What’s a Pipe Cleaner?

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Pipe cleaners remove scale and deposits from pipes in industrial equipment. They can be manual or use air/water pressure, electricity, or compressed air. Cleaning is necessary for heat transfer efficiency and fuel savings. Newer pipe cleaners use mechanical force and flexible shafts. They can be large or portable, and pneumatic cleaners are available.

A pipe cleaner is an umbrella term for a variety of equipment designed to remove scale and scale deposits from the inside of pipes used in condensers, chillers, boilers and heat exchangers. A pipe cleaner can be as simple as a brush pushed manually through pipes. Pipe cleaners can also use air or water pressure to aid in the removal of buildup on pipe walls and can be operated with electricity or compressed air. A more sophisticated pipe cleaner incorporates a flexible cleaning head or brush and vacuum cleaner to pick up any loose debris from the cleaning tool.

Industrial equipment involving heat transfer requires periodic cleaning due to the tendency of materials to settle on the inside walls of pipes. A hearth configuration, for example, creates steam by passing heated flue gases through pipes that pass through a larger chamber containing water. Soot builds up on the pipe walls; if not cleaned at intervals with a pipe cleaner, it interferes with heat transfer efficiency and wastes expensive fuel.

In a watertube setup, the water flows through tubes surrounded by the combustion chamber. Depending on the contaminants in the water, calcified scale may form on the pipe walls and require removal. The balance is securely attached to the pipes. Also, water-tube boilers can have bends and twists in the tubes, requiring cleaning equipment capable of making the same bends.

A simple pipe cleaner sometimes involves using a nozzle to force high-pressure air or water through pipes. In other situations, a brush mounted on a long rod is pushed through the pipes. These procedures are manual intensive due to the need to clean each tube separately. While these methods are reasonably effective at removing buildup, the resulting debris blowing out of the pipes creates another mess to clean up.

The most recent modifications include a pipe cleaner that will drive a specially designed cleaning head through a pipe using mechanical force, eliminating the need for a human worker to exert the effort to loosen residue. The scrub head rotates and sucks debris out of the hose as it moves. Another variation is a sheath-enclosed scrub head that uses a water rinse to wash debris as it is loosened from the hose. Newer equipment is built with flexible shafts to allow for pipe sagging and prevent damage to pipe walls.

A pipe cleaner can be set up as a large free-standing unit operated with a foot pedal to control rotational speed and water flow. Portable units are also available with long hoses and interchangeable shafts for smaller applications. Pneumatic pipe cleaners powered by compressed air can be used in applications where the use of electricity is problematic.

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