How do I tell if a bladder is busted in a water tank?

Written by mary lougee
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How do I tell if a bladder is busted in a water tank?
Pressure gauges on a water well control the pump to fill a bladder holding tank. (pressure-gauge image by Dusan Radivojevic from

Water tanks with bladders contain both water and air inside as in a traditional water tank. The bladder holds water inside the tank and pressurised air surrounds it to push the water out of the tank into a home or water faucet. When the air pressure drops to the cut-in rate on the pressure gauge the pump turns on to replace water in the bladder. The bladder stretches and contracts within the tank and eventually will wear thin and break.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pen and paper
  • Garden hose
  • Air gauge
  • Air compressor or air tank
  • Small bowl
  • Dish soap

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  1. 1

    Turn a faucet on and stand near the water well pressure gauge. As soon as the water pump engages, write down the cut-in pressure on the gauge on a piece of paper. The pump engages with an audible click and then the sound of the motor. Turn the faucet off.

  2. 2

    Turn the power to the water-holding tank off at the circuit box.

  3. 3

    Attach a garden hose to the spigot on the water tank by turning it clockwise. Turn the water valve in a counterclockwise direction to turn the water on. Drain all of the water out of the tank through the hose.

  4. 4

    Turn the spigot at the well off by turning the handle clockwise.

  5. 5

    Place a tire air gauge on the water tank air valve on the top of the tank. The air valve appears the same as an air valve stem on a car tire. Record the air tank pressure and compare it to the cut-in pressure recording. The air tank pressure should be 2 psi less than the cut-in pressure if the bladder is functioning correctly. A lower reading signifies a broken water tank bladder.

  6. 6

    Place an air compressor or air tank hose on the water well air valve and fill the tank with air. The tank is full when it will no longer accept air from the tank or compressor.

  7. 7

    Turn the water well circuit breaker on and left the tank fill with water until the cutout pressure is reached on the pump.

  8. 8

    Mix water and dish soap in a small bowl to make a soapy mixture. Pour some of the mixture on the water tank air valve and look for bubbles. If bubbles appear, air is leaking out of the tank and this signifies a broken bladder.

Tips and warnings

  • Attaching a garden hose guides all of the water out of the water tank area so that feet stay dry.
  • When draining a water well tank, place the garden hose so that it waters plants or grass that need water.
  • Adding air to a water pressure tank will help a tank with a broken bladder work slightly better until replacing the tank.
  • Loss of water pressure and short cycling times are indicators of a water well with a broken bladder inside. The well pumps turns on and off quickly in succession continually. This causes a pump motor to heat up from the short cycling and will cause the motor to catch on fire.

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