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Anode Rod Broke Off | What to Do Next?

Some water heaters require an anode rod in their tanks to prevent the actual tank from rusting; the rod serves as a sacrificial element that attracts corrosive elements towards it and away from the tank. Sometimes this rod can break off entirely, whether it be from wear and tear or from actions caused by repair and maintenance.

If your anode rod breaks off and subsequently falls to the bottom of the tank, you might be at risk of having a cracked tank. You will also have a whole lot of corroded metal bits floating around in the water or settling at the base of the tank. If the rod broke off and you haven’t immediately replaced it with another, your tank might become rusted quite quickly. Keep scrolling to find out what to do when your anode rod breaks off.

If the anode rod beaks off inside the tank, try to fish it out with a magnet or hook. Or break it up in the tank and flush it out. It can be left to degrade naturally but increase flushing frequency. If the head has broken off, try to pull the body out with needle-nosed pliers or just push it into the tank.

Contact Manufacturer or Plumber

Some things are better left to professionals. If your anode rod breaks off, it might be best to just call the manufacturer of the rod to ask whether this is a common issue or if the rod simply malfunctioned. The manufacturer will be able to answer your questions and even set you up with a replacement rod (or at least a quote for this job), but don’t expect a free replacement; anode rods are not included in the warranty.

If the rod broke off and has now sunk to the bottom of the tank, perhaps call your plumber to ask for advice on how to remove it safely or request their services to complete the jobs themselves. Sometimes you just can’t DIY everything. Furthermore, if you damage the water heater trying to get the anode rod out, then you could void your warranty. So, calling a professional will definitely be in your best interest.

Where Did the Break Occur?

Before you even begin stressing about how you are going to extract the broken rod, it is advisable to determine precisely where the break occurred.

Most anode rods that break off tend to fall into the water. Some, however, will break off at a certain point that does not allow the piece or the entire rod to become detached and fall in. This could mean the rod is still suspended from the threads, and you can easily reach it without having to resort to further complicated methods.

Extract it carefully and slowly to prevent it from snapping entirely and still falling into the tank.

If the rod has broken at an unusual angle, then it might be difficult to simply pull the rod out. It will take some time and effort to maneuver the rod out of the tank without causing further damage.

Occasionally, the head of the anode will break off. The body of the rod is still connected to the threads, but you will not be able to unscrew it to remove it.

Removing Anode Rod That Has Fallen Into Tank

Unfortunately, you won’t always be so lucky as to be able to simply extract the broken piece of rod that is still attached to the main piece, albeit by a few treacherous points. Sometimes, the anode rod can break off entirely and fall directly into the tank, making it a lot more difficult to remove. Difficult, yes, but not entirely impossible, as outlined by the methods below.

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Try a Magnet

One way to attempt to remove an anode rod that has fallen into the tank would be to try to pry it out with a magnet. However, this is not a fool-proof method, so it might not work. Aluminum and zinc are generally not magnetic, and magnesium is only weakly magnetic. Since these are the most common coatings for anode rods, it might be difficult to successfully achieve magnetism.

You might be able to attract the rod using a magnet if the material it is made of is magnetic or if the amount of the core that is exposed is sufficient enough to attract the magnet. Most anode rod cores are made from steel, which is magnetic due to its iron components.

Fish It out With a Hook, Line, and Sinker

If the magnetic method does not work, which it might not, then it is time to get a bit more creative.

This method does require a few more tools, some dexterity, and a whacking-great load of patience. You can try to fish out the anode rod using a hook, line, and sinker. You can attach a hook to some fishing line and a sinker, then pop it into your water tank. The sinker will allow the hook to flow into the water as opposed to simply floating at the top, which really is not effective.

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It will probably take several tries and some sweat and tears, but once you manage to get the hook securely around the anode rod, you should be able to slowly pull the line up and tug the anode rod out of the tank.

Break It up and Flush It Out

If removing the broken rod from your tank has proved to be nearly impossible, then it might be time for an alternative approach. Another option for getting rid of the anode rod in your water heater would be to break down the anode rod and then flush it out of the water heater.

You should be flushing out your water heater annually anyway, to remove any built-up sediment from the tank that could lead to leaks, so this method could be a case of killing two birds with one stone.

Since an anode rod is made to decompose, then this is a viable option as the rod will likely break up into smaller pieces that can be flushed out along with the other sediment in the water tank. But make sure you do the flushing correctly. There are 3 major mistakes that people commonly make: using overly-harsh chemicals, ignoring manufacturer instructions for the de-scalers, and scraping the water heater.

Here is a really great and detailed video on how to safely and properly flush out your water heater

Can You Leave Broken Anode Rod in Tank?

Obviously, when something falls into our water tank that isn’t water, we want to extract it immediately right? Unfortunately, sometimes there is no choice but to leave the broken anode rod in the tank if you cannot manage to remove it. It might feel taboo, but it is actually okay.

As you know, anode rods are made with the purpose of corroding, so that the actual tank itself does not rust and become weak and damaged. Therefore, if you leave the broken rod in the tank, it is likely that it will eventually completely break down into very small components that can be flushed with other sediments.

A broken anode rod is too corroded to properly function, so don’t think that you don’t need to replace it. Install a new anode rod immediately.

It is advisable to flush the water heater tank at least once a year to get rid of any build-up and sediment that is in the tank. However, if you know that your broken anode rod is in the tank, it is definitely in your best interest to increase the regularity of the flushing to every couple of months.

By doing this, you speed up the process by which pieces of the anode rod are being removed from the tank. Just be sure to keep an eye on water quality between flushes to see if you should decrease the time between flushes even further.

Removing Anode Whose Head Broke Off

Another common issue that people come across is that they struggle to remove the remaining components of the anode rod whose head has broken off. It can prove difficult to do this as it can be tricky to get a grip on the remaining piece.

Use Needle-Nosed Pliers

If you are in this predicament, one way to remove the anode rod is with the use of needle-nosed pliers and lots of elbow grease. These will allow you to have more control of the rod as the long, thin ends of the pliers makes them suitable for reaching tight spaces.

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You should be able to wriggle the pliers in between where the rod sits in the broken hex head, and then squeeze the pliers around the rod once you have gotten control of it. Once you are confident you have a good grasp on the anode rod, pull the rod upwards and out of the tank. If it is still twisted into the threads too much for this, you may have to try turning it first.

Drill a Hole to Allow Use of a Second Tool

Let me start off by saying that this is a risky operation. You could damage your water heater and void your warranty. In my opinion, the other methods are preferable to this one, but several people have recommended it, and I wanted to provide you with all your options.

Sometimes simply pulling out the rod from above won’t do. You might not be able to get a good enough grip on the rod, or you could potentially end up dropping it into the tank if you let go of the pliers accidentally, which isn’t a complete travesty, but it is the opposite outcome of what you are trying to achieve. You also don’t want to lose your slim-line pliers to the water heater!

What you can do here is drill a hole large enough to allow you to insert a second tool into the tank so that you can hold the rod through this drilled hole. With your other hand, you will be able to use more force to pull it from the anode rod insert hole without worrying about dropping the rod.

To reiterate, this method should not be your first resort because once any alterations or holes are made on your tank, your warranty will become void. Of course, if you have an older water heater then this really is not a big deal, but you should be careful not to cause any serious damage to the tank that could impact its functionality and overall integrity.

Push It Into Tank

If pulling doesn’t work, then it is time to push. Your anode rod might give in easier to the pushing force than when you are trying to squeeze it out with pliers. As you have already seen, leaving the anode rod in the tank is not that big of a deal.

However, if you push the anode rod down into the tank with enough force, it has the potential to damage the glass-lined water heater tank. Rather push it slowly to let it fall gently into the tank. You can then follow one of the methods suggested earlier to try and remove it or you could leave it in the tank but still have the connector available for the new anode rod.


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