How to Drain an RV Water Heater (Quick Step-by-Step Guide)

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Whether you are winterizing your RV, troubleshooting an issue, or simply storing your RV for an extended period of time, you’ll need to know how to drain your RV water heater.

Properly draining your water heater (and water system, in general) is a must to prevent the water from going stale and potentially freezing in winter, extending the heater’s life.

So, we put together a quick step-by-step guide on how to drain your RV’s water heater. Plus, some important tips to ensure you don’t ruin the heater in the process!

Do You Have to Drain an RV Water Heater?

It’s important to drain your RV water heater at the end of every season, and anytime it’s stored for more than two weeks. Any longer than that, you risk the water becoming stale and/or contaminated, which can give off a sulfur smell and may even be unhealthy if consumed.

A quick look at the owner’s manual for the Dometic WH-6GEA RV Water Heater states that it should be drained:

  • At regular intervals (at least once during the year).
  • Before storing the RV for winter or when there’s a possibility of freezing.

So, this is definitely a process you want to get familiar with. Luckily, it’s pretty easy, as you can see in our step-by-step breakdown, which brings us to…

How to Drain an RV Water Heater Step-by-Step

We touched on the importance of draining your RV water heater, and really the entire water system, to avoid stale and contaminated water issues.

Related: How to Drain Your RV Fresh Water Tank

But before we do that, we need to do three things:

  1. Shut off the propane gas supply to the water heater. If your RV water heater has an electric mode, make sure the power is turned off before draining the water in the tank. I like to take it a step further and turn off the breaker to the water heater as well. If an electric water heater is on and there’s no water in the tank, it will burn out the electric heating element very quickly.
  2. Turn off the water going into the motorhome, including the water pump, and relieve the water pressure by opening a cold and hot water faucet.
  3. Allow the water in the water heater tank to cool down before draining.

Once these are complete, we can start draining the water heater.

Important: Always refer to your water heater owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to empty your tank.

Step 1: Remove the Drain Plug

Locate your water heater, which is typically in an outside compartment of your RV. The water heater drain plug should be in the bottom left-hand corner.

How you remove the plug will depend on the type of water heater you have.

Draining a Dometic (Atwood) RV Water Heater

Nylon drain plug

Dometic RV water heaters (formerly Atwood water heaters) typically have a 1/2″ nylon drain plug, which can be removed with a wrench. When removing the plug, it is easy to round or break off the corners. Keep a spare drain plug on hand in case this happens while traveling.

Atwood 1/2

Atwood 1/2″ Drain Plug Kit

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Draining a Suburban RV Water Heater

Anode rod drain plug

Suburban water heaters have an anode rod that must be removed to drain the water, typically with a 1-1/16th inch socket.

An anode rod in a Suburban water heater protects the steel tank against corrosion by sacrificing itself before the tank corrodes.

Tip: Inspect the condition of the heater anode rod when you drain your tank. When it’s around 75% depleted, replace it with a new rod.

Step 2: Open Pressure Relief Valve

Once the plug is removed and the water has started draining, you can open the pressure relief valve located on the top of the unit to help in draining.

Once the water stops flowing out of the drain hole, you have essentially drained your water tank.

Keep in mind that the drain plug in a tank is higher than the bottom of the tank, leading to minerals and sediment collecting and clogging it. So, I recommend flushing your water heater tank at least 1 to 2 times per year.

Step 3: Flush the Water Heater (Optional)

Connect an RV water heater tank rinser to a water hose and turn the water on.

Camco Water Heater Tank Rinser

Camco Water Heater Tank Rinser

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To flush the debris from the water tank, insert the tool into the water heater drain and open the valve on the tool. Continue flushing for several minutes or until the water coming out is clean and clear.

If you are winterizing your rig, check out our guide on how to winterize a camper for further instructions.


How Often Should I Drain My RV Water Heater?

You should drain your RV water heater at the end of every season, anytime it’s stored for more than two weeks, or if there’s a possibility of it freezing.

Does the Low Point Drain Empty the Water Heater?

It depends on the design of the plumbing system in your recreational vehicle. Some models allow you to drain the water heater using a low-point drain, and others do not. The best way to tell if the low point will drain your water heater is to try it out.

Just remember that to winterize your system, flush your water heater, and/or check your anode rod (if applicable), you’ll still want to remove the drain valve or plug.

Related: Should I Leave My RV Water Heater on All the Time? (Important)

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