How to Clean your RV Water Heater

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Understanding basic RV maintenance is a key skill every camper should learn. Many costly RV repairs can be prevented by completing routine servicing of RV components. In this guide, we detail how to clean your RV water heater. Campers need to clean their RV water heaters at least once a year to prevent build up.

Note: The pictures below show the process on an Atwood RV water heater, but I detail the cleaning process for both Atwood and Suburban RV water heaters.

Tools Required

Cleaning your RV water heater is a fairly simple task, but there are a few required tools.

  1. Water Heater Rinser
  2. Air Compressor (You can use the same compressor for your RV tires)
  3. Anode Rod (Suburban Water Heaters only)

Check out our full list of must have RV maintenance and camping gear.

Step 1: Turn the Power Off

Before cleaning your RV water heater, turn it off and allow enough time for the water to cool. Then, test the hot water from an indoor tap to verify that the water in the tank is no longer hot.

After the water has cooled, turn off any water flowing into the RV tanks. To ensure the water heater cannot turn on while you are performing work, turn off all power sources. Unplug your electric power, turn off your battery and shut off your propane.

Step 2: Relieve Pressure

Next, locate and open the water heater access on the outside of your RV. Flip up the lever on your pressure relief valve to remove any pressure from the water heater. I have circled the pressure relief valve in the below image.

RV Water Heater Pressure Valve

Step 3: Clear Debris

Then use an air compressor to remove debris from the burner tube and the burner chamber. The burner chamber is where the air hose is inserted in the below image. The burner tune is the metal tube connected to the chamber. Simply, blow compressed air for a minute or two into these areas to clean debris from your RV water heater.

Cleaning Debris from RV Water Heater

Step 4: Drain Water Heater (Suburban)

Anode rods on Suburban RV water heaters should be replaced every year. Using a 1-1/16 inch socket loosen the anode rod until it is hand tight. Then, lift the pressure relief valve and finish removing the anode rod with your other hand. Allow the water heater to fully drain.

Step 4: Drain Water Heater (Atwood)

Loosen the plug using a 7/8 inch socket or wrench, until it is hand tight. Use one hand to lift the pressure relief valve, and finish removing the plug with your other hand. Allow the water heater to fully drain.

Draining RV hot water heater

Step 5: Flush the RV Water Heater

Next, connect the rinsing tool to a garden hose. Put the wand into the hole where the anode rod or plug was removed. Moving the tool around, run water into the water heater for a few minutes. Turn off the hose, and allow any water to fully drain out.

Flushing RV water heater

Step 6: Replace the Anode Rod or Plug

Once the water heater has fully drained, insert the new anode rod or reinstall the plug. For Suburban water heaters, slide in the new anode rod, screw it hand tight and secure it with the socket. For Atwood water heaters, place the plug back in and use your hand or a wrench to tighten it in place. Then, flip the pressure relief lever back down.

Step 7: Clean the RV Water Heater

Finally, use an all purpose cleaner and a clean rag to wipe down all the components of your RV water heater. Just spray the rag and clean the water heater avoiding electrical wires. Now your annual RV water heater service is complete!

Clean RV Water Heater

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should RV water heater be cleaned?

RV water heaters require annual cleaning and servicing. Clean and drain your RV water heater and the end of every camping season before winterizing your RV. For Suburban water heaters, the anode rod should also be replaced annually.

How do you fill an RV water heater?

RV water heaters are automatically filled when you fill up the fresh water tank or connect to city water. If your hot water tank is not filling, make sure your hot water bypass is not turned on.

Should I leave my RV hot water heater turned on?

RV water heaters can be left on as long as their is water in the tank. Fill your fresh water tank or turn on your city water connection and allow water to run through the faucets for a few minutes before turning the water heater on.

To learn more about maintaining your RV tanks, check out our beginner’s guide to RV holding tanks.

Tanks are not the only RV appliances that require annual maintenance, plan to clean your RV air conditioning units at the same time your water heater is services.

Do you have any other question about using or cleaning RV hot water heaters? Drop your questions in the comment section below.

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