How do I prevent salt buildup around my hot water heater?

Deree Brand
by Deree Brand

I have a 52 gallon electric hot water heater and it sits next to a Kenmore water softener. I have noticed that crusty, yellowish-orangish-whitish crust is building up around the base of the hot water heater. What causes this and how do I stop it from happening? Green hose is overflow from softener and terminates in a drain. Help!

Softener to left, water heater to right

  12 answers
  • Robyn Garner Robyn Garner on Aug 23, 2020

    OMG! Your tank has rusted through. Please disconnect it immediately and replace it. You'll need to clean all that up before you bring anything new in. I would throw baking powder on it just to be sure there isn't anything acidic.

    You'll have to inspect the water softener also. The leakage has clearly gone on for a very long time. You should be very careful in the future to always keep an eye on the mechanics, roof, and foundation of your home. The rest is just so much "gloss".

    Do you have a wet basement? Where is the furnace and how does the base of that look? Do you have a sump pump? Cracks in the foundation? I recommend you get some very bright lights and look everything over carefully. Though the fixes might be expensive, they HAVE to be done and done now! 😥

    • Deree Brand Deree Brand on Aug 24, 2020

      This is the second time I've had this problem. Cleaned the gunk off the first time and there was no leak in the tank. Also have checked the drain and no problem there. This showed up fairly quickly. Pretty sure not leaky tank. Didn't check the softener for leaks so that seems like a probable source of the salty water. The water level in the softener stays constant but I've never checked it for a leak higher up on the tank.

  • Nan W. Nan W. on Aug 23, 2020

    You have a leak somewhere!!! Check that out!

  • Mogie Mogie on Aug 23, 2020

    Hope one of these will help:

    How to Remove Solid Salt From a Water Softener

    Preventing sediment build-up in your water heater storage tank


    Protect Your Water Heater from Corrosion

  • on Aug 23, 2020

    It looks like time for a new water heater ASAP! This one will be using a ton of electricity too - a new one will save you money in the long run.

  • RichandTammy Whiteside RichandTammy Whiteside on Aug 24, 2020

    Have you verified that this is salt and not efflorescence? If it is sale then the best way to remove the buildup is to use a mix of vinegar & water and a stiff scrub brush. Spray it on, let it sit for a while and then scrub it off and rinse it down the drain. The buildup is pretty heavy so be patient. If the solution turns to a sludge, scoop it up and discard the bulk of it before rinsing. There are mixtures that you can buy to do this but vinegar and water should be enough to break it down to remove it. Repeat this process until it is all gone.

    It looks like you might be using salt pellets in your water softener. This is fine but be sure to pick up any pellets that do not go into the softener when you refill it.

    If it's efflorescence, then it will clean up with a mild detergent and water but it will take some elbow grease.

    Once the area is clean and dry then you can proceed with the following:

    1. Get a vapor barrier paint and paint the floor in that area to prevent the minerals from rising up from the concrete and to protect the concrete from the salt.
    2. Get a good dehumidifier up and running in that area.
    3. Disconnect the green hose and make sure that it is not clogged. If it is clogged then clean it or replace it.
    4. Verify that the drain where the hose is going is not clogged. If it is clogged and you feel that this is something that you can do yourself then unclog it yourself with a manual or electric snake. If you do not know what you're doing then hire somebody as you can get seriously injured using an electric snake.
    5. If your water heater is making gurgling noises or it sounds like there's little balls being flung around on the inside of it then the corrosion is coming from the inside out and not vice versa and you will need to replace it.

    Hope that this helps.

    • See 1 previous
    • RichandTammy Whiteside RichandTammy Whiteside on Aug 27, 2020

      From what I've been reading, if your tank is not leaking then this is more of an annoyance that looks gross. Good luck and keep us posted!

  • Seth Seth on Aug 24, 2020


    When you replace your heater, make sure you elevate it a few inches off the ground. Not only will it protect the bottom from rusting from the outside, it will make it easier to drain, which you should do once a year to clean out any built up sediment.

  • William William on Aug 24, 2020

    Your water heater is rusted thru and may be leaking. The overflow and drain could be backing up. You need a new heater. The new one should be raised off the floor on blocks to prevent it from rusting

  • Ken Erickson Ken Erickson on Aug 24, 2020

    The minerals are probably from the water softener back flush. My softener discharges into an elevated funnel connected to sewer line and not to a floor drain. I would guess that the flow rate is higher than the drain trap can handle.

    Water heater should be on a platform or on an insulated pad to prevent contact with the cement. Also a drain pan should be put under the heated to catch and leaks.

  • Nick Ornitz Nick Ornitz on Aug 24, 2020

    Hi Deree, if you want to discuss this with a certified plumber checkout - you can get input for free either via video chat or online messaging.

  • Dee Dee on Aug 24, 2020

    Our code for water heaters is to have it elevated at least 2 feet and have a drain pan underneath. Home Depot sells these. Also there must be an outside vent. I think your water heater has met it's prime from the pictures, Time to purchase another one

    • See 1 previous
    • Robyn Garner Robyn Garner on Aug 27, 2020

      You can/should also speak to the people who installed you new heater. The new one should have been placed on a pan and they should fix this at no charge.

  • Dee Dee on Aug 25, 2020

    Yes there is, but you have to empty the water heater. It is extremely heavy. You will need a jack and someone strong enough to do this. I would see if you could find a plumber or handy man

  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Aug 31, 2020

    that needs to be replaced .. it seams to be rusted so badly.. Build up is from rust and water leaking