Hot Water Sludge - Understanding The Problem And Solution

Water heaters are often ignored until hot water no longer flows through the faucets. However, this is often a mistake because a wide variety of issues can arise that are cause for concern. One of these issues is when you notice black slime or debris coming out the hot water faucet. This type of debris can occur for a variety of reasons. While the problem is alarming and needs to be addressed, it is not a life-threatening or serious issue. Keep reading to learn why the problem occurs and how it can be remedied.

Black Gunk In Your Water Heater

Black gunk and debris can form inside your water heater for a variety of reasons. The issue may develop if there is a great deal of sulfur in your water. Sulfur releases into your water when fluid runs over rocks in the ground. The sulfur dissolves into the water and travels to your home. This sulfur is then used as a food source for certain types of bacteria that live in your water heater. As the bacteria eat the sulfur, they turn it into an oxidized version of the material called sulfate. One of the byproducts of sulfate production is a black oozing material that sticks to the bottom and sides of the water heater. As the material builds, it can be forced through the water pipes in your home. Typically, sulfate will break down further into a gas called hydrogen sulfide. You will likely smell a rotten egg odor coming from your pipes if the black sludge in your water heater is the result of sulfur. 

In some cases, the black sludge may be caused by a deteriorated sacrificial anode. This anode sits in the water tank and degrades over time. Some of these anodes are made out of magnesium, and the metal may interact with some of the minerals in your water. When this happens, bits of magnesium sulfide form in the tank. These flakes may look like a black sludge when you turn on your hot water.

Fixing The Debris Issue

If you notice a black material coming out of your water heater, then you will need to investigate the problem. If you do not smell a rotten egg odor, then start by looking at the sacrificial anode to see what kind of condition it is in. The anode typically sits in an opening in the top of the water heater and can be twisted off and removed fairly easily. If you see pitting in the anode or if you notice an exposed wire in the middle, then replace it. You can replace the anode with another magnesium variety or a zinc one. You also have the option of picking an impressed current rod that will not deteriorate like your old magnesium one. This can help to prevent a future issue. 

If your water does smell, then you will need to control the amount of sulfur that enters your water heater. A reverse osmosis system can assist with this. UV filtration added to the system can also help you with killing the bacteria that eat the sulfur and cause the black sludge and odor issue. You also can turn up your water heater to kill off any that bacteria that enter the water. A temperature at about 140 degrees will successfully kill microorganisms that take residence in your water heater. 

Once you find the solution to your problem, you will need to rinse out the water heater to release any black slime or debris that remains in the tank. Use the drain plug on the bottom of the tank to release fouled water. Refill the tank with clean water when you are done and then let the water drain again. Once the heater has been completely flushed out, let the tank fill and let the water heat up. Try running water through your faucets to make sure that no more debris releases from them. You can find more information on this topic by contact a plumbing company.


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