Suppose a novice plumber -- a completely hypothetical novice plumber -- removed the top heating element in their electric water heater before the tank had sufficiently drained, resulting in about a gallon of water spurting out not only into the basement, but also down the inside of the device, soaking into the insulation to the extent that the foam around the lower heating element and thermostat squishes and dribbles forth when squeezed. (Suppose said hypothetical novice plumber is not a complete fool -- the power to the water heater was cut off before the mishap and remains so now.)

Suppose this imaginary person would like to stop taking bucket baths in a precarious blend of stove-boiled water, liquid ice from the tap, and shame, and return to the glorious steamy showers they took for granted as little as a week ago. Suppose this imaginary person shares this home with others, and that a 12-year romantic relationship hangs in the balance.

Even a rookie can see the potential risk in wiring everything back up and flipping the breaker while there is enough moisture in the insulation to irrigate a small orchard. Suppose a fan has been blowing on the heating element/thermometer access points for 48 hours. Suppose that a dehumidifier has been running constantly, and that even a hair dryer has been employed from time to time. What else would you advise our protagonist do to dry out the obstreperous water heater? How much more time must elapse? How dry is dry enough?

  • 23
    Sorry, we don't do hypothetical questions here. Suppose you give us the real situation. ;) Also, #TIL obstreperous. Frankly, this may be the best written question I've seen on Home Improvement.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 19:44
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    Can we suppose that this novice plumber has enough money to get a new water heater and install it themselves without repeating said hypothetical catastrophe? I personally wouldn't trust that water heater any more until it's fully dry. I would buy a new one and let the old one dry out and sit until the new one breaks.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 13:30
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    Photo or it didn't happen! ... because there is quite a diversity of water heaters. I cannot even imagine how to wet the insulation of mine.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 17:26
  • I would be concerned that the dirty water from inside the heater (and don't tell me it wasn't dirty) would contaminate the electrical components sufficiently to create a shock hazard.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 19:20
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    "Suppose this imaginary person shares this home with others, and that a 12-year romantic relationship hangs in the balance." We also have Interpersonal.SE. In case any hypothetical people need help in saving their relationship.
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


If you have a wet vacuum cleaner with a slotted attachment, use that first to suck up pooling water and very wet insulation. Then pull out as much of the wet insulation around both elements as you can. If it rips, that's OK because you can add it back when it dries out.

If the area around the heating elements and wiring is dry and no water is dripping or running out the bottom, you can reconnect the elements and turn on the breaker and go back to hot showers. Even if the insulation is still damp away from the elements and wiring, you'll be OK. If you're stuffing towels in between the tank and outer casing through the openings where the elements are or doing any type of drying out the inside, turn off the breaker while you're working on it. If you've got a fan you can place in front of the water heater, do it.

  • Would the heat from the hot water on the "inside side" of the insulation help dry out the insulation, provided there is a generous opening to the room side?` Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 14:13
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica It might help a little but there would be little air flow which is why you'd want to remove as much of the wet insulation as possible to dry it out and increase the air flow further into the tank...
    – JACK
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 14:20
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica depending at what temperature you set your water heater you could be creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and mold on the insulation. Albeit it's not getting inside of the tank and you're not ingesting it; you could end up with a very musty odor for several weeks.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 15:26
  • Once I had a leak that wet the insulation. The wet insulation completed a circuit over the element and boiled the water inside.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 10, 2020 at 2:55

If you have pulled away the fiberglass insulation from around the elements wire terminals (upper and lower) and waved a heat gun or blow dryer above them to slowly evaporate moisture and than checked that the surrounding area was dry than the power can be switched back on. The warmth from the heated water will dry out the remaining moisture quickly. It would be wise to dry any other electrical terminals before hand such as the thermostat or the enclosure were the household power connects to the heaters electric lines (if there is moisture present).

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