Get Boiler Cleaning Best Practices and Reminders

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One of the largest expenses for any facility can be the operational and maintenance costs related to HVAC equipment and industrial boilers are a large part of that. A boiler is one of the hardest working and longest-lasting pieces of equipment in a facility, making it even more critical to incorporate preventative maintenance of boilers into your overall regular cleaning and maintenance plan.

Here are some best practices and reminders on getting started with boiler cleaning. We've also developed a downloadable Boiler Safety Checklist that lists the tests and checks that should be performed monthly.

Why is boiler cleaning important?

One of the largest reasons for a reduction in efficiency is dirty boiler tubes. Put simply, when boilers accumulate soot in the fireside tubes and limescale on the waterside tubes, it’s going to increase operating expenses. Both of these buildup types act as an insulation barrier on the heat transfer surface which reduces efficiency and increases the amount of fuel needed to reach the desired results.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for these deposits to develop and even the smallest amounts can cause a loss of inefficiency. For example, imagine boiler maintenance is neglected and it results in 1/32” of scale buildup on the waterside of the tubes. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this will increase energy costs by around two percent resulting in an additional $72,000 in fuel costs throughout the year. That’s a big impact on the bottom line.

An increase in fuel consumption isn’t the only expense to consider when understanding the importance of boiler cleaning. When scale deposits are allowed to continue to form without being addressed, it can lead to under-deposit corrosions that eat into the base of the metal. This can result in equipment repair that will end up being much more costly than conducting preventative maintenance.

The way to keep a boiler healthy and operating at its highest efficiency is to have regular maintenance performed on it.

How often should you conduct boiler cleaning?

Environmental conditions play a big part in determining how often boiler maintenance should take place. One of the best ways to determine a boiler’s efficiency and whether cleaning is needed is to implement regular testing. Testing can help identify other problems, including incomplete combustion, improper firing ratios, impingements on the flame, and more.

Keep daily logs on the following: type and amount of fuel used; flue gas temperature; makeup water volume; and steam pressure, temperature, and volume. Ongoing logs will help monitor for any potential issues that might develop or identify problems that could be fixed with proper cleaning.

If the boiler is shut down, a visual inspection can also be conducted to determine the level of scale and soot on the boiler tubes.

What is the best approach for cleaning a boiler?

An important first step is to become familiar with the equipment and which type of cleaning will be more impactful. Every boiler has two sides that need to be cleaned. One of these sides is the fireside, which contains the combustion of gas, oil or other fuel. The other side, the waterside, is filled with water that absorbs the heat of combustion before being pumped through the pipes to provide heat or process steam to the building.

Mineral deposits or “scaling” can form on the boiler’s waterside, hindering water flow and heat transfer. Scale is removed through either mechanical or chemical cleaning methods. Mechanical cleaning removes scale with the use of tools like scrapers, brushes, or sandblasters. Chemical scale removal uses acids to dissolve the minerals through a chemical reaction between the scale and the liquid. The method used for cleaning, mechanical or chemical, differs depending on the thickness and type of deposits being removed.

The severity of fireside corrosion and fouling is related to the fuel being burned. Natural gas, propane, and petroleum fuels like gasoline or No. 2 diesel fuel produce a light fouling removed by brushes without the need for heavy scrapers. Boilers burning wood, medical or municipal waste, and heavy petroleum fuels like No. 6 fuel oil often suffer from thick fouling that can only be removed by a powerful cleaning system with strong brushes and scraping tools.

Proper maintenance and cleaning of both these sides are imperative to keep the boiler functioning properly.

Find the right tools for the job

Luckily, boiler cleaning has come a long way and there are innovative tools and solutions that have made it much less labor-intensive. Not only are today’s modern systems designed to make the process easier and more efficient, but they also achieve better results and greater effectiveness. There are also a variety of systems available to make sure the equipment is appropriate for the task at hand.

It's important to find the right solution from the boiler cleaning systems to the accessories such as brushes and scraping tools. Choosing the correct boiler cleaning system is informed by the type of boiler, the severity and fouling to be removed, and system features like portability and power. Speaking with the manufacturer can help ensure the correct systems and tools are chosen to get the job done.


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Making boiler cleaning a priority will help your bottom line

It can be easy for ongoing cleaning and maintenance to drop to the bottom of the to-do list with all the other responsibilities. Proactively incorporating boiler maintenance into the routine maintenance plan and continually monitoring the boiler’s efficiency will go a long way in cutting down on unnecessary expenses.

Cleaning boiler tubes regularly will lower costs by reducing fuel consumption, increasing output, and minimizing detrimental wear and tear that can shave years off heating system life. Additionally, routine maintenance is even more crucial with today's high-efficiency systems. 

With the correct cleaning equipment, maintenance staff can extend the service of boilers and prevent repairs or replacements before the expected equipment lifecycle ends.