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How to detect if there's oil in steam boiler water

<span style="font-size:12pt">I replaced a return line with black steel about 2 months ago. Ever since then, the boilers burner has been short-cycling off the pressuretrol.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">I was told that there’s oil in the water from the black pipe, so I skimmed it out from the relief valve tapping … plus a bunch of other methods to remove the oil (and dirt) from the water.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">It’s still short-cycling off the pressuretrol.</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">I have ph paper with which to test the waters ph, and if need be I can adjust it (the ph).</span>

<span style="font-size:12pt">But how can I tell, if I successfully removed all the oil from the water or if there’s still some left?</span>


  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542

    Typically you will get a lot of bounce in the water in the sight glass and you may see condensation running down inside the top of that glass. What makes you think you are short cycling on pressure? Normally, if there is enough water bounce, the Low Water Cut-ff may shut the boiler down until the water level settles down enough to start the burner again.

    The pressuretrol is not usually affected. What is the Pressuretrol set at? Is the syphon tube it is mounted  on clean and clear? It is possible that that tube is clogged with gunk and not letting the pressure drop from cycle to cycle.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,272

    when in the cycle does it "short cycle"?  It is, as Fred said, unusual for oil -- even a fair amount of the stuff -- to cause a problem with the pressuretrol.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • handmrepairs
    handmrepairs Member Posts: 6
    edited March 2014
    Thank you all and please let me clarify myself

    The pressure in the boiler definitely builds up, to high (to fast) and therefore the pressuretrol is doing its job correctly by shutting the boiler down. The issue I’m apparently having is - getting the pressure to stop building (so quickly).

    I was led to believe that the reason is due to either oil or ph. Well the ph, I know how to check, but I don’t know how to check if the water is oil free or not.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    Not likely

    Oil in the water is Not likely to be the problem. Check you main vents in the basement (main piping)or somewhere around the return piping. I would suspect they may be stuck closed. 

    When you replaced the return line, did you put it back exactly like it was? Did that return have a vent in it?
  • handmrepairs
    handmrepairs Member Posts: 6
    edited March 2014
    I replaced...

    I replaced the main vent with the same Hoffman that was there, that didn't work so I tried a Gorton - same problem

    Unless I'm mistaken, I put it back exactly the way it was, and the original return didn't have a vent in it.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
    edited March 2014
    Hoffman 75?

    Are you sure the Hoffman you put on is a #75? Not 74 or 75H, those won't work. Which Gorton did you put on? a #1 or #2 ? The #1 may not be large enough to vent sufficiently
  • handmrepairs
    handmrepairs Member Posts: 6
    I'm going...

    I'm going to check and get back to you - might not be till later on or even tomorrow.

    Thank you very much
  • moneypitfeeder
    moneypitfeeder Member Posts: 249
    Oil vs Oil free water

    Hi, a quick easy way that you can tell if your water has oil in it is to cold skim a sample of water into a small saucepan, and then take roughly the same amount of tap water into another. Put both on med-high heat, and watch how the boiler water boils. If it behaves like the tap water, then it has no or almost no oil, if it doesn't bubble the same, keep skimming! And if they are your significant others good pans, clean them three times, dry them, put them away (exactly where you found them) and never speak of borrowing them! 
    steam newbie
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    If the old return had a leak

    it would not allow pressure to build. now the leak is fixed the pressure builds. could that explain it for you?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,322
    also did you clean

    the pigtail ? The new pipe may be a red herring.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • handmrepairs
    handmrepairs Member Posts: 6
    Thank you all, I appreciate all your help.
    Just to let you know the end of the story & to apologize to you all, for "tomorrow" taking all the way till 'today' - @ least I'm just 'later' and not 'never'. From what ended up happening, you should understand why it took me so long to get back to you.
    It was the Hoffman 75 that I tried but it didn't work
    I forgot right now which Gorton I used, but I know it was the unusual gigantic one, it didn't work
    Thank you moneypitfeeder that was a great, head on answer, that I immensely appreciate & will be able to use in the future (I didn't end up using it for this one)
    And thank you Charlie from wmass I appreciate your 1st idea but it seems that, that was not the case and I'll let you soon know why, & for the pigtail idea I'm pretty sure I checked, cleaned , made sure it was cleaned, maybe even more than one time and, it still didn't work
    So the bottom line is, it was nearing spring, then summer came... the boiler was off all that time...
    And when it was put back on the next heating season it went on fine, worked well until the pple eventually moved out ...
    The house with the boiler were demolished, with the intension of building a new house...
    So, go figure... It ended well for me, maybe it just needed a rest???
  • handmrepairs
    handmrepairs Member Posts: 6
    edited June 2016
    I just deleted the mistakenly repeated comment that was here.
  • aircooled81
    aircooled81 Member Posts: 205
    Well that resolution sounded like the ol "if it doesn't do it the first time, get a bigger hammer" trick.
    Demolishing the residence is the biggest hammer I ever heard of!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,823
    So they knocked down a great old house to build a new one that won't last nearly as well.............

    You can't fix stupid.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service