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How to Replace a Dip Tube: Step-by-Step Guide

Replace a dip tube

During your regular water heater maintenance checks, you may have noticed that your hot water is now lukewarm, this could be a sign of a broken dip tube. This is the most common symptom, and depending on where the dip tube broke is often what determines the actual temperature.

A dip tube is a long plastic tube that runs within your tank. It starts at the cold water inlet and extends all the way to the bottom of the water heater. You'll seldom have water leaking problems when a dip tube breaks, just a lack of hot water.

Copper pipes on a gold background

Fixing a Broken Dip Tube

The water enters the water heater at the top, however it's heated at the bottom of the tank. The dip tube carries the water from the top of the heater to the bottom where it'll be heated. As cold water enters the tank, the heated water rises to the top and is drawn through the hot water outlet.

When hot water is drawn from the tank, it is replaced with cold water. To prevent the cold water from cooling the ready-to-use hot water, the dip tube delivers it to the bottom of the tank before being circulated to where it is needed. 

Over time, a dip tube will crack, develop mineral deposits, or even break entirely. When this happens, the cold water enters the tank at the top and mixes with the hot water since the tube will abruptly end somewhere above the bottom of the tank. The result is lukewarm water. 

Plumber with wrench

How to Change a Dip Tube

Step 1:  Turn Off the Power

Safety first. Before working on your water heater you should always turn off the power. Here's how:

  • Electric Water Heater - Turn off the breaker at the electrical panel.
  • Gas Water Heater - Set the dial on the gas regulator to "off" or "pilot"

Step 2:  Turn Off the Water

Close the valve on the incoming water line to the water heater. There is generally either a dial or a lever that you can use to turn off the incoming water.

In some cases, water heaters are installed without a shut-off, if this is your situation you'll need to turn off the water supply to your home. We highly recommend installing a shut off valve. You can do it yourself, or hire a professional plumber.

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Step 3: Drain a Few Gallons of Water

  • Attach a garden hose to the drain valve and open a hot water tap within the house.
  • Allow a few gallons of water to drain from the tank.
  • It isn't necessary to drain the entire tank. Draining a few gallons will clear any water that may be in the hot water pipes above the level of the top of the tank.

Step 4:  Disconnect the Incoming Water Line

There are two types of incoming water lines: Flexible hose connectors and copper pipes. Here's what to do for each:

Flexible Hose Connectors

If your water heater is connected to the incoming water line with flexible hoses, you'll be able to simply use a wrench to disconnect the hose from the cold water inlet nipple.

Flexible Hose
Holdrite Flexible Stainless Steel Water Heater Connector, Female Iron Pipe Fitting, 1-Inch FIP x 3/4-Inch FIP, 24-Inch Length, Quickflex QFC-17524
Copper Pipes

If your water heater has a copper pipe connecting it to the incoming water line, the task is a bit more complicated. You'll need to use a pipe cutter to cut the copper pipe between the cold water shut off valve and the cold water inlet nipple on the water heater.

Copper Pipe Cutter
MAGBIT 801.114C MAG801 Tube Cutter Copper/EMT 1/8-Inch - 1-1/4-Inch Cut

Step 5:  Remove the Dip Tube

  • Use a wrench to unscrew the incoming water nipple.
  • Gently pull the dip tube from the tank. The dip tube may be fractured, corroded, or completely broken.
  • Try not to touch the sides of the water heater with the dip tube as you are removing it as this could cause it to break and fall into your tank.
  • If the dip tube is in good shape, there may be another problem, such as the heating element or the thermostat.

Step 6:  Install the New Dip Tube

  • Wrap the treads of the new dip tube with Teflon tape.
  • Insert the dip tube into the tank and secure it in place.
  • Connect the plumbing to the water heater. If you have copper pipes, you'll need to solder them back together.
Dip Tube
Rheem SP11248R Dip Tube, 3/4-Inch Diameter by 54-3/4-Inch long

Step 7:  Turn On the Water and Power

  • Open the cold water supply valve and allow the tank to fill.
  • Be sure the tank is completely filled with water before you turn the power back on. If the water level is below the upper heating element on an electric water heater the unit will "dry-fire" and burn out the heating element.
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