How to Clean RV Water Heater: Easy Simple Steps

Cleaning your RV water heater is a vital aspect of RV maintenance that often goes overlooked. Your RV’s water heater is responsible for providing you with hot water for showering, cooking, and various other activities while on the road. Over time, sediment, mineral deposits, and rust can accumulate inside the water heater tank, leading to reduced efficiency and even potential damage if left unaddressed. To maintain your RV’s water heater in optimal working condition, regular cleaning is essential.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of cleaning your RV water heater, ensuring it operates efficiently and reliably throughout your travels. Whether you’re a seasoned RV enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of recreational vehicles, understanding how to clean your water heater is a fundamental skill that will contribute to your comfort and convenience on the road. So, let’s dive into the essential steps and tips for a successful RV water heater cleaning routine.

How Does an RV Water Heater Work and Why is it Important to Clean it?

An RV water heater is important for hot water in a recreational vehicle for showering, washing dishes, and staying comfortable while traveling. Understanding how it works and keeping it clean is important for its efficiency and longevity.

An RV water heater can run on propane gas, electricity, or both. The system has a water tank with a heating element or burner at the bottom. When you start the water heater, it heats the water in the tank. As the water heats, it rises and flows to the faucets and showers in your RV.

Cleaning the RV water heater is important for many reasons. Mineral deposits and sediment can build up in the tank over time. This buildup reduces the heater’s efficiency because it insulates the heating element from the water, causing it to work harder to heat the water. This increases energy use and reduces the heater’s lifespan.

Neglecting RV water heater cleaning can cause corrosion, rust, leaks, and costly repairs. Regular maintenance is important for keeping your heater working well and avoiding expensive breakdowns. This includes draining and flushing the tank to remove sediment and ensure a reliable supply of hot water while traveling. To have a good RVing experience, it’s important to understand and keep the water heater clean.

How to Clean RV Water Heater: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cleaning your RV water heater is an important maintenance task to ensure it operates efficiently and safely. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean your RV water heater:

How to clean rv water heater tank

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Safety goggles and gloves
  • Screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Garden hose
  • Cleaning wand or brush
  • Vinegar or specialized RV water heater cleaner
  • Bucket

Start with Safety

RV maintenance, including water heater cleaning, must be done safely. Before starting, turn off the water heater and disconnect or switch off its power source whether it’s electric or propane. Wear goggles and gloves to protect yourself from debris and chemicals during cleaning. These procedures prevent mishaps and make cleaning safe.

Open the Water Heater

Finding your RV’s water heater access panel or door is crucial. This panel is usually on the RV’s outside, at the back. Your RV’s make and model may determine its position, so check your owner’s manual. A screwdriver may be needed to remove panel screws to reach the water heater. Be careful when removing the panel to avoid damage.

Release Pressure

Release tank pressure before opening the access panel and working on the water heater. Find the pressure release valve, usually a little lever or handle at the water heater’s top. Open the valve gently to release excess pressure. Hot water or steam could injure you if you open the tank without this step.

Turn Off Water

If your RV has a campground water hookup, turn it off before continuing. This step prevents new water from entering the tank during cleaning and flushing. Turn off the water supply valve in your RV or at the exterior hookup point. You’ll save water and avoid problems draining and cleaning the water heater.

Drain Tank

Drain the RV water heater tank after turning off the water and releasing pressure. The drain valve is usually near the bottom of the water heater. Connect a garden hose to it. Direct the other end of the hose to a drainage area or large bucket. Slowly open the drain valve to empty the tank water. This procedure is essential to remove any stored hot water, sediments, and mineral deposits. Proper drainage improves cleaning and long-term water heater performance.

Remove Anode Rod/Drain Plug

Some RV water heaters have an aluminum or magnesium anode rod to avoid tank corrosion. Remove the anode rod from the water heater’s bottom with an adjustable wrench or socket set. Remove a drain stopper instead of an anode rod from your water heater. It’s important to get inside the tank for cleaning. Be careful not to harm threads or rods during removal.

Flush Tank

Now that you can see inside the water heater tank, clean it well. Clean with a wand or long brush. Water and vinegar can be used 1:1 to clean an RV water heater, although the manufacturer may prescribe a specific cleaner. Scrub the tank inside with the cleaning wand or brush through the anode rod or drain plug aperture. Focus on sediment and mineral buildup. Deposits that reduce water heater efficiency are removed here.

Thoroughly Rinse

After cleaning the tank’s interior, rinse it well to eliminate cleaning residue and dirt. Connect a garden hose to the water heater’s inlet or fill and drain the tank multiple times. Make sure the tank water runs clear and all cleaning solution is gone. This procedure is essential to prevent chemicals and debris from entering your RV’s plumbing system and affecting water quality and appliances.

Reinstall the Anode Rod/Drain Plug

Once the tank is clean and rinsed, reattach the anode rod or drain stopper. Replace an anode rod carefully and tighten it with an adjustable wrench or socket set. Install and tighten drain plugs after removing them. A snug fit prevents leakage. Sealing and operating the tank safely requires this procedure.

Close Drain Valve

Before continuing with this maintenance work, close and seal the drain valve at the bottom of your RV water heater. Closing the drain valve eliminates leaks when you add water to the tank and restart operations. Water damage, water heater inefficiency, and higher utility expenses could result from a leak here. Tighten the drain valve with an adjustable wrench or pliers for a solid seal. This minor but important step improves your RV’s water heating system’s efficiency and safety.

Fill the Tank

After diligent cleaning, revitalize your RV’s water heater. Fill your RV tank with fresh water by turning on the water. Watch for leaks around the drain valve, anode rod, and other plumbing connections during this essential time.

Sealing the tank during this phase is crucial to water heater longevity and performance. A water leak at this stage could reduce the unit’s effectiveness and cause structural damage. You protect your RV’s hot water system by checking the tank seals.

Reconnect Power

If your RV water heater uses electricity or propane and you disconnected the power supply for safety, reconnect it now. Following safety precautions, carefully follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. According to the manufacturer, propane-powered machines may need to relight the pilot flame.

For electric units, secure the connections and turn on the heater. Wait for the system to heat the water to the appropriate temperature. Restoring power to your water heater completes the maintenance process, allowing you to enjoy hot water on your RV trips.

Close Access Panel

Close the RV’s exterior access panel or door to finish the operation. Your RV water heater now works properly and safely. The water heater is protected from external elements and damage by this panel. Follow manufacturer instructions to secure the access panel. Sealing this panel protects your RV from road and weather damage, saves the water heater, and maintains its outside appearance.

Verify Function

This thorough maintenance must conclude with a final test of your RV’s hot water system. Turn on an RV hot water faucet and wait for it to flow for this assessment. This test ensures the water heater is working properly, supplies hot water dependably, and checks for hidden faults with the recently cleaned system. By checking your water heater, you’re guaranteeing its proper operation and giving yourself peace of mind that your RV’s hot water supply is ready for your travels.

You cleaned your RV water heater and showed a commitment to its long-term performance, safety, and reliability by following these precise instructions.

Also Read: Clean Your Brake Rotors Without Removing the Wheel

How Often Should You Clean Your RV Water Heater?

Maintaining your RV water heater is important for its longevity and efficiency. Regularly cleaning the water heater is important for maintenance. How often you clean your RV water heater depends on usage, water quality, and anode rod type.

Clean your RV water heater annually. Regular cleaning prevents sediment, mineral deposits, and rust from affecting the tank’s efficiency and performance. If you use your RV often, especially in areas with hard water, you may need to clean it more frequently. Hard water has more minerals like calcium and magnesium, which build up faster in the tank.

Consider the type of anode rod in your RV water heater. Anode rods protect tanks from corrosion. Cleaning frequency depends on the type of anode rod. Aluminum anode rods need more frequent replacement and cleaning than magnesium ones.

Regularly inspect your RV water heater for sediment buildup, corrosion, or leaks in addition to annual cleaning. If you see less hot water, hear strange noises, or notice other issues, it might mean you need to clean and maintain your system more often than once a year.

To maintain your RV water heater, be attentive and clean it regularly. This helps you have hot water on your RV trips.

How to clean a suburban rv water heater

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Can I use bleach to clean my RV water heater tank, or is there a better option?

Avoid using bleach to clean an RV water heater tank. Bleach can damage tank components. Use a mix of water and vinegar or RV water heater cleaner (1:1 ratio) to remove sediment and mineral buildup without damaging the tank.

Should I drain the water heater during winter storage? Why?

Drain your RV water heater before winter storage. Frozen water in the tank can cause damage and expensive repairs. Drain the tank to prevent freezing and keep it in good condition for future use.

Can I clean my propane-powered RV water heater or is it only for electric units?

Clean your RV water heater regardless of the power source. Cleaning the tank is important for good performance and safety, no matter how it’s heated.

Can I use well water in my RV’s water heater or should I use city water?

Using well water in your RV’s water heater is usually okay, but it might have more minerals than city water. If you use well water, clean the tank more often to prevent mineral buildup that can affect the heater’s efficiency.

Should I clean my RV water heater while driving or wait until I’m parked?

It’s safer and easier to clean your RV water heater when you’re not on the road. It lets you take your time, use the right tools, and have access to water and proper disposal for cleaning.

Is it normal for my RV water heater to make popping sounds?

RV water heaters may make popping or cracking sounds as they heat and expand. If the sounds are too loud or don’t stop, it could mean there’s sediment in the tank. Cleaning can fix this.

Should I clean my RV water heater if I have a water softener installed?

Regularly clean your RV water heater, even with a water softener. Water softeners reduce minerals in water, but sediment can still build up over time. Regular cleaning improves performance.

Can you clean an RV water heater without removing the anode rod or drain plug?

To effectively clean the tank, it’s best to remove the anode rod and drain plug, although it’s possible to flush without doing so. Removing these parts helps clean better, especially if there’s a lot of buildup.

Should I clean my RV water heater right after a trip or can I wait until I’m getting ready for the next one?

Cleaning your RV water heater after a trip is a good idea, but not necessary. It prevents sediment or deposits from hardening and becoming harder to remove later.

Should I clean my RV water heater myself or hire professionals?

RV owners can clean their water heaters themselves, even without advanced mechanical skills. If you’re unsure or worried about your water heater, it’s okay to get professional help to clean and maintain it properly.

Final Words

Cleaning your RV water heater is important for RV owners. Regular maintenance keeps hot water flowing and extends its lifespan. Follow the steps and precautions in this guide to maintain your RV’s water heater and prevent issues like sediment buildup, mineral deposits, and corrosion. Keeping your water heater clean and functional is important for a smooth and enjoyable trip, whether you’re an experienced traveler or new to RVing. Remember to schedule regular cleanings and inspections for your RV’s water heater to keep it in good condition for a comfortable journey.


Hi, I'm Asim! I love giving you cleaning guides, tips and tricks that will make your place sparkle and shine. Through years of practice, I've learned effective ways to clean and can't wait to help you. From tough spots to general cleaning, I can help you. Come along with me on this cleaning adventure, where I'll give you tips and tricks to make your cleaning process easier. Let's work together to make clean haven.

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