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How to Fix Smelly Hot Water

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Denise in DeKalb, Illinois who’s calling in with something going on in the water at their house. Tell us about it.

    DENISE: Well, we have a foul odor and I can only smell it really, I guess, with the hot water but maybe that’s just because, whatever, the fumes. [At which point] (ph) we replaced our water heater, took the rod out of it, and it’s still that way.

    TOM: Do you mean the anode rod?

    DENISE: OK. I guess that’s what I mean. I’m sorry.

    TOM: (chuckling) OK. (Denise chuckles) Because the most common cause of water odor is when you have bacteria that reacts with the sacrificial anode that comes in the water heater. The sacrificial anode actually stops the water heater from rusting out but the basic type of anode is made of magnesium and aluminum and that can react with the bacteria and cause it to form a hydrosulfide gas – a hydrogen-sulfide gas – which is basically that really stinky, rotten egg odor.

    DENISE: Right.

    TOM: And draining the water is only a very temporary fix, as you’ve probably noticed. There’s a different type of anode rod that you can replace it with that’s not made of magnesium. It’s made of aluminum zinc. And that will not react with the bacteria and will not smell. So if you pull out the anode rod that you have and you replace it with an aluminum zinc alloy anode, that should solve the problem.

    DENISE: OK. OK. And I have just a question about tankless water heaters.

    TOM: OK.

    DENISE: Will that solve the problem at all?

    TOM: That would definitely solve the problem.

    LESLIE: Oh, absolutely. (Tom chuckles) Nothing would sit in there.

    TOM: It works completely differently.

    DENISE: Right, that’s …

    TOM: Yeah. Tankless water heaters are on-demand water heaters, so they only heat the water as you need it. So as fast as it gets into the water heater, it would leave it and be heated.

    LESLIE: (overlapping voices) It’s out.

    DENISE: Right, right.

    TOM: How old is the water heater that you’re talking about now; the one that stinks?

    DENISE: One we have now?

    TOM: Yeah.

    DENISE: Well, we’ve replaced it two times in like two years.

    TOM: Oh, man.

    DENISE: So this one is not that old.

    TOM: No, it’s really that old.

    DENISE: Because they told us to replace it first and then they said, “Well, take the rod out,” so my husband did that. And then they said, “If that doesn’t work, then replace it again,” and we’re thinking, “That’s not right.”

    TOM: No, because you didn’t solve the problem. You didn’t solve the problem. Unfortunately, the advice you got was just, “Buy another one. There must be something wrong with what you have.” The problem is that your water is reacting with the anode rod there and that’s what’s causing the odor. So if you replace the anode with an aluminum zinc alloy anode, that will actually fix it because the magnesium and aluminum anodes that are in most water heaters will produce this hydrogen sulfide gas.

    So you can either replace the rod – and since it’s so new, I’d say go ahead and replace the rod.

    LESLIE: And just see what happens.

    TOM: Yeah, I mean you’ve got nothing to lose. And I think that that’s going to solve it. You can always replace the water heater. And next time you get ready to replace it, go tankless. I think you’ll be happy with it for a whole bunch of reasons; not as much the odor but everything else.

    DENISE: Right, right. OK, well thank you very much for all your information.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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