Water heaters Water heater

Published on August 15th, 2017 | by Henri


Water heater emits sulfur smell

Q.  Reading your responses has helped me solve a number of problems in the past. I’m hoping you can help me with an issue that has stumped a number of people.

We have a well and our water has a high iron content. When we replaced our water heater we began to get a strong sulfur smell. We did some research and found that putting in an aluminum rod often helps. Our HVAC provider changed the rod to aluminum (so I’m told), but the smell didn’t go away. We’ve solved the problem temporarily by adding 3 pints of peroxide to our 50-gallon water heater every 2 weeks. This takes the smell away, but is very time consuming. We could pull the anode rod, but that will void our warranty which has many years to run. We’ve read about an electrified rod, but have no idea if this would work. No one has had experience with it. If you have any suggestions for me I’d truly appreciate it.

A.  There may be several causes for the sulfurous smell.

Sacrificial anodes, generally made of magnesium, are in glass-lined water heaters to protect the tank itself from early demise by attracting the chemicals in the water responsible for corrosion. When the anode is almost completely eaten, a sulfur smell develops, and the anode needs to be replaced in order to continue protecting the tank. But if you smelled sulfur very shortly after the new tank was installed, it is unlikely that the magnesium sacrificial rod was eaten this fast unless you have a water softener, which precipitates corrosion.

Replacing a magnesium anode with an aluminum alloy rod (aluminum/zinc/tin) will delay the need for replacement.

Another choice is to replace the anode with a powered anode, which is not sacrificial. It will last much longer and may not need replacing for the life of the heater. It uses very little current – in the milliamps – but it must not be used in stainless steel or galvanized tanks, or the A.O. Smith Vertex.

Powered anodes are quite pricey and may not eliminate all odors, in which case, you will need to have a water specialist test your water to determine the cause for the odor. You can buy a powered anode, also known as an impressed current rod, in plumbing-supply houses. Any licensed plumber can install one for you.

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