Water heaters are essential appliances that provide hot water for various household needs, from bathing to washing dishes and laundry. However, like all appliances, they can break down or reach the end of their lifespan, leaving homeowners wondering what to do with a broken water heater. In this guide, we will explore the various options for dealing with a malfunctioning or old water heater, including disposal, repurposing, and recycling.

Proper Disposal

When water heaters are no longer functioning or are too old to repair, one of the primary considerations is how to dispose of it properly. Here are some steps to follow for safe disposal:

Check Local Regulations

Before disposing of your water heater, it’s crucial to check local regulations regarding the disposal of large appliances. Some areas have specific guidelines or restrictions on how you can dispose of them.

Depending on where you live, there may be designated drop-off points, collection events, or recycling programs for appliances. Contact your local municipal or waste management authority to inquire about the best practices and guidelines in your area.

Turn Off Utilities

First, ensure that the gas or electricity supply to the water heater is disconnected to prevent any accidents during removal.

For gas-powered water heaters, turn off the gas supply valve. For electric water heaters, switch off the breaker in your electrical panel that powers the heater.

Drain the Tank

To make the water heater easier to handle and to prevent water spillage, drain the tank completely. Attach a hose to the drain valve, which is typically located near the bottom of the tank, and let the water empty into a suitable drain or container.

Be cautious when draining hot water, as it can cause burns. Allow the water to cool before draining it to minimize the risk of injury.

Contact a Scrap Yard or Recycling Center

Many scrap yards and recycling centers accept old water heaters. Some may even pay you for the scrap metal. Contact them to inquire about their policies and whether they offer pick-up services.

When contacting these facilities, provide them with the details of your water heater, such as its size, weight, and the materials it contains. This information will help them assess the value of the scrap metal and arrange for proper disposal.

Arrange for Pickup

If the recycling center or scrap yard offers pick-up services, schedule a convenient time for them to collect the water heater. Ensure it’s properly secured for transport.

It’s important to transport the water heater safely to prevent any damage during transit. Secure it in a vehicle or arrange for professional pick-up services if available.

Repurposing Ideas

While a broken water heater may no longer serve its original purpose, there are creative ways to repurpose some of its components:

Salvage Copper Pipes

Water heaters often contain copper pipes, which can be valuable if salvaged. You can remove and recycle these pipes or use them for DIY plumbing projects.

Copper is a highly sought-after material in the recycling industry due to its value and recyclability. If you choose to salvage the copper pipes, use a pipe cutter or appropriate tools to carefully remove them from the water heater.

Heat Exchanger for Outdoor Shower

The heat exchanger in a water heater can be repurposed to create an outdoor shower. This is an excellent way to conserve water and enjoy a refreshing outdoor bathing experience.

To repurpose the heat exchanger, disconnect it from the old water heater and connect it to an outdoor water source. Ensure proper plumbing connections, and consider installing a simple outdoor showerhead for added convenience.

Planter or Garden Bed

The outer shell of the water heater can be transformed into a unique planter or raised garden bed. It’s a creative way to give new life to an old appliance.

To repurpose the outer shell, first, remove any insulation or non-metallic components. Clean the interior thoroughly, and you can either paint or decorate the exterior to suit your garden’s aesthetic. Fill it with soil and your choice of plants or flowers.

Recycling Water Heaters

Recycling is an eco-friendly option for dealing with a broken water heater. Water heaters contain valuable materials that can be recycled and reused. Here’s how you can go about it:

Locate a Recycling Facility

Look for a recycling facility in your area that accepts water heaters. Many recycling centers have designated drop-off points for appliances.

Start by searching online or contacting your local recycling authority for a list of recycling facilities that accept water heaters. They can provide you with information on their hours of operation and any specific requirements for drop-off.

Prepare the Water Heater

Drain the tank as mentioned earlier and remove any non-metallic components. It’s essential to separate the metal parts from other materials.

Before taking the water heater to the recycling facility, remove any plastic covers, insulation, or wiring. These non-metallic parts should be disposed of separately or according to your local recycling guidelines.

Deliver to Recycling Center

Take the prepared water heater to the recycling center. They will process the appliance, recycling the metals, and disposing of the remaining parts responsibly.

When dropping off the water heater, be sure to follow the facility’s instructions for unloading and any safety measures they require. Ensure that the water heater is secured properly during transportation.

Donating or Selling

If your water heater is still in good condition, you may consider donating it or selling it at a reduced price to someone in need. This can be an excellent way to help others while preventing a functional appliance from ending up in a landfill.

Contact Local Charities

Reach out to local charitable organizations or non-profits that may be in need of appliances like water heaters. They may accept donations to support their programs or help individuals in your community.

When donating, provide accurate information about the water heater’s condition, age, and any necessary installation details to ensure it meets the recipient’s needs.

Online Platforms

Websites and apps dedicated to buying and selling used items can be a great platform to find a new home for your functioning water heater. Be sure to disclose its condition accurately.

Create a detailed listing with clear photos and a description of the water heater’s specifications. Price it competitively to attract potential buyers who may be looking for a cost-effective replacement.


In conclusion, when faced with a broken water heater, there are several responsible and environmentally friendly options to consider. Whether you choose to dispose of it properly, repurpose its components for creative projects, recycle it, or help someone in need, you can make a positive impact while dealing with this common household challenge. Remember to prioritize safety and follow local regulations when handling water heater disposal, and you’ll contribute to a more sustainable future.

Pat Baker is a sustainable living champion, a DIY queen, and a writer for water heater repair companies in the Tucson area.