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Water Heater Makes Popping Sounds When Heating? An AZ Plumber Explains

Troubleshooting from George Brazil

If your hot water heater produces a scary popping or bubbling noises, you’re probably wondering if that’s normal.

Definitely not…

This noise means your water heater is costing you money. And if the problem isn’t fixed soon, it could eventually damage your water heater. You see, if your water heater is making a popping sound, it means there’s sediment buildup at the bottom of your water heater and you need to have it flushed.

So what is “sediment buildup” and how is it causing strange popcorn-esque noises? We’ll explain all of that below and what you can do to fix it.

Not interested in the explanation and just want it fixed? Just schedule your appointment and we’ll send over a plumber to flush your water heater ASAP.

How sediment buildup causes “popcorn noises

Sediment buildup is when minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium carbonate) in the water settle and coat the bottom of the water heater. This is a common problem in Arizona since we have hard water (water that has a high amount of minerals).

But how exactly does sediment buildup cause popping noises? Well, underneath this layer of sediment, a small amount of water gets trapped and overheated by the burner. When this happens, steam bubbles are created and cause a flurry of activity at the bottom of your tank. As those bubbles escape the sediment layer, they jostle the sediment around a good bit, creating popping sounds.

Costly problems of sediment buildup

If you hear that popping noise, your water heater is struggling to heat up your water, which means it’s eating a lot of unnecessary energy (expect your utility bills to go up).

Sediment buildup can also lead to:

  • Overheating
  • Tank damage
  • Burnt out elements (for electric water heaters)

The fix? Get your water heater “flushed”

Flushing your water heater means draining it then removing any sediment that’s covering the bottom or sides of the water heater. In general, you should get your tank flushed at least 1 to 2 times a year.

Learn more about the importance of flushing your water heater.

While it’s possible to do this on your own, a lot of homeowners opt to have a professional handle the job.

Why? Well, a professional can ensure that all mineral deposits, scale, and sediment buildup are removed completely from the tank. And they’ll inspect the system to look for other problem areas to keep your tank as efficient as possible.

But if you’re pretty handy and want to take a stab at a DIY water heater flush, follow these steps:

1. Shut off the cold water valve that feeds your water heater. Look for a valve/water pipe directly above your water heater and turn the valve completely off.


2. Turn off power to your water heater. If you have an electric heater, cut the breaker at the main electrical panel. If you have a gas heater, turn off the gas valve feeding your heater.


3. Wait at least 1 to 5 hours for the water to cool. Don’t get impatient! The water from your water heater can be hotter than 140 degrees, which can cause third-degree burns.

4. Attach a garden hose to your drain valve. The drain valve sits at the bottom of your water heater. Make sure the other end of the hose is feeding into a drain.

5. Turn on a hot water faucet then open the drain valve. Opening a hot water faucet at a sink or bathtub will alleviate pressure in the hot water pipes. Once that’s done, open your drain valve and make sure all the water and sediment is safely entering your drain. It can take up to 30 minutes to empty the entire water heater.

6. Remove extra sediment at the bottom of the tank. Once the water heater is completely drained, turn the water valve back on to flush out any extra sediment that may still be on the bottom of the tank. Keep the water on until the water from the hose runs clear.

7. Refill the tank. Once the water runs clear, turn off the drain valve, remove the hose and turn the water valve on to fill the tank back up with water. Once it’s filled up, turn the power to the tank back on.

Need help from an AZ plumber?

If you aren’t up for a DIY water heater flush, we’re here to help.

Just schedule an appointment with us today. We’ll send over a plumber who can flush your water heater and make all other components of the tank are working properly.

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