Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
AGE of WATER HEATERS
AIRBOUND HEAT SYSTEM REPAIR by WATER FEED VALVE
ALTERNATIVE HOT WATER SOURCES
ANODES & DIP TUBES on WATER HEATERS
ANTIFREEZE for BOILERS
ANTI SCALD VALVES
APPLIANCE EFFICIENCY RATINGS
AQUASTAT CONTROL Functions
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BACKFLOW PREVENTER, HEATER WATER FEEDER
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
CHECK VALVES, WATER SUPPLY
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
CLOGGED SUPPLY PIPING
DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater
DRAIN a WATER HEATER TANK
ELECTRIC WATER HEATERS
FLOODED HEATING EQUIPMENT REPAIR
FLOODED WATER HEATER REPAIR
GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION
GAS BURNER Flame & Noise Defects
GAS FIRED WATER HEATERS
GAS PIPING, VALVES, CONTROLS
HOT WATER SUPPLY
INDIRECT FIRED WATER HEATERS
MANUALS & PARTS GUIDES - HVAC
MIXING / ANTI-SCALD VALVES
NO HEAT - NO HOT WATER: HEATER DIAGNOSIS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
NOISE CONTROL for HEATING SYSTEMS
NOISE, PLUMBING CHECKLIST
NOISE, WATER HEATER
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS IN WATER
PIPING IN buildings, Clogs Leaks Types
PLASTIC HEATER VENT
PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
RELIEF VALVES - Water Heaters
SCALE REMOVAL, WATER HEATERS
SEWER GAS ODORS
SOLAR HOT WATER HEATERS
SOOT on OIL FIRED HEATING EQUIPMENT
SPILL SWITCHES - Flue Gas Detection
TANKLESS WATER HEATERS
Temperature Pressure Relief Valves - Water Heaters
THERMOSTATS, WATER HEATER
TIMERS for ELECTRIC WATER HEATERS
WATER CONTAMINANT LEVELS
WATER HAMMER NOISE DIAGNOSE & CURE
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
WATER PIPES, Clogs Leaks Types
WATER PRESSURE & FLOW MEASUREMENT
WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
WATER QUANTITY IMPROVEMENT
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
White plastic debris particles coming from water heater tank: here we explain how white and gray debris particles in the building water supply and clogging faucet strainers were traced to a bad water heater plastic dip tube. The dip tube was replaced, but then we had to flush the water heater to remove the old dip tube debris fragments. Here is how we did it. The articles at this website will answer most questions about diagnosing and curing noisy domestic water heaters and about the procedure to remove mineral deposits, lime, water scale, silicates, sulfates, aluminates, or silt and sand from a water heater tank.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Tracking Down the Source of White and Gray Particles Clogging Faucet Strainers
As an example of how one might find and cure the cause of debris clogging of faucet strainers and debris found in a building water supply, This article describes and photo-illustrate our diagnostic and repair procedure.
Ralph asked if we could take a look at the sudden appearance of debris particles that kept clogging the faucet strainers in his home.
Check the Faucet Aerators for Debris Clogging & Clean Them if Necessary
Look at the faucet strainer clogging particles and do this simple debris test
Squash the Water System Debris Particles
We did observe that these particles were pretty soft - you could easily mash them to powder between a thumb and forefinger - this was not sand or dirt. You can see this with the naked eye, but it was instructive to examine these particles in our forensic laboratory (photos below). The particle shapes (tending to be rectangular and flat) and texture seemed to argue against their consisting of mineral fragments (that tend to be irregular in all dimensions).
White debris particles in water supply, examined in the stereo microscope
In our lab photo below left you can see several interesting features about these white particles:
The edges of the particles tend to be straight or linear, the top surface shows multiple fine cracks or fragmentation in process (stressing I'd call it), and where the particle was easily crushed using light pressure from forceps, it crumbles into a very fine dust in which particles are reduced from 1/8" to to micron-range sizes in their longest dimension.
Look closely at the debris particle at upper left - you can also see some brown staining that appears to be iron deposits or possibly silt from the building water piping and supply. In our later photos (below) you can see this same orange coating on the interior of the dip tube pipe fragment.
Try to Dissolve the Debris Particles - A Home Chemistry Test for Mineral Deposits
Our second forensic lab photo of the white debris particles found in Ralph's faucet strainer (above right) demonstrates what happened when we exposed the particles to a mild acid. Any mild acid would have been fine. The particles remained intact and went into suspension, even after five minutes or more of exposure. Exposure to a base also did not affect these particles.
Note: Acids commonly used for particle immersion include lactic acid and acid fuschin. Bases commonly used in the lab for particle immersion include KOH and NaOH. Thanks to reader Tom for pointing out the need for this clarification - 9/6/12.
If these white debris particles had been calcium, a common mineral deposited in "hard water" supply systems and one that can leave white deposits or even build up into thick white deposits (see WATER HEATER SCALE - De-Liming Procedure), they would have dissolved. Our acid had no effect on these particles, lending credence to the hypothesis that they are plastic and were formed from a deteriorated plastic water heater dip tube.
We could also have put these particles in vinegar (a mild acid) to see if they would dissolve. A common restoration repair for mineral-clogged and coated faucet strainers or other plumbing parts is to soak them over night in vinegar. The acidic soak will usually soften and often dissolve calcium or magnesium mineral deposits and crud while leaving the chromed or plastic parts un-damaged. We didn't take this step but we could have.
Because of what Ralph said in the next step in our water particle crud diagnosis discussion this whole lab step of trying to dissolve particles to see if they were minerals could be skipped. Ultimately we confirmed by direct inspection and discovery of the source that these small white fragments were debris from a disintegrating plastic dip tube in the water heater.
Consider the Building Age and Age of Plumbing Pipes and Appliances
The New York home where these water system particles is connected to a municipal water supply. A first guess would tend to rule out mineral deposits or crud that might be breaking free in a water heater or in water piping. But we didn't fully rule that out: the home is old enough that it might have been previously connected to a private well and hard or high-mineral-content water.
But we didn't' think hard water was a likely cause of these particles because usually mineral build-up sticks like glue to the inside of pipes and water heaters. Unless something disturbed it such as the water heater de-scaling operation described at WATER HEATER SCALE - De-Liming Procedure.
Check the Building Plumbing Repair History
Homing in on a bad water heater dip tube
In discussing the history of the building pipes and plumbing equipment, Ralph mentioned that the water heater (which was more than 10 years old, had recently been producing tepid "hot" water. A plumber was called to diagnose the trouble. He found that the water heater dip tube "needed replacement" and a new one was installed.
Because most sink and tub faucets use a common spout for both hot and cold water, it won't be obvious whether particles or debris are coming just hot water, just cold water, or both hot and cold water when we just examine a clogged [sink] faucet strainer.
But we did observe that faucets that were used to run a lot of hot and warm water - the kitchen sink, for example, clogged much faster than other faucets in the home.
We decided that there was a good chance that water heater dip tube parts might be the source of this building water supply debris. Also, since Ralph pointed out that the water heater tank had never been drained, we figured that performing that normal maintenance task was a good idea anyway. Like vacuuming refrigerator coils, the manufacturer may recommend an annual maintenance task but many building owners have other problems on their mind.
Draining the Hot Water Tank to Look for and Remove Dip Tube or Anode Fragments
See DRAIN a WATER HEATER TANK This article describes dealing with the more common of these water heater tank draining troubles: defective water heater tank drain valve, water heater cold water-in supply valve won't operate. .
Watch out: Safety Warnings: don't tackle this water heater cleanout project on a Sunday night when you can't call a plumber or buy a replacement part. Water heaters, their heating source (oil or gas burner or electricity or solar hot water), and particularly their relief valves include critical safety components. Do not modify or remove relief valves, chimney connections, draft hoods, etc. as you may create dangerous conditions.
Steps in Draining the Water Heater to Check for Dip Tube Debris & Flush Water Heater Tank Debris Out of the System
Following the first steps at WATER HEATER DRAIN PROCEDURE we drained the water heater tank, but we had to make use of a pony pump to get our water heater to drain "uphill" and out of a basement window, as we illustrate here.
At WATER HEATER DRAIN PROCEDURE the basic steps illustrated there include:
Look into the Water Heater Tank Bottom
The photos below show what we found in the water heater tank after removing the drain valve.
At above left you can see a fragment of plastic dip tube resting right at the water heater drain valve opening. And above right we give a nicer view of the dip tube fragment as we began to fish it out of the tank. A spring-fingered mechanic's grabbing/fishing tool was handy for this step.
Flushing the Dip Tube Fragments Out of the Water Heater
This was by no means easy. In fact it was a mess. We figured that in for a penny in for a pound, it would be stupid to just drag out that one big fragment and put everything back together. We wanted to do everything possible to stop that flow of plastic dip tube fragments through the plumbing system where they were clogging faucets every two days.
With the water heater tank empty of water and a plastic bucket held under the drain valve opening, we repeatedly gave the water tank a "shot" of incoming cold water, then quickly turned the water off. That surge of water was sufficient to push lots more plastic debris and junk into our plastic bucket as you can see in our photo (below left).
This was a horrible job - with (mostly Ralph) making repeated trips upstairs and outdoors to dump our buckets of debris and water. We spilled plenty on the floor too.
We could have installed a short nipple into the water heater tank drain valve opening to direct more flush out into the bucket and less onto the floor, but we didn't.
I figured that we wanted the largest possible opening to try to get those big fragments out of the water tank.
Leaving any big fragments in the water heater would mean that they would simply be broken up and continue to clog the house plumbing and faucets in the future.
So we kept up this flush surge and bucket emptying cycle until no more debris came out of the water heater tank bottom. Our (limited) view into the water heater tank through this opening now looked clean.
If we had observed scale deposits in the water heater (which we did not expect) we'd have followed the procedure at WATER HEATER SCALE - De-Liming Procedure
But we were confident that the we now knew exactly what happened. When the plumber installed a new water heater dip tube, the remnants of the old one were left sitting in the bottom of the water heater tank. Don't gripe at your plumber about this. If s/he had warned you about the possibility of dip tube fragments showing up in the water supply you'd have asked how to prevent that. The answer would have been this tedious (and if you hired a plumber to do it, time consuming and expensive) process. Many homeowners would have decided to wait and see.
Confirming The Identity of Water System Particles
Putting The Water Heater Back Together
Key Water Heater Diagnosis or Repair Articles
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Debris Problems in Water Heaters & in Water Supply Systems
Question: small white particles coming out of our hot water heater clog our faucets
I have small white particles that clog my faucet water savers I was told that plastic material was used in some water heaters and this deteriorates over time, causing this problem. Is this true? I have an A.O. Smith 55 gallon water heater made in 1995. - Bill 2/5/12
Reply: Replace the plastic dip tube that has disintegrated and flush the water tank to remove the debris
2/15/2012 Bill, The symptoms of the white particles clogging the aerator are classic symptoms of a failed dip tube. The dip tube is a tube that extends from the inlet to the bottom of the water heater to prevent the incoming cold water from mixing with the hot water causing a rapid reduction in temperature of the water going out of the tank.
Bill: we agree completely with Red Wood - Thanks Red for your comments.
We suspect that a combination of high water heater temperatures and possibly a water supply containing chlorine may accelerate the deterioration of this or other plastics in the plumbing system.
We also have had to drain and thoroughly flush a water heater after replacing the dip tube (photo above left). The client's plumber replaced the plastic dip tube that had disintegrated in the water heater, but clogging continued because no one had gotten all that plastic crud out of the tank.
In our article above, beginning at DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater we describe the diagnosis and correction of these white plastic debris particles left in the water heater when a plastic dip tube disintegrates. At WATER HEATER ANODES, DIP TUBES we describe inspection and replacement of water heater dip tubes.
- Daniel [-Editor]
Question: Health hazard from deteriorated CPVC water heater dip tube?
I just found out that our Weil McLain indirect hot water tank has a defective dip tube and has cause my entire home to have loss of water pressure and clogged plumbing fixtures and appliances. The problem became so bad that we lost use of our kitchen silk and shower.
After 2 years of investigation, I ended up contacting Weil McLain and they gave me a new water tank right away. Also, they have agreed to replace the damaged fixtures throughout the entire house.
I am contacting you now to ask if you are aware of any health issues that could arise due to ingesting these particles? We have 4 small children ranging from 3 to 12 years of age which have been living with this problem (taking baths, drinking water and eating foods prepared with the contaminated water). I realize this subject may be out of your zone of knowledge but thought best to at least ask, as your website seems very thorough on the subject of dip tub problems.
I thank you in advance for any information or resources you could share with us. - G.S. 3/29/2013
I'm sure sorry it took so long to figure out the problem. Someone who knew what they were doing should have found it in five minutes by checking a faucet strainer and recognizing the white particulate debris.
There may be potential health hazards IF the dip tube you describe was made of PVC (which many are - or more likely CPVC) but a literature search I conducted for this reply could not find a reference to such events. I did find reference to testing for CPVC particles from dip tubes in water suppies.
Your first order of business is to find out what the tube was made-of. Or if you have samples of the debris, to have them analyzed.
You'd need something like a, FTIR spectrograph of dip tube plastic and polypropylene. This test is discussed in Qualitative Qualitative Procedures For Identifying Particles In Drinking Water [book at Amazon], Stephen Booth, Blaise J. - Editors. American Water Works Association, 2005, ISBN 1583213740, 9781583213742
Also see Ruth Ricahrson & Marc dwards, "Vinyl Chloride and Organotin Stabilizers in Water Contacting New and Aged PVC Pipes", Web Report 2991, 2009, Water Research Foundation, 6666 West Quincy Avenue, Denver, CO 80235-3098. Their research included this finding "In all cases VC levels were below the MCL of 0.002 mg/L but above the MCLG (MCL Goal) of 0 mg/L."
Based on those sources I suspect that the actual health risk was low because of the comparatively low total volume of plastic material involved, and that the risk would also vary by water temperature, chemistry, and water volumes involved. But this is NOT my area of expertise.
Your second order of risk assessment business would be to ask an industry expert (see the article I've attached) for an opinion. Beware that there may be a very big gap between theory or opinion and demonstrable fact.
And of course, ask your doctor for an opinion.
Questions & answers or comments.about flushing debris from water heater tanks and the effects of plastic dip tubes in water heaters.
Ask a Question or Enter Search Terms in the InspectApedia search box just below.
Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.