November 12, 2018
By Mark Paup

Weird Smells, Weird Sounds: You May Have Water Heater Trouble

Updated January 17, 2024

Water heaters are important year-round, but the worst time to have one fail is during cold weather. Even thinking of losing your hot water when the temperature outside is below freezing probably makes you start to shiver. The best way to avoid a water heater breakdown during the winter is to always schedule maintenance for it. But no maintenance can stop all potential water heater troubles, so stay vigilant during the next months of signs the water heater is malfunctioning. These signs can include odd smells and funny sounds. We’ll take a look at what to watch for and what it means below.


This is the most common noise that alarms people about their water heater. You don’t need to worry about the water heater exploding, but this rumbling or bubbling sound is an indicator of a problem. The most likely cause is sediment developing along the bottom of the tank. The sediment traps a layer of water right over the heat exchanger, and the hot water bubbling up through the sediment creates this strange sound. Excess sediment will lower the efficiency of the water heater, so call professionals to flush out the tank.

Another possible problem is a broken dip tube which is allowing cold and hot water to mix at the top of the tank. This will eventually result in a drop in water temperature around the house, so get the pros to fix it.

Rotten Egg Smell

You’ve probably run into this foul odor from water at some point in your life. The source could be sulfides in the water supply, which will require a type of water treatment system to eliminate. But it could also indicate bacteria growing inside the hot water tank that’s reacting with the anode rod to create those stinky sulfides. Although the sulfides themselves aren’t harmful to drink (no matter how icky they smell), you don’t want bacteria in the tank! A professional can find the best way to solve the problem and put in a new anode rod.

Sewer Smells

This is even worse than the rotten egg smell. If the odor is coming from both the hot and cold-water lines, call a plumber immediately to find the source—because it isn’t just from the water heater. But if only the hot water is emitting this odor, it could also be a case of bacteria in the tank or a broken pipe.

Paint Thinner Smell

This is a weird one, but one of the more serious warning signs a water heater can give you. If the water heater runs on natural gas, this smell is an indication of a gas leak or gas combustion issue. Shut off the gas to the water heater immediately and leave your house. Call the gas company to check for leaks. Afterward, contact water heater professionals to fix or replace the system.

Is your water heater producing strange noises or smells? Call Golden Rule today at 515-393-4526 or contact us online to schedule a service call!

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