7 Signs of Sediment Buildup in Your Water Heater

If you’ve ever had to take a cold shower during the chilly winter months, you know it’s crucial to have a water heater installed in your home. But like nearly every other appliance in your household, several things can damage your water heater – like sediment in your water.

It’s easy to dismiss your water supply as the reason for your water heater problems, but sometimes it is the sneaky culprit – and one you cannot ignore. For example, your water heater tank can accumulate sediment over time from the minerals and particulate matter possibly in your water supply. If these materials aren’t removed, they can lead to a series of undesirable outcomes, such as leaking, odd noises, and increased energy consumption, many of which can cut the lifespan of your water heater in half.

If you’re experiencing any of these water heater issues, you must address them quickly. Otherwise, the heater will cost even more to repair or replace and may harm you or your property. Then again, even with thorough repairs, quality replacements, and timely maintenance, sediment will continue to build up in your water heater tank as long as it is present in your home’s water supply. Because of this, you must first remove sediment from your water to prevent it from entering your water heater and causing expensive and potentially irreparable damage.

In this article, we’ll walk you through several ways sediment can ruin your water heater or shorten its lifespan and steps you can take to eliminate dirt and debris from your water once and for all. We hope these measures will help increase your water heater’s efficiency, performance, and life expectancy, so you won’t have to go without hot water when you need it the most. Let’s get started!

What is Sediment and How Does it Get into Your Water Heater?

Sediment is a collection of dissolved or suspended solids, like built-up rust, hard water minerals, sand, silt, clay, dirt, and other fragments. These particles primarily come from soil erosion or when plants and animals decompose. Usually, wind, water, and ice help carry these deposits to rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs that serve public water systems and well water systems, making it easier for them to wind up in your water supply and accumulate in your water heater.

Whether your water comes from a municipality or a private well, your water heater is susceptible to sediment buildup. City water usually undergoes some level of filtration at a treatment plant, but a fine layer of minerals and other deposits can develop in the water mains over time. Beyond that, water-main breaks and leaks along the public pipe network can introduce sediment into the water being transported to your home and water heater.

Likewise, if your home gets water from a private well, sediment can quickly enter your water heater after passing through your home’s well system and water supply. In a newly installed well, the drilling process naturally releases many particles into the water source. There, those particles settle on the bedrock floor, only to be stirred up and pumped into your home once the well goes into operation. If your well system is damaged or not maintained regularly, cracks can form in the well casing and allow sediment to escape into the water supply. Further, a damaged well screen can cause dirt and other residues to wash into the well system during a rainstorm or flood.

Unless you have a mechanism in place to block sediment trying to enter your water supply from these sources, sediment will likely leach into your water supply and wreak havoc on your water heater and other water-using appliances.

7 Signs Sediment May Be Accumulating in Your Water Heater

Here are some telltale signs of possible sediment buildup in your water heater:

1.     Rumbling, popping, or hissing sounds

Water heater noises are a common indicator of sediment buildup in water heater tanks. If your water heater is making popping, creaking, hissing, or rumbling sounds, it’s likely because minerals in the water have formed a layer on the surface of the water heater element. As the heating element heats up, unusual sounds may come from burning sediments settled at the bottom of the tank. Also, pockets of air in the water trapped under the sediment layer may start to make popping noises when the heat is on. You may also hear sizzling or hissing sounds when the water under the heating elements is boiling to steam.

2.   The water gets warm but never hot

Does your shower water feel lukewarm even when the shower knob is on “scolding hot” temperature? Does it take a long time for hot water to start flowing from the tap? If you are experiencing any of these issues, sediment may be the malefactor.

A lack of sufficient hot water is a sign of sediment buildup in your water heater. Most standard water heaters’ storage tanks can hold from 20 to 100+ gallons of water at any given time. As the water is heated, water minerals separate from the water molecule and settle at the bottom of the water heater tank. Over time, the sediment collects in the tank and creates a layer of insulation between the water and the tank’s heating element. Because of this, less heat reaches the water, resulting in colder showers and your tap water not being as hot as it should be.

The more the sediment builds up, the harder it is for the tank’s heating element to work. Eventually, the heater will fail – either by leaking or malfunctioning. And the result? A higher water bill because of the leaking, or the system stops working altogether.

3.   Cloudy or rust-colored hot water

If your water looks cloudy or has a metallic scent or taste, you could have a failing water heater due to sediment buildup. While the sediment itself can discolor the water with cloudiness or an orange or reddish hue, it can also corrode elements in the heater.

Corrosion in the water heater can occur because of the layer of sediment on the heating element. Not only does sediment buildup in the system restrict heat to the water, but it can also damage the water heater’s interior lining. As the lining wears away, the steel beneath can deteriorate and corrode. The water can then carry the rust particles from the water heater tank to your shower, taps, and water-using appliances.

4.   Leaking or faulty pressure relief valve

Is your water heater’s temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve leaking? Perhaps water does not flow through the pipe when you test the valve. Both scenarios may involve more than just replacing the valve.

A buildup of sediment, salt, and corrosion on the water heater’s element can cause the element to heat up more than usual to make up for the sediment blockage. When this happens, the tank heats up so much that it expands and puts pressure on the water inside. Too much pressure in the tank will eventually spring a leak and burst. And if the pressure gets too much, the tank can explode.

Thankfully, your water heater prevents this problem using its T&P relief valve, which opens up and releases some water to keep the pressure down. But even with the valve, all that extra pressure can cause the valve to fail and start leaking. If that happens, the pressure will continue to build in the tank and cause it to burst or explode.

5.    Cracks in the tank or connections

As noted earlier, your water heater tank may expand rapidly due to excessive heat. Too much heat in the tank can lead to cracks in the device over time. Also, corrosion within the water tank can lead to fractures and breaks. As a result, you may find puddles of water beneath or around the tank. Even worse, a leaking water tank can flood your entire home if not replaced immediately.

6.   Decreased hot water flow

You want to do the dishes quickly, but it takes an excruciatingly long time to fill the sink or dishwasher. You compare your low hot water pressure with the pressure from the cold taps, and the hot water is the only one that trickles.

Changes in the water pressure that comes out of your shower or sink are likely signs of sediment buildup in the water heater tank. As you’ve learned so far in this article, sediment can accumulate in your hot water tank over time. Eventually, this buildup can disrupt the hot water pressure in your home. So, if your hot water pressure seems abnormally low, sediment may be the issue.

7.    Higher gas or electricity bills

Water heaters with too much sediment at the bottom of the tank require more energy to heat the water. As such, the water heater can hike up your gas or electricity bill considerably.

How do I know if sediment is in my water?

A water heater doesn’t only fail because of sediment buildup in the tank. There are numerous other reasons your heater may not function as it should or stop working altogether. For this reason, we recommend testing your water to determine if sediment may be the reason behind your water heater woes.

The visual appearance of the water may provide a clear indication of a potential sediment problem. For example, if the water has a hint of cloudiness or murkiness, contains small particles, or has a touch of orange or red rust-like color, it may contain sediment. The potential for sediment in your water is greater if your water comes from a well, particularly a shallow well, a well near surface waters, or if the well casing is damaged.

Some sediments in water may be difficult to detect with the naked eye. As such, testing your water is the only way to be sure about its contents. We recommend testing your water for iron, pH, hardness, total dissolved solids (TDS), manganese, silica, and other physical characteristics that may indicate possible contamination. If you suspect sediments due to color or cloudiness, also test for tannins and turbidity.

The best way to confirm if sediment is in your water is to order a testing kit, like the Watercheck + Tannins Testing Kit. The standard Watercheck test kit from the National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. contains everything you need to identify irregularities in your water.

It will test your water for 75 or more common contaminants, including:

  • Tannins
  • Physical characteristics (including Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), hardness, turbidity, and pH)
  • VOCs (including TCE, MTBE, and PCE) Inorganic chemicals (including nitrates and fluoride)
  • Heavy metals (including iron, arsenic, uranium, and mercury)
  • Bacteria (the presence or absence of Total Coliform and E. Coli)
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs)

If you’re ready to take the guesswork out of your water quality, you can order the testing kit, mail them the sample, and receive your in-depth report within days. Testing your water for sediments has never been easier!

So, I have a sediment buildup in my water heater. Now what?

If you’ve determined that sediment has accumulated in your water heater, you’ll need to flush the system to remove them. Flushing the tank at least once a year helps clear out any sediment built up in the tank to restore your water heater to its normal working state. This system flush can also help extend the heater’s lifespan.

But what if sediment is still in your water supply? Won’t it still be a problem? Great question! That’s why we recommend installing a whole-house water system and add a sediment pre-filter to prevent harmful particles from entering and building up in the heater in the first place. As the saying goes: “Prevention is better than cure.”

A whole-house water filter acts as a powerful line of defense against all sorts of toxic water contaminants trying to enter your household through your water supply. It targets and removes impurities like chlorine and chloramines, heavy metals like lead and copper, and more.

Whole house systems also provide the added benefit of not having to set up a water filter at every faucet in your home because it filters water from the outset. That means fresh, clean water flowing to every tap and water-using appliance, including your water heater.

It gets better: If you have sediment in your water, you can customize your whole house system with a sediment pre-filter to block those troublesome materials and prevent them from wreaking havoc on your water heater, pipes, plumbing, health, and overall household.

Check out the Springwell CF1 Whole House Water Filtration System.

Customize Your Whole House System with a Sediment Pre-Filter

A sediment filter uses mechanical filtration to trap and eliminate suspended solids entering your water supply and water filtration system. It removes anything from dirt and rust to silt and sand – or just about anything the filter’s micron-rated capacity can capture.

Removing sediment not only protects the whole house filter from damage but allows your water heater to function more efficiently and last longer. Sediment filters also reduce cloudiness in water caused by suspended solids. High concentrations of these solids can cause the water to appear brown, orange, or yellow.

But please note that sediment filters do not eliminate chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, or dissolved particulate matter in water. They also do not improve the water’s taste or smell.

Check out the Springwell Spin-Down Sediment Filter or the Springwell Sediment Filter Canister + 5 Micron Filter.

Final Thoughts

Going without hot water is no fun, especially during the winter when temperatures fall. But thanks to water heaters, we can escape the icy-cold showers – as long as our water heater tanks are free from sediment buildup. Sediment in water poses a grave threat to a water heater’s performance, efficiency, and lifespan, causing issues from weird sounds and less warm water to increased energy usage and reduced water flow. Luckily, you can add a sediment filter to your whole house system to remove unwanted matter from your water supply before it reaches your water heater. That way, your water heater can continue providing adequate hot water for your long, relaxing showers or when you need it at the tap.

If you have any questions or inquiries about our whole house filters or sediment filters, don’t hesitate to contact us at 800-589-5592 or message us from our contact page.