Water Heater - will salt water damage the unit?

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by BARJRD, Nov 17, 2009.


    BARJRD New Member

    Nov 17, 2009
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Our garage (and electric water heater) flooded last week with 15" of brackish (salt) water. We turned off the breaker soon after the water entered the garage. We allowed it to dry out for a couple of days and then turned it on and it works! However, I am concerned about the future corrosion that may take place due to the salt water. The insulation inside the unit was soaked.

    We talked to 2 plumbers, and neither had a clue on whether this was potentially an issue. The unit was basically sitting in 15" of water for 30 hours.

    Any advice?

  2. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Jan 14, 2009
    The insulation on the tank will dry out- if it was fiberglass it might not recover it's initial R-value but a retrofit tank blanket should keep it's efficiency up. If its was foam, it never lost it's R-value.

    As long as it remains dry corrosion won't progress. If any electrical connections were soaked there could be issues down the line, but that would likely be easily repairable stuff.

    You may see some corrosion or bubbles/flaking paint on the exterior jacket from moisture that got trapped on the interior side, but that would have little effect on function, only appearance. (And if you covered the thing in retrofit insulation you wouldn't have to look at it anyway.)

    I'd wait for (but not expect for) it to fail before doing anything beyond inspecting & cleaning any electrical connections below the high-water mark. (Did it reach as high as the lower heating element?)
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  4. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    If this was a gas unit and it got to the valve, you'd have to replace at least the gas valve. But, for an electric, especially if it didn't make it up to the electrical parts, it should dry out and be okay.
  5. WorthFlorida

    WorthFlorida USCG escorting cruise ship leaving Port Everglades

    Oct 28, 2009
    Orlando, Florida
    Replace the lower thermostat. A good chance that water did get inside of it and it may fail by keeping the element on all the time or not at all. It was good that you turned the power off before it got wet. A water heater has and inside tank and an other shell. If the insulation does dry out over time it will take a long time for it to corrode from the outside in but the tank may go before that happens.

    No matter what the water heater warranty is there are some general rules that I follow. If the tank is more than 7 years you did OK, if it is over ten years old you are on borrowed time. Replace it if in doubt because they are like a car battery, when you need it the most it will fail. Replace it before you need to call a plumber on the weekend because of no hot water or you'll be late for the wedding.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2009
  6. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Nov 12, 2005
    Replace the lower stat and turn it on and use it until it needs repair or replacement...
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