Water heater iron deposits

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by mihomeowner, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    Due to an issue with my water softener, I had hard water sitting in my toilets and hot water heater for a couple months.

    I finally realized what was happening and fixed the water softener. The toilets had a brown sludge like build up in the tanks that left the clean toilet water looking yellowish. I was able to wipe it off the tanks pretty easily.

    The same sludge (sorry don't know a better word for it) exists on the inside of my water heater. I've flushed it 3 times and drained it. The water still looks yellow when I fill up a bath. I took the t/p relief valve off and stuck my finger in and wiped the inside wall of the heater and the sludge is still there. Stuck my bore scope in and anywhere that it touched left a mark in the sludge.

    So there is a build up in there. I think it is primarily from my issue with the water softener. Before that, everything worked normally.

    I guess my options are attack with chemicals or replace? If there was a way to wipe down the inside of the heater with a paper towel (that is all it took for the toilets), it would work. But there is no way. Chemicals seem like it would take forever. Unless there is some miracle iron-out product I don't know about?

    The tank is 12 years old so I know it's coming to the end of it's life... but it's a bradford white so I thought it could get a few more years (and probably could).

    Any thoughts?
  2. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    Do you have a pressure washer?

    Bradford Whites often don't have a regular anode that you could pull for more access.

    I am presuming that is rust, but maybe a combo of rust and something else. I would probably use some Super Iron Out followed by dishwashing soap. You would want to rinse well when done.

    Replacing it would be more time-effective. I cleaned mine, and put in a powered anode. Many steps.
  3. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    I do have a pressure washer but I just can't see how you would be able to access enough of the tank to make a difference. Also pretty sure the nozzle of my pressure washer wouldn't fit in the t/p valve hole.

    When I think rust, I think something that can't be easily removed. This can be easily removed by wiping it away. Access is the problem.

    It's a bradford white, 50 gallon powered vent. I thought it would be a $500-$700 replacement but I am learning now the powered vent units are more expensive... $1000-$1200 range.

    I'm just thinking chemicals aren't going to be enough...
  4. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    That hole is almost an inch, isn't it?


    You could also consider phosphoric acid. I used that.
  5. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    Gonna try to use iron out in the water heater
  6. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    As I remember, I drained my tank. Added my cleaner/chemical. Then turned on the water. The water got fairly turbulent just from coming out of the dip tube, which I figured helped. As the water reached the open anode hole, it would be a tad foamy. I turned off the water as it topped out. I let it sit maybe overnight, maybe shorter (I did more than one process). Seemed pretty effective.

    Phosphoric acid is not as bad as it sounds. It is an ingredient in soda pop in a much more dilute concentration. It is sold as "prep and etch" for preping concrete. Now that sounds scary.
  7. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    15,012
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    We don't offer to do much on a 12 year gas water heater. That's getting pretty old. I've seen some last twenty years in Seattle, and some last seven. The seven year tanks were GE.
  8. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    I used the t/p relief valve opening to get the iron out in. It wasn't easy. The power wouldn't go in easily so I had to mix with water and then send it down. Going to let it sit overnight. I would like to put it in the anode rod opening but can't figure out how to get that off. It's a bradford white so it's a combination hot water/anode. The union seems pretty tight.

    Is iron out phosphoric acid?
  9. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    No. Somebody posted the ingredients recently, and none were phosphoric acid.

    Phosphoric acid is good for calcium and magnesium deposits. I think the iron out is good for iron, and maybe something else.
    I had black stuff that I thought was sulfur, but maybe it was manganese. I think the dishwashing detergent was helpful with that.
  10. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    Ended up having the water heater replaced. I tried the iron out and that helped some, but I couldn't get the rust color out of our water and I couldn't get all the sediment out of the tank either... after spending hours on it, I just said screw it. It's 12 years old. The inside was starting to rust, I could see it with my bore scope.

    I think disturbing the water in there didn't help with the sediment part of it. I thought I remember reading somewhere if you haven't flushed your water heater in a while, don't do it. Now I see why. Should I do regular flushes on this new one or just leave it alone?
  11. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    I don't know about the flushes. I would try to be proactive to make sure you don't start getting new deposits. This could include making sure your softener regenerates at least every week. Consider getting an iron test kit.

    I would disinfect my well annually. See http://www.moravecwaterwells.com/ and click disinfect in the upper right.

    I would try to loosen the anode on the new heater if I could, and reinstall with teflon tape and a lot less torque. Then inspect/replace at an appropriate interval.


    I put in a powered anode.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2014
  12. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    I've been keeping an eye on the water softener... it seems to be regenerating normally. The salt bridge I experienced has me paranoid now. There should be a little bit of water in the bottom of the brine tank, right? Usually when the salt gets low I just dump a few bags in and fill the tank 3/4 of the way. But now I am putting less in so I can monitor it, and basically make sure there is some water in it. What technique is good for making sure a salt bridge doesn't form?

    I've disinfected the well before. When the plumber installed the new tank, he put some teflon tape on it. But I will try to take a look at it more often. The old one was really on there.

    Are powered anodes worth it? This is a bradford white tank, so the anode is on the hot water inlet side I believe. Not sure if powered anode is an option with this setup.
  13. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,270
    Location:
    IL
    I am not sure about the salt level. I just cleaned out my brine tank, and for now, I am keeping the level of the salt below high tide. I am not sure the tank cleaning was warranted. I probably should have waited on that until more of the salt was gone. There was a whole lot more salt impacted on the bottom of the tank than I imagined.

    Worth it? I don't know. I had bought that just before I got the sulfur+iron filter. It was largely a sulfur thing initially. But since I can, I hope, move it to a new tank, it is cheap enough. Once I had to do the heavy impact wrench on the tank to get my old eaten-up anode out, maybe I put tiny cracks in the glass lining. Maybe the tank had already been not anode protected for a while. I am glad I did it. Maybe I got another several years out of the existing old tank that I cleaned.

    There are people who reasonably think that the anode will get more of a workout with softened water. I intend to do an experiment one of these days. The plus side of softened water in the hot water tank is that you will not be getting calcium and magnesium compound deposits.

    The combined inlet+anode makes it trickier to install a powered anode. http://www.waterheaterrescue.com/pages/WHRpages/English/OrderPages/XCart/Power-Anode-For-Combos.html On the downside, with that product for the combos, I would not feel good introducing steel pipe-- especially if my existing piping was not steel.
  14. mihomeowner

    mihomeowner Member

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    Michigan
    I cleaned out my brine tank and had an issue with my softener. It wasn't working right and wasn't sucking in any brine. That is one of the issues that led to my mess. The other was a salt bridge that I think had formed in the brine tank. When I cleaned out my brine tank I saw what you saw, a lot of impacted salt on the bottom. It hadn't been cleaned in years, I think. The salt was interfering with the brine valve.

    Anyway, got it all cleaned out and got it up and running again. Iron out in water heaters is shaky. I put some iron out in a milk jug with some water in it to see how it would react. I put the lid on and it quickly started expanding. Got the lid off but it probably would have blown it if left alone. So I knew it needed air to expand and if it's gases were trapped, wouldn't be pretty. The first time I used the iron out on my old water heater, I left the t/p valve off so it had plenty of air. But then I could only clean up to where that valve is (couldn't get the hot line off).

    So anyway, got the new water heater (bradford white) and everything is looking good. Wanted to post my experiences in case it ever helps anyone. By the way, is $1000 for a new 50 gal bradford white powered vent installed pretty decent?
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