Broken, Missing or Disintegrating Dip Tube
Q: Hi, I've had some problems with my hot water. When I take a shower in the morning, the water is only hot for a few minutes. As the day goes on the hot water seems to last a bit longer, but in the morning the water is cold again. I drained the water heater once but didn't get any sediment out, and the problem didn't go away. I replaced the thermocouple, hoping that would take care of the problem, but that didn't do it either.
So I am in the process of draining the heater again, this time as I drain it, I am running the cold water into the bottom to try to stir up the sediment in the bottom. When I open the valve to drain I am getting a jelly-like substance mostly, with small pieces of calcium or lime. Is there any more I can do to fix or clear my problem? The heater is gas and I am pretty sure the burner is fine. It was installed in July of '94 and I am not sure what kind of warranty it has. I have neglected to drain it every year as recommended by the manufacturer, so I have six years of sediment on the bottom. Is it too late to clear my problem? Do I need to replace my water heater?
A: I think there's an excellent chance you have a disintegrating dip tube. That's the plastic tube that carries cold water to the bottom of the tank, to keep it from mixing with the hot, which rises. About 1993, the company that makes most of the water heater industry's tubes decided to save a few pennies by changing the formula.
Bad idea. A certain number -- nobody knows how many or which water heaters they went into -- started coming apart. That's probably what the jelly is. Sometimes you find the bits in your faucet aerators, as well. There was a class-action suit and settlement. Several companies have special links on their Web sites telling how to get the problem addressed under warranty. Go to www.waterheaterrescue.com, and click on Information to find the appropriate links.
(The deadline for filing a claim under the settlement was Dec. 31, 2000. Now, anyone with this problem will have to deal with it themselves. If you need a plain dip tube, consider calling a plumbing supply house and inquiring whether they have any water heater returned because they were defective. They might be willing to give you the dip tube.) -- Randy (1995-2000)
Q: Do you know of any manufacturer who makes water heaters with copper or steel dip tubing? I do not want a polypropylene dip tube as I have a new water heater with this plastic tubing deterioration problem. Do you know if California's attorney general is helping consumers? I know the Michigan attorney general is involved and leveled charges against several manufacturers about these plastic dip tubes.
A: There was a class action suit and settlement. All the water heater makers that have Web pages have information on how to get the dip tube replaced under warranty. But you do NOT want a dip tube made of steel or copper. It will react with the anode, hastening its consumption, after which your tank will rust out. If you put in a new plastic dip tube, it won't fall apart. They changed the formula for the plastic back to what it was in 1993, when the whole screwup started.
(The deadline for claims under the suit settlement has expired.) -- Randy (1995-2000)
Q: Before I order, the question I have to ask is why should I not make my own flush tube out of copper tube? I appreciate an answer and also would like to know if standard anode rods are available instead of using combination rods? Do you ever advise removing the water tank and flushing the sediment out with a garden hose outside with the unit upside down? Thanks again! Great Web site!
A: It would make sense to have a copper dip tube if you had a copper tank, and once upon a time, that was the case. But it's disaster for a glass-lined steel tank. Copper is several notches below steel on the Galvanic Scale, and that much more below aluminum and magnesium in reactivity. If you put a significant amount of copper in water with any of those three, you'll get a detrimental electrolytic reaction. First, the anode will be rapidly consumed, then the steel will rust, then the tank will fail. You'll have solved your sediment problem, though: your tank won't last long enough to develop any.
Yes, I have regular hex-head anodes. They cost the same as the others.
Once upon a time, the Navy did what you describe, at one of their housing complexes in Monterey: taking a tank out and turning it upside down and spraying a hose inside. No, I don't advise it. While it will certainly solve your sediment problem, it's a whale of a lot of work and just disconnecting and reconnecting the tank is well beyond the technical aptitude of most of the public. If you can make your own copper dip tube, you can probably also remove your own tank, but most people can't, or would get into a fair amount of trouble if they tried. -- Randy (1995-2000)
Q: I am going through the joy of buying a house and lo and behold! The water tank which is only eight years old needed a new anode rod. My attention was gained by the pressure valve leaking, so I was told that had to be changed. As I was visiting your site, I was invigorated into trying to optimize the tank. Sooo, I asked around about the curved dip tube and although these plumbing stores have heard about it they don't carry it. So I was wondering if I omit this curved dip tube and leave that rather useless drain valve on rather than change it, would the life of the tank be compromised greatly?
A: The reason you can't find curved dip tubes is because they aren't manufactured. I buy straight ones and bend them over a Coleman stove. Whether you need one or not depends on how hard your water is. If you have relatively soft water (measured as parts per million, where 400 is very hard and 25 very soft), then putting in a new drain valve and curved dip tube is a waste of time and money. As to how much it compromises the tank, there are no hard answers. The anode is by far the more important thing, but the sediment buildup is undoubtedly bad for the tank. -- Randy (1995-2000)
Q: I have a broken and deteriorating (1995) plastic dip tube, part of which is somewhere inside the tank (don't know if they float or sink to the bottom). Pieces of the tube are getting into the hot water pipes and clogging all the faucet aerators and appliance inlet screens.
The issue isn't replacing the tube, I can do that, but I wanted to know how I might remove the remnants of the old tube. The tank has a few years left on it and works fine otherwise. The drain is pretty small and won't pass the bigger tube fragments. I know that strong chemicals may create a hazzard, so I don't want to get too dramatic. Anybody have a solution? Bleach?
A: You're describing something that's been a nuisance for everyone who has had to deal with this problem. The plastic isn't heavier than water, so it doesn't necessary sink into the bottom of the water heater. As you've seen, it readily flows out of the tank to clog your aerators. Even if you could get someone to vacuum the tank, it wouldn't necessarily get it all.
There are no guarantees, but if you replaced the dip tube with the flush kit we sell that has a curved dip tube and a ball valve drain, you'd have a better chance to flush the stuff out. The tube would direct the flow better and the ball valve would give you a larger aperture that could also easily be unclogged. Probably, though, if you get that old tube out of there and flush the tank thoroughly, the problem will subside. -- Randy (11/23/04)Back to Tanklets