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My water heater has two control panels: one for the upper thermostat and one for the lower thermostat. The other day I opened the panels in order to adjust the thermostats, and I noticed that in the lower panel, there was some orange residue.

Please see pictures below. The residue seems too orange to be rust. Is this harmless, or is it something I should investigate further?

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    Looks like rust to me. Condensation from inside is rusting the metal cover.
    – jwh20
    Oct 26 '19 at 13:01
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    Well you can see the actual rust lesions, they are the usual dark. The orange stuff is just rust molecules carried down onto clean steel by water action, so they are lying on top of the shiny stuff, which makes them look weird. Oct 26 '19 at 14:45
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That is rust from the cover you took off. It is harmless. If the water heater is in a laundry room, some water probably got splashed on the tank and ran down behind the cover. The covers are never painted as good on the back as they are on the front so they rust easier there. The great news is there's no sign of rust inside by the thermostat and heating element. If it really bothers you, you can rub it down with some emery paper and spray some Rust-Oleum on it.

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    I agree, that's what it looks like when insulation material gets held up against an unpainted surface, and then, gets wet. Rust feasts because of the presence of moisture. Use some steel wool, sandpaper, whatever you got to knock it down 90% then use Rustoleum 7769 Rusty Metal Primer, nothing else. I don't know what they put in that stuff, but it's nearly as good as the milspec 2-part stuff that you need a moon suit to spray. Oct 26 '19 at 14:43
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    I agree it looks like rust, it may look a bit brighter than you are used to because of the clean white insulation and the surface of the cover is clean except their.+
    – Ed Beal
    Oct 26 '19 at 15:10

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