It’s spring and you open up your camper. You turn on the water. It smells awful! Were eggs left in the camper?
Why does the camper smell like rotten eggs?
Anaerobic bacteria reacts with magnesium or aluminum anode rods to produce a rotten egg smell. That’s why peroxide, which is a germicide, is commonly used for flushing water heaters. Yes, the same stuff some folks gargle with, and others use to clean wounds, works wonders to eliminate the egg smell from water heaters.
We recommend having at least one 16 ounce bottle of hydrogen peroxide for this task, preferably two. If you don’t want to use hydrogen peroxide (which is toxic if swallowed) you can also use household vinegar.
To further prevent the rotten egg smell, use an aluminum-zinc anode. The zinc in a aluminum-zinc anode helps to eliminate the bacterial activity that produces the hydrogen sulfide, and the dreaded egg smell.
You are not alone. Most people who own RVs smell this awful odor at least once.
Important Water Heater Safety Note
Never turn on a propane water heater or water heater electric heating element when a water heater tank is empty. Even a brief power-on to the electric or propane heater element while the tank is empty can damage or destroy the heater element and/or water heater tank.
Using A Flushing Wand For Calcified Sediment
At least once a year, as part of your routine RV water heater maintenance, it’s a good idea to flush your water heater with fresh water. Flushing will help rid any calcified sediment and deposits that collect in water heaters over time.
A flushing wand is optional, but highly recommended as it helps to increase the pressure of the fresh water and direct it deeper into the part of the water heater tank that is below the drain. This pressure will also do a better job of loosening any calcified build-up inside the tank.
Above: A flushing wand will loosen and flush debris in your water heater
Steps To Eliminate The Awful Water Heater Smell
1. Before you start, check that the water inside the water heater to make sure that it is not hot to prevent burning yourself. Then, turn off the water pump and/or city water, and make sure your water heater is off.
2. Open the hot and cold water faucets in the camper to drain any remaining water out of the lines. This is an important step to relieve any pressure in the plumbing system.
3. If your water heater system is equipped with a bypass, use it to close off the water to the water heater. That way water from the fresh tank cannot possibly enter the water heater.
4. For our Suburban water heater, we used a 1-1/16” deep well socket on a 3/8” ratchet with a 3” socket extension to remove the drain plug and anode rod.
Other water heaters may need a different socket size to remove the drain plug (Atwood) or drain plug and anode rod (Suburban). Please check the water heater owner’s manual to determine which socket size you need.
In the picture above you will notice that the drain plug and anode rod in our Suburban water heater appears quite rusted. This is an indication that the anode rod needs to be replaced.
Above: Plastic water heater drain plug on an Atwood water heater