A Brief History of Chiller Tube Cleaning Technologies

Over the years, we’ve been advocates for the regularly scheduled cleaning of chiller tubes. In response to that maintenance challenge, a variety of techniques have evolved with varying levels of efficiency and effectiveness.   Some of them are good and some of them, well…

Spare The Rod and Spoil The Worker

In years gone by, your distant predecessors cleaned chiller tubes with a brush attached to a metal rod.  It was cheap and reasonably simple to do, but it was nobody’s favorite job and took forever.   Later, the use of chemicals to clean chiller tubes became popular, and they proved to be effective.  In addition to being expensive, hazardous to use and hard to dispose of when the job was done they took your chiller off-line for up to 24 hours.

The war against chiller dirt and grime then escalated to the use of  tube cleaning “guns” which shot a cleaning “bullet” through the tubes. This technique worked well on soft buildup, but required both ends of the tube bundles to be opened. Then, of course, there was the occasional problem of back-pressure in a clogged tube shooting the bullet back at the operator.  This proved to be a bad thing.

The next step in this evolutionary process was to make brushes or foam balls a permanent part of the tubes.  These moved around with the water inside and – ideally — cleaning the tubes as they went. They worked where water treatment was good, but tended to be somewhat expensive.

Brush and Flush

Probably the most significant improvement in chiller tube cleaning technology was the introduction of the rotary tube cleaner by Goodway Technologies.   Consisting of a flexible, motor-driven shaft encased in a tube that carries water to the cleaning tool at the end, a rotary cleaner multi-tasks by cleaning and flushing debris out of the tube in the same operation.

Rotary cleaners, now in their fourth generation, are easy to use and inexpensive to purchase and maintain.  They give the most cleaning “bang for the buck”. There are tools for every kind of cleaning challenge, and the cost of the disposables is low.

The Enhanced Chiller Tube

Unfortunately, as cleaning techniques evolved, so did the design of the tubes we need to clean.   More and more chillers now have “enhanced” tubes to increase heat transfer.   The primary enhancement –called rifling — consists of grooves inside the tube, something like you might find inside the barrel of a rifle.

The raised parts of the rifling (lands) and the low parts (grooves) present special challenges to most of these cleaning techniques.   A brush and rod, given enough time, can get into the grooves and clean them out, but it would take so long it wouldn’t make economic sense.  While chemicals do work in enhanced tubes, they are increasingly expensive to use and dispose of, and the hazards and dangers remain.

Guns and internal brushes or balls just pass over the grooves and generally give only a light cleaning to the lands.  Rotary cleaners, however, with special tools like dual-diameter brushes and the ability to go back and forth to flush out debris, are ideally suited to this challenge.

But whether your chiller is 25 years old with smooth, ferrous tubes or brand new with enhanced tubes, it still has to be cleaned, and rotary cleaners — because of their simplicity, value and effectiveness —  remain the best way to do it.

Rich Silverman
Goodway Blogging Team

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