How to Remove a Stuck Electric Water Heater Element

Removing a stuck electric water heater element may take some time; but it is very doable. Preparation is the key before starting this project. Having everything, you need readily available will expedite element removal. If your water heater is more than six years old, you should consider replacing it with a new high efficient heat pump unit. These new hybrid water heaters are nearly 100 percent energy efficient, and purchasing one may qualify you for a tax credit.

Sometimes all you need is a bigger wrench to remove a stuck element in a water heater.

Step 1

Close the main incoming water supply valve feeding the water heater. Turn off the electrical breakers or disconnect the water heater's power supply. Drain all the water from the water heater by attaching a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the heater. Open the drain valve. Open the pressure relief valve on the side or top of the heater; this will allow the tank to drain faster. Turn the drain valve off and remove the hose. Close the temperature and pressure relief valve by allowing it to snap shut: this will effectively close and reset the valve.

Step 2

Remove the thermostat/element cover plate from the front of the tank with screwdriver. Test the element for electrical current with an electrical testing meter. Adjust the voltmeter until the dial is set on 250V, place one voltmeter lead on each element screw: the meter should read no power. This is to prevent accidental shock or electrocution. Loosen the two screws on the front of the element and pull the wires clear.

Step 3

Unscrew the element with an element wrench. Rotate the element counterclockwise. If the element is stuck, use a large pipe wrench to turn the element wrench. You may need to wrap an old rag soaked in vinegar around the heating element for fifteen to twenty minutes; this will loosen any corrosion that may be binding the element. In extreme cases, you may need to repeat the soaking several times until the element is freed.