Beware This Gross Sign Your Water Heater Won’t Make it Through Winter

If you’ve noticed reddish-brown water coming from your faucets, you’re probably wondering what’s causing it.

Reddish-brown water is usually caused by a high amount of rust in your water. And, unfortunately, rust in your hot water is a tell-tale sign that your hot water heater is dying.


But wait! Before you pick up the phone to ask our advice on replacing your water heater, there is one other thing rust in your water indicates: corroded iron pipes.

So how do you tell the difference between rusted pipes and a rusted water heater?

We’ll show you an easy DIY test that will tell you the difference. We’ll also explain why hot water heaters rust and how to prolong the life of your unit.

Rust in my water: is it my water heater or my plumbing?

Do this: Turn on the cold water in any sink or water fixture and check for signs of rust in the water.

  • If the cold water is reddish-brown, the problem may be iron piping that is corroding instead of a bad water heater.
  • If only the hot water is reddish-brown, you most likely need a new water heater.

Other signs that your hot water heater is dying include:

Want to learn more? Check out our article, “3 Signs Your Water Heater Will Go Bad Soon”.

Why is my water heater producing rusty water?

Well, hot water heater tanks are made of steel. And steel eventually rusts, especially when in contact with water. So, when your tank rusts from the inside, that rust has nowhere to go but into your hot water.

One way to protect your hot water heater from rusting so quickly is to check and replace your sacrificial anode rod regularly.

What’s a “sacrificial anode rod”?

It’s a 3-5 ft. rod that does exactly what its name suggests: It sacrifices itself to extend the life of your water heater.


Think of your anode rod as a magnet, attracting all of the corrosive materials to keep it away from the inside of your water heater tank.

So, because your anode rod is designed to rust away, it will need to be replaced every 5 years or so to keep your tank from corroding. (Replace it even sooner if you have a water softener.)
But, of course, if your tank is already sending you rusty water, you don’t have long until it springs a leak and turns your garage/closet into a watery grave.


Related Reading