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Rusty Hot Water – What To Do

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Did you recently notice a steady stream of rusty hot water coming from your taps?

Not only is this rusty and murky water displeasing to the eyes, but it can smell and taste weird too. The contaminated water can have a heavy metallic smell and taste, making the water ill fit for consumption.

Rusty water can also ruin your laundry load by staining your linens. This article will help you understand everything there is to know about rusty water.

Determining whether it’s rust or not

Sometimes, colored water can be a simple case of dirt sediments. To ensure the correct diagnosis of the situation, you need to determine if the water contains rust or not.

Try considering these questions to start the determination process:

  • Is the water a shade of deep yellow, reddish-brown, or a more opaque brown?
  • Does the water emit a strong metallic rusty odor?
  • Is your sink or bathtub stained with rust stains?

If the water has a reddish-brown tint with a distinctive metallic odor, it is safe to say that it contains heavy rust. Water contaminated with rust also tends to stain porcelain hardware and linens.

Consuming a tiny amount of rusty water cannot pose hazardous effects; however, continuous use over the years can indeed show severe effects.

Reasons for rusty or discolored hot water 

what causes tap water

Rusty or discolored water can be a product of multiple issues from your water heater.

The water heater’s age can be the number one reason. Avoiding annual maintenance can also put your water heater at risk. Other significant reasons include old pipelines, worn-out fixtures, and cross-contamination of water in the channel.

Your water heater might have a single issue or a combination of the problems mentioned above. A thorough check-up of the whole system is the only way of knowing the exact reason.

Determining the location of the rust

Finding the location is the most crucial step, as determining the place of the rust will automatically give you a clear list of solutions.

The first and foremost step is to find whether the rusty water is coming from your internal home plumbing system or the city’s plumbing system. Luckily, since hot water is related to the internal plumbing system, you can quickly solve most hot water contamination cases.

To determine the exact location, you need to collect two glassfuls of water samples from one fixture. Fill one clear glass with cold water and the other with hot water, keeping a distance of 10 minutes between each fill. If you find rust in your hot water sample, it goes without saying that the rust source is inside your home.

But if you see both hot and cold water contamination, it is a city plumbing issue. If it’s a city issue, you should immediately call and report the matter to your local water authority. This sample test will also help you narrow your search to the exact source.

If you notice rusty water from the cold tap, it highly indicates deterioration and rusting of your home plumbing pipes. Furthermore, if you observe the rust from the hot water tap, it can mean that your water heater is rusting from the inside.

Your second test is to run the water from both the taps for 10 minutes each. If the cold water tap spurs rusty water even after 10 minutes, it is safe to assume that your internal pipes are damaged.

Similarly, if a hot water tap pushes murky water, there are chances of heavy sedimentation in your water tank.

Finally, if you notice both hot and cold water contamination, it can signify city water contamination. Calling the local authority can be a responsible first step. 

If your tests show hot water contamination, we recommend following this article to learn the exact steps for tackling it.

Why do tanks corrode?

corroded water heater tank

Every gas or an electric-powered water heater that you install comes with a metal tank. Since these tanks are constantly exposed to water, the manufacturing companies treat the tank’s inner lining with a heavy-duty porcelain coating at a high temperature.

This heavy-duty coating usually keeps the tank corrosion-free for many years. Gradually this coating becomes fragile and starts chipping from the inside. The chipped exposed layer then starts the corrosion from inside the tank.

In the end, every time some amount of water contacts that particular spot, it gets mixed with rust particles. These rust particles can also slowly accumulate at the bottom of the water tank. Any sudden jerk or stirring can further mix the water, contaminating it to a greater extent.

Another method to avoid corrosion is using a sacrificial anode rod. Its corrosion can also cause murky water to flow from your faucets. Failure in maintaining the heater can thus drastically corrode your water tank.

Reasons for rusty hot water in your faucets

1. Iron bacteria

pipes with iron bacterias

All types of water contain very micro amounts of dissolved iron. This iron dissolved water can get converted into iron oxide when a particular set of iron bacteria come into the picture.

These bacteria usually thrive and breed in tight and moist spaces, water heaters being their most preferred spot.

Lack of movement and oxygen can make these bacteria active while reducing the anode rod efficiency in general. Active bacteria will indeed make your pipes and lines rust at twice the speed, thus contaminating your water.

2. Water mains

Sometimes city pipelines can also be a roaring culprit for rusty hot water. Since these metal pipes tend to rust, they can occasionally deliver rusty water into your faucets.

Usually, repairs on the main pipelines can result in murky water. You can also encounter muddy water when the authorities flush fire hydrants.

The force of the fire hydrants can disrupt the metal walls and pick up heavy amounts of rust. You can always ask your neighbors about their water quality to further strengthen your theory.

3. Heavy deposits in water

When new constructions, plumbing projects, or any pipeline work occurs, heavy mud, dirt, dust, and sand get deposited into the water tank.

This contaminated water can crawl through your pipeline, giving it a cloudy and rusty appearance. Since the water heater is connected to your main channels, it can automatically accumulate these deposits into the tank and make it rusty.

4. Rusty pipes

rusty pipes

Rusty pipes are one of the most common causes of rusty water flow. Lines made of metal have a high chance of getting rust. The higher the pressure inside the pipes, the more vigorously the water will mix and become impure.

Usually, galvanized pipes tend to rust over time during unfavorable climatic conditions. In the case of a wholly rusted pipe, you should change the whole tube to avoid future contamination.

Even ruptured pipes can invite unwanted dirt and minerals into clean water. To prevent such instances, most people rely on copper or plastic pipes for their water supply lines. 

Solutions for the rusty hot water

The following ways are some of the easiest methods to clean out your water heater tank. You can use one solution or combine all the solutions for an utterly rust-free water heater.

1. Shock therapy

Shock therapy is an excellent way of getting rid of the bacteria that speeds up the oxidization process. Usually, shock therapy is conducted using a strong dose of chlorine.

The chlorine will kill the bacteria, thus disinfecting the tank. You can introduce the bleach water into the tank by siphoning and later flushing the liquid for a bacteria-free tank.

Bleach Dilution ratio:

  • A 40-gallon hot water tank requires 3¼ cups of bleach
  • Any 50-gallon water heater can fit 4 cups of bleach
  • Similarly, a 120 gallon requires nearly 8¾ cups of bleach

2. Draining and flushing the heater tank

flush and drain water heater

If you notice a considerable amount of rust at the bottom of your tank, kindly prepare to drain and flush the heater tank. Shut off the power in case of an electric heater, or put your gas heater on the pilot while shutting off the water connection.

Attach a good-quality hose to the tank’s drain outlet and place the other end into the sink. Fill the tank with water and repeat the process of flushing a few times. The force of the water will automatically remove all the metal sediments sitting at the end of the tank.

3. Brushing and Draining rust

If your tank shows heavy signs of rust sediments, brushing and draining can be a good option instead of draining and flushing. You need to power off the machine and empty the entire water heater.

To gain complete access at the bottom:

  1. Remove the drain valve.
  2. Use a long and sturdy brush and insert it through the drain opening.
  3. Brush up the rust to loosen it up; this method is excellent when the rust is firmly stuck at the bottom.
  4. Fill the water tank with a few gallons of water and flush out all the rust and impurities.

4. Vacuum cleaning

You can vacuum the water heater using a wet or dry method to eliminate all the accumulated rust. Kindly search for a narrow mouth tubing for your vacuum cleaner and insert it via the drain pipe.

You can secure the drain entryway with additional tape to create a complete vacuum. The vacuum will suck up all the loose rust within seconds.

You can now fill the tank with water and conduct a wet cleaning session to clean the entire tank. A combination of brushing and vacuuming works excellent to get rid of the peskiest deposits.

5. Replacing the sacrificial anodes

replace rusty anodes

If your water heater shows damage to sacrificial anodes, it is time to remove them for a clean water flow. This sacrificial anode works as the first level of protection in your water heater tank.

This long rod is usually constructed using metal that corrodes faster than the tank’s walls. The plate acts as an attractant that collects corrosive minerals in the water.

The anode ultimately stops the walls from getting corroded. Thus, homeowners should always replace their sacrificial anodes to keep the water and tank pristine.

You can follow these steps to replace the anode with ease:

  • Turn off the power and cold water inlet valve. You can find the cold water inlet valve at the top of your water heating system.
  • Slowly unscrew the hex bolt that holds the sacrificial anode. Remove the corroded rod without damaging the inside of the tank. If you see a tiny rod covered with rust, it is a perfect time to change it.
  • Place the new anode in place of the old one by sealing the hex bolt tightly. Once tightened down, the anode plate won’t move from its place.
  • Finish the task by using a Teflon tape on the threaded fitting to avoid any leaks. Turn back the power, and you can no longer see rusty water from your taps.

Preventing rusty water 

Taking care of rusty water can be a time-consuming chore. Also, to avoid such unexpected bursts of water contamination, we highly recommend a few safety precautions.

All water heater manufacturers suggest constant and regular maintenance. Occasional sediment clean-up can also increase the life of your water tank. Professionals usually recommend changing your hot water tank after 10-12 years of its service.

Older tanks tend to pump out more brown water as time passes, so updating your boiler room with a new tank can be a good investment.

Homeowners should consider asking the following questions every few years: 

  • How old is the current water heater?
  • When did I last change the house pipes? 
  • Is a contaminated well pumping out water into the house?
  • How old are the public water pipeline systems?


We hope our write-up helped you understand the rusty water situation in-depth. These solutions and locating techniques can indeed come in handy during sudden rusty water outbursts.

If the solutions mentioned in this article fail to cease the issue, we highly recommend contacting plumbing contractors or HVAC companies.

Reference articles:

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Charlie Hardcastle


On Key

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