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Water Heater Element Wrench: What You Should Know


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A water heater element wrench is a simple and inexpensive tool to help you remove/install a heating element on an electric tank-style water heater. If you're a DIYer and your water heater isn't heating as it once did, then changing the heating element could be the solution to your problem.

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This article will cover everything you need to know about water heater element wrenches, and even show you how to use one. These simple and inexpensive tools are an effective means to replacing heating elements, but you may be able to do the job without one. We'll show you how!

Water Heater Element Wrench

Although some water heaters (especially older models) use plug-in heating elements, it's more common to see the screw-in design. However, in order to remove/replace a screw-in heating element, you'll need a special tool called a water heater element wrench.

The 1-1/2 inch six-point end (commonly called hex) of the element wrench snuggly connects to the hex on the heating element head, and with a turn to the left or right, you'll be able to loosen or tighten the element.

Water Heater Element Wrench Size

Nearly all hot water heater element wrenches have a 1-1/2 inch hex to fit the standard 1-1/2 inch residential heating element head. In addition, they're generally at least 5-inches long with cross holes drilled into the opposite end of the pipe so a screwdriver can be inserted for added torque.

Element wrenches are inexpensive and easy to use, and come in a variety of different styles and lengths.

How to Use a Water Heater Element Wrench

Using a water heater element wrench is not difficult at all. Here's how to remove a heating element:

  • With the power shutoff to your water heater, use an electrical tester to confirm that the electricity is off.
  • Drain the water below the element. How to drain a tank.
  • Remove the electrical wires to the heating element.
  • Place the water heater element wrench over the end of the heating element.
  • Insert a screw driver through the holes on the opposite end of the element wrench.
  • Turn left to loosen the heating element.

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Best Water Heater Element Wrenches

Although all water heater element wrenches are designed to remove and install a heating element, there are several different designs on the market. Here are a few of our favorites:

Camco Residential Water Heater Element Wrench

The Camco Water Heater Element Wrench is a zinc-plated tool that'll work with all standard screw-in elements. The 1-1/2" hex fits over the end of the heating element and the cross holes on the opposite end can accommodate a screwdriver to allow for additional torque.

The 5-inch length allows the tool to fit into offsets that are difficult or impossible for an adjustable wrench.

Camco 5" Residential Screw-In Water Heater Element Wrench - Fits All Standard Screw In Elements (09883)

Camco Residential Water Heater Element Wrench

Camco's heavy duty zinc-plated element wrench is designed to remove hard-to-reach elements.

Camco Anode/Element Wrench

The Camco Anode/Element Wrench is designed with two hex ends so it'll not only loosen/tighten the water heater element, but will also work for the anode rod.

The 1-1/2 inch hex element end fits all standard screw-in water heater elements, and the 1-1/16 inch hex end fits all standard anode rods on both residential and RV heaters. Each end has dual holes to allow for a screwdriver to apply additional torque.

The Camco Anode/Element Wrench is 10-inches long and constructed of zinc-plated steel.

Camco 11655 Anode/Element Wrench, 10-Inch with Dual Hex Ends - Allows for Easy Maintenance of Both Your Water Heater's Elements and Anodes

Camco Anode/Element Wrench

The Camco Anode/Element Wrench is unique because it will work for both heating elements and anode rods.

Supplying Demand Water Heater Element Wrench

The water heater element wrench from Supplying Demand is also a two-sided wrench. One hex end fits 1-1/2 inch element heads, and the other fits the harder-to-find 1-7/8 inch element head.

The tool is 5-inches long and has a set of cross holes to provide additional torque. It's compatible will all major brand electric water heaters.

Supplying Demand 49057 Water Heater Element Wrench fits 1-1/2 in. and 1-7/8 in. Hex

Supplying Demand Element Wrench

The Supply Demand Element Wrench features the common 1-1/2 inch hex and the harder-to-find 1-7/8 size.

Camco Professional Water Heater Element Socket

The Camco Professional Water Heater Element Socket is unique because its designed to be used with a standard 1/2-inch socket drive. Simply attach the socket to a 1/2-inch drive ratchet and you'll be able to remove standard 1-1/2" screw-in electric water heater elements.

Using the Camco 1-1/2 inch hex socket is especially good if your water heater element has corroded in place. You'll be able to get additional force to remove difficult and stubborn heating elements.

Camco 09951 Professional Water Heater Element Socket

Camco Water Heater Element Socket

The Camco Element Socket is chrome-plated steel and works with a 1/2-inch socket drive.

How to Remove a Heating Element Without a Water Heater Element Wrench

A hot water heater element wrench is a handy tool, but do you really need one to remove/install a heating element?

The short answer is no. If you have a 1/2" drive socket you can use a Drive x 1-1/2 inch socket. The socket's opening will fit the hex end on all standard residential water heater elements.

To remove a water heater element without an element wrench, you simply place the 1-1/2 socket over the head of the heating element. Then turn the socket handle to the left. If you need additional torque to loosen a corroded or stubborn element you can use a breaker bar.

For those who have a selection of tools at home, this is may be your best choice. But many homeowners find it less expensive to purchase the water heater element wrench and simply use a screwdriver or other rod to remove the element.

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How to Remove a Seized Water Heater Element

Unfortunately, water heater elements become stuck. Over time they can rust and corrode in place. In fact, they can become nearly impossible to remove. But there are a few tricks, even for the most stubborn heating element.

First, try using a 1-1/2 inch socket. In most cases you'll be able to get more torque and force with a socket than a water heater element wrench. You can use a breaker bar if necessary.

If this doesn't work, try using a wire brush to remove any rust or corrosion around the threads. 

The next thing to try is vinegar. Apply it with a toothbrush around the head of the heating element, and use a rag to prevent it from dripping. Once applied, wait 20-minutes.

Then place a 1-1/2 socket over the element and turn it to the left. Tap the handle of the socket wrench with a hammer as you apply pressure. If this doesn't work, you can use a breaker bar.

If you still aren't able to remove the heating element, we recommend hiring a professional plumber

Again, we don't recommend doing this on your own as it could be very dangerous, but the next option is to heat the outside of the fitting (not the element) with a propane torch. Be careful not to torch the wiring or electrical parts.

If none of the above options work, then you'll need to drill the heating element out.

Keep in mind, that if your heating element has this much corrosion, the odds are good that you'll need to purchase a new water heater either now or in the near future.

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