Cleaning the RV Water Heater Tank With Vinegar Tip

Every year I drain our Suburban 6 gallon RV water heater for cleaning and maintenance. During this maintenance, I check the anode rod for deterioration, replacing if necessary and thoroughly flush out the inside of the tank with a rinsing wand. See more detailed information, photos and video in this previous post.

Because we spend the winter months camping in the US southwest, our water heater tank gets pretty gunked up. I routinely see loads of calcium scale and mineral deposits in the flushed out water and on the anode rod.

Calcium scale from the RV water heater

Unlike our soft rainwater fed reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest the desert’s water usually comes from ground wells and contains all sorts of salts and minerals in relatively high concentrations. One time our water heater’s electrical element was so coated with scale, it began to sing!

Over the years I’ve heard about using vinegar in the RV plumbing to dissolve the calcium scale deposits, especially in the water heater tank. This year I’ve decided to give it a try.

How to Clean Water Heater Tank With Vinegar

Safety Note: Prior to working on the water heater make sure it’s sufficiently cooled and the power and LP gas supply are off.

There are a several ways to get the vinegar inside the tank:

  • Add a vinegar water mixture to the RV’s fresh water tank then pump it in. (Some RVs don’t have a gravity fill port, though)
  • Remove the pressure relief valve at the top of the water heater and pour the vinegar mix using a funnel. (Can be a pain to remove)
  • Add it in using an RV winterizing kit (If you have one, definitely the easiest way)

Since I had recently installed myself an RV winterizing kit that’s the way I chose to add it. I didn’t find a clear consensus on how much vinegar to use so decided to go with three parts vinegar to four parts water. I figured that should be enough to do the trick.

Adding in the vinegar solution with the winterizing kit

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Once I had performed my usual water heater maintenance I buttoned it up leaving the tank empty. I filled a 7-gallon portable fresh water jug we carry for boondocking with the vinegar/water mix. Then, sucked the mixture into the RV water heater tank using the RV’s 12-volt water pump.

Next, I powered up the water heater electrical element until the vinegar mixture was nice and warm then let things sit for 4 or 5 hours. Finally, I pulled out the anode rod again and let the tank drain.

Anode rod after the vinegar

Results: I got a bunch more scale out of the hot water tank and was pleased to see the vinegar had taken most of the deposits off the anode rod. Meaning it must have done the same to the inside of the tank and the electrical element.

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Video Footage –  RV Water Heater Vinegar Tip

Conclusion

I think using the vinegar solution was a success and helped me give the RV water heater tank an excellent cleaning. I’m going to add it to my water heater maintenance routine from now on.

Want to see more RV tips and tricks? Check out the tips archive

How to clean out the RV Water Heater with vinegar tip by the Love Your RV blog - http://www.loveyourrv.com/ #RVing #RVtips

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  • da jazzman

    > Paul Gardner – I’m glad you are so well versed on the subject. My point was that manufacturers have now changed their instructions after receiving a host of complaints about pots leaking after being cleaned with vinegar. You are right they do now offer a mild cleaner to clean their pots. I’m so glad that $100.00 for a coffee pot is just a few buck to you. Perhaps when I grow up, I will be able to throw away 100 bucks any old time too……

  • Vinegar will work cleaning the hot water heater in the same way that it will work with cleaning the coffee pot (and is done for the same reason… SCALE).

    Using a water filter going into camper the will also help reduce the scale (and other stuff) but won’t eliminate it.

    As a side note, for those who don’t like to use harsh chemicals, you can save that vinegar solution and use it to kill vegetation around the house (or the sidewalk cracks). Works well too. Not as good as round-up, but much safer for animals and the environment.

    • da jazzman

      Recently manufacturers of electric coffee makers stopped recommending using a vinegar/water solution to clean out their coffee makers because it was discovered that the solution was causing the coffee makers to leak. Apparently affecting the seals, just something to consider. I don’t know if the RV’s water heaters has the same kinds of seals or will even be affected, but after having to replace several coffee makers because of leaks, I thought I’d pass this on…..

      • Well, Vinegar is an ACID and that is what makes it work well as a cleaner. Given the fact that scale build up will also cause a failure of the coffee maker, I can only surmise that the manufacturers have a solution that they will offer (for a “Fair” price) to clean them.

        Also I can only imagine what “Seals” are being dealt with in a coffee maker. In your basic Mr Coffee, the tank is connected to the heater (a metal tube that basically is attached to the hotplate) by a rubber tube. There is a “Float” ball that is the valve. The ball “Floats” and allows water into the “Heater” section. As it heats up the pressure pushes the ball up on one side (sealing the tank) thus forcing the water up the pipe on the OTHER side into the filter (and then dripping down to the pot). It’s quite simple actually. So the only real “Seal” is the ball valve https://cdn.instructables.com/FJM/8GU0/HAQ3A9GZ/FJM8GU0HAQ3A9GZ.LARGE.jpg

        So for the coffee pot that costs me only a couple of bucks depending on features….. I will continue to use vinegar to clean it. Even my Hot water heater in the RV (along with the anode rod) I would consider Vinegar (although I have never done that either). I think damage done by scale for such things would cause far more damage then the vinegar would. If I had a Keurig or something like that, (but I don’t), I might consider something else (as they are fairly expensive in my book.