How to Clean a Hot Water Heater Element


Typically, a home's tank-style water heater works by filling with water and bringing it to the desired temperature with a heating element. When the water becomes too hot or too cold, a thermostat inside the tank alerts the element. To work efficiently, the element must be free of scale and rust, which can often build up after a long immersion, especially if your local water is very hard or full of minerals. You can save some money and increase the efficiency of the water heater by removing and cleaning the heating element.

Things You'll Need

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Wire brush
  • Multimeter
  • Turn off the power to the water heater at the breaker/fuse box. Turn off the water input to the tank. If it is a gas heater, turn off the gas going into the heater.

  • Empty the heater as much as possible by running the hot-water tap. Attach a hose to the drain spigot and open it to drain the tank completely.

  • With a screwdriver, open the panel on the front of the heater. The element should be easy to reach. Remove the bolts holding the element and the thermostat from the body of the heater.

  • Remove the element but leave the thermostat in the heater body.

  • Attach both multimeter leads to the heating element leads and see if there is continuity. If there is not, the element may need to be replaced.

  • If the element functions, take it to a sink. Using warm water and the wire brush, carefully remove all of the rust and scale. Be careful not to damage the element, particularly the electric leads where it plugs into the thermostat.

  • Let the element dry completely, then reinstall it in the tank. If possible, replace old gaskets as needed.

  • Replace the front panel and screws. Turn on the water and fill the tank completely.

  • When the tank is full, turn on the power at the fuse box. If it is a gas heater, turn on the gas to the tank and relight the pilot.

Tips & Warnings

  • To test for continuity, use the "Resistance" setting (Ω) on the multimeter. When the meter's two leads are connected to the element's two, the resistance should be a very small number. If the resistance approaches infinity, the element is not continuous.

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