That lovely rotten-egg smell
December 9, 2007 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Does replacing the sacrificial anode in your water-heater with a different alloy anode really work to eliminate the stinky water?

Recently, we replaced the old water-heater that came with our home. Within a week, we were treated to the stinky, rotten-egg smell that is pretty common, especially if you are on a well (as we are)

The one "fix" for this is replacing the stock anode with a zinc/aluminum alloy anode. Has anyone here actually done the swap? And, if you did, how well did it work to eliminate the smell? And how much did it cost?

Of course, one other "fix" is to simply remove the anode, and not replace it. This works, but doing so also voids the warranty and reduces the life of the water-heater. I'd rather not do that.
posted by Thorzdad to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We have the same deal with stinky water. Our hot water tank is a rental. The company we rent from swapped it out for us for free. ("But we only do that for you for free once a year.")

It is -- I swear -- a worse smell.

One thing that did seem to briefly help was dumping a jug of bleach into the tank (and draining it off, and then doing all the white laundry in the house to make sure it was completely gone). But that was a hassle.

"You want a chlorinator," said the dude who replaced the rod. "It's expensive, but that's what works."

"You want an ozone (thingamajiggy)," said our neighbour. "It's expensive, but that's what works."

For now, I'm just going to thank you for getting around to asking this before I did.
posted by kmennie at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2007

If there's that much sulphur in your water, even well water, you need a purification system of some sort or another, and no---they're not cheap. You need to talk to water system companies in your area---I'm sure they deal with it all the time.
posted by TomMelee at 2:15 PM on December 9, 2007

I have had the same problem, and have not had the finances to solve it yet. I tried removing the anode and it smells slightly better, but only slightly, and I know I will be replacing my water heater soon as a result.

My admittedly superficial understanding is that the answer is: it depends on what exactly is causing the stinkiness. It could be bacteria, it could be minerals. It depends on which bacteria, which minerals. Get your water tested and you will be in a better place to start your research. For me, it looks like it will require aeration followed by iron filtration.
posted by bricoleur at 2:19 PM on December 9, 2007

We did the swap, and it didn't help. During the couple of weeks when there was no adode rod in (the wrong part had originally been sent) the smell was gone. I'm thinking of just taking the anode rod out.

FWIW, our smell actually started when we got a new hot water heater.
posted by not that girl at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all.
As an addendum, before we replaced the old heater, we didn't have any stink. When the service guy came out to install the new one, he noted that it looked like the old one had had its anode removed (judging by the non-factory cap on the spot where the anode would be)

kmennie...when your rental service swapped anodes, did they put a different alloy rod in? Or did they just replace the old, worn anode with one of the same composition?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:45 PM on December 9, 2007

Use hydrogen peroxide. It's a temporary fix, but it's pretty cheap and a relatively simple process. Check out this water heater guide for details. In my personal experience this works, but also in my personal experience is being completely oblivious to the sulfur smell that made my housemates want to vomit. Though I think it really did work.
posted by reeddavid at 4:19 PM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: Use hydrogen peroxide.

I've seen that (and similar) remedies suggested. I've been tempted to try it. Thing is, this would, apparently, require me to cut into my pipes in order to get the peroxide into the system...and then patch them up again. I Not exactly the most workable solution, I'm afraid.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:30 PM on December 9, 2007

Different. And I wish I could tell you what we had first and what we had now, but I've no idea.

Our hot water tank, for what it's worth, is very new. The water started smelling quite quickly. The rod was a corroded-looking mess despite just having been in there for a couple of months.

It was the rental service guy who did the bleach thing for me, and it took him no time at all. Certainly it didn't require any cutting into anything -- the hassle was just in having bleachy water for a bit. Again, wish I could tell you more...
posted by kmennie at 6:49 PM on December 9, 2007

Get the chlorinator. I don't know the exact science here, but mine works great and eliminates 100% of the sulphur smell. The following applies if you are using a well. Not sure if it's relevant otherwise.

My mangled science, please feel free to correct me if I'm off here, hive mind: Sulfur is a dissolved gas in your water. A chlorinator injects small amounts of chlorine into the system any time new water is introduced into your home. The chlorine interacts with the sulfur and forms an inert precipitant that settles in the bottom of your mixing tank. Once a month or so you can open the bottom valve on the tank for 10 or 15 seconds and suck all the precipitant down the drain. Chlorinators should be adjustable, so you iterate until virtually all of the chlorine is fixed with the sulfur, and none of either is left over. I never have sulfur or chlorine smell in the water.
posted by Area Control at 1:24 PM on December 10, 2007

ps: you mentioned cutting into your pipes to try some other solutions... Are you on a well? Skip the cutting and dump the poison chemicals right down the well hole. Before I had my chlorinator, this is how I got the chlorine into the system.
posted by Area Control at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2007

You are on a well. I need to read better.
posted by Area Control at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2007

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