How to clean your hot water heater using Vinegar

Step by Step Guide To Using Just Vinegar to Flush Your Heater’s Pipes

What? You can clean your hot water heater using just vinegar? Yes, you can. And it’s quite risk-free, too.

There are many thousands of hot water heater cleaning products all over the market, all over the world. But none of these products are reasonably priced – at least, nowhere near as reasonably priced as vinegar. If you can find a litre of hot water heater cleaning product for less than a litre of regular, cheap, highly-accessible cider vinegar which you likely already have at home, I think you’d shock the world, and likely become a millionaire selling the stuff.

But seriously – you can use simple cider vinegar to clean your hot water heater at home. And it isn’t too difficult either, all you’ve got to do is follow our incredibly simple guide here that pulls you along each and every step of the way.

You’ll not only save yourself a whole load of money throughout your lifetime by cleaning your heater yourself, but you’ll also save yourself lots of energy from travelling to the store and reading all those complex labels, trying to determine whether this product is suitable for your needs.

If you’re finding some sediment in the water coming out of your hot water tap, you could be facing a common issue. This issue is the build up of sediment either from your water heater or the pipes in your home.

The reason this works is that if you have hard water, your hot water heater will slowly fill with calcium and lime deposits that prevent the heater from working properly. The pipes clog up and decrease the heater’s efficiency. Decreased efficiency = higher fuel bills.

Calcium and Lime are weak alkalies. If you think back to High School chemistry class, you’ll have learnt that acid dissolves alkali. So if we add some acidic solution, for example vinegar. This will break up and dissolve the mineral deposits. The result being your hot water heater will be functioning as normal again. condition. This is just science, not a new age remedy for flushing pipes.

As always with these guides, there are some simple precautions you can take that involve nothing more than asking yourself one question – “am I comfortable doing this on my own without the help or presence of a professional?”. If the answer is no, don’t get on with the task for the sake of getting on with it.

If you’re not very dexterous or not good at DIY, then we always recommend that you call in a professional, or make the job a two-man job with somebody you’re comfortable working with, and ideally someone who has experience with projects of this kind.

Turn everything off

You never want to be working with liquids around high power electrical outlets or potentially explosive gas valves. For this reason, the very first step you should take before even approaching your cider vinegar in the kitchen, is to switch off your hot water heater.

This can be done by simply turning the gas release valve to the “off” position, or switching the electrical supply to the unit off, if you’re somebody who has decided to go with the electrical option. Turn off your power, and potentially save a life.

Release the pressure

Now that your gas or electricity is off, your water heater no longer has the power to heat. However, it still is likely passing through it high pressure water, of which much is still likely incredibly hot.

You certainly don’t want this spurting out at high pressure in your face any more than you want high pressure gas blowing up in your face, or sustaining a painful electrical shock.

Simply switch off the water inlet first, and then the water outlet by turning the water valves to their “off” positions, and ensuring tightness.

Drain the tank completely

This step is essential but must be done incredibly carefully. Near the bottom of your tank, you should find that it all goes curved, and there you will find a small, hose-like thing. This is your drain valve, and it will allow you to rid yourself of all of the water inside your tank.

Please, please, please, to avoid any property damage and hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs, ensure that his hose is straight, and pointing into a large drain or outdoors ideally before you open the drain valve. Let it drain.

Turn on faucets to speed up the process

Whilst your tank is draining, go and turn on a tap or two to help the process, and relieve any pressure that could have unfortunately built up within the tank during this time. This should not be difficult. Whilst you’re at it, go outside or look at the drain to ensure that the flow of water from the drain hose is steady and not “spitty”, and ensure that it is flowing like water should flow. This will allow you to physically see if there is any build-up of pressure.

Locate the anode rod and remove it from your heater

Your anode rod is what protects your water heater from rusting and getting damaged on the inside. For this reason, it is often very tightly screwed into the unit, and can only be undone through the use of a wrench and a strong hand.

Therefore, you should try to locate your nearest wrench and find your anode rod on your water heater. Always consult your product-specific manual or owners guide to see exactly how to remove this anode rod. Once this is certainly done, you can move on.

Add the vinegar & leave for 24 hours

That sounds like an instruction from a cook book. 🙂

When the anode rod is removed, put in its place a funnel, and slowly pour five to six gallons of vinegar into your tank. Ensure this process is done slowly and carefully, and make sure that your drain valve is closed before this is done, otherwise you will just simply waste a whole load of vinegar, and your entire home and or garden will smell for many days.

Once it’s in, open the water supply valve, and allow the tank to fill. This should be left alone for 24 hours to work.

Drain all that filth

After twenty-four hours have passed, you’re going to want to now drain your tank entirely of all that vinegar and all that water. Open the drain valve again, but constantly watch the end of the hose to ensure water is flowing out freely.

If it isn’t you might actually have had a huge amount of filth building up in your water heater. Locate the clog in the hose, and massage it out until the water can flow out freely again. Continue watching until the whole process is complete, and you are almost done!

The Final Step – Turn on the valves

Now that the whole tank is drained, and cleaned, and drained again, you can now begin to put it back into operation. Be very careful, however. Ensure that you close the drain valve to prevent any water from coming out, and go and turn on a hot water tap somewhere in your home. Then, return to the heater, and turn on the water supply valve. Leave this valve open until you can see water pouring out of the tap. Then, close the tap and turn on the heater.

You have just successfully cleaned your heater!

About the author

Steve Bates

Hi, I'm Steve and I currently reside in Chicago, Illinois. Although for most of the last 20 years I was a partner in a HVAC company down in Austin, Texas.

I understand the frustration involved with dealing with water heater repairs and replacing or upgrading to a new, more efficient model.

My aim is offer some basic advice on fixing home hot water systems. And if a repair isn't possible, then to make the process of selecting a new water heater – be it gas or electric - as simple as possible.

So that you can save money and have a safe and reliable hot water system in your home for many years to come.