9 Hot Water Heater Sediment Symptoms to Look Out For

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Concerned about sediment in your hot water heater?

There are a few reasons why your heater may be damaged by sediment buildup. Often, it’s because your water supply contains sediment. If this sediment isn’t removed upstream of the hot water heater, it’ll end up clogging the heating tank and elements.

In this article, we’ve shared some of the most likely symptoms of sediment in your hot water heater. We’ve also shared our tips on what to do about sediment buildup in a water heater.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Sediment buildup in a hot water heater can cause various problems, including heating issues, reduced water flow and pressure, unusual sounds, discolored water, leaking T&P relief valve, no hot water at all, cracks in the tank, leaking drain valve, and increased energy costs.
  • Sediment in the water supply can collect at the base of the heater tank, insulating the heating elements and making them work harder to heat the water.
  • Visual inspection or laboratory water tests can help determine if sediment is causing damage to the hot water heater.
  • Installing a sediment filter or water softener can help prevent sediment from entering the water heater and protect the entire plumbing system from damage.

🔍 9 Signs of Sediment Buildup in Water Heater

Here, you’ll find the 9 most common signs of sediment in your hot water heater. If you’ve noticed several of these signs, you’re probably dealing with sediment.

Sign 1: Problems Heating Water

One likely sign of sediment in a hot water heater is problems heating water.

If your water will only heat to a certain temperature, even when you’ve turned the heat up to the max on your fixtures, sediment could be to blame. Or, if you have to wait a long time before you get hot water from your taps and shower heads, sediment could also be the problem.

The average domestic water heater tank can hold between 20 and 100 gallons of water at once. When the water is heated, sediments and minerals separate from the water molecules, collecting at the base of the tank. Eventually, the layers of sediment in the tank act as insulation. So, the heating elements might be working just as hard, but less heat can get to the water, and it’ll take longer for water to reach a certain temperature – or it may be unable to reach this temperature at all.

A heating element will have to work harder and harder as sediment continues to build up in the tank, eventually resulting in failure (usually due to malfunctioning or leaking).

Of course, heating issues could be caused by a whole host of other reasons aside from sediment buildup, so continue reading to learn about the other signs of sediment build-up in your heater. That should help you to narrow down the possible cause of the problem.

Water from hot water heater only heats to a certain temperature

Sign 2: Reduced Water Flow & Pressure

A buildup of sediment in your hot water heater tank could also reduce the flow and pressure of water in your plumbing system.

If you’ve noticed that the water flow from your faucets and shower heads is never plentiful, even when the fixture is switched on full, you might have a sediment issue.

Excess sediment in your hot water tank will prevent water from flowing properly through the heater components and your hot water pipes. Again, this is an issue that will likely worsen over time as the sediment continues to accumulate.

Sign 3: Unusual Sounds From Your Heater

If you’ve noticed hissing, banging, or rumbling noises from your hot water tank, sediment may be responsible.

When sediment collects in the heater tank and the water heater element starts heating the water, the debris at the bottom of the tank will begin to burn, making unusual hissing or sizzling sounds as it does so.

These noises may also be caused by air pockets beneath the layer of sediment, which pop and crackle when the water begins to heat.

Sign 4: Orange-Tinted Or Cloudy Water

If sediment is able to build up in your hot water heater over time, your water might take on an orange or reddish tint, or it might become cloudy, signaling that too much sediment has caused your heater to begin to fail.

You might also notice that your water tastes or smells metallic, which is another sign of a failing water heater.

The rusty appearance, smell, or taste of your water is caused by the sediment in your water corroding the heating element. The sediment and minerals in your water may also damage the lining of the heater tank, causing it to wear away and eventually corroding the steel beneath. These corroded rust particles are then carried by your water to all your fixtures and appliances.

Yellow and cloudy water

Sign 5: Leaking T&P Relief Valve

A hot water heater’s temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve is designed to protect the heater from very high water temperature and water pressure, which could damage the unit.

If you notice that your heater’s T&P valve is leaking, or you test the valve and can’t see any water flowing through the pipe, it might have been damaged by sediment.

When the lower heating element is subjected to accumulating salt, calcium carbonate, and sediment, the element will need to work harder to achieve the desired water temperature, causing it to overheat. As a result, the hot water tank expands significantly, increasing the inside water pressure. If left unresolved, the tank may spring a leak, burst, or even explode.

The T&P relief valve is designed to prevent this from happening, by releasing water to prevent excess pressure. But the valve may begin to leak and fail if it’s used excessively, leading to potentially dangerous consequences in the heater tank.

Sign 6: No Hot Water At All

As we mentioned earlier, we may notice reduced water flow from your fixtures as a result of sediment in your heater.

But in the case of severe sediment, your heater may experience a sediment blockage, preventing water from leaving the unit at all.

If this happens, you’ll need to hire a professional plumber to resolve the issue if you want to re-establish the flow to your hot water faucet.

Plumber fixing sediment blockage in a hot water heater

Sign 7: Cracks In Tank & Components

We’ve already mentioned the potential for your hot water tank to rapidly expand as a result of overheating of the heating element.

If the heat and pressure build excessively in the tank, it may develop cracks over time.

Corrosion is another cause of cracks and fractures in your tank and water heater components. You may notice leaking from the tank, resulting in puddles of water in the vicinity of the water heater.

Sign 8: Leaking Water Heater Drain Valve

Small leaks in your water heater drain valve are another sign of sediment buildup.

One of the most common causes of a leaking drain valve is sediment accumulation in the valve’s internal mechanism.

If you don’t notice that your drain valve is leaking, the problem may worsen until the valve completely deteriorates and the heater tank empties onto the floor.

how to tell if your hot water heater is full of sediment

Sign 9: Increased Spend On Hot Water Or Gas

All these effects of sediment in your hot water heater will result in a higher electricity or gas bill (depending on whether you have a gas or electric water heater).

Your heater will work harder to heat water, spending longer to achieve the ideal warm water temperature, and you’ll pay for the extra electricity or gas used for the heater to perform as intended.

Depending on the damage to your heater and how long you leave the issue before getting it fixed, you might end up paying up to 30% more than you usually would as a result of water heater sediment.

❓ How To Know If Sediment Is To Blame For Your Water Heater Damage

If you want to know for certain that sediment in your water supply is damaging your hot water heater, we recommend testing your water.

water testing with tap score

There are a few different ways you can do this:

  • Visual inspection – Fill a glass with water from your cold or hot water tap. Wait a few minutes. If you notice floating particles in your water, or a layer of settled sediment at the bottom of your glass, you have a sediment issue.
  • Laboratory water test – To get a more detailed insight into your water’s sediment content, take a sample of your water and send it to be tested by a laboratory. There are lots of laboratories that offer dedicated sediment tests, costing $40-$160 on average, depending on the contaminants tested for.

Once you’ve identified that the issues in your hot water heater are caused by sediment in your water supply, you can move on to resolving the issue appropriately.

Water contaminated with sediment at different levels

🔧 What To Do About Sediment Buildup In A Water Heater

Here are some of the best ways to tackle hot water heater sediment build-up.

Flush Your Heater

The quickest way to remove sediment from water heaters is with flushing.

Regardless of your water’s sediment content, you should aim to flush your heater tank at least once a year. If you have very hard or sediment-rich water, flush the heater 2-3 times per year.

This will clear out the accumulated sediment and minerals and improve the heater’s working performance. It’ll also extend the heater’s lifespan.

Continue Reading: Water Heater Maintenance: 7 Preventative Tasks

Replace Faulty Or Damaged Components

If sediment has damaged any of your heater’s components, such as the drain valve or the T&P valve, you may need to replace these components.

Ask a competent plumber to examine your heater and advise you on whether or not any of the parts need to be replaced.

If the system stops working altogether as a result of sediment damage, you may have no choice but to invest in a new water heater. Speak to your local plumber for a second opinion before jumping to conclusions.

Man replacing damaged component of a hot water heater

Install A Sediment Filter Or Water Softener

Flushing your heater and replacing damaged parts will help to combat the effects that sediment can have on water heaters – but it won’t prevent sediment formation in the first place.

Removing sediment from your water supply is the only way to stop this damage entirely. We recommend installing a sediment water filter at your incoming cold water supply line, especially if you have well water, which is more likely to be rich in sediment than municipal water.

👨‍🔧 A whole-house sediment filter will protect your entire plumbing system from sediment, including your hot and cold water lines, and all your faucets, fixtures, and appliances. Check out our guide to the best sediment filters for well water if you’re interested to read our specific recommendations.

If minerals are a bigger problem than sediment in your water, you need a water softener.

Water softening systems eliminate calcium and magnesium water hardness minerals, which have similar clogging, scaling effects in your hot water heater.

Water softeners are also designed for installing at your main water pipe, so they provide soft water to your whole home.

Installing a sediment filter at main water pipe

👋 Final Word

Sediment doesn’t only affect your water quality – it can have harmful effects on your water heater and cause irreversible damage.

If you think you have a sediment issue, test your water and buy a treatment system that’s capable of removing sediment or minerals to prevent further problems in your heating system.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

2 thoughts on “9 Hot Water Heater Sediment Symptoms to Look Out For”

  1. Avatar for Jennifer Byrd

    We live at The River at Lake Royale in North Carolina and receive our water from Red Bird. We have experienced issues with what we believe to be sediment of various nature in our water supplied to us. We contacted Red Bird who sent a representative to our home to investigate. The representative indicated he could not find any issue on the incoming water supply. We have subsequently had a plumbing company come to our home to investigate. Various buildup/sludge was flushed from our water heater (which is less than one year old – this is a newly built home as of July 2023. The plumbing company representative (after investigation) stated that he feels incoming water is the problem. Can you assist us with a resolution?

    1. Avatar for Jennifer Byrd
      Brian Campbell

      Hey Gene, thanks for reaching out. I’d recommend getting a sample of the water tested by a certified lab to begin with. Check out Tap Score by Simplelab. A lab test will provide precise information about the water quality in your home. I’d specifically look to see how hard the water is. Buildup inside the water heater can be caused by water hardness minerals precipitating.

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