Sunday, October 2, 2022


How to fix problem from neglected water heater element

RV Tech Corner
with Mark Gorrie

Dear Mark,
I replaced the electric heating element in my seven-year-old Atwood ten-gallon water heater. As I loosened the element for removal, the front of it dropped down and pieces of the calcium corrosion broke off and fell inside the tank. I rinsed the tank using the wand a dozen times and even filled and drained the tank several times but the hot water continues to be the color of the calcium. Short of replacing the tank, how can I remove the pieces that broke off? —Alan Reeves

Dear Alan,
Calcium builds up in water heaters over time and routine maintenance can diminish these deposits. In your case, replacing the heating element was a wise choice. To remove the calcium buildup that came off the element, fill your water heater 50% of the way with vinegar. Fill it the rest of the way with fresh water. Once the tank is full, turn it on and leave it for at least an hour. Turn the tank off and let it sit for at least four hours. This will dissolve the deposits that broke off of the heating element and work to loosen other calcium deposits that have built up over time.
ONCE THE VINEGAR WATER solution in the tank has cooled down, drain it from the tank. Using this wand (see photo) or one similar, rinse the tank for several minutes by placing the wand in the drain hole and moving it around to rinse all surfaces. Concentrate on the bottom of the tank to move the calcium deposit toward the drain hole. If you use a mesh strainer as the water is coming back out of the tank from the rinse, you will see the calcium deposits that have built up over time. Let the water finish draining from your rinse and rinse it again.

Replace the drain plug and fill the water heater with fresh water this time. Once it is full, drain it again. Repeat your rinsing procedure to continue removing calcium deposits. The strainer will help you observe your progress. Replace the drain plug and fill the tank again and drain it. Continue to repeat the rinsing procedure until the calcium deposits are at a minimum in the strainer.

Mark Gorrie has been an avid RVer since 2003 and owns RVForce LLC, a full-service mobile and shop-based RV repair facility based in Winter Haven, Florida. RVForce has a full team of certified technicians on staff to answer your RV questions. Email them to .


Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

If your water heater has an ANODE ROD then it is an Aluminum tank… BE CAREFUL BECAUSE ACETIC ACID—VINEGER— Loves Aluminum….

2 years ago

Hmmm. How do you fill your water heater up with 50% vinegar? I know you need a pump or city water to get water in it, but is there a fill spout directly to heater tank? Where?!

2 years ago
Reply to  Ran

The same way you winterize the system.

2 years ago
Reply to  Jack

this doesn’t help any, how do you fill the tank half full with vinegar ?

2 years ago
Reply to  Lee

Using the same method as winterizing, except only run the hot water lines and don’t bypass the water heater. If you have a 6 gallon water tank, put in 3 gallons of vinegar. The volume in the lines will be minimal. As an alternative, take out the pressure relief valve at the top of the water heater and add the vinegar there.

2 years ago

It helps if you have really strong water pressure when using the wand to clean out the hot water tank. Try to use a source that has at least 60psi or higher. Weak water pressure, like you find in some campgrounds, makes the job a lot harder. Also, take a small stiff brush & clean the deposits around the threaded area of the drain hole.

Sign up for the RVtravel Newsletter

Your information will *never* be shared or sold to a 3rd party.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Every Saturday and Sunday morning. Serving RVers for more than 20 years.