What Size Socket Fits a Water Heater Element? (Must Know)

It is often a challenge when you are trying so hard to replace the element of your water heater without knowing its socket size beforehand. And this is why finding the size before the trouble arises is your best bet.

As we advance, we will identify the correct socket size for the water heater element, what we can use in place of an element wrench, how to remove elements without a socket, and finally, how to remove a stuck element.

The water heater’s socket size differs from one water heater to the other. Although there are about three prevalent socket sizes for a water heater, they are the ½”, ⅝,” and ¾.” And remember that depending on the size of the socket, installing a new element may require an adapter.

What Socket Size Goes with a Water Heater Element?

What Size Socket Fits a Water Heater Element

Like the answer above, socket size differs according to each water heater, which is the diameter of the screw-on cap above the heater element.

One big mistake of mine you don’t want for yourself is the failure to check the correct socket size before ordering a new element.

If you order the wrong element, then there will be fitting problems, tank damage, and the possibility that there could be an electrical shock.

Nevertheless, below are the three most common socket sizes;

  1. ½” socket size
  2. ⅝” socket size
  3. ¾” socket size

#1. ½ Socket Size

It is well known to be the most popular socket size when you want to carry out an element replacement.

#2. ⅝” Socket Size 

When you are referring to the most common electric water heaters produced by the United States, the ⅝ socket size is just the size you need.

#3. ¾” Socket Size

Sockets of this nature are familiar with European water heaters or older gas-heated ones. And they are also ubiquitous.

Before you move towards purchasing and replacing an element, you need to be able to tell what socket size will best suit your heater.

So, the big question is, how do I determine the correct socket size for my heater?

To discover the replacement, bring in the tank’s label or take the existing element and discourse with a professional.

It is good to check more than once, especially because some heaters have more than one element with different replacement parts. 

What Can I Use Instead of an Element Wrench?

Whenever we talk about removing or replacing an element on a water heater, the principal tool that comes to mind is an element wrench.

But still, there are other alternatives you can go for; for instance, you can remove an element without using an element wrench, and you can achieve this with a few simple steps.

The beginning step requires that you cut off all wires leading to the water heater element and be careful about destroying any functioning part.

Sometimes it becomes too much, and you must call a professional to handle the problem.

Then take off the metal band and adequately pull off the element from the tank, and if this still proves to be challenging, you can use hot water and penetrating oil.

Another way to remove an element without a wrench is using a 38mm socket. And this is required for success because it requires more torque as a reasonable force, unlike the wrench for similar rotation.

However, this is more applicable when your water heater faces rust, and your element wrench can not fully perform. 

The breaker bars and hollow metal pipes that fit the handle of your heater’s socket wrench can also aid you.

The truth is, you can also use a pair of pliers or a pipe wrench instead of an element wrench, and the breaker bars may come in handy in the element removal.

But more details of this will come to you as we discuss the steps to removing the heater element without an element wrench.

How Can I Remove a Water Heater Element With a Socket?

Before we begin, we first want to identify the tools we will need and the purpose they will serve.

The table below will give a clear understanding of this;

HoseTo ascertain whether the drain valve filled up with sediments.
Voltage tester To cut off electricity from going into the water heater when you have switched your circuit breaker off.
Screwdriver To take off the access panel cover.

Now, there are about eight steps you will need to follow to remove the element’s heater without the element wrench:

#1. Step 1- Switch Off the Circuit Breaker

Ensure that you turn off the circuit breaker exactly at the panel, and then utilize the voltage tester to ascertain that no electricity is flowing into the water heater.

So in simple terms, there should be no power when removing the heating element.

#2. Step 2- Connect the Hose

With the absence of power, you should connect the hose to the water heater, and this will help us know if the drain valve is already clogged with sediments or not.

One thing with this step is that we can perform this step without going through the stress of draining the water.

#3. Step 3- Turn Off Water Supply

You can do this by sealing the water inlet valve above the water heater. Also, when air goes into the tank, it will enable the release of hot water from the water heater.

And finally, to turn on hot water, you should open the tap closest to the faucet.

#4. Step 4- Takeout Access Panel Covering

You should remove the cover of the access panel with a screwdriver, and then you will also see a plastic wrapping at the water heater’s thermostat.

Remove the cover carefully, check the wiring quickly, and replace any melted or damaged parts.

Note that loosening the screw is the only way to remove the heating element wire from the element.

#5. Step 5- Take out the Water Heater Element

Here is where instead of a typical element wrench, you will use a 38mm socket (a standard inch and a half) to remove the water heater element.

#6. Step 6- Wash Element Before Installing

You can clean and install this new element. But you can also take certain precautions so that the new element does not take any form of debris or contamination to the heater.

For instance, you can attach the ‘O’ ring with the new element, insert it into the heater’s tank, then tighten it using an element wrench, but do not use a standard wrench.

#7. Step 7- Refilling the Tank

A half-filled tank can damage the heating element of your tank. You should seal the drain valve, put on the water supply, and not turn the power back on until the water heater tank is filled.

And confirm that there is no leakage in your element but if there is one, continue tightening the element.

Meanwhile, other times, the problem may result from the ‘O’ coil moving away from its position. All you need to do is to move away from its position.

#8. Step 8- Replace Thermostat Cover and Switch on Circuit Breaker

After filling the tank with water, replace the covers of the thermostat and the access panel and replace the insulation.

The water heater will turn after you switch on the circuit breaker, and at first, when you open the faucets, the water flow will be inconsistent due to the air in the heater.

Such a situation is normal, and it only takes a short time for everything to adjust.

How to Remove a Stuck Water Heater Element?

To remove a stuck water heater element, first, you will need the same tools as the ones we outlined in the table above. And then, you will have to stick close to the following four steps below:

#1. Step 1: Disconnect Heater From Electricity

I know that even before seeing this step, you already know it. You disconnect because of safety reasons, so powering off the light is not enough.

#2. Step 2: Drain Water Heater

You need to thoroughly and adequately drain the water. And if you have a challenge of accomplishing it with just the valves, you can use an additional hose. 

#3. Step 3: Use a Solution of Vinegar 

It is essential to make a solution of a small cup with half water and the other half vinegar. Then with this solution, you can use vinegar to release the heating component.

Use a toothbrush deep into the solution and brush the water heater element between the sides of the heating tank.

Once you pour the solution on this heating element, allow for 20 minutes for the stuck element to loosen.

#4. Step 4: Remove Heating Element

Once you are sure, it has come loose, remove the heater element and do so gently and without force to keep the heater safe.

Pound the handle of the socket wrench to cause the heating element to begin rotating, but if this element is still stuck, you should push the breaker bar across the handle of your socket wrench.

While you turn the wrench using the bar, maintain the socket’s top over the heating element.

Pick the bar from the handle of your socket wrench once the element begins to revolve. Then continue to rotate the element til it comes out of the tank.


Following the eight steps in the third sub-topic, you can remove the water heater element with a socket.

The socket size for a heater differs from one water heater to the other cut; the most common is the ½ ” socket size. And instead of a wrench, you can use a 38mm socket to remove an element.

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