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Airstream Hot Water Heater Maintenance and Repair

One of the best perks of camping in an RV is having hot water in a snap. Everyone can start the day fresh and energized, and the dishes will always be squeaky clean. But to have a reliable stream of hot water, you need to perform routine maintenance on your Airstream water heater.

In this post, we will discuss basic Airstream hot water heater maintenance, including how to clean, flush, and descale your hot water appliance. We will also learn how to perform some inspections and answer a few FAQs. 

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A Quick Overview of How the Airstream Hot Water Heaters Work

Basically, your Airstream’s hot water heater operates just like the one found in your bricks and motor home. It has a tank of cold fresh water that has a heating element. Once you have H20 in the tank, you turn on the heater at the switch located in the bathroom and get hot water from your shower and hot water faucets. 

When you exhaust the hot water, the heater’s tank automatically draws more water from the fresh tank and reheats it. In Airstream RVs, the hot water heater is generally heated by propane, electricity, or both. Some Airstreamers have installed tankless water heaters that provide a steady supply of hot water.

Locating Your Airstream Hot Water Heater

Your RV’s water heater is located in a small square compartment on the exterior wall of the passenger side. It has a pull-down panel for easy access. This is where the ignition system is, and behind it is the hot water tank. As we mentioned before, the water heater on and off switch is located on the inside of the camper, near the bathroom. 

The manufacturer of Airstream RVs’ water heaters is Dometic, previously called Atwood. Their tanks typically hold between 6 gallons and take between 10 and 30 minutes to heat up water, depending on the power source you’re using. The tanks are made of aluminum, so they don’t need an anode rod.

How to Maintain Your Airstream Water Heater

Your Airstream’s water heater needs some regular maintenance to keep it in top shape. With regular service, the system can last 10 to 15 years. Before you get started on any task, always consult the owner’s manual to ensure you aren’t voiding the warranty and to make sure you’re using the correct steps. 

Materials you’ll need:

  • Water heater rinsing wand
  • White vinegar
  • Socket or water heater wrench(7/8 or 15/16)
  • Winterization kit

Use this procedure to service your Airstream water heater.

Turn Off the Power and Water Flow

Turn off power to your water heater by flipping the breaker switch, then turn the propane off. Also, make sure that the gas and electric switches are in the off position. Now turn off any water flowing into the RV tanks.

Next, turn on the water heater bypass valve to prevent any water from entering your heater’s tank. In 16 feet Airstreams, the bypass valve panel is usually located under the roadside wardrobe, in 19 feet campers it’s under the mattress, and in the 20 feet front bed model it’s under the front dinette seat. Those with a 22 feet rig will find it under the mattress on the roadside bed. Consult your manual if you can’t locate yours.

Open the Pressure Relief Valve

Even after bypassing the water heater, remember the tank is still full of 6 gallons of hot water. So, wait for at least 30 minutes to an hour to allow the H20 to cool before draining it. To verify that the water has cooled and prevent scalding, test the water from the indoor hot water faucet. 

Next, head outside and open the water heater access panel to relieve any pressure in the water heater. Slowly flip up the handle on your pressure relief valve. It’s usually located on the upper part of the access panel, and it typically has a blue color. This will remove any pressure from the water heater. 

Drain the Water

Once the pressure is reduced, use a socket or water heater wrench to loosen and remove the drain plug. Let the water drain completely. The water will come spurting out, so make sure the water in your tank has cooled. 

Note that draining and cleaning the tank is quite messy, so you may want to be at a place with good drainage or place a bucket underneath the drain hole to catch most of the water.

Cleaning the Airstream Water Heater with a Wand

Use a wand attached to a garden hose to flush any loose debris in your tank. Stick it inside the drain hole and use maximum pressure to reach all corners and get all residue. Do this for about 5 minutes. When flushing, you might see hard mineral deposits coming out of the tank, which means you’re cleaning it right. When done, reinstall the drain plug.

Descale the Hot Water Heater Using White Vinegar

Turn off your water heater bypass valve and head to where your water pump is located. Using your Airstream’s winterizing kit, put in 3 gallons of white vinegar. This kit will allow you to draw the vinegar out of the bottle into the water heater. You want to fill the tank with 50% vinegar and 50% water. So, fill the remainder of your tank with water.

Turn the pump off, head outside, and close the pressure relief valve. Now switch on the water heater to heat the mixture and let it stay that way for 8 to 12 hours. After the mixture has worked the tank, allow it to cool overnight as well as breakdown all the scale that’s stuck. 

On the next day, lift the pressure relief valve handle and open the drain plug to drain the mixture. Next up, use your wand to thoroughly flush the tank and remove any deposits. You’ll probably see more white scales. Now, close the drain plug and pressure relief valve. Lastly, fill your water heater with fresh water, remove aerators and turn on all faucets and showers to cleanse the system of any vinegar.

Your water heater is now clean and ready to go.

More Routine Maintenance Tasks On an Airstream Water Heater

Here are some additional RV water heater maintenance tasks:

Check Whether Water is Dripping from the Pressure Relief Valve

While it may seem normal, water shouldn’t be dripping from your pressure relief valve when you lift the handle. Thankfully, it’s an easy fix. On the top part of your water heater is an air gap. And after some time, it goes away. To recreate it, shut off the water supply and water pump, open all faucets, then open the pressure relief valve. Now close the valve, and you’ll have your air gap.

Inspect the Vents

Examine the exterior vent at least once a month and remove any bug nests, leaves, or mud from it. Foreign objects may interfere with the airflow. If there is any debris, turn off the water heater and remove the dirt. As a precaution, avoid touching the exhaust vent of the water heater when in use as it can get really hot.

Examine the Electric Heater Element

If you often use hard water, it can cause build-up on the electric element. Checking this issue is a bit involved, and you’ll want to go through your manual before this step to ensure you won’t void your warranty. With power removed from the appliance, remove the LP gas burner tube and disconnect wiring from the element while noting the positions. Now remove the electric heating element and examine it for any corrosion. If it’s rusty, buy a new a new one and replace it. Do this step twice a year.

Inspect and Clean the Burner Tube of Your Propane Heater

If your camper has been in storage for a while, spiders may build nests or debris may settle inside the burner tube. When you switch on the heater, the debris may cause an obstruction which causes your thermal cut-off fuse to blow. Turn the heater off, drain it, and clean the tube using a can of compressed air or a flexible wire or nylon brush.

Airstream Hot Water Heater FAQS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to Airstream water heaters.

Should I Leave My RV Hot Water Heater On?

While it’s safe to leave your RV water heater on all the time, it’s not always recommended. Keeping it on will quickly deplete your propane supply. You should also turn it off when driving and when there’s no water inside it.

How Often Should an RV Hot Water System be Serviced?

Airstream owners should service and flush their tanks a minimum of two times a year. If you can clean it four times a year, the better.

How Long can Water Sit in an RV Hot Water Heater?

If you’re storing your RV, always drain your hot water tank after each camping trip. Otherwise you’ll wind up with the rotten egg sulfur smell. Draining the water is also a critical step in winterizing your Airstream.

Airstream Hot Water Heater Maintenance: Wrapping UP

Keeping your silver bullet’s hot water heater in top shape doesn’t have to be complicated. With a proactive attitude and simple tools, you can clean the tank, identify corroded elements, and guarantee yourself a steady flow of hot water.