Common Hot Water Heater Problems and How to Fix Milky and Rusty Water

How to solve hot water heater problems such as milky and rusty hot water. What is the cause of the discolored water problem symptoms, and what can you do about it? Can it affect the heating operation and comfort?

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If you have an old, poor-quality water heater with a storage tank protected by the porcelain lining falling apart or where the tank is corroded, you will eventually see discolored hot water at the shower or the tap.

Even newer models with better quality of glass or porcelain coating, protection, and advanced features such as the self-cleaning system can produce hot water that is rusty, milky, brownish, unpleasant to an eye, or even unsafe to use.

Some of the homeowners will blame a unit, others manufacturer, but in reality - the tank that is made of steel, the water source, public supply, old plumbing metal pipes, water pressure, porcelain coat that wears down, poor maintenance, and water action can all be the reasons for water color change.

Note: Potable water in residential homes should be clear and colorless, with no residues.

Causes and solutions for the rusty hot water problem

Rusty waterImage by Jerzy Górecki (Pixabay)

Rust in the water heater is not necessarily coming from the metal tank corrosion; it might result from the non-toxic iron-reducing bacteria found in places like the water well, soil, or piping system. Soluble iron in the water is actually the food for bacteria, and the result of that process is rusty hot water.

The bacteria presence can affect the water heater anode rod, so regular check-ups and maintenance are recommended.

If potable water, used for heating, has an increased level of manganese or iron, little or no dissolved oxygen, and the temperature below 138 F, bacteria will sustain. It will become even worse if you use softeners (for hard water problems), well water, and if water is subjected to long periods of no movement.

As with the rotten egg smell that is again caused by the bacteria, the solution is very simple, chlorination of the system.

Follow the manufacturer's guide for the treatment. You might want to repeat the process if the plumbing system is heavily infected.

Chlorination process to remove odor and sediments

Chlorination described below is the solution for these hot water heater problems:

  • Turn off the gas and/or electric supply and cold water.
  • Drain all the water from the tank.
  • Remove an anode rod and close the drain valve.
  • Use one gallon of chlorine bleach for every 25 gallons of tank capacity.
  • Bring the anode back.
  • Refill the system.
  • Draw the chlorinated water to every single tap in your home. Do not forget the dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Let it stay for one hour.
  • Drain the tank again.
  • Close the drain and refill the tank.
  • Continue flushing until water is clear and without the chlorine odor. Don't forget plumbing pipes.
  • Run the heater using instructions found in the manual.
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Another reason for rusty hot water might come from the sand, mud, and clay sediments that will enter the heating system through the well systems, during major water main breaks and repairs, or when the new houses are built.

Over the years of work and thousands of gallons that pass the system, rust and other particles will also collect at the bottom of the tank.

The solution for all these conditions is to drain and flush the heater's tank.

Note: A warranty doesn't cover this kind of hot water heater problem.

Cause and solution for milky or cloudy water

Image by JAVIER DE COS LARA (Pixabay)

Milky or cloudy water doesn't have to be a problem in water heating systems, as it might also occur in cold water lines. You can experience discolored water with the old units and recently installed also.

A few factors might be involved in the change of a water color change, and the majority of them are related to the home plumbing or the city's piping system.

Gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, chlorine, and other soluble ingredients, when released from heating water due to pressure increase, will make the water appear milky.

Additional air might be present at the city's pumping stations when the utility company switches the well source, due to aerators at faucets, by low pressure that does not allow gases and oxygen to dissolve properly or when the incoming water temperature changes, so it becomes warmer and causes the air to expand.

The solution is to allow water to stand for several minutes so dissolved gases in the form of small bubbles can separate and make the water clear.

If it is persistent and happens often, you can either reduce it with the aerated faucets or simply call the water utility company to check.

Milky and rusty hot water are just a few of the most common hot water heater problems that are easy to deal with, often with the preventive maintenance or service.

Also, keep in mind that these problems do not mean that the heater is going bad, but it is not for drinking and cleaning. The unit should last at least ten years.

If the problem cannot be solved, hot water is not clear for a long time, and the unit is not performing as it used to check out with the plumber.

Also, if the efficiency is much lower, there is a strange noise, leaking, and higher energy bills, then the problem is getting serious, meaning you should really talk to an expert.

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