Water Heater Maintenance

Maintenance Information - Updated December 1, 2003

Most people do not give much thought to their water heater until they run out of hot water, they get dirty water from the water heater, or the water heater starts leaking. Good maintenance will make a water heater last 20 years. Lack of preventative maintenance will cause you inconveniences, cause your water heater to operate inefficiently, and premature failure.

Read your water heater’s operation and maintenance manual. If you feel uncomfortable with the requirements of manufacturer recommendations for preventative maintenance of your water heater, call a plumber. If you do not have an operation and maintenance manual call Public Services at (903)657-5246.

Water heaters, whether gas or electric, have become more complex and expensive. They also do not seem to last as long as they once did. This is one modern appliance that is out of sight, out of mind, until we have problems with it.

Hot Water Heater Flushing

Maintenance books recommend that the hot water heater be drained (flushed) every six months, but few homeowners bother to do this. Often, it is put in an area that is not as accessible as other appliances. It may or may not be easy to drain, even though all heaters have a hose connection and faucet control at the bottom. This task is not only inconvenient, but often the washer and/or washer seat on the faucet must be replaced after draining. Sometimes the entire faucet assembly will have to be replaced. If this is not done correctly, the unit may leak at the faucet. Furthermore, the unit can be damaged while drained. Unless the customer is fully familiar with servicing these units, one should consult their service representatives at the gas or electric utility before undertaking these tasks.


A heater which is recycled off / on or left off for a period of non-heating may develop offensive odors from sulfur bacteria. The odor is hydrogen sulfide, like a rotten egg odor. This odorous water may be drawn back through cold water faucets as well as the hot water faucet.

Temperature Settings

The heater thermostat should be set at a reasonable temperature. Scalding of infants and the elderly can be a real hazard, even when the temperature setting is within proper limits. Again, the user should consult with their energy supplier to have the unit set at a safe temperature.

Hot Water Reminders

Because warm / hot water is much more corrosive of metals than cold water, one should not use the hot water tap as a source for drinking, cooking, or dilution of infant formula. It can be high in metals such as aluminum, iron, lead, copper, and zinc. The heater tank also tends to concentrate these metals and precipitate them in layers inside the heater tank. Many tanks have a metal sacrificial anode. This is designed to wear down and can be an additional source of metals. While it may be a convenient shortcut, water from the heater is not an approved source of drinking water.

White Plastic Particles

It is not unusual for the white plastic (PVC) filler tube inside the heater to disintegrate and discharge small white particles to the faucet aerator screens. These particles can come through not only the hot water lines but the cold water lines as well. These particles may appear to be soft and crumbly, but a good test is to heat this material with a match. PVC will melt, minerals, such as calcium, will not.