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How to Remove Water Heater Element Without Socket?

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

how to remove water heater element without socket

One of the most beguiling questions we receive is, “How to remove water heater element without socket?” Homeowners who ask us this riddle somehow misplaced (or lost) their water heater element wrench that typically comes with the package.

This tool is essential because it helps you replace a defective or busted water heater element without hiring a professional. But mishaps happen sometimes.

And if you’re wondering about a suitable element wrench substitute, please continue reading. Moreover, we’ll go through the four steps of replacing a water heater element with a different removal tool.

Table of Contents

What to Prepare to Remove Water Heater Element Without Socket

Here are the tools you can use instead of a wrench (element wrench).

  • Socket wrench
  • Spanner
  • Ratchet wrench

If you don’t have these tools, check the following in the house.

  • Pipe wrench
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Two-channel locks

Please observe basic safety precautions (i.e., turning off the unit’s power supply).

Detailed Steps

Removing a water heater element without element wrench is like replacing the heating component with the recommended tool. The only difference is you’ll use a substitute (or alternative).

Step 1. Prepare the water heater for element removal.


Three preliminary activities are crucial to ensure your safety (and the home) when removing heating elements: cut off electricity, cease the water supply, and an empty water heater tank.

  1. Look for a circuit breaker marked “water heater” on your home’s electrical panel.
  2. Flip the heater breaker switch to the OFF position.
  3. If there are no markings on the circuit breaker panel, you might want to turn off all switches.
  4. Check the water heater’s top section and look for a wheel or a straight handle along a pipe going to the water heater. This hardware is the water heater’s inlet valve. Turn the wheel or handle clockwise (to the right) to prevent cold water from entering the water heater storage tank.
  5. Empty the water heater’s contents by attaching a hose to the drain valve at the bottom and letting the hot water flow into a floor drain. Moreover, open a tap to hasten drainage and relieve pressure in the system.

Pro Tip: We recommend leaving the water heater for several hours to cool the water before draining.

Step 2. Open the access panel to the water heater element.


Electric water heaters have two heating elements – one near the top and another near the tank’s bottom. Please open only the access panel corresponding to the heating element you want to remove and replace (or inspect).

  1. Determine the location of the water heating element’s access panel. Most appliances have screws securing the cover.
  2. Loosen and remove the hardware fastening the access panel to the water heater.
  3. Remove the panel cover and store them in a safe location with the screws.
  4. Carefully pull the thermostat cover to remove element from water heater.
  5. Assess the wirings and other components for signs of damage. You can replace broken parts (i.e., wirings) before removing the heating element with an element wrench

Step 3. Remove the heating element using your preferred element wrench substitute.


You’re now ready to remove the heating element with a substitute material.

A socket wrench is the best alternative tool to remove water heater element. If you don’t have this equipment, a ratchet wrench is an excellent socket wrench alternative. And if a ratchet wrench isn’t available, a spanner should do the trick.

If you don’t have any of these tools, two-channel locks, an adjustable wrench, or a pipe wrench should help you remove a screw-in water heater element.

  1. Pick a 38-mm or 1.5-inch socket size for the wrench. This measurement also applies to a spanner.
  2. Position the ratchet or socket wrench on the heating element, ensuring a snug fit.
  3. Turn the socket or ratchet counterclockwise until the heating element is loose, and you can pull it out from the water heater.
  4. If you prefer two-channel locks to unscrew without a wrench, the procedure is like gripping the heating element’s lid with oversized pliers.
  5. You might need to adjust a pipe or adjustable’ wrench’s jaws first to ensure a snug fit around the heating element.
  6. Rotate the pipe wrench or two-channel locks counterclockwise to loosen the heating element.

Step 4. Inspect and replace the heating element before reassembly.


Inspect the removed components and assess if you can reuse them. Suppose you want to change water heater elements. In that case, you can ditch the old one and replace it with a brand-new unit. This procedure is easy because you’ll still follow the same steps but in reverse.

  1. Insert the new heating element into its water heater chamber.
  2. Secure the heating element with the same tool used in Step 3.
  3. Check all wirings and other electrical components, ensuring everything is in their proper places.
  4. Reposition the thermostat cover, ensuring its security over the water heater component.
  5. Return the access panel cover and secure it with screws, guaranteeing a tight fit.
  6. Close the drain valve and the faucet.
  7. Turn the inlet valve wheel or straight handle counterclockwise and refill the water heater storage tank.
  8. Flip the water heater circuit breaker switch to the ON position.

Pro Tip: A water heater element stuck in its socket requires a more professional solution. Removing the stuck heating element without the correct tool might damage the water heater, leading to costlier repairs or replacement.

You can also check out Clint Hardwick’s video on this project.


How to remove water heater element without socket is no longer as intimidating as it first sounded. The procedure is identical to an ordinary heating element removal, except you don’t have the correct water heater element wrench.

Your best tool for the job is a socket wrench. And if you don’t have such a tool, a ratchet wrench can be handy in removing and replacing a heating element from the water heater.

And if these two materials aren’t available, you can make do with a spanner, two-channel locks, pipe wrench, or adjustable wrench.

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