We have an electric hot water heater (GE branded Rheem) that may date from the mid-90s (based on the energy usage tag). It was boxed in and I was finally prompted to open up the wall concealing it when we noticed an "electrical" odor. I found an overheating terminal on the upper thermostat.

After burning an effigy of the previous owner I set about cleaning up the installation and giving the heater a bit of TLC. Which brings me to the anode rod…

I can see through the top water and T&P valve openings that the anode rod is still there but it is clearly corroded - but I don't think I'm seeing the central core of the rod. Since the water heater is installed in a location where there isn't adequate clearance to remove the rod I'd like to replace it while I've got the heater removed. So far I've tried:

  • A 24" breaker bar - the rod rolled its eyes.
  • Soaking overnight with Kroil penetrating oil then the breaker bar - the rod laughed.
  • Heating the head of the rod - smoke, charing, but the rod would not relent.
  • An impact wrench - now the rod is openly mocking me.

Any suggestions?

  • 1
    How are you holding the heater, to keep it from turning when you try to rotate the rod? Any movement there could greatly diminish the effectiveness of your effort. (I put a pipe in, in place of the T&P, and pulled between that and a breaker.)
    – George
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 2:44
  • @George - that's genius! I finally removed it entirely, drained it, and lay it on the floor and had the whole family pin it to the floor. Figure I had about 500 foot-pounds on it. Very stubborn anode.
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 3:12
  • So, I ended up replacing the heater with a Rheem hybrid. With the rebate being offered by my power company the price difference was only about $200-300 between the hybrid and a conventional electric model. Even with our relatively low electric rates we should make up the difference in a couple of years.
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 3:17
  • 1
    But have you tried hitting it with a hammer :P. You know things are going well when you break out he hammer! Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 20:27
  • 2
    This is old news, but as an alternative solution, I found that after working at mine with an end wrench until the hex shape was fully stripped, I was able to grip it with a pipe wrench and get it to move.
    – The Photon
    Commented Dec 30, 2020 at 1:19

3 Answers 3


You have certainly given it the effort to remove that stubborn anode rod. More intensive effort could very well damage the unit.

With a water heater that sounds like it is over 20 years old it might make sense to simply replace it. You have gone to all the trouble to remove it from its hiding place now would be a good time to place a new one with higher efficiency ratings in place instead of the old one.

Another thing to consider is that if the anode rod is that corroded there may well be other parts that are similarly corroded. There could even be corrosion pitting of the tank itself that may soon penetrate the tank and create a leak.

  • I think you're probably right... I'm not sure how to evaluate the anode rod, but I don't like the idea that it can't be serviced. The heaters I'd like to get (heat pump style) would be a major project to install (because of their air flow needs). So, I think for now we're stuck with a conventional electric model. Any suggestions on where to find efficiency data?
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 19:17
  • I do not know what country you are in....but here in the USA water heaters carry labeling as to their energy ratings. Using this information you can compare various models. You may also want to investigate the wrapping of the water heater with an extra bit of insulation. You can buy kits specifically for this purpose.
    – Michael Karas
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 19:25
  • Yes, here in the USA. So far, the ones I've found have uniform energy efficiencies of around 0.93 - was hoping to find a resource with heaters listed by efficiency. So far no luck.
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:12
  • 2
    "Other parts that are similarly corroded" almost certainly includes the joint between the anode rod and the tank, which is why you're having trouble removing the rod.
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:52
  • 1
    @dlu: "Efficiency" for electric heat is rather meaningless; it's always 100% minus whatever you lose to poor insulation. Of course a heat pump style will do much better (effectively something like 300% or higher) but I'd be skeptical of whether it's worth it; water heating has always been a fairly small portion of my energy consumption, dwarfed by heating and cooling the whole house. But maybe if the heat pump also works to cool the house in the summer it would make sense. Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 23:12

As a last resort, before the tank makes a fool of you, try to tighten the anode rod just a hair. If it moves tighter then reverse the effort and remove the rod. Sometimes it is easier to turn the threaded part tighter since the last strain was in the tightening phase. Sometimes it works. If it works you can laugh at the tank and smile.

  • Thanks, I neglected to mention that I'd also tried that... No, joy. Decided I couldn't handle the humiliation and fired the beast.
    – dlu
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 3:09

I thought of a completely different way of getting the stuck anode rod out. I’m a little old lady with not much power so had to think outside the box. I used a car jack wedged horizontally on a wall stud to slowly apply torque to the breaker bar. At first there wasn’t enough room to fit the jack so I took a long 2×4 and started farther away from the breaker bar. I wedged in pieces of wood as needed and moved the jack closer and closer to the bar, always putting it on a stud. Finally I had the jack on the breaker bar itself and it came loose!! The whole process took me about 15 minutes of patient work.

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