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I recently diagnosed a new electric water heater emitting a nasty sulfur smell from it. The darn smell would not go away so I asked my Father-In-law Bob the retired plumber what he thought. “Anode rod must be bad” he said.
Whatever the cause, it was a very nasty smell that could not be ignored. After researching the issue, I discovered that sulfur gas that is not harmful was being formed by an aerobic bacteria that was attacking my sacrificial anode. Perhaps we did not flush it enough at the beginning, who knows the point is that the smell was nasty.
With some trepidation, I attacked the problem. I bought an anode rod made with a different metal, the one I used had magnesium and zinc rather than aluminum. At any rate. In addition to swapping anode rods a serious amount of household bleach needed to be added to the tank, heated and allowed to stay in all the pipes for 24 hours.
To do the work I shut off the power to the unit and drained it down a bit. Next I had to find the rod. it was under a plastic cap and then remove all the foam with a knife and vacuum. Next the 1 1/16 socket was not the easiest to find so I had to borrow one. The darn thing was so tight I had to use a 20V impact driver to get it loose, As I withdrew it I noticed carbuncles all over it. I had plenty of height in the room to pull out the old rod and cut my new one to the same length.
Using a funnel I added 4 gallons of bleach and tightened the new rod in place with Teflon tape filled it up to the top and turned it back on. Then I turned each hot water valve on until I smelled bleach. The following day I flushed each line until I could not smell bleach any more. Turns out the smell of bleach is not as good as putting your hand in the flow. If it’s slippery, there is still bleach in it. I was impressed with the amount of water that needed to be flushed to get things back to normal.
I had another issue with this problem on another water heater. Someone at the hardware store told my employee to use vinegar to fix it. Guess what, Joe knows best. Vinegar did not work! This time I did not replace the rod again I just added bleach and let it sit. We did get a clogged aerator at the sink. This problem may or may not be fixed forever, I will keep you posted.
In the end, Bob was right again. Problem solved with relatively low technology and cost.
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