Skip to Content

Your RV Water Heater Anode Rod Replacement Guide

Your RV water heater is an essential part of your home on wheels. It provides hot water for cooking, cleaning, and showering. However, to ensure that your water heater stays in top condition and operates efficiently, you must replace the anode rod regularly. So what is an RV water heater anode rod, and how do you replace it? 

Today, we will provide all you need to know about replacing the anode rod in your RV water heater. Let’s dive in!

What Is an RV Water Heater Anode Rod?

An anode rod is a sacrificial metal rod in a water heater tank to protect it from corrosion and rust. The rod is typically aluminum or magnesium. It sits inside the water heater tank. Over time, the anode rod corrodes and dissolves. Ultimately, it protects the water heater tank from rust and corrosion. These tiny but crucial devices help water heaters last as long as possible. However, to be effective, you must replace them every so often.

How Does the RV Water Heater Anode Rod Work?

Corrosion happens naturally whenever water is exposed to any metal. The metals react with oxygen and create metal oxides. Over time the corrosion can get so bad that a water tank could fail completely and leak. Because of this, we use an anode to intentionally create galvanic corrosion. Basically the anode is a different type of metal that causes a small current to form between the two metals. This current transfers ions between the metals and the more reactive metal (the anode) will oxidize much quicker and protect the other metal (known as the cathode). This is the same process that occurs in batteries.

Over time, the anode rod will deteriorate and become less effective. If you do not replace the anode rod, the water heater tank may begin to rust. This can lead to leaks and reduced efficiency. 

Pro Tip: Uncover all you need to know about your RV water heater with our Complete Guide to Your RV Water Heater.

new and old RV water heater anode rods
The anodes are designed to corrode, You actually want your anode to look like this when you pull the old one out. It means its doing its job.

Do All Water Heaters Have Anodes?

No, some water heaters are made out of aluminum metal and do not have anodes. Aluminum is a reactive metal and with no dissimilar metals in it will not corrode as fast as steel. Aluminum tanks will last longer than a steel tank with no anode but not as long a steel tank with protection. Because RV water heaters typically are used for 10-15 years, an aluminum tank’s life is more than adequate and can reduce your maintenance requirements. However, in household applications, aluminum water heater tanks are rarely used.

If your RV has a plastic drain, plug it does not have an anode. Anodes will be metal plugs because they need to make an electrical connection to the tank to function properly.

On-demand waters also do not have anodes be cause they do not have a tank or its made of plastic.

Should You Get an Aluminum or Magnesium Anode Rod?

If you’re shopping for an RV water heater anode rod, you can choose between aluminum and magnesium materials. Both offer benefits and drawbacks, so the choice primarily depends on your needs and preferences.

Magnesium anode rods are the most common type, and water heater manufacturers often recommend them. They are generally more active than aluminum rods and offer better protection against mineral buildup, a common problem in hard water areas. However, magnesium anode rods may corrode faster than aluminum rods. As a result, you’ll need to replace them more frequently. Magniusim rods also can sometimes cause a bacterial growth in the tank that emmits smelly hydrogen sulfide gas.

On the other hand, aluminum anode rods are generally more durable and can last longer than magnesium anode rods. They are less active than magnesium rods, providing less protection against mineral buildup. However, they are less likely to corrode. Additionally, aluminum anode rods may be a better choice for RVers concerned about high levels of aluminum in their drinking water.

Ultimately, the choice between aluminum and magnesium anode rods comes down to your water quality, personal preferences, and budget. If you have hard water or concerns about mineral buildup, a magnesium anode rod may be the better option. An aluminum anode rod may be the best choice if you’re looking for a longer-lasting anode rod.

zinc anodes are used on boats too
That thing on the rudder and propellor of this boat is a zinc anode. Boats require anodes just like water heaters to protect the metal parts that are in the water. Zinc corrodes much faster than steel, brass, and other metals in the water and will protect them. However, just like a water heater anode, they must be regularly inspected and replaced.

Does Your RV Water Heater Need to Have an Anode Rod?

In most cases, an RV water heater should have an anode rod protecting the tank from corrosion and rust. However, many manufacturers have begun installing aluminum or tankless water heaters. These units do not require an anode rod as they either don’t have a water tank or utilize special coating to protect the metal.

You must know the specifics of the water heater in your RV. You don’t want to discover issues a few years later because you didn’t do the required maintenance. Replacing an anode rod is incredibly straightforward and only takes a few minutes.

However, like mentioned above, aluminum tank heaters do not have anode rods. If you have a steel tank, it will fail very quickly if it does not have an anode rod inside it. Also on demand water heaters do not have anodes.

truma aquago rv water heater
Replace your anode rod at least once a year to keep your RV water heater in its best condition.

How Often Should You Replace the Anode Rod?

How often you should replace the anode rod in your RV water heater will depend on several factors. These include the quality of your water, the type of anode rod you are using, and the usage of your RV.

Generally, you should inspect anode rods annually and replace them when they have deteriorated to 50% of their original size. Depending on your water quality and usage, anode rods may last 1 to 3 years. It’s crucial to regularly monitor the condition of your anode rod and replace it as necessary to prevent damage to your water heater tank.

If you notice signs of corrosion or rust on the tank, this may indicate that you need to replace the anode rod soon. Additionally, if you use your RV often or in areas with particularly hard water, you may need to replace the anode rod more frequently.

It’s best to consult your RV owner’s manual or a qualified professional for guidance on anode rod replacement for your water heater. Following the recommended maintenance schedule can prolong the life of your water heater and ensure that it continues to function effectively.

Pro Tip: Have a warm shower no matter where you explore by installing one of these 6 Best RV Tankless Water Heaters for Instant Hot Water.

What Happens If You Don’t Replace the Anode Rod?

If you don’t replace the anode rod in your RV water heater, the tank may begin to corrode and rust. This can lead to many problems, including reduced efficiency, leaks, and poor water quality. Additionally, you may drastically reduce your water heater’s life. You can shave years off its life by not following the recommended maintenance schedule.

Leaking water heater because of anode failuer
Water heaters of all types can fail because the anode was not replaced often enough. Its one of the most common reasons for water heater leaking. Once its started to leak there is no saving it.

Can You Clean and Reuse an RV Water Heater Anode Rod?

No you shouldn’t clean an RV water heater anode rod. Anode rods are sacrificial, meaning they are designed to disintegrate to protect the tank. Once the anode rod has significantly deteriorated, replacing it with a new anode rod is typically best. This helps ensure you provide the necessary protection for your water heater to help it last for years.

How To Change Your Camper's Hot Water Heater Anode

Should You Replace the RV Water Heater Anode Rod Yourself? 

Replacing the RV water heater anode rod is a relatively simple task that most RV owners can handle. If you have basic DIY skills and a few tools, you can likely do the job. However, if you don’t feel comfortable replacing the anode rod or are unsure about the process or safety precautions, it’s always best to hire a qualified RV technician to do the job for you. This can ensure that someone replaces the anode rod correctly to help you avoid potential damage or safety risks.

Would you prefer to replace the anode rod in your RV water heater yourself or hire a professional? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Become A Mortons On The Move Insider

Join 15,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!

Also, join our Mortons on the Move Community discussion over on our Discord Server!

About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

About Us

Sharing is caring!