How to Clean a Hot Water Heater Pilot Light

Gas hot water heaters use natural gas or propane to keep water at a certain temperature and constantly available for family use.
Many hot water heaters use a small flame, called a pilot light, to light a burner that heats the water. Pilot lights should be cleaned once a year to make sure they operate properly.

Step 1

Turn the temperature control to the lowest setting. Turn the gas control knob to the "Off" position. The gas control knob is usually located at the base of a gas water heater. It usually has "On," "Off" and "Pilot" positions.

Step 2

Wait five minutes for all gas to be expelled from the system. If, after five minutes, there is a strong smell of gas, call the gas company or a propane professional to come look at the gas water heater.

Step 3

Look at the base of the gas water heater for an access panel. Usually the access panel has one or two screws keeping it closed. Use a screwdriver to remove these screws, then open the panel. Look into the base of the hot water heater using a flashlight. A medium sized tube and a small sized tube will lead from the gas control knob. The pilot light is at the end of the small tube.

Step 4

Use a stiff wire brush to thoroughly clean the pilot light. Spend several minutes with the brush cleaning the pilot light. All residue and ash should be cleaned from the pilot light when complete. Light the pilot light by moving the gas control knob to "Pilot," depressing the gas control knob for 30 seconds and using a long match to light the pilot light.

Step 5

Replace the access panel after the pilot light stays lit. Increase the temperature setting to the normal setting. Listen for the burner to light. If the burner lights, the pilot light has been successfully cleaned. If the burner does not light, repeat the above steps and clean the pilot light again prior to replacing the pilot light.

Things You Will Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Flashlight
  • Stiff wire brush
  • Long match
  • File


  • There will be a thermocouple next to the pilot light. The thermocouple is designed to turn off the gas when the pilot light fails. When cleaning the pilot light also clean the thermocouple with a file.


  • Do not increase the temperature control without replacing the access panel.