I installed a brand new GE (Rheem) electric water heater about 4 months
ago. Recently I've noticed a slight (but strengthening) smell of sulfur
when I run hot water anywhere in the house.
Years ago, I had a problem with a really strong sulfur smell from the
hot water, and it turned out to be the sacrificial anode. Could that be
the problem already?
Not an expert or a plumber here... but did you put on dielectric couplings
to the hot/cold water lines coming in/out of the tank? If i remember right
this thing isolates the dissimilar materials so corrosion can't occur...
The anode may encourage the odor formation but the underlying cause
is far more complicated.
Click on the FAQ.
Substituting an aluminum anode may help, but I don't know
if that will affect the warranty.
As Gary Slusser will tell you, the real fix is to treat the
water beforehand so that the conditions for odor generation
I wonder if I did something wrong during installation, but it was basically
just a swap of one unit for another. Well, I guess I can try the chlorination
No water treatment (other than softening) was ever necessary before; it's city
water, usually not a problem. A little hard, but otherwise OK.
Just FYI, the links in the FAQ don't work using Netscape. They work fine
Thanks for the tips.
As I recall from the RV NG's, do not use Clorox as it uses a different type
of clorine. Could anyone shed some light on this? Stick with the cheaper
Remove .spamnot to respond by email
Outgoing mail is certified Virus Free.
Checked by AVG anti-virus system (http://www.grisoft.com ).
All household bleach uses the active ingredient of sodium hypochlorite.
Clorox bottles have a statement on the label stating that the product
"is not to be used for water treatment". Some other brands do the same
while others don't.
There are chlorine pellets that are FDA approved for potable water use.
Their active ingredient is calcium hyopchlorite IIRC.
Quality Water Associates
I had the smell for about a year after Sears put in a new hot water
heater (electric) and then it went away on its own. I assume the anode rod
went away. It's been 25 years now since that happened and everything's
fine since then. Apparently you don't need anode rods.
Just goes to show that disattention to the matter sometimes fixes it. Treat
it as an interesting experiment, though it may not be possible if a female
gets to contribute to the decision.
I have well water, high iron, softened with red-out.
Here's a partial copy of a water treatment article and some additions
I've made to it that I saved from a few years ago. It explains the cause
of hot water only odor.
If there is no cold water odor, and there can be although you don't
smell it in the house without spraying water under force into a large
bucket while smelling for the odor, sulfate is present in the water. A
magnesium anode rod (or what's left of one) is in the heater and a
sulfate reducing bacteria is present in the water. This bacteria takes
the oxygen off of the sulfate, making it sulfur. Reducing types of
bacteria are nonharmful.
The anode rod generates free hydrogen in water.
The hydrogen and sulfur together produces the smell.
Removing the anode rod altogether will remove one part of the equation,
eliminating the smell. Replacing the rod with one of different material
may also solve the problem. But if any of the rod falls off into the
tank as you remove a rod, it's the same as not removing or replacing the
rod. Removing the rod voids the heater warranty. Raising the temp to 140
deg f will also (usually) prevent the odor by killing the bacteria. Most
hot water manufacturers also have a different type of anode rod
available that does not generate the hydrogen - you would have to call
them and see what is available.
Cleaning the hot water heater with a heavy chlorine rinse eliminates the
bacteria and produces a temporary relief. Temporary can range from a few
days to months. Draining and then flushing the heater as part of this
sanitizing is always a good idea.
To quote Wes McGowan, excerpt taken from Water Processing for Home, Farm
When a hydrogen sulfide odor occurs in a treated water (softened or
filtered), when no H2S is detected in the raw water, it usually
indicates the presence of some form of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the
system. These anaerobic, single-cell bacteria (Thisbacilles) can exist
in the piping system in the hone, especially on the hot water side. It
is most noticeable on the first hot water drawn in the morning. Water
softeners provide a convenient harbor and environment for anaerobic
(oxygen depleted) bacterial growth.
Sulfate bacteria can derive energy by reducing the sulfate ion in the
water to H2S, and produce by-product bicarbonate in the process. Organic
matter needs to be present for the bacteria to survive. However, the
concentration of organics in the raw water is often below detectable
levels. When this condition of H2S in hot water arises, the initial task
is to heavily chlorinate the entire piping system including storage and
hot water tanks.
Usually, a dose of household bleach left standing in the piping system
(hot and cold) overnight will destroy the sulfur bacteria. I has also
been reported from the field that after water softeners are installed,
the hot water will develop traces of H2S odor. Where softened water is
fed to certain hot water heaters, this condition has been overcome by
removing the anode element from the heater.
Quality Water Associates
Thanks for all the info.
I'm curious about one thing: The last time this happened, the anode had
been depleted. I called a plumber, who replaced the rod. That solved the
problem -- no more odor. In that case, it was REALLY strong, and replacing
rod fixed the problem.
I've also read that using softened water will hasten the erosion
(consumption?) of the anode, requiring more frequent replacement. I'd
think, though, that a few months is too soon no matter what.
In any event, I can try the bleach trick and hope for the best. I have no
idea how I'd go about chlorinating the cold supply, though, and if there's a
bacteria source upstream of the heater, well, is there any point in
chlorinating just the hot water?
Perhaps a different rod type would be a simpler approach. We'll see.
More likely the process used to replace the rod with a different type
fixed the problem. There's at least two parts involved that will.
Draining/flushing the tank and a different type rod. Also, water quality
changes over time (guaranteed) and in the beginning you may not have the
required sulfates and/or sulfate reducing bacteria present so there
could be no odor.
That's not true. First, many folks with no softener suffer the same
eaten up rod and odor problems.
Second, the vast majority of folks with softeners (millions), do not
have the odor problem.
But to prove softeners don't 'cause' the problem.... ask those that say
they do to prove how that happens.
The figure it out, you must look at the chemical analysis of the water.
A softener changes the water in two ways. One they remove certain things
from the water. Such as calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, lead,
copper, radium etc., all of which are not found in all waters and in
those that they are, the amounts vary widely. BUT, the lack of any of
them is not known to increase rod deterioration. Also, the TDS (total
dissolved solids) content of agreessive/corrosive water is low (=< 7.0)
which causes an acidic water but... ion exchange softening adds (sodium)
to the water and actually increases TDS althouhg it removes those other
So wherever you heard that softeners increase rod deterioration needs to
be questioned as to the proof of their claim. I know certain heater web
sites mention softeners as a cause of heater odor and/or deterioration
but... facts be known, if their glass lining was intact all over the
inside of the tank when you install the heater, there would be (is no)
need for a rod.
I have a number of chlorination systems, I guess most could be used for
just the hot side but I've never seen it done. I also wouldn't propose
doing that. And then possibly the homeowner would want the chlorine
removed from the hot side. It would be much better and easier to to
treat the cold for both needs. Dealing with hot water filters etc. is
more expensive anyway.
Aluminum is a choice. Another choice is to increase the temp of the
heater. And before some jump on the potential burn problems, they should
read up on the latest research done on Ligionnella bacteria deaths
attributed to water heaters set at or below 120 deg f. Just last night I
read of another study that shows very seroius statistics containing a
number of deaths.
That's somewhat misleading but okay as long as everyone understands that
removing the softener will not solve the problem because a softener
doesn't cause the problem in the first place; it's physically and
Quality Water Associates
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