Maintaining Your Water Heater: Draining the Tank

If the hot water starts to run cold, it could signal that your water heater needs maintenance. Regularly draining your tank to clear out mineral buildup and sediment in your water heater keeps your water running hot more consistently, so you can wash your hands and take showers comfortably. It can even extend a water heater’s lifespan.

Naturally, the advice below does not apply to tankless water heaters. Follow this guide to drain your hot water heater safely and effectively.

How Often Should You Drain Your Water Heater?

Muncie commonly has hard water. Unless you installed a home water softener, it’s best to drain your heater every four to six months, especially if you notice problems.

If you have a whole-house water softener, you shouldn’t experience sediment issues and can cross this chore off your to-do list.

How Do You Know Your Water Heater Needs to Be Drained?

These are some signs that it’s time to drain the tank on your hot water heater:

  • Your water is lukewarm to cold. If your heater only produces lukewarm water, the tank may have a buildup of lime. To clear the mineral, empty the tank and add vinegar. Allow the solution to sit for 20 to 30 minutes to remove the buildup before flushing the tank. You may have to repeat the process more than once to clear the lime fully.

  • There’s sludge in the water. Particles from contaminated groundwater, flooded stormwater systems, or backed-up sewage lines can make their way into your water heater tank. The sludge will settle to the bottom of your heater and occasionally swirl in the water to leak out the faucet. Flushing the tank will clear it out of your water system.

  • It’s been over 12 months since you flushed the heater. Neglecting to maintain your heater for over a year can lead to mechanical issues and shorten the heater’s lifespan, even if you aren’t experiencing issues.

  • The water heater drain valve is leaking. A leak can happen when the pressure or temperature in the tank is too high. Set your water heater’s thermostat to 120°F to avoid damage to the unit. It’s also possible that the valve needs to be tightened slightly. However, replacing the valve provides a more reliable fix. You must empty the tank to perform this repair.


Use our expert tips to watch for signs that it’s time to replace your hot water heater.

How to Drain a Water Heater

Follow these steps to drain your water heater, solve your hot water issue, and lengthen the lifespan of your tank:

  1. Close the tank’s water supply valve. Before you start, make sure the water supply valve to your heater is closed.

  2. Turn off the power to the tank at your electric box. Switch off the power to your water heater to prevent electrocution. You can find the switch in your circuit breaker box.

  3. Connect a hose to the tank’s drain valve. With the tank cooled, attach a garden hose to the water heater drain valve and allow the other end to flow outside (or to a floor drain if it cannot reach outdoors).

  4. Let hot water run from a household faucet. Allow hot water to flow from a tap somewhere in the house to release pressure in the tank and prevent it from forming a vacuum. If possible, choose a faucet located one floor above the heater, e.g., a kitchen faucet if your tank is in your basement. Let the water run at a steady trickle for as long as the tank takes to drain.

  5. Open the tank’s drain valve. Warm water and sediment will flow through the hose and out of the tank.

  6. Add vinegar to the tank (optional). Close the drain valve and remove the anode rod (refer to your owner’s manual for instructions). Place a funnel in the anode rod hole and add one gallon of white vinegar to the tank. Let it sit for at least six hours. The vinegar will loosen sediment that’s collected at the bottom of the tank.

  7. Check the anode rod. This is a good opportunity to inspect your anode rod, which is a sacrificial metal rod meant to prevent water tank corrosion. If the rod is extremely pitted or eroded, it should be replaced. Either way, reinstall the anode rod while the vinegar sits at the bottom of the tank.

  8. Reopen the tank’s water supply. After the vinegar soak is complete, reopen the water supply valve to the tank to allow in fresh water. Open the drain valve to wash out the rest of the sediment. Continue the flush until the water coming out of the hose runs clear.

  9. Close the tank’s drain valve and refill the tank. Close the tank’s drain valve and disconnect the hose. After the tank is full, turn the power or gas back on to allow the water to heat. Remember to close the faucet you opened earlier.


How Long Does It Take to Drain a Water Heater?

A typical residential water tank takes about 15 to 20 minutes to drain from full, but tanks over 60 gallons may take longer. If you have a large household that requires a tank greater than 80 gallons, draining it may take an hour or even longer.

Expert Plumbing Assistance in Muncie, IN

Sediment buildup in your water heater can lead to damage if the minerals begin to erode a hole in the tank. To keep your tank in good condition, flush it at least once a year.

If you need a hand draining your hot water heater tank, the professional plumbers at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Muncie, IN, offer punctual, expert water heater maintenance and repair services. Call us at (765) 248-3693 or request service online to get started.