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Why Your Water Heater Pilot Light Keeps Going Out and How to Fix It?

Why Your Water Heater Pilot Light Keeps Going Out and How to Fix It?

It is frustrating to step into a shower, expecting hot water, and instead getting greeted with a cold shock, especially on a cold day. This inconvenience often traces back to an issue with the water heater’s pilot light. 

If your water heater pilot light keeps going out, it’s not just a nuisance, it could be a signal of underlying problems that need to be addressed. 

Understanding why this happens and knowing how to fix it by yourself can save you from future cold showers and potentially costly repairs.

Why Does Your Water Heater Pilot Light Keep Going Out?

The pilot light is the small flame that ignites the gas burner on your water heater. When it goes out, the burner can’t light, leaving you without hot water.

Various factors can cause your pilot light to extinguish repeatedly. Understanding these can help you diagnose and solve the problem efficiently.

1. Thermocouple Issues

One of the most common reasons a pilot light keeps going out is issues with the thermocouple. This safety device detects whether the pilot light is lit and automatically shuts off the gas supply if it isn’t, to prevent gas leaks.

Thermocouple issues can be the pilot light going out immediately after release of the pilot light button, or the pilot light refusing to stay lit despite repeated attempts. They can be caused due to it being broken, not in the right position, dirty, or worn out.

2. Clogged Pilot Orifice

The pilot orifice is a precision-engineered hole that allows gas to flow to the pilot light to keep it lit. Over time, this tiny opening can become clogged with dirt, debris, or spider webs, obstructing the gas flow. 

A clear sign of a clogged pilot orifice is a pilot light that struggles to stay lit or a reduces to a weak flame. 

3. Dirty Pilot Tube

The pilot tube channels gas to the pilot light. It can accumulate dirt, dust, and other particles that obstruct the flow of gas after years, leading to a weak or unstable pilot flame. 

A sign of a dirty pilot tube is a pilot flame that appears yellow and wavy, instead of the strong blue flame that is characteristic of proper function. This inadequate flame fails to heat the thermocouple correctly, causing the system to shut off the gas supply to the pilot light as a precaution.

4. Flex Tube Issues

The flex tube connects the gas controller to the pilot assembly and main burner, supplying them with gas. Kinks or bends can develop in the flex tube, which blocks the flow of gas and can lead to the pilot light frequently going out.  

This issue might not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, but signs of flex tube issues include fluctuating pilot flame sizes or a pilot light that goes out when there’s movement near the water heater.

To address flex tube issues, first visually inspect the tube for any obvious signs of bending or kinking. If you identify a bend, carefully straighten the tube to restore proper gas flow. 

5. Improper Venting 

Improper venting can also lead to pilot lights going out. Direct vent gas water heaters need proper venting to expel exhaust gases outside your home.

A blocked, clogged, or incorrectly installed vent can lead to a buildup of these gases within the unit, creating pressure variations that could extinguish the pilot light. 

If your pilot light often goes out goes out during or shortly after the main burner cycle, you smell strange odors, or see soot around your water heater, these could be signs that it’s not venting properly.

6. Bad Gas Regulator

A bad gas regulator, which controls the pressure of gas flowing to your water heater and other appliances, can cause intermittent pilot light failures. If the regulator is malfunctioning, your water heater may receive too little gas to keep the pilot light ignited.

Signs that point towards a bad gas regulator like other gas appliances in your home underperforming or the pilot light going out in conditions when gas demand is high within the household.

Diagnosing a faulty gas regulator typically falls outside the scope of DIY repairs due to the complexities and dangers involved in handling gas pressure.

If you suspect your gas regulator is malfunctioning, it’s crucial to contact your gas utility provider or a licensed professional to conduct an inspection and replacement if necessary. 

7. A Bad Gas Valve

Another potential cause for a pilot light that keeps going out is a bad gas valve. The gas valve controls the flow of gas to both the pilot light and the main burner. A bad gas valve can intermittently restrict or cut off the gas supply to the pilot light, causing it to go out.

If your pilot light won’t stay on despite having good gas flow and a working thermocouple, or if the flame is unstable, it might mean there’s an issue with the gas valve.

Gas valve problems are also complex and involve significant safety risks. Addressing issues with the gas valve should be handled by professionals. If you’ve ruled out other causes and suspect the gas valve is at fault, it’s time to call in a certified plumber or heating technician. 

Steps to Fix a Pilot Light That Keeps Going Out

Now that we’ve explored potential reasons why your water heater’s pilot light keeps going out, let’s discuss some general steps you can take to troubleshoot and fix the issue. 

Keep in mind safety first: always turn off the gas supply before attempting any repairs and follow manufacturer instructions.

1. Inspect and Clean the Pilot Assembly

Dust and debris can accumulate over time. Use a needle to clear the pilot orifice and a wire brush for the surrounding area. Be gentle to avoid damaging any components.

2. Check for Sufficient Air Supply

Ensure there’s enough ventilation around your water heater, especially if it’s in a confined space. Remove any blockages that might be restricting airflow.

3. Inspect and Straighten the Flex Tube

Look for any kinks or bends in the flex tube that might impede gas flow. Gently straighten the tube if you find any deformities. If the tube is damaged, consider replacing it to ensure a steady gas supply.

4. Clean or Replace the Thermocouple

If the pilot light won’t stay lit, the thermocouple may be dirty or faulty. Clean it gently with fine-grit sandpaper. If cleaning doesn’t solve the problem, it might be time to replace the thermocouple. Ensure it’s correctly positioned in the pilot flame for optimal performance.

5. Verify Proper Venting

Inspect the venting system for any blockages or leaks. Make necessary adjustments or clear out obstructions to ensure exhaust gases can escape properly, preventing them from blowing out the pilot light.

6. Consult a Professional for Gas Regulator and Valve Issues

If you suspect the problem comes from a bad gas regulator or a faulty gas valve, you’d better turn to a professional because these components require special handling and adjustments that are best carried out by someone with the right expertise and equipment.

7. Pilot Light Re-ignition

After performing maintenance or repairs, you’ll need to safely relight the pilot according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This typically involves turning the gas valve to the pilot setting, lighting the pilot while holding down the ignition button, and waiting for a moment before releasing the button to ensure the light stays lit. 

If the pilot light doesn’t stay on after several attempts or if it goes out shortly after lighting, you may need to repeat the troubleshooting steps or call for professional help.

8. Monitor Your Water Heater

Keep an eye on your water heater after making repairs or adjustments. Monitoring its performance can help you quickly identify if the problem persists or if new issues arise. Early detection can prevent more significant problems later on.

By following these steps, most homeowners can troubleshoot and often resolve the issue of a water heater pilot light that keeps going out. However, when in doubt, or if the problem persists despite your best efforts, it’s wise to call in a professional. 


A pilot light that frequently goes out is more than an inconvenience; it’s a sign that your water heater needs attention. While many causes behind this issue can be addressed with routine maintenance and minor repairs, some situations require professional intervention.

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