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Sludgy boiler. Opening bottom cleanout?

I've been helping my mother in law with the one pipe system at her 1912 4 flat building. The boiler is a Wei-McLain cast iron job probably from the 60's. It hasn't receoived good maintenance in a while.

There's a blowdown spigot and valve on one side of the boiler at the bottom, and what looks like a capped 3 inch cleanout on the other side.

I tried the blowdown spigot while steaming at 1 psig and just got a dribble- so that's clogged. My question is what's the order of progress for cleaning this out?
Should I try poking through the blowdown spigot to loosen things up, or should I just try to remove the cleanout first?

Any tricks on getting the cleanout out?

Also, okay to use tape on the cleanout cap when it goes in? I know not to over tighten .

Alternatively, should I use a treatment first and see if that lifts the sludge?

Thanks!

Comments

  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,678
    Pictures of the blow down, boiler drain and clean out cap would help. back up to show floor to ceiling if possible.
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    I'll get those tonite. :smile:
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    edited September 25
    OK, not as bad as first feared. I poked through the drain and got a bucket of black water. Here's bucket #3



    Sight glass looked like this:



    Here's the unit:
    outlet side



    Return side with drain



    The plugged drain in question


    Kept flushing until the glass looked like this





    So now try some Rectorseal 8 way? I really want to arrest the rusting.
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,678
    Did you get the "blow down" valve to drain, I speak of the one above the yellow bucket sitting on the gas pipe.
    That looks to be the low water cut off, (LWCO).

    It is very important to test that once a week, WHEN the boiler is firing, the fire MUST go off when you open that valve. That is the primary safety control to prevent a dry fire...melt down....or worse.

    The drain valve on the other side, yellow handle with white bucket below, would be the boiler drain. This is where you would get most of the sludge out of the boiler.

    ONLY with the boiler off and cool/cold you could:

    If not draining you can remove the 90 elbow, poke thru the open valve to get water flowing, remove the poker and then drain out what ever you can.
    Or connect a water hose to a source with a double female fitting, (I use a washer fill hose) and give shots of water into the boiler.
    The reverse power flush will loosen the bottom sludge and let it flow out.
    I would chase it back and forth several times until the drain water is fairly clear.
    Once open you could use the manual water fill valve to flush.

    On the return drop manifold, there is a drain on the end. That will clear out the sludge out of that manifold. It acts as a collection point for junk from the returns and actually keeps the junk out of the boiler to a point.
    If you can manually operate the water fill valve with that drain open, it would do the flushing on that section for you.

    As far as removing the lower drain plug on the opposite, that has been in there from the new install, I would not try it myself.
    If you had to really get into the bottom, the reducing 90 of the return water to the boiler would be easier to open than that plug, IMO.....and that would take a torch and 4' pipe wrench. And then some replacement piping as there are no friendly located unions.
    If done, I would replace the 90 with a tee for future cleaning, if you get that far.

    I would get things flushed out from all ports and see how the water looks in a couple of weeks of running.

    Remember the operation of the LWCO to stop the burner is imperative.
    Most apartment rentals..commercial property require a second manual reset LWCO.

    delcrossv
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    Also, when I opened the hose bibb at the bottom of the returns (you can see it on the bottom edge of that picture) the water came out pretty slowly. Does that need flushing too?
    Thanks!
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,678
    Yes, try sticking a wire through the valve to clear it so it will drain. If you get it to drain replace the valve and continue flushing.

    After all the flushing bring the water to a boil
    delcrossv
  • The Steam Whisperer
    The Steam Whisperer Member Posts: 741
    If you want to really get it clean then 8 way treatment ( use amount recommended on bottle), Then run it for an hour or 2. by that time the water will probably be filthy. Lots of flushing and cleaning again. Probably repeat the process once more and then treat at 1/2 the recommended level. The 8-way will continue to break loose old sludge. You'll probably need to do some cleaning pretty regularly throughout the 1st heating season ( flush out, rinse and refill with water and treatment). If there's lots of lime in the boiler, the treatment will slowly remove that in big chunks which may not fit out the little blow down valve. You'll need to open that big port to get that out. Or just acid clean it, but you may end up with pinhole leaks in the boiler. Those old Weil's have much heavier castings than any of thier newer products.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    delcrossv
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 717
    Cleaning out the bottom blow down has to be done manually.

    In my experience chemicals will not dissolve the crud.. That crud that has been in there for years and is like cement. Hopefully, The pathway thru the the 3 or 4 inch push nipples is sludge and not cement like deposits, Ebrat and steam whisperer gave the best advise, but I would do that at least 4 times before the heating season starts, because the removal of the large reducing elbow can cause a problem if you do not have the skills to remove the nipple and elbow you can wind up with a real problem. If you are able to remove the nipple and elbow you can have a welder to weld the vertical pipe going into the reducing el, Or
    reconnect with a dresser coupling with high temperature O rings. The O rings will work fine because that section of piping is submersed in water. Remember there are to sides of the boiler that needs to be cleaned as well.

    Good luck with the project.

    Jake
    delcrossv
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    Thanks Jake. I removed the hose bibb and the water gushed out clear (no crud). I think (hope) it was just a cheap fitting with a tiny orifice. I got a ball valve hose bibb to replace it with.

    Anything special to remove the reducing ell aside from heating it with a torch prior to trying to remove it?
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 3,668
    You can cut a slot almost to the threads then split it with a chisel so you can unscrew it without damaging the nipple.
    delcrossv
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    JUGHNE said:
    Did you get the "blow down" valve to drain, I speak of the one above the yellow bucket sitting on the gas pipe. That looks to be the low water cut off, (LWCO). It is very important to test that once a week, WHEN the boiler is firing, the fire MUST go off when you open that valve. That is the primary safety control to prevent a dry fire...melt down....or worse. 
    Oh, sorry,  the LWCO is fine, my MIL flushes that religiously.  
    The boiler drain was what was clogged.
    I'll verily the flame on test with that this week.
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    One more quick question:
    I got the 8 Way. After I put it in, should I run the system as usual, or should I close all the radiators and run it? Instructions aren't specific on that.
    Thanks again for all the good advice!
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 717
    run the system to assure all the water in the system is clean. Don't need dirty water to keep comming back to the boiler.

    Jake
    delcrossv
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    Great! Just wanted to confirm.
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40
    edited October 4
    OK, ran 3 quarts of 8 way into the system ( went by 1 qt to 600 sqft of radiation off the builder's plate) and ran it for 3 hours wide open. The stuff out of the boiler drain was browny- red with a lot of suspended rust. Flushed with fresh water 3 times- until the drain and sight glass were completely clear. Put in a light 2 quarts to get the pH to 10 using litmus paper (pale violet in the sight glass) and ran it again for 30 minutes to get the O2 out of the water.

    That's in addition to cleaning the burners and heat exchanger replacing the relief valve, finding 8 bad vents in the apartments- one had a jet of steam about 3' long :o and fixing 2 leaky bonnets.

    Thumbs up, I think we're good to go. :)
  • The Steam Whisperer
    The Steam Whisperer Member Posts: 741
    PH of 10 may be a bit High. Great for 0 corrosion of ferrous metals, but I believe you may start attacking brass and copper at that level. WE try to shoot for 9 to 9.5.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    delcrossv
  • delcrossv
    delcrossv Member Posts: 40

    PH of 10 may be a bit High. Great for 0 corrosion of ferrous metals, but I believe you may start attacking brass and copper at that level. WE try to shoot for 9 to 9.5.

    No copper anywhere (all black pipe). Figure it won't stay there too long as the LWCO gets cycled weekly. I'll check it again to see if it's going down as expected.