Water Heater Dip Tube FailureFact Sheet: Deteriorating Hot Water Tank Dip Tube
"My water has white particles in it!"
You turn on your faucet and find little white or grey particles in the water. You take off the faucet aerator and find more white particles stuck there. What is happening? The culprit can be plastic from a deteriorated "dip tube" in your hot water heater.
Where do the white particles come from?
According to plumbing industry sources, up to 90 percent of residential water heaters built between 1993 and 1996, an estimated 21 million units, may rely on defective polypropylene "dip tubes," which break down inside the water heater and cause plastic chips to flow to water faucets. The chips do not pose a health risk, but they can decrease water flow from household faucets and appliances and diminish water heater efficiency and effectiveness. Virtually all water heaters rely on some type of dip tube, a pipe that delivers cold water to the bottom of the heater, where the burner is located. Manufacturers altered their process between 1993 and 1996, using materials that can break down and dissolve in as little as two to three years.
What can I do?
First - check to see if the particles are plastic. Put them in some water - if plastic, they will float and not dissolve. Try putting some particles in vinegar - plastic will float and not dissolve. Applying heat will melt the plastic.
If you experience problems with a dip tube, contact your water heater manufacturer. Their number is usually on a label attached to the water heater. Many water heater manufacturers will replace the defective dip tubes or water heaters at no cost to the customer.
To fix the problem, the dip tube has to be replaced. Although the dip tube is relatively inexpensive, it can be very difficult for a homeowner to replace because the water heater will also need to be flushed to remove any lingering plastic chips. Another option is to completely replace the water heater, which is usually more expensive than replacing the dip tube and flushing the water heater. In either case the fixtures, strainers, and aerators will have to be cleaned several times until all the dip tube chips are flushed from the piping. Faucet replacement is not necessary if the fixtures are adequately cleaned.
Are these plastic chips a concern?
Water containing tiny plastic chips from defective household water heaters is safe. These plastic chips are a nuisance, and they may decrease the performance of your appliances, but they are non-toxic and do not pose a health threat.