Excess sediment in water heater?


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Old 07-18-13, 06:41 AM
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Excess sediment in water heater?

Hello, I have a several year old water heater (not sure exactly, because I just bought the home, but I'd guess 10 years). I was draining it to clean sediment out and I left the power on, obviously destroying the elements. So I drained it again and the drain plug got clogged. I was able to drain it down pretty low by siphoning and then catching the water in buckets when I pulled the elements. I hooked some tubing up to my shop vac and sucked out a bunch of the sediment from the bottom. I don't know how to quantify how much I pulled out, but with a 5/8" tube hooked to the shop vac, it went on for about 20-30 minutes and I think there is still plenty left in there. I understand that sediment is normal, I was just wondering if there is a point where there is too much sediment.

My other concern is shown in the picture. The interior tube which takes the supply line to the bottom of the tank came out as I was changing the fittings on top (replaced a failed round-handle valve with a 1/4 turn ball valve while I was at it). That tube was just nasty. Orange/brown substance up and down it and the clear plastic can't even be seen through. Is this a bad sign? Should I be concerned? I tried buying a new one, but had no luck finding one, so I'm going to try to clean it (bleach and a long rod with some rags).

Definitely worth noting: I have a well with lots of iron in the water. Apparently the area is known for having horrible water. We have a softener working prior to the water heater, but there was a significant difference between the hot and cold water on the tests, which prompted the flush in the first place.

 
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Old 07-18-13, 06:57 AM
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That nasty brownish-orange stain on the dip tube is rust and is not uncommon to find.
 
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Old 07-18-13, 07:20 AM
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I would try to remove the remaining sediment. Try removing the drain valve.
 
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Old 07-18-13, 12:32 PM
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Does the orange-brownish crud indicate anything about the overall health of the water heater?

And to the idea of removing the drain valve, do you mean to replace it or just to get more of the sediment out?
 
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Old 07-18-13, 02:48 PM
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News for you... the inside of every pipe in the home looks like that. It's what you have with a well that has high iron content in the water. It is what it is, and unless you can get more of the iron out, it will be what it is. It won't hurt you.

Ion exchange water softeners (the ones that have a resin bed and recharge with salt) are capable of removing modest amounts of iron, and require EXTRA DILIGENCE in backwashing and recharging the resin bed. Sometimes the iron ppm in the water is too high for them to even handle. In order to properly set up the cycle times for that type of water softener, one would need to know the ppm of iron and grains of hardness in the raw water. The capacity in grains of the water softener must be known, as well as the 'nozzle' size of the brine draw. Only then can the length of time for the cycles, and the time between regenerations, be set properly.

If you remove the drain valve to further flush the tank, replace it with a BALL VALVE to make future flushing a 'non-clog' event. You don't need to drain the tank when you flush (after you get all the buildup out) if you regularly (like every six months or so) hook up a hose and flush the bottom. Leave the water supply turned on, and open the drain. The incoming water will help to flush the junk out the bottom.

See:

Hot water heater troubleshooting | Rotten-egg solutions

for mucho good information on water heater maintenance and 'upgrades'.

(the water heater is) I'd guess 10 years (old)
Honestly, I wouldn't even mess with it at this point. Your anode rod is gone already. Water heaters CAN last longer, but there's a reason new ones only carry 6, 9, or 12 year warranties. They simply aren't expected to last that long. My last one lasted 25... but it was flushed every 6 months and the anode was replaced about every 4-5 years. I also have softened well water (luckily with low iron!, but high hardness)

I'm moving this thread from the home heating boiler forum to the water heater forum...
 

Last edited by NJT; 07-18-13 at 03:36 PM.
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Old 07-18-13, 02:54 PM
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Remove the drain valve temporarily to obtain a larger drain opening and more effective flush volume. I can't tell you what the crud means about the "overall health." Get the sediment out...and you can then do what most people do: replace the tank when it starts leaking. An electric water heater is 100% efficient, with or without crud.

With a water softener, I'm surprised you are experiencing so much sediment and rust. You're sure that softened water is used to feed the water heater? I would install a whole-house filter ahead of the softener. And drain a bucket or two of water out of the heater every month.
 
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Old 07-18-13, 03:28 PM
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Gil, if the iron (and it sure does look like iron) comes out of the ground as 'clear water' iron, a whole house filter won't help a bit. The iron is in solution in the water until it gets pumped up and 'aerated', at which point it solidifies (oxidizes, turns to red rust) and CAN be removed by filtering. There is actually a type of iron filter that uses this principle for iron removal. Water goes to a holding tank with an 'air stone' bubbling air through it. After the iron 'rusts', it is pumped out and filtered. I've seen some systems that don't use the compressor and air stone, those have a venturi system that 'sucks' air into the water stream.

A whole house filter WILL remove any suspended solids (turbidity) from the water, and there may be some coming in. Filtering never hurts! (unless the filters get clogged so fast that it's a major pain and expense to change them every two weeks)

One other thing... there is a 'harmless' (health-wise anyway) bacteria that feeds on the iron (there's another that feeds on sulfur), that often fouls private well systems with it's 'bio-mass'. There may in fact be a problem with iron feeding bacteria in this system.

Tolhaus, what to the inside of the toilet tanks look like? (not the bowl, which I presume is iron stained) but the reservoir flush tank. Are the sides reddish brown and slimy?
 
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Old 07-18-13, 05:05 PM
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When I had a well, the raw water first went to the expansion tank which had an air blanket. After that point, and ahead of the softener, the water was essentially saturated with air. The air blanket was continually refreshed every time the pump started and the tank pressure dropped momentarily below atmospheric. This was a shallow well with moderate iron content.
 
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Old 07-18-13, 09:28 PM
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Guys, thanks for the help.

Trooper, the toilet tanks are reddish/orange and slimy. There is a ring in the bowls. The water treatment guy recommended some Iron-Off in there to clean them out.

We have a softener on all the water prior to entering the house and a filter only on one tap in the kitchen for drinking water. The softener uses a brine tank and some sort of soda ash/chlorine mix.

As for the water heater, I used the tubing/shop vac through the element hole and pulled out a bunch more sediment. Then right before leaving for Home Depot to buy a ball valve to replace the drain, I tried the garden hose pushing water in through the drain valve one more time and it did the trick. So I put everything back together (2 new elements, a cleaned anode rod, and a new ball valve on the cold water supply) and filled it up. I then flushed it for 20 minutes, thinking some of the residue might be looser than it's been in a while so I'd take advantage. It's all working now.

It sounds like I don't have to be too alarmed about the health of the water heater. I'll watch it and flush it (not drain it) every few months.

Thanks again.
 
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Old 07-20-13, 06:48 AM
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Glad you got it fixed up!

You might in the future want to look into a dedicated iron filter and install that as the first item in your 'treatment chain'. There are several types used for different levels of iron... check out the 'greensand' filters, they might do the job for you and are probably the least expensive solution.

Some more info here:

Frequently Asked Questions - Greensand Iron/Manganese Filter Systems
 
 

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