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First in Service, First in Quality
First in Service, First in Quality

3 Reasons Why Your Water Heater Smells

Do you detect smells near your water heater or in the hot water itself? Here are three reasons why water heaters develop odors.

1. Reactive Bacteria

If your hot water heater has a gassy, sulfur-tinged, or rotten egg smell, you're probably dealing with hydrogen sulfide produced inside the tank. Why is your water heater tank producing hydrogen sulfide? Because of its anode rod and bacteria.

Inside a water heater tank is a long metal stick called an anode rod. It's made of magnesium and aluminum and is a sacrificial component designed to protect the steel casing of your water heater tank. Since magnesium and steel corrode more easily than steel, corrosive agents are drawn to the sacrificial anode rod instead of the steel sides of your water heater.

In many water supplies, there are anaerobic bacteria that are sulfate reducing. These bacteria cause the rotten egg smell when they react with the hydrogen and sulfur produced by the anode rod activity.

To combat this rotten egg smell, you can:
  • Use a powered anode
  • Install a tankless water heater
  • Flush the tank with two pints hydrogen peroxide
  • Install an aerator on the tank
Sometimes a new anode rod will produce more hydrogen sulfide than an old one — thus you'll smell more of the gassy odor. You should have your anode rods checked routinely and changed as needed to preserve your hot water tank despite the potential smell. Old or absent anode rods leave your tank open to corrosion and leaks.

2. Mold and Mildew

If your tank has been turned off because it was unused for a while, mold or mildew may have grown inside the tank. The smell may taint water and the area around the water heater as well.

The water heater and all hot water lines should be flushed in the case of mildew or mold growth. Ask your plumbing professional for the safest way to flush your system, since each plumbing system requires different disinfectants that won't harm the piping or fitting materials.

Make sure you aren't smelling a musty odor from mold and mildew under and around the water heater. If your pressure-relief valve is malfunctioning, your water heater has a small leak, or a supply pipe is dripping, the smell may be from mold growing at the site of the leak.

If your water heater is leaking from corrosion of the steel, you need a new appliance. However, a leaking pressure-relief valve, pipe, or other fitting can be easily replaced without the need for a new water heater. Clean up the mold and mildew under and around the water heater to reduce the chances of future problems, and consider a dehumidifier for the area.

3. An Actual Fire

Did you know that appliances are responsible for seven percent of the fires in residences? If you smell a strong burning smell near your water heater, it could be the result of flammable objects placed too close to a gas water heater's pilot light.

Clothes, old papers, and other flammable debris allowed to collect around the water heater's base pose a serious fire threat. Whether your water heater is located in the laundry room or its own space, keep the area around the appliance clear of all debris and household items.

Routinely sweep up dust and lint from around the water heater, and make sure the pilot light access cover is firmly in place. If your water heater is located where there's outside access, clean up any leaves, nests, or dry grass that are blown or brought into the space.

Contact First Choice Plumbing Solutions to have your water heater inspected or your anode rods replaced. We can repair and replace your water heater anywhere in the Greater Gainesville, Florida area.