If the drain valve is blocked by sediment, you need to drain the water heater tank on a more frequent schedule in the future.

If your water utility provider cleans and flushes its water lines, it’s a good idea to drain the water heater in your home a few days afterward. This process kicks up a great deal of sediment and moves it into your home, which can cause problems with your plumbing such as clogs. Remove this excess sediment when you drain the water heater – check with your water utility provider or your city to see when municipal water lines are flushed in your area.

When NOT to Drain the Water Heater

***Read this before you drain the water heater in your home!*** It is recommended to drain the water heater on a regular basis to maintain your unit – however, if you have never drained the tank and your water heater is several years old, DO NOT DRAIN IT

So, why are we telling you not to drain the water heater in an article about draining the water heater? Above, we explained how excess sediment in the water heater tank insulates its bottom, which causes the tank lining to overheat and crack over time. When this happens, the sediment buildup actually helps you out – it plugs up those small cracks, which prevents leaks. 

If cracks exist in your water heater tank lining due to sediment buildup, if you drain the water heater, these sediment plugs are washed away. After draining, you may have significant water heater leaks on your hands.

Unfortunately, you cannot tell if you have leaks caused by sediment. If your water heater is several years old and you have never drained the tank, it’s a safe bet that they may exist. You are better off to skip draining the water heater to prevent leaks. However, if you do experience uneven or reduced hot water supply, you may want to go ahead and replace your system to lower energy costs. When you have a new unit in place, take care of it from the beginning and regularly drain the water heater.

How to Drain the Water Heater

When it’s time to drain the water heater in your home, this is a home maintenance project many Indianapolis homeowners feel comfortable performing themselves. You want to make sure you drain the water heater the right way to avoid flooding your home and resulting water damage. If you aren’t comfortable draining the water heater yourself, better to be safe than sorry – call your plumber.

Learn how to drain the water heater, straight from plumbing pros:

1. Cut the water supply

On top of your water heater, there is a water supply pipe that leads into the tank. On it, there is a shutoff valve. Adjust this valve to close it and cut off incoming water to the tank.

2. Cut the power source

Avoid accidental damage to the unit when you drain the water heater by turning off the power source before you begin this task. If you don’t, you risk burning out the tank’s heating elements if they run with no water in the tank.

  • For electric water heaters: Turn off power to the water heater’s circuit at your home’s electrical panel.
  • For gas water heaters: Turn off the gas supply to the water heater at the unit’s gas control valve. Check your owner’s manual for instructions specific to your unit.

3. Cool down

After you disconnect the power, the water within your hot water tank needs some time to cool down, as it is very hot when stored. You need to wait a few hours or more and allow the water to cool to avoid accidental burns when you drain the water heater.  If possible, allow the water heater to remain off overnight.

4. Connect the hose

To drain the water heater, use a garden hose and run it to an area where water is able to safely drain away without spilling into your home. If there is a floor drain nearby, the hose can be routed here. If not, a nearby bathtub can be used. If your hose is long enough, run it out the door and away from your home entirely.

Once the end of your hose is appropriately routed, attach the other end to the drain valve on the water heater tank. The drain valve is located on the outside of the tank, near the bottom.

5. Turn on the tap

Go to the hot water tap nearest your water heater and open it. As water flows out the tap, pressure is alleviated so the tank is able to drain faster. If possible, use the hot water tap nearest your water heater on the floor above the unit – though it’s perfectly fine to simply use the nearest hot water tap if everything is on the same level of your home.

6. Open the drain valve

Next, open the drain valve on the tank. The water from the tank flows out to the drainage area. As it does, sediment flushes out.

This process sometimes takes a bit of time. If there is heavy sediment buildup in the tank, the process takes longer than with a fairly clear tank.

7. Turn on water supply

With the drain valve still open, turn the incoming cold water supply to your hot water tank back on. The incoming water runs through the tank and out the drain, working to flush out remaining sediment. Keep it going until water runs clean at the drainage end of your hose.

8. Fill the tank

Once water runs clear, close the drain valve firmly. Allow the hot water tank to refill. Once filled, restore power or gas supply to the unit and allow water to heat. Disconnect your hose and carefully drain water out the other end before storing.


Water Heater Maintenance with Mr. Plumber

If you take good care of your Indianapolis home’s water heater, it serves you with many years of efficient hot water. An important element of maintenance is to regularly drain the tank.

If you are not comfortable performing the steps above, leave water heater maintenance to the pros! Our licensed Indianapolis plumbers drain the water heater tank in your home and perform plumbing maintenance to keep your system in good working order through its years of service. Contact Mr. Plumber today to schedule plumbing service.