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Thread: Sulfur smell when running my water heater

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    Default Sulfur smell when running my water heater

    I fired up the Honda 2000 so that I could run my hot water heater over the weekend to do some dishes. The hot water had a very strong sulfur smell. Any idea what would cause this? It was so strong that we could smell it while standing on the back deck. Could there be something growing in my tank? I have been filling up the tank at the same place in Whittier all season. I am planning on running some bleach through the system to see if that kills the odor.
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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    I had the same problem when I moved into a house that had been vacant for several months. We just cranked the heat up nice and high for a couple hours then drained/flushed it really well. I have read where flushing with bleach is a good idea as well. It is a product of sulfide producing bacteria in most cases and a stagnant water heater makes a pretty good environment for them. Under regular use (like a house) it is less common but I imagine that isn't going to be as easy with a boat. Ultimately once you get the skunky water out and flush it really well you should be good to go. Just make flushing it out part of your regular boat maintenance. Even just letting the hot water run out at the end of a trip would probably keep you skunk free unless it sits for a long time.

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    The first year with the boat I never used the heater. I used it a lot last year and even more this season. I will purge the system and add a cup or so of bleach. Hopefully that will clear it up. Thanks!
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    Was it well water, or city water?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug from Anchorage View Post
    Was it well water, or city water?
    It is from the city of Whittier. I am not sure if it is treated or not. My water tank is 50 gallons and the hot water heater holds an additional six gallons. We use the water for dishes and the toilet is freshwater flush.
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    Member Frostbitten's Avatar
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    The city of Whittier doesn't treat their water. Don't use an entire cup of bleach in a 50 gallon tank, that's waaaaaaaay too strong. 1/4 cup is plenty, make sure it mixes well in the tanks and run all taps until you smell chlorine, then let it sit in the lines/tanks for a couple hours. Drain the tanks fill with fresh water and flush the lines. Drain, refill and flush again until you cant smell bleach any more.

    By the way, use plain bleach, not scented.

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    This is an interesting thread to me. It seems that almost every year in the spring time, our well water starts to smell like sulfur. Usually it lasts for a month or two then fades away...we attributed it to earthquakes as it seems to correspond with when we have had earthquakes and I know there are springs near our home that smell like sulfur year round...

    This year the smell came in march (after an earthquake??) and has not gone away. I'm going to try to flush the system and re-disinfect the well and piping with bleach and see if that helps...nothing worse than taking a hot shower and coming out smelling like sulfur!!

    Anyone else have this experience with well water?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frostbitten View Post
    The city of Whittier doesn't treat their water. Don't use an entire cup of bleach in a 50 gallon tank, that's waaaaaaaay too strong. 1/4 cup is plenty, make sure it mixes well in the tanks and run all taps until you smell chlorine, then let it sit in the lines/tanks for a couple hours. Drain the tanks fill with fresh water and flush the lines. Drain, refill and flush again until you cant smell bleach any more.

    By the way, use plain bleach, not scented.
    Thanks for the tip. I will have to deal with the smell over the weekend or not use the water heater. I want to hit the water as soon as I hit Whittier.
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    After a bit more research, I have found that chlorine will cause my aluminum tank to oxidize causing more problems in the future. Some recommend 35% hydrogen peroxide. I took enough chemistry in college to know that I won't be messing with that stuff. Perhaps more of the household strength or a call to one of the water softener/purifying places. Fun stuff owning a boat!

    Thanks for the link Susitna. Gleaned a bit of new info from that read.
    Spending my kids' inheritance with them, one adventure at a time.

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    I didnt have a problem last year. I didnt use it till this spring just to see if it worked. About a week later it smelled like a f#*t. I started puting a cap full of bleach into my water tank when I fill it. It dosnt take much. Then drain the tank at the end of the trip. No more problems.

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    Do you know the manufacturer of the water heater? If so, can you call them up and see if they have a solution?

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    A one time treatment with a low dose chloine bleach solution shouldn't cause an oxidation problem as long as you sufficiently flush the chlorine from the system. Long term exposure to chlorine (or any oxidizer) can surely cause some problems, but since you have an aluminum boat, you already knew that!

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    Quote Originally Posted by skydiver View Post
    Do you know the manufacturer of the water heater? If so, can you call them up and see if they have a solution?
    Yup, just got off the phone with the tech guy from Seaward Manufacturing. He recommended adding 2.5 ounces per 50 gallons of fresh water. I asked him about the problems with oxidation and he says that it has not been an issue. They have been in the business for 30+years. He also suggested adding about an ounce or so for regular maintenance.
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    i had the same problem this year in the camper...the hot water tank was not used for 2 months--stagnated, and there came the pee you smell!!!...i figured the black water tank was getting ripe!!??....the cold water line was fine, so it had to be that tank....i isolated the tank, drained and refilled,,,,smell went away.....we never seem to use that tank, so after a week i just isolated and drained it!....larry

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SusitnaAk View Post
    Thanks Susitna, good link.

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    Pete,
    I'm glad you brought this up we've been wondering all year why our water smelled so bad. Never thought about sulfur. We've never had this problem in prior years.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spoiled one View Post
    Thanks for the tip. I will have to deal with the smell over the weekend or not use the water heater. I want to hit the water as soon as I hit Whittier.
    Well.....put up with the bad smell of the water heater or put up with stinky armpits. You are essentially trading one stench for another. A tiny bit of chlorine will do wonders.

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    Well, no more fart smell from the water. I added about a 1/4 cup of bleach to the topped off tank and emptied the tank by running the water through the hot water tank. It smelled for about two minutes and then the chlorine did its magic. I ran the water heater three times over the weekend and the only odor from the water was the faint smell of chlorine.
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    That link from Susitna spells it all out. The bacteria that makes the sulfur smell really activates in warm water. We have it at our house and control it through a decent filter and a water softner using "iron out" salt.
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