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Steam Stationary Engines, Traction Engines, Steam Boats

Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

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Old 03-22-2012, 01:13:53 PM
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Default Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

Steam People often are their own worst enemy, when it comes to boiler preservation.
Borrowing from Ben Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanack, " Everybody Talks about the Weather, but nobody Does anything about it ! "

What determines the value and capabilities of a steam machine? The boiler condition and MAWP .

Someone has a machine for sale. What is the first question; what is the boiler condition, what is the UT report, is it inspected ?

It really isn't an exaggeration, that some just want to fire up, toot the whistle, and play.
They really don't care about preserving the equipment,
the heritage and " Industrial Revolution come to the Farm " that these machines represent.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that no one out there was really, in a practical and do-able way,
explaining and teaching the Hobby, the best way to preserve these boilers.
I had the training and background from the Navy and industry, and found out over years of experimenting,
what works versus what is impractical in our operating conditions.

When I make the statement that, " Boilers need to have a water pH of around 10. "
or that, " No treatment, in most cases, is doing damage. "
or " A clean boiler is a happy boiler and engine. " didn't just blow in on the wind.
It is NOT about Selling a Product. It is a reminder, call it the little cricket conscience riding on your shoulder,
advocating pro-active care of your equipment, whether you consider it a toy or a museum piece.
I am trying to get across a frame of mind to think and act to preserve and protect your boiler.

There is scientific evidence and much engineering best practices behind those statements.
There are multiple lifetimes of learning and experience condensed, refined and presented,
along with a host of similar information here on 'Stak.

You wouldn't run your car or truck without proper lubricants and anti-freeze with corrosion inhibitors.
Yes, it will run on plain water, but there will be problems, earlier and costly, if you don't use the corrosion inhibitors.

So, why be stingy with a steam boiler ?

You don't have to be a water chemist.
I have often explained to use some ' washing soda ' a.k.a. Soda Ash and starch to make your own 1890's boiler compound.
Don't let the alkali too strong, as it can cause Caustic Stress Corrosion,
150 PPM Phenolphthalein Alkalinity is a conservative limit for riveted constructon.
The cost for the soda ash and corn starch method is probably less than $ 5, for thousands and thousands of gallons of boiler water.
You can do some water testing if you want, but modern technology has made it possible to get excellent results
without daily water testing and chemistry. It has never been so easy and convenient as it is now.
By comparison, modern and automatic self regulating treatment, needing no daily water testing,
only costs $ 1.25 per thousand gallons of feedwater and many ten thousands of dollars of avoided boiler damage over the years.

If you are tired of seeing an occasional mention of water treatment here on 'Stak, then you should listen
to your boiler's corrosion prevention advocate and your own nagging conscience when it whispers in your ear.

Last edited by Jim Conte; 03-22-2012 at 01:51:17 PM.
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Old 03-22-2012, 04:11:24 PM
Richard Stratford Richard Stratford is offline
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment ?

I've just had Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder whispering for me to get off my backside and ask a question of Sir James and the forum.
A colleague is soon to re-commission a 1923 English built 0-6-0 tank locomotive. To give you an idea of size it weighs close to twenty tons.
The boiler is a manufacturer's replacement (160psi) made in 1955, with a copper firebox and monel stays to the firebox sides. The firebox crown is supported by five wrought-iron girder stays. Smoke tubes are brass, and all date from 1955 ! A nitrogen blanket is proposed to exclude oxygen during periods between steamings.
The question I have is what water treatment do you think he should use in light of the variety of materials used to build this boiler ?
My own (inexpert) thought is to steer well clear of any ammonia based treatment in deference to the substantial quantities of copper/brass present. Would the good old washing soda and starch be a good starting point, considering that our raw feedwater has a pH somewhat below 6.0 ?
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Old 03-22-2012, 05:05:12 PM
Kevin O. Pulver Kevin O. Pulver is offline
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment ?

I don't have a steam engine but I believe you!
My background is in heating boilers, and I've read a lot about steam boilers.
I just looked at a 40 year old house whose cast iron drains and copper supplies were totally ate out because of acidic well water. the best answer there might be plastic piping, but you can't do that at 160 PSI now can you!
Sounds like one of those cases where "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and I like your inexpensive old homebrew water treatment recipe for the old steamers.
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Old 03-22-2012, 08:34:56 PM
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment ?

On pages 56, 57, and 58 of the CASE Steam Engine Manual they talk about; Foaming, Priming, Impurities in Feed Water, Boiler Compounds, Alkali Water, Painting the Boiler, and Cleaning the Boiler.

Foaming. When a boiler is "foaming," the water in the glass appears roily and the level changes rapidly, the glass appearing full one moment and nearly empty the next. Dirty water is usually the cause of foaming, alkali or soap in any quantity being especially bad. No one should be allowed to wash in the tank, as even a small amount of soap is liable to cause trouble. On account of the soap used as a lubricant on the drills and taps in manufacture, new boilers are liable to foam until they are washed out 2 or 3 times. It is difficult to tell exactly how much water there is in a foaming boiler, but it is probable that some of it is being drawn over with the steam, and therefore, the pump should feed more than the usual amount. Do not run too long with a foaming boiler, but close the throttle occasionally to see how full the boiler is when the water settles. The remedy for foaming is to keep the boiler clean and to use clean water. Foaming often causes priming. Foaming and priming are more apt to occur with low than with high steam pressure.

Priming. When water is drawn over into the cylinder with the steam, the engine is said to "prime." A priming engine appears to be working very hard, exhausting heavily, throwing water from the stack and often making a loud knocking or pounding noise in the cylinder. Priming may be caused by: 1. Too high a level of water in the boiler. 2. Too low steam pressure. 3. Engine working hard with the front of the boiler low. 4. Boiler working beyond its capacity. 5. Foaming. 6. Piston rings or valve leaking. 7. Valve improperly set.

In case the engine should begin to prime, the cylinder cocks should be opened and the throttle partially closed, so that the engine runs quite slowly, until dry steam comes from the cylinder cocks. Priming is liable to knock out a cylinder head, break the piston-head or cross-head, or do other serious damage to the engine. It always washes the oil from the cylinder and valve, thereby causing the latter to squeak. The lubricator or oil pump should be allowed to feed quite freely after priming, or serious injury to the valve-gear may result.

Impurities in Feed Water. It is apparent that as the steam rising from the water is substantially pure, any impurities that are carried into the boiler with the feed water remain in the boiler and accumulate by the constant additions, making the water more and more impure until removed by blowing down or washing out. The foreign substances in water may be divided into two classes - the mud or sediment, which is visible, and the others which are in solution in cold water and are not visible. Of the latter, the carbonates and sulphates of lime and magnesium cause the most trouble in forming scale in the boiler. These substances, which are present in some degree in all well water when heated to 212 to 280 degrees F., or higher, are no longer held in solution. Together with any mud, which may be present, they form a rock-like scale which adhere firmly to the boiler plates and tubes. This scale, if it is one that water will penetrate, does not affect the efficiency of the boiler as much as might be supposed, but it does to some extent, and it also tends toward over-heating of the boiler plates. If present in considerable quantities it seriously interferes with water circulation.

Boiler Compounds. At one time kerosene was quite popular as a scale loosener and many users fed it continuously at the rate of about one pint per day for a 25 horse-power boiler. That it loosens scale cannot be denied, but it also has a decided tendency to loosen any rust that may be in the joints and this causes the boiler to leak. At present there are very few engineers who advocate using it continuously, and its use is now mostly confined to loosening the scale in an old boiler which is badly filled up. This is done by pouring about one gallon of it on top of the water in the boiler when cold and then allowing the water to slowly drain out. The kerosene floating on top of the water will settle on the scale and soak into it and loosen it. When the boiler is again steamed up care must be taken to not run very long without washing out the boiler - not over one day in any event - as the loosened scale is liable to accumulate in dangerous quantities at the bottom of the water leg. After this treatment, several washings and more or less caulking of joints and beadings of tubes will be found necessary. The chemical boiler compounds are useful as they hold the scale forming impurities in suspension so they may be blown or washed out and thus prevent the formation of scale. There is an infinite variety of water and the regular commercial compounds are naturally better adapted to some kinds than to others. Some of the large corporations, such as, railroads, have plants for treating the water before it goes into the boilers, and where possible this method is ideal. About all a traction engine operator can do, however, is to use the cleanest water he can find, use compounds, especially if the water is very hard, and wash out the boiler frequently.

Alkali Water. Unfortunately there is alkali water in many localities of the West and Northwest. It is the most troublesome of all the waters used in traction or portable engines on account of its pronounced tendency to make the boiler foam and prime. Unfortunately also, there is no safe compound, as anything containing acid to neutralize the alkali will corrode the boiler. Therefore, with bad alkali water the best practice is to blow the boiler down frequently, say 3 or 4 times a day, thus keeping the percentage present in the boiler as low as possible, and by often washing out the boiler.

Painting the Boiler. The greater part of the boiler can be kept black and looking well by rubbing with oily waste or rags. The front end of the boiler, around the smoke-box, and the smoke-stack require painting from time to time to prevent them from becoming rusty and unsightly. For this, asphaltum (which may be thinned with turpentine or benzine), or boiled linseed oil mixed with a little lamp-black, is suitable. The entire boiler may also be painted with either of these when necessary.

Cleaning the Boiler. No fixed rule can be given as to the frequency with which a boiler should be washed out. In some localities it is necessary to clean it twice a week, while others, where the water is almost perfectly clean and pure, once in 6 weeks is sufficient. In emptying the boiler preparatory to cleaning, be sure that all of the fire is out, and that the steam pressure is below 10 pounds before opening the blow-off valve. This is necessary, in order to prevent the mud from becoming baked on the tubes and sheets. See that the fire door, smoke-box door and drafts are all closed to prevent the boiler from cooling too quickly. To clean the boiler, remove the plugs or hand-hole plates in the water-leg and also the one at the bottom of the front tube-sheet. Wash the boiler thoroughly with a hose, using as much pressure as possible. Most of the sediment will be found around the "water-leg" and along the bottom of the barrel. In some localities, sediment lodges against the fire-box tube-sheet, causing the tubes to leak. When this happens, a plug is necessary in the boiler barrel above this sheet so that the sediment can be washed off with a hose when the boiler is cleaned out.

With BoilerSaver preventing scale formation, corrosion, and foaming, I'd say it's the way to go, especially when you only need a Conductivity Meter to measure Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) . . . no water testing kits!

Also, at $45 a quart, and it treats up to 16,000 gallons of water, it'll last the hobbyist a long time . . . thats a lot of steam!

Gary K
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Old 03-22-2012, 09:26:28 PM
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment ?

Originally Posted by Richard Stratford View Post
The question I have is what water treatment do you think he should use in light of the variety of materials used to build this boiler ?
My own (inexpert) thought is to steer well clear of any ammonia based treatment in deference to the substantial quantities of copper/brass present. Would the good old washing soda and starch be a good starting point, considering that our raw feedwater has a pH somewhat below 6.0 ?
It is a dilemma, and worthy of some careful consideration. The steel wants a pH of 10. The Copper will corrode above a pH of 8. The compromise is a BUFFERED pH of 9. What is a buffer ? It is a combination of dissolved ingredients that have something in common. They seek an equilibrium, based upon their relative strengths in the solution. Imagine it something like two children on a see-saw ( teeter totter ). Even if they differently, they can be brought into balance by shifting their positions.

No easy solution for you, mate !

However, there is hope ! There are some beneficial things that can protect the copper from high pH, while treating the water to protect the steel. One particularly useful compound is TolyTriazole or Tolyltriazole, TTAH.

This is not an endorsement for any particular brand. It is a no foolin', here's my best knowledge recommendation.

Having talked in the past with both Bill Bondie of Iron Horse Water and Terry Rushmore of Terlyn Technologies about this, they mentioned that Copper Corrosion Inhibitor is part of the formulation of the Terlyn products. This is why the live steamers with copper or mixed metallurgy boilers are using Terlyn LSB with great results.

Keep in mind also, that Chlorides and Oxygen are as much the foes of copper as high pH. Forming an organic / passive metal oxide protective film, as with the Terlyn LSB and others will be fairly automatic and forgiving, as they Isolate and Insulate against corrosion.

Of course, the proof being in the pudding, I would be careful and keep a close rein on conditions and treatment results with frequent inspections until you are confident that your choice of program is working well.
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Old 03-22-2012, 11:34:03 PM
RPC14801 RPC14801 is offline
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment ?

I have been told that useing some boiler treatment can be extreamly harmful to the boiler, our 1/4 case has never had boiler teatment in it just the occasional nitrogen blanket, it will be 50 years old in three years and shows no signs of corrosion or damage A friend of mine has a 1/8 scale steam locomotive that needs a new boiler, the first one was just 15 years old and was washed out and cleaned more than ours is he used boiler treatment. he said thats all he can think it would be. not trying to start anything just my 2 cents
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Old 03-23-2012, 07:39:44 AM
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

You certainly offer a good testimony on the value of a Nitrogen Blanket.

As we all know, water sources vary geographically and seasonally.
As has been stated before, be thankful for good water when you have it.
Not everyone has good water.

Chemical treatment, and aggressive washing, can be over-done or incorrectly applied.
There are limits and guidelines.
That is why I comment on ' having too much of a good thing ', and recommend the use of a
test kit when using alkaline treatment and a TDS meter for controlling blowdown with any treatment.

I don't get concerned about ' starting anything ' as long as the discussion remains civil and objective.

I've learned a lot over the years, sometimes I didn't really want to hear it at the time,
but someone cared enough to tell me what I really needed to know...

Someday, I'll get over being a punk kid...just hope I don't turn into an old geezer right away.
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Old 03-23-2012, 11:45:27 AM
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Ken Majeski Ken Majeski is offline
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

Hey Jim, is it just me or is the boilersaver link in your signature broken? I get a forbidden page or log in when I click on it
Ken Majeski, Ellsworth Wis.
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Old 03-23-2012, 12:12:49 PM
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

Originally Posted by Ken Majeski View Post
I get a forbidden page or log in when I click on it
I'm also on the forbidden list.

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Old 03-23-2012, 01:02:01 PM
M Schwab M Schwab is offline
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Default Re: Why Care about Boiler Water Treatment?

I have wondered about the use of a boiler water treatment since I learned about it. In the last few years I have been mentored by 2 very experienced steam guys (one spent many years on steam powered Great Lakes freighters and traction engines and the other many years on the throttle of traction engines) and they have indicated we at the Museum don't need to use boiler treatment.

We steam our engines about 2 times a year for 3 days each event. They tell me the well water we use is actually very good (I actually don't know what they mean by "very good", I have just taken their word). My personal thought is that we don't have water in the boiler much more than a week at a time so rust should really not be an issue . We fill them a few days before a show, steam them for the show and as soon as the last demonstration is done and pressure drops to about 10 lbs or so (as stated above) we do the final blow down / empty and pull the hand hole covers so the boilers dry out thoroughly while everything is still warm. Should we be doing something differently? What are the thoughts of the "team" regarding this school of thought?
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