RV Maintenance Made Easy: How to Upkeep Your RV’s Water Heater

Jul 20, 2022 | Maintenance & Mods

RV Maintenance Made Easy: How to Upkeep Your RV’s Water Heater

Here are a few troubleshooting and maintenance tips to help increase the longevity and efficiency of your RV’s water heater.

By Brenda Puckett

It’s not uncommon for your home on wheels to require more attention than your sticks-and-bricks house. When you drive or tow your rig to the next destination, that intense vibration and movement can take a toll on things like appliances, joints, sealants, and your electrical, water, and propane systems, just to name a few.

So, how do you stay ahead of this regular wear and tear before it becomes a bigger problem? Preventative maintenance is key. Staying on top of daily, monthly, seasonal, and annual RV maintenance schedules gives peace of mind that you’re not only protecting your investment, but your personal safety, too. 

Here are a few of my top maintenance and troubleshooting tips for RV water heaters.

RV Water Heater Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tips

Your RV’s tank-style water heater is one appliance that gets regular use when you’re camping. This means that preventative maintenance and regular upkeep is a must to keep this system running smoothly. From regular checkups to DIY troubleshooting, here are a few things you can do to keep your water heater in top shape. 

Preventative Maintenance

Most RV water heaters are one of two major brands: Suburban or Atwood/Dometic. Since these water heaters are built differently, your maintenance and upkeep will depend on which brand you have in your rig. 

  • Suburban water heaters are made of steel and use an anode rod that protects your tank from rust and corrosion through electrolysis. Check the anode rod any time you drain the tank and change it when 50 percent or more of the rod is missing.  
  • Atwood/Dometic tanks are made of aluminum and have a plastic drain plug, not an anode rod. If this needs replacing, be sure to use an exact replacement part for the repair.
  • Visually inspect the outdoor water heater compartment every trip. Wasps, spiders, and other insects are attracted to the smell of the additive in propane. Clear spiderwebs and other debris from this area regularly. 
  • Over time, calcium will build up inside the tank. Drain and clean your tank at least once per season or more, especially if you’re a full-timer. 
  • To protect the tank and the heating element, never operate the water heater without water in the tank. 

Water heater thermostats are typically set at 130 to 140 degrees from the factory. Aftermarket adjustable or lower temperature replacements are available if desired.


  • Two of the most common water heater issues include not having hot water run from your faucets or not having water fill your tank. Typically, these are both bypass issues. To solve, confirm that the water bay system or bypass valves (depending on your rig) are in the correct position and allow water to enter and exit the tank without also running through the bypass section.
  • If your water heater is powered by both propane and electric, but it’s not working from either source, ask yourself the following questions: Is there propane in your tanks, and are the valves open? Is the battery fully charged so that it triggers the ignitor for propane mode? Is your RV plugged into shore power and is the breaker turned on at the pedestal? 

Use a water heater tank rinsing tool to clean your tank to help remove additional sediment and extend the life of the water heater.

If you need to find a certified RV technician, use the Togo RV app’s “Find Service” feature to locate a technician near you. 

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RV MaintenanceRV Maintenance Made EasyTroubleshootingWater Heater

Brenda Puckett

Brenda is a certified RV inspector, registered RV technician, National RV Training Academy technical assistant, Women's RV Basics training instructor, small business instructor for the National RV Training Academy, published contributor for Girl Camper magazine, and the creator of "52 Ways to Empower Women RVers" YouTube series.