With so many different products on the market all varying in price and quality, installers are faced with a tough decision when choosing water treatment chemicals. Craig Worth, National Sales Manager at BoilerMag, explains why the choice is so important and how to make the right one for the job at hand.

The latest update of Part L of the Building Regulations stipulates that heating systems should be thoroughly cleaned before adding inhibitor chemicals. 

As this is the recognised code of practice for the treatment of water in domestic central heating systems, cleaning and water treatment chemicals are now common practice within the industry. 

In order to achieve the best results for the heating system and the customer, the use of good quality water treatment chemicals is fundamental. Not only will it ensure the optimum performance of the heating system, it will increase energy savings and lengthen system life. 

Rather than selecting a bottle at random from a local merchant, a little research is needed to ensure that the correct water treatment chemicals are used for the job at hand.

Although inhibitors must be of at least BuildCert standard to meet regulations, cleaning chemicals themselves are not required to meet any such quality standards. 

This has led to an abundance of cheap, poor quality cleaning chemicals on the market. Unfortunately, such chemicals are often unsuitable for modern boilers, and fail to remove corrosion and scale on a long-term basis.

In an unregulated cleaning chemicals market, installers are often forced to make their selection primarily based on guesswork. Should the installer choose a cheaper, poor quality chemical, a number of problems could occur. Such chemicals may not be up to the job of effectively cleaning or protecting a heating system. 

Many chemicals are simply not strong enough to remove heavy sludge, resulting in blockages and cold spots, and may have a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the inhibitor. 

On the other hand, cheaper cleaning chemicals may be highly acidic, and therefore too aggressive, which can actually promote corrosion rather than prevent it. 

What to look for

It is wise to use high quality cleaning chemicals from reputable brands to ensure the removal of limescale deposits, flux residues, and ferrous oxides from a heating system. 

So, what should an installer look for in order to guarantee that they are choosing a good quality, high performance cleaning chemical?

Look out for the Benchmark logo, which is a valuable endorsement of the product reputation and associated back up services. 

It’s also important to consider a product’s ability to disperse scale. The key performance considerations to look out for with a cleaner solution are its ability to disperse scale and iron oxide. Scale is gauged in parts per million (ppm) based on 500ml of solution in a 100l system. 

Some cheaper options can disperse as low as 2ppm, which effectively means most of the scale remains in the system. A market-leading product will typically disperse up to 150ppm for the same dosage, making it over seven times more effective. 

Take into account the chemical’s ability to disperse iron oxide. This is also measured in parts per million dispersal. To ensure a thoroughly cleaned system, a cleaner would need to disperse around 250ppm for a 500ml dosage. Very few options in the market place can reach these levels of performance.

Make sure to select a phosphate and borate-free formula. Phosphate can block wet bearings of circulator pumps, and potentially damage pumps and bearings, so a formula free from phosphates will effectively protect heating system parts. Borate is a carcinogen, and should be avoided to ensure you are not putting your customers at risk. 

Ensure the cleaner is non-toxic by avoiding products which contain nitrate or EDTA, as these are potentially harmful to the environment. EDTA can also have a corrosive effect on metal parts. 

Choose a chemical that is free from hazards and safe to discard to the foul sewer or a septic tank.

The chemical composition of the chemical can also influence its shelf life. If you are buying in bulk or storing chemicals, some options can start to solidify within six months. Take this into account to make sure you avoid stocking up on a preferred chemical only to have the majority of your stock useless when you need it the most.

Make sure that your chosen inhibitor chemicals are compatible with all leading boiler types, including aluminium heat exchangers, as some are not and you could find yourself back to replace the damaged parts far sooner than you anticipated.

Measure twice

After flushing, installers must ensure that all the cleaner has been removed from a system. 

So, another important consideration when choosing cleaning chemicals is that they have the required properties to be measured, and to detect the level of cleaner in the system. 

Test strips are a simple way of checking the levels of cleaning chemicals. Installers can use the strips pre-flush, by dipping the test strip in the system water to check whether cleaner dosages are sufficient. 

They can also be used post-flush, in order to check whether the flush has been successful or needs to be repeated.

Water treatment chemicals help both boilers and heating systems perform reliably and efficiently. 

Ultimately, a dirty heating system equals an inefficient heating system. It is, therefore, imperative to ensure that a system is cleaned, protected, and maintained using good quality, appropriate water treatment chemicals and inhibitors. 

The combination of water treatment chemicals, careful testing, and the installation of a magnetic boiler filter is essential for the maintenance and efficiency of domestic heating systems.

By utilising some of the advice outlined above, you can make sure that you’re using the right chemicals for the job at hand, as well as making responsible decisions for the environment, your customer and your business