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How to Easily Replace Your RV Anode Rod for the Water Heater

You could be in a frustrating situation if you don’t keep an eye on the anode rod in your water heater. This inexpensive part has a major job.

Lucky for you, replacing this piece is incredibly simple. We promise you don’t have to be a DIY expert to check this task off your to-do list.

Today, we’re sharing how to easily replace the anode rod in your RV’s water heater. This way, you’ll enjoy hot showers for years to come.

Let’s dive in!

What is an Anode Rod?

Anode rods are pieces of metal made from aluminum, magnesium, or zinc. They attract corrosive elements, like minerals and sediment, in the H2O that goes into the water heater. They eat away at the other metals instead of the appliance itself. This can add years of life to a tank by preventing rust and corrosion inside the unit.

Over time, the part will begin to deteriorate. Instead of a single solid piece, the end will dissolve as the elements attack it. In general, it serves as a sacrifice for the health and longevity of the hardware.

It’s essential to check and replace these as needed. We recommend adding this task to the list of annual maintenance items you complete. To play it safe, it’s best to replace it when only 50% of the rod remains.

How Often Should You Change a Water Heater’s Anode Rod?

How often you should change the anode rod in a water heater varies. It significantly depends on the quality of fluid you’re filling it with and how often you use it. If you’re putting mineral-rich H2O in, it will shorten its life.

Those traveling in their RV full-time will likely need to make a change every year or two. However, a typical recreational camper can get anywhere from two to three years of use. Additionally, some modern units have higher-quality models that last much longer than older versions.

These are relatively inexpensive parts, but they play a critical role. It’s better to err on the side of caution and replace it sooner versus later. If not, you could spend hundreds of dollars instead of $10 to $15.

What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Anode Rod in a Water Heater?

Your water heater will let you know if it’s been a hot minute since you last replaced your anode rod. Rust or rotten egg smell is one of the first indications. If you start to notice either of these, you need to replace it as soon as possible.

Other symptoms can include discolorations or gel-like substances in the output. These are both the result of the metal reacting with the contents of the heater. Ignoring these will only lead to a significantly larger problem down the road.

A leak is one of the worst possible symptoms of a bad anode rod. This could indicate that you have a serious problem on your hands. The minerals could have eaten away at the tank or the seals. Although, if you’re not checking the tank regularly, you might not notice this leak immediately, which could cause severe damage.

Pro Tip: On the hunt for a water heater for your RV? We found the 5 Best RV Water Heaters.

RV water heater
You will need to replace the anode rod in your RV water heater.

How to Replace an RV Water Heater Anode Rod

Replacing the anode rod in your RV water heater is simple. All you’ll need is a socket wrench to do the job. So grab a socket wrench set, and let’s get started!

Turn off the Power and Water

The first step is to turn off the fluid and power supply. Since you’ll be completely emptying the appliance, you want to ensure no power is running to it. If not, you risk damaging the heating element inside the tank. 

Leaving the water on won’t do any damage but can create a mess. This is because the plumbing system will constantly work to fill the tank once you start emptying it. The result will be a massive puddle on the ground and a soaked RV owner.

Locate Your RV Water Heater Anode Rod

Now it’s time to locate the anode rod on your device. The location will vary depending on the make and model. However, it’s typically on the top of the water heater tank and accessed through a small panel outside the RV.

If you cannot locate it, check the user manual that came with your camper. If you’re more of a visual learner, you can find plenty of videos on YouTube that can walk you through the entire process.

Drain Water Heater

The drain valve is typically on the bottom of the water heater tank outside of the RV. It could be a small plastic or metal valve with a handle. Lift the handle and watch out because whatever fluid is left in the tank will begin to drain. It’ll likely take a few minutes to empty the tank.

Remove the Anode Rod

All that’s required to remove the anode rod is a socket wrench. You’ll likely need a ¾” socket, and you may need an extension. However, we suggest you bring your entire socket set just in case. There’s nothing worse than making multiple trips because you grabbed the wrong socket. 

Loosen and pull it directly out of the space. Remember, “righty tighty, lefty loosey.” Be careful not to drop or get dirt on it. You don’t want that gunk going into your tank.

Water heater
Replacing your RV water heater’s anode rod is a relatively easy DIY.

Verify It Needs Replacing

You can inspect it now that you’ve removed it. We recommend replacing the anode rod once it reaches 50% of its useful life. This helps ensure that your water heater never goes without protection.

It’s far more economical to replace it than to invest in a new appliance prematurely. We’ve heard horror stories of individuals who intended to replace it but never did. Trust us; you don’t want to be one of them.

Install New Anode Rod

After assessing its condition, it’s time to reinstall the old rod or install a new one. Slide it into the hole until the threads connect. Use the wrench you used to loosen, but reverse it this time. You want it to be tight but don’t over-tighten it. This can strip the threads and cause damage to the unit. This isn’t the time to show off your muscles or how strong you are.

Restore Water and Power

Before putting away your tools, turn the water and power back on. Fill the tank and inspect for any leaks or issues. If everything is working as it should, you can clean up and put your tools away. If you notice any leaks, turn everything back off, and try realigning the threads between the anode rod and the device.

Pro Tip: Unsure what hot water set up to put into your RV? These are 5 Reasons to Avoid an RV Tankless Water Heater.

Is Replacing the Anode Rod in Your RV Water Heater Worth It?

As we’ve mentioned, this part is a critical component of your plumbing system. It protects your water heater from minerals and other corrosive elements. The life of your appliance would be substantially shorter if it weren’t for its sacrifice.

Replacing your anode rod is much easier and less expensive than the whole thing. So do yourself a favor and stay on top of this critical piece of maintenance.

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