another way to remove scale?

ilmbgOctober 21, 2008

For several years, I was unable to do monthly maintenance on my water heater due to a severe injury.(electric) The water here is very, very alkinine, even with a softner. The chunks of scale can be the size of peas.

The scale is so deep, that if I try to drain the heater it blocks the opening, and will not drain. I have tried putting a wire clothes hanger in the openeing where the lower element is to scoop the stuff out, but with little luck.

Is there another way to get the scale out? I would imagine the whole thing would have to be disconnected-pipes,electric wire? Any way to pour in something to dissolve this?

The heater is 8 years old.

Thank you

Thank you

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Plan on replacing it sooner.

Acids along the line of muriatic are required for extensive de-scaling.

For a water heater it is unlikely to be cost effective since you need to sanitize the tank after treatment.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 5:56PM
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Brickeyee- I have well water- it is not potable. I wouldn't have to treat the tank then, would I?

If I can, I don't want to replace it, as I have not worked for 8 years, will not, and the house is for sale.

If I absolutely have to, is there a heater that is easier to drain every month than another.

I was wondering about one of the liquid cleaner that take calcium. lime, rust (CLR), out- is there a way to pour it in through the top, let it sit to dissolve, then try to drain the heater.

I was thinking about turning off the heater, drain any that I can, take the upper element out, drain the rest of the tank by putting a hose in the upper element hole, then pouring CLR into the tank through that hole, letting it sit, then seeing if it would drain out better.

Does that make sense, or just crazy?

When/if I have to get a heater, I want to have it raised on something, about 2', then it would be easier to drain. As it is, the spigot to drain this one is so close to the ground that the hose bends right where you screw it on- the hose is kinked right at the spigot.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 9:56PM
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Why are you heating non-potable water?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 8:11PM
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Because I use it for showering, toilet, clothes wash, etc- just not drinking. It is the only source of water- I do not have access to county water- I am too far out.

Some people use a cistern, here, but I use the well- most use a well and drink bottled water- or use reverse osmosis. I have a new reverse osmosis, but the plumber can't figure out how to get it to work. I might be able to shock it (the well)- it would be without bacteria, but still not acceptable to drink due to the salt.

Can I try the way I mentioned? Right now, I can't replace the heater, as everything seems to be breaking- things that should be in good shape- the Fisher Paykel dish drawers both stopped working last nite- different problems. New reverse osmosis not working. Water heater not heating as well, I think due to scale in tank, nobody can get the hose off of the water faucet on the clothes washer- it is stuck on- probably due to the alkinine water. Harmon pellet stove not putting out hot enough air- only heat supply in house- I am drowning with trying to deal with this all....

Thanks for help

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 8:23PM
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Sale buildup is a problem in gas water heaters because the gas burner is under the tank and the scale acts as an insulator which prevents the heat energy from reaching the water, but such is not the case in an electric water heater.

In an electric water heater the electric heating elements are elevated well above the bottom of the tank therefore the scale buildup on the bottom of the tank has absolutely no effect on how well the unit heats water until the depth of the scale reaches the height of the lower heating element and in most cases the tank has failed long before the scale buildup gets that deep.

On the other hand, if your tank is not heating effectively it is very likely that scale has built up on the heating elements. It must also be noted that the heating elements in an electric water heater are technically defined as "water cooled elements" which means that they produce more heat than what can be tolerated by the element itself unless it is in direct contact with water to absorb the heat. It is very common for scale to buildup on the heating elements, which insulates the element from the water and under this circumstance the heat of the element will cause it to burn itself out. Fortunately the elements are relatively cheap
(under $10 each) and generally easy to change out. (Although I would never recommend a novice try it, in a worst case scenario where the tank cannot be drained electric heating elements can be changed on the fly without draining the tank and with a minimal loss of water, but from personal experience I can assure you it is a very risky procedure that falls under the heading of "do not do this at home folks")

Years ago before the introduction of indoor water supplies people had to carry their water from streams, springs or wells in large vessels which were called "water Pots" thus the term potable water is contraction of the phrase "pot able". This merely defines that the water is safe to drink. It does not in any way indicate that the water is desalinated or demineralized.

in turn, the health codes require that all structures must have a source of "potable water" in order to maintain a certificate of occupancy. The water may not be totally healthy for long term exposure but it must not in any way pose an immediate health risk.

Taking this to the next level, the plumbing codes are not building codes, they are health codes designed to protect the public and private water supply. Per the plumbing codes, under no circumstances may known non-potable water be introduced into a structures potable water distribution system. In fact the codes require that whenever we plumb pipes and/or pumps to a non-potable water source all the pipe and faucets MUST BE painted bright yellow and they must have a sign posted stating "Non-potable water". The codes provide for some rather serious criminal penalties punishable by jail terms for knowingly for failing to meet this requirement and knowingly introducing non-potable water into a structure distribution system.

Now, to answer your question about using a chemical to de-scale your heater. Under no circumstances may any chemical de-scaling agent be introduced into the pipes, fixtures or appurtenances in the potable water distribution system.

You stated that you don't drink that water which is fine, but you must also consider that you do wash your dishes and clothes in it, not to mention that you wash your hands in it, then handle your food and most likely brush your teeth with that water so you are fooling no one but yourself by drinking bottled water and ignoring the bigger problem.

If your plumber cannot get your R.O equipment working then its time to either get a new plumber or new water treatment equipment.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 10:32AM
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lazypup- You do not seem to understand the problem at all.
First, the element that is in my electric heater is an element that does not cost $10- I am well aware of elements and their costs, as I have replaced many over the years.
I have an element that has a coating on it, so scale does not stick. Whenever I have had need to check/drain/whatever with the heater, I take both elements out and check them. Never any coat of scale.
these elements are double length loops, teflon (I believe) covered- they cost $32 for each element.

The bottom element WAS inbedded in scale- that is why the last one blew out- the scale IS up to that element. I was able to scrape out about 2 inches with a bent piece of wire, and a long handled small spoon. That is the reason for my question.

If you are telling people that it is not possible for this to happen, then I invite you out here to take a view for yourself.

Don't tell people something that is not true.

Wherever you live, your state/county may have laws about occupency and water quality.
Here, in the rural area of Wyoming, in my county it it not so, as in most of Wyoming.

Many places in this part of the west do not have potable water- it is very common, partially due to the fact that we have no public water source, and also due to the fact that this is an area of many large (thousands and thousands of acres) cattle ranches. Cattle and pig ranches cause pollution by the feces seeping down into well shallow aquifers/wells.Coliform is the most common contamination from livestock, although not limited to so. Pesticides, fertilizers are in our waters.

Because hauling water is not appropriate for the majority of homes due to the unavailability of potable water, we use our water in the most appropriate way possible- meaning that washing clothes, washing hands with antibacterial soap and bathing with same soap has proved to be a safe, plausible way to use what we have.

lazypup- my edcation degree is in Public Health Nursing-Federal Government- I think I am a bit more qualified to the aspects of what is acceptable in the rural living with ground water than you are. Just a bit.

What may be laws in your state/county are not the law of our state/county. Please do not pretend to know the laws/rules of the country- you are sorely lacking in that area. We have alternate ways of getting around this problem here.

If we had to have potable water from each house, there wouldn't be very many homes here in Wyoming, as it is impossible. We only have 515,000 total population in Wyoming- probably less than the city that you live in.
The majority of this is in Natrona County- Casper area.
Where I live, we have approximately 1,000 people on electric power.

I appreciate the help with my original question as far as asking about the scale in my water heater even there, you seem to be unaware of the facts.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 12:38PM
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Just a suggestion: Lately I've been installing a lot of gas fired tankless water heaters. Because of the design of the heat exchanger all manufacturers recommend semi-annual flushing with vinegar, some even sell kits for this maintenance procedure. Vinegar is cheap and dissolves most mineral deposits. When I flush tank type water heaters I leave full pressure on the incoming cold water because the dip tube helps to scour the bottom of the tank and sometimes washes sludgey deposits out of the drain valve. Hopefully your tank is not too far gone. good luck.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 5:18PM
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LOL... given the well water from hell described by the O.P., I'm thinking tankLESS would be the WORST solution, and that he would be flushing it semi-WEEKLY, not semi-annually. I bet the impellers and sensors and related gizmonics would crust up SOLID in no time flat.

Also, he didn't indicate that he even had gas service.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 3:35PM
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Sensitive a bit?

This is a public forum meant for other readers, too. While sometimes advice can seem a tad blunt, that's not an excuse to apply one's advance degree in uppity rudeness.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 5:34PM
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You weren't listening to what was being said... He wasn't recommending a tankless water heater, he was recommending vinegar.


You can replace the drain valve with a full flow ball valve and that will help with flushing the chunks out. That said, I would guess that any liquid Acid that you put in there would require such a large amount to be effective that it wouldn't be practical. Vinegar would be the safest... but it would take a lot to do the job.

The heater is 8 years old. A heater can be expected to last 8-12 years. The truth is that you are nearing the end of its life. There is something to be said for cheap, electric heaters - particularly if you can replace them yourself (which I understand that you can't).

I understand your position... but you should know that beyond flushing, it's unlikely that you will find an acid that's safe and effective to descale to the extent that you need done.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 9:18PM
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Thanks for ideas- you are right- the tank is 8 years- time to replace even if it is still working well.
Nope, can't have a tankless- that would be my dream!! Here it would freeze parts in short order! Don't have gas out here either- except propane. When I ever get back to civilization I'll have a tankless!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 11:42PM
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I second jakethewonderdog. If the anode is gone and the tank is full of anything you can't remove, get another heater.
Either plumb the new install to counteract the problem or schedule more frequent maintenance.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 6:11AM
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Although you already know you should replace it, your best bet right now, due to economics, is to take the valve and lower element out and then through both openings, use the coat hanger or other device in conjunction with turning the water on and off and let the dip tube help you, as mentioned by jdplumb. It may take an hour or more but you should be able to get it suitably cleaned. You can also use one of those choke cable type auto parts retrievers that has a grabber on the end to pull some of the larger pieces with. If you can spring for it, replace the valve with a ball type CPVC valve. This will help a little better when you need to remove the hose and you can position the hose better to minimize the kink. Please follow the previous advice...don't use acids at this time. You'll cause more problems than you will solve.

When you do decide to replace it (most likely out of necessity) you might want to consider a Marathon water heater. They are guaranteed a lifetime (no metal or glass lining). The heating elements aren't cheap (around 50 bucks each) and the threaded end is much larger. You could actually use a small scoop from the lower element opening. Do some research on them now so you'll have an idea which one is best for you. I think they are made in Oregon. Anyhow, try to or, get someone to do monthly drains on it and you shouldn't have to go through this again.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 8:05PM
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maryland...By taking the valve off- you are talking about the top valve where the intake of water is?
One problem that I had from not being able to care for it was draining it- I thought (must never think again), that when the tank had quit draining that it was empty...wrong, very, very wrong :( The tank had quit draining because the valve at the bottom was plugged with scale. I was doing other things outside for about 1 hour, so I thought for SURE it was drained.. When I took the top element out to see which one was burned out- GUSHER!!! The tank wasn't even 1/4th empty, so when I took out the top element the water gushed out- with the force of water above it gushed out about 3-4 foot from the tank- water all over the laundry room!! Then, I had to take out the lower element- same thing!! That's when I realized the lower valve was clogged (some people are slow learners!).
Because of this, I am not sure what to do- I know the lower valve will be clogged, but how else do I get the water out? I don't want to repeat the gushing water episode!
As for the marathon- yes- my mom had one- they will stay lukewarm for almost a week after turned off!
I don't have the room, though- the laundryroom is small- the WH is in the corner by the door- a Marathon would block part of the doorway. Good idea, though- especially with the need to use less energy in today's world.
Is there a way to drain it without repeating the 'gusher'?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 11:15PM
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I was referring to the lower valve but meant to remove it only after emptying. Now I know money is an issue so I can only offer the next best thing I can think of instead of cutting the whole tank out and wheeling it out of there.
The best I can offer for emptying is to maybe use a shop vac and blow pressure back into the hose after opening the valve and it may clear the valve enough that water will start. You may have to do that several times until the tank empties. You could even reverse the hose on the shop vac and pull a suction on the hose but that might cause a clog.

From the description you give, that rascal is pretty well blocked with quite a bit of scale. You could turn the water off, disconnect the cold water valve at the top and use the shop vac to pull the water back up through the dip tube. The air coming in the bottom valve may clear some scale also and between the two processes, the job might go a bit faster. Either way, it's going to take a while and keep some stuff around to clean up some water.

Another thought, once you get the water level below the top element, you could take out the element and use one of those 5 dollar pumps on a drill and a couple pieces of hose. That can speed everything up. Once the water is out, take out the bottom valve and heating element a go about cleaning the scale out.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2009 at 10:09PM
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maryland- thanks for the idea- I CAN afford to get another- but I DON"T WANT TO!! I'm too frugal! You gave me another idea- what about those plastic 'gas' syphons- for a car's gas tank??
I have thought about having someone disconnect the whole thing- take it outside and drain the scale out from the top- but if I go to all that trouble and expense I might as well just get a new one. I'd rather this big house sold.....
Oh, how I look forward to a new, small house!!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 2:09AM
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i clean the scaling by a dilute HCL solution which is about 10 ml in liter water, it dissolve the hard scale, and remove the scale when it is drained form the pipe

Here is a link that might be useful: removing scale

    Bookmark   August 13, 2011 at 7:57AM
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