I need to pull and replace the elements in my water heater. The problem is, I can't get the old ones out. My Channellock pliers can get a grip, but slips off pretty easily. Is there something better for removing these?

2 Answers 2


Using channellocks/pliers can fail because as you apply torque, the grip expands, causing it to slip. Adjustable wrenches do not have this problem, but still might fail due to torque being applied only to two points on the bolt head. You should be using a socket, which applies the torque evenly to all six sides of the bolt head. Hardware stores sell "cheap" thin-walled sockets made for water heater elements, which will likely work well for you.

Do a Google image search for "water heater element wrench" to get an idea for what these look like. I can't find a free image of one to insert here....

Another option would be to use a high quality socket and a long "breaker-bar", but this would be more expensive. The socket size is generally 1 1/2 inches.

Image of a breaker-bar from Scientific29 on Wikipedia

If you continue to have trouble, try adding a little bit of penetrating oil (and then waiting maybe half an hour), or heat that area of the water heater with a torch in order to use thermal expansion to your advantage.

  • Obviously, the correct answer. Unfortunately, at the time we didn't have any such beast available, and the local hardware store (in a town of 1800) didn't have any stocked. Eventually, I was able to get a proper wrench by going to another town half an hour away. Was kinda hoping for a McGyver type solution, but that was looking too impractical. Thanks.
    – Tom A
    Aug 26, 2013 at 15:28
  • Ah... Now I understand. :) Perhaps heat+oil+channellocks would have worked, or a perhaps with an adjustable or pipe wrench. These other tipes of wrenches hold their mouth at a constant opening width much more nicely than channellocks, though they may have just ended up stripping the element.
    – Pigrew
    Aug 26, 2013 at 17:26

The cheap stuff doesn't work, so don't waste your time and money to buy them. Get a breaker bar with a good deep well socket and let her rip. Be sure to kill the juice first!

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