Rusty Water

Rick Conner of Panama City, Florida, asks:

“I made the mistake of filling my water tanks without first filtering the water. Normally I put a filter on the end of the hose, but this time I didn’t. Because the town water pipes are fairly old, I’m thinking perhaps some rust might have gotten into my tanks. Is there a way to get rid of the orange-colored water now coming out of my tap, primarily on the hot water side, without replacing the lines and cleaning the tanks, faucets and water heater? I have considered using CLR cleaner or muriatic acid, but I hear they can have unwanted side effects. What’s the best way to proceed?”

Don Casey replies:

Coping with discolored freshwater should never involve much more than emptying, rinsing, perhaps wiping down, and then refilling the contaminated water tank. I doubt the rust you are seeing comes from the town’s water supply. It’s far more likely it is coming from your own system, and your water-heater tank is the most likely suspect.

You can check this by connecting the heater’s inlet hose to its outlet hose and bypassing the heater. The heater will drain when you disconnect the hoses, so be sure to turn off the electric element first. Flush your water tanks and refill them. If the water runs clear you know the rust is coming from the heater, which should be replaced.

Never use muriatic acid or CLR cleaner in your freshwater system. Muriatic (hydrochloric) acid will attack metals and other materials in the system. CLR is also acidic—primarily lactic acid—and is also unsafe to use. The best thing for cleaning freshwater tanks and hoses is white vinegar; a pint will handle most tanks. When filtering your water supply use a sediment filter, not a carbon filter. Carbon filters remove the chlorine usually found in municipal water, which makes it much more likely the water will spoil in your tanks.

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