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Cleaning An RV Hot Water Tank With Vinegar – Everything You Need to Know

Who likes cold showers? Who likes cloudy, warm water? Most people don’t like either unless you’ve been working in the heat all day. Even them cloudy water doesn’t sound very appealing. The inside of a hot water tank, or hot water heater can get gross and full of minerals.

One way to rid the hot water heater of contaminants and minerals is to clean it out. Cleaning out a hot water tank is easier than it sounds and beneficial to all your hot water faucets – and your skin, in the long run.

Cleaning your hot water tank in your RV is a matter of using vinegar and similar cleaning supplies. We will walk you through step by step how to clean the hot water tank to remove nasty water byproducts.

Why would I clean my RV hot water heater?

A hot water heater in an RV, and in a home, can become full of sediment and debris. The water in the south and southwest especially tends to have extra minerals that come from rocks and runoff. While these minerals are tiny and invisible to you, they can gradually add up and become trapped in your hot water heater.

When minerals stay in your hot water heater, the heat hardens them and they can get stuck to the sides of the tank. A hot water heater with mineral build up becomes less efficient as heat has a harder time reaching the water. A hot water heater can also produce “harder” water that dries skin.

How do I clean my RV hot water tank with vinegar?

The first and most important part of cleaning out your hot water tank is getting into your hot water tank. There are a couple of ways to get your hot water tank full of vinegar.

The first step to take is to drain your hot water. Do this by turning off the gas supply to your hot water tank then running a nearby faucet with hot water until it turns cold. You should also attach a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of your hot water heater to get all the remaining water out. We suggest a bucket for this, but a long enough hose could just drain out the window or outside.

Using the Anode Rod

The anode rod on your hot water tank is a window to the inside. The anode rod is actually intended to be a rust magnet. Since the entire purpose of your hot water tank is to be a piece of metal that holds standing water, it should get pretty rusty. It doesn’t thanks to a good anode rod.

The rod is usually recessed into the tank. You will need either a socket wrench or a screwdriver to remove it.

Once you have this open, you can see inside the tank. At this point, you may want to grab a funnel for the vinegar. We don’t suggest trying to pour vinegar into the tank without a funnel because your arms will probably be up and splashing vinegar does not sound appealing though it is harmless.

How much vinegar should you put in? We suggest at least a couple of gallons. You can also mix this with water but to get a better concentration of vinegar, you can use it alone.

Once you’ve replaced the anode rod on top, you can restart the hot water heater.

Pressure Relief Valve

You can also use the pressure relief valve. This might be a bit more difficult for some to take off as it’s usually fitted on. The pressure relief valve is either on top or on the bottom. This helps release some steam in the event that the water inside gets too hot – your hot water heater can be damaged by pressure.

The pressure relief valve offers a similar window to removing your anode rod. You can pour the vinegar in from there, then put the valve back on. You’ll probably need an adjustable wrench or socket wrench for this one.

See Inside

While you’ve got the pressure relief valve or anode rod off, you may have the chance to see inside. Your hot water heater might have grime on the sides or even built up minerals. Neither of these are surprising as water does have some leftovers inside that will cling to things once introduced to a container. You might find it even more interesting to look into the tank after your cleaning and see what the vinegar did!

Fire up your hot water heater with vinegar

Turn the hot water heater back on. Let it heat that vinegar back up. 

After a few hours, turn it off and let the hot water heater cool down. You can choose to either have the hot water heater drain via a hose into a large bucket or use a sink or faucet. Note that the water coming out might be pretty dirty so we suggest draining it elsewhere first.

In order to fully remove the smell of vinegar, you should let your hot water heater refill with fresh water, then drain it again completely. Otherwise, the smell might also get into other places. Of course, if you like the smell of vinegar, go for it and use it to clean your shower and sinks.


Cleaning your hot water heater using vinegar is great for routine maintenance. You should also clean it out if your hot water smells unusual or hot water becomes more cloudy than normal. 

You’ll want to grab a couple of tools, including an adjustable wrench and a screwdriver, possibly including a socket wrench. This will help take parts off that allow you to access the tank itself. 

Consider your safety too. Don’t open the hot water heater with a full tank of hot anything. Wait the hours it may take for the whole heater to cool down.

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