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Water heater or calorifier scale & lime prevention:
How to stop scale and lime formation in water heaters: here we explain how to Prevent Future Scale Deposits in Water Heater Tanks or on Electric Water Heater Electrodes - Scale formation in water heaters and methods of prevention.
We include discussion of rate of deposition of lime and scale in plumbing systems and of how to inspect, test, adjust, repair, and choose among types of hot water heaters.
Water heater synonyms for equipment discussed here incude: geyser (non-potable water), calorifier (potable water). Water heater tank synonyms: hot water tank, water heater tank, calorifier tank, geyser tank, water kettle, water cauldron, water pot, water copper, domestic hot water, or DHW.
The articles at this website will answer most questions about diagnosing and curing noisy domestic water heaters and about the procedure to remove mineral deposits, lime, water scale, silicates, sulfates, aluminates, or silt and sand from a water heater tank.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Step 3: How to Prevent Future Scale Deposits in Water Heater Tanks or on Electric Water Heater Electrodes
Scale formation in water heaters and methods of prevention
At WATER HEATER SCALE DE-LIMING PROCEDURE we discussed how to remove existing scale and line from a water heater. Here we continue with water heater de-liming Step 3: advice on how to prevent scale and lime formation in or on water heating equipment.
Photo at left: Limescale deposits, SEM scanning electron microscopy micro-graph with a field of view of just 64 x 90 microns. Source: "Limescale" - Wikipedia, retrieved 11/13/2013 [Click to enlarge any photo or image]
Lime and scale in a hot water tank, caused by hard water as well as silicates, sulfates, and similar materials form water scale that coats the bottom of a hot water tank or the surface of the electrodes in an electric water heater, interfering with proper water heater operation, causing water heater noises, reduction in hot water quantity, increased water heater operating costs, and a shorter water heater life.
Silt and soil debris can also collect in a water heater tank where it can cause similar problems even if the water supply is not hard.
Silt and debris can be easily removed from a hot water tank by periodic flushing. In fact if your water heater is quite noisy, it will probably be easier to remove un-wanted mineral deposits from the water tank than it will be later if you wait until the heater is no longer making much noise (because the mineral layer has solidified). Install a sediment filter on the incoming water supply to avoid this problem in the first place.
But lime or water scale are more difficult to remove from (and easier to prevent in) a water heater: manually scraping the tank bottom through the drain opening or use of a de-limer chemical will be needed. Below we describe these procedures. Readers should also see our discussion of mineral clogging of water piping, water heaters, and tankless coils, organized
at HOT WATER IMPROVEMENTS.
Lowering Hot Water Heater Temperature Will Significantly Reduce the Rate of Lime & Scale Formation in a Water Heater Tank
The rate of deposition of scale inside of a water heater tank depends on
The hardness of the incoming cold water.
See MEASURE WATER HARDNESS for details about how water hardness is measured.
The temperature to which the water is being heated. Higher water temperatures cause minerals to be deposited faster than lower water temperatures.
The chart at left (and our table below) both show the rate of water heater scale and lime formation as a function of water heater temperature. - Purdue Bulletin 74 - 1940. This important research was the first laboratory verification of scale formation and the first laboratory confirmation of the role played by water temperature in water heater scale formation.
Automatic gas-fired water heaters operating in the typical water heater temperature range - 110 degF to 180 degF - were the focus of the 1940 study. Previous studies of scale formation had been performed with respect to steam boilers, where temperatures of the hot water were generally at boiling or higher. Surface smoothness and water velocity effects were also considered, and finally, the study considered the effect of scale formation on the thermal efficiency of water heaters.
The water quantity used: the more water that flows through the water heater (in gallons of use per day, for example), the larger is the quantity of minerals that are available to be deposited in the water tank.
Water heated to higher temperatures deposits lime much faster than at lower temperatures. The Purdue University bulletin cited above charts the relationship between water temperature, total gallons of hot water used per day, and the annual quantity of lime deposition in a plumbing system. Our table below shows data for typical residential use of a hot water heater. At larger volumes of daily use the same relationship holds but the total quantity of lime deposited is much greater.
Pounds of Mineral Deposit in a Water Heater / Year
Gallons per Day
Pounds of Lime
Notes: Pounds of lime are estimated by interpolation from graph
Safety Warning: water temperatures above 120 deg.F. are scalding. If your water heater is going to be set at higher temperatures not only will you see a faster deposition of lime in the tank, for safety you should install a mixing valve at the water heater outlet or at every plumbing fixture that uses hot water.
Thanks to researcher Robyn Goldstein for the full citation of Scale formation in water heaters and methods of prevention", Purdue Bulletin No. 74.
Surprisingly, while scale formation in water heaters was found to be rapid at higher temperatures, the water heater thermal efficiency was not as significantly effected as the researchers anticipated. It was also interesting that scale formation in the heater was not uniform - because temperatures across a water heater and its parts are themselves not uniform.
What is important about this data is the dramatic reduction in scale and lime formation in water heaters when the temperature was reduced from 175 degF. down to 140 degF.
Considering that hot water is dangerously scalding even at 140 degF, only where scale formation is not a problem (low mineral content in the water source) and where a cold water mixing valve has been installed for safety, would it be reasonable to operate a residential water heater at high temperatures.
Back in 1940 Krappe reported that unlike high temperature residential heating boilers (heating water to 180-200 degF) where lime and scale formed rapidly in a tankless coil (TANKLESS COILS) ,
or in a side-arm type water heater
see SIDE ARM COIL WATER HEATER attached to boilers, (and in separate water heaters heated to high temperatures), gas fired water heaters fitted with temperature controls that kept water below 140 degF. were often found to run for 8 years or longer with little or no scale formation problems.
The role of high temperature in water heater lime and scale formation also explains the rapid clogging of tankless coilsused for domestic hot water production. Residential heating boilers regularly operate at temperatures between 180 degF. and 200 degF., causing rapid scale formation where hard water is passing through the tankless coil.
Reduce hot water quantity use. This can mean conservation at the tap or installation of a flow restricter on the hot water line.
See HOT WATER IMPROVEMENTS for alternative ways to increase hot water quantity and flow without increasing hot water temperature.
If your water supply provides water containing silt and debris, install a filter on the incoming water supply.
See WATER TESTING GUIDE for advice about detecting impurities and contaminants in drinking water.
Inspect the water tank anode rod - and replace the rod when it has become deteriorated. The anode rod protects the water heater tank from corrosion. After the warranty period of your water heater, inspect the anode rod annually until it needs replacement.
After that you'll know about how long an anode rod typically lasts in your water heater. If your water supply comes from surface water in a part of the country where there is acid rainfall, the low pH of the water will speed the deterioration of the anode rod - it will need to be inspected and replaced more often.
See WATER HEATER SACRIFICIAL ANODE for details
Threshold treatment (not recommended for residential systems): the 1940 tests experimenters observed that adding a small amount of hexametaphosphate solution (corrosive to iron and steel in concentration) to the incoming water, rather than a softening treatment, could prevent precipitation of mineral scale, and could also dissolve modest amounts of existing scale.
A hexametaphosphate feeder system was tested experimentally for commercial water heating systems where in the 1940's it was already in use in some commercial environments such as restaurant water softeners.
Electronic Scale Prevention Equipment for Plumbing Systems - research
Warning: Be sure to research these alternative methods for handling hard water and scale formation as some vendors may sell treatments that are ineffective and possibly harmful. Eg: electronic de-scaling may have an effect on copper and some other metal piping (Nogué 2000).
Research on using electronic scale prevention or scale removal equipment for plumbing systems and water calorifiers, heaters, geysers:
Baojuan, Wu Jingfeng Ye. "The Application of High Frequency Electronic Magnetic Water Treatment Technology tothe Heating System's Descaling and Anticorrosion [J]." Total Corrosion 4 (2003): 015. Abstract: ln some heating system, the water with high hardness and basicity bring about serious scale andcorrosion.The application of high frequency electronic magnetic water treatment technology solve this problem verywell.
Cho, Young I., and William T. Taylor. "An innovative electronic descaling technology for scale prevention in a chiller." ASHRAE Transactions 105 (1999): 581.
Eliassen, Rolf, and Herbert H. Uhlig. "So-called Electrical and Catalytic Treatment of Water for Boilers." Journal (American Water Works Association) 44, no. 7 (1952): 576-582. Note: the authors assert that the devices they describe are junk science snake oil ineffective treatments.
Fan, Chunfu. "A study of electronic descaling technology to control precipitation fouling." PhD diss., Drexel University, 1997.
FEI, Ji-you, Yu-quan LI, and Xin BAI. "Research on Electromagnetic Antiscaling and Descaling in Water [J]." Control and Instruments in Chemical Industry 2 (2011): 008. Abstract: The principle,capability and environmental suitability of electromagnetic antiscaling and descaling in water were analyzed,and then the STM32F103-based experimental program for water magnetization treatment system was submitted together with the analysis of functions of each part and the design of hardware circuits.The results show that an automatic frequency conversion at 1 MHz to 18 MHz,a 78%-antiscaling and a 61%-descaling can be reached.This greatly benefits the cooling water for CO2 heat pump gas cooler and for chemical industry.
Nogué, Santiago, Pere Sanz, Pere Munné, and Enrique Gadea. "Copper contamination from domestic tap water with a descaler." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 78, no. 4 (2000): 565-566. Excerpt of abstract: Drinking-water is potentially a major source of copper exposure because of the widespread use of copper pipes in household plumbing. We describe a patient who complained of abdominal pain and green hair. Examination revealed high levels of copper in the blood, urine and hair, which we were able to link to the installation of a household descaling device. Although the concentrations of copper found in the domestic water supply were within those accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (1.3 mg/l) and WHO for drinking-water (2 mg/l, provisional) (4–7), the patient suffered abdominal pains, had green hair, and high concentrations of copper in her blood, urine, and hair.
This would seem to indicate the need to revise the legislation regulating permissible copper concentrations in mains water supplies, as already proposed by Sidhu et al. (8), with a view to establishing the maximum permissible concentration of copper at 0.3 mg/l, given that various reports have been published describing chronic copper intoxications due to the ingestion of mains water containing copper concentrations within the limits accepted by both EPA and WHO.
Smothers, Kent W., Charles D. Curtiss, Brian T. Gard, Robert H. Strauss, and Vincent F. Hock. Demonstration and Evaluation of Magnetic Descalers. No. ERDC/CERL-TR-01-63. ENGINEER RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER CHAMPAIGN IL CONSTRUCTION ENGINEERING RESEARCH LAB, 2001. Abstract: Mineral scale formation in water distribution piping impedes flow, resulting in pressure and volume reduction and increasing operational costs. Chemical cleaning is both costly and time consuming, and there are health concerns when chemically cleaning potable water systems.
Some alternatives to chemicals or ion exchange equipment such as water softeners claim to use electric or magnetic fields to change chemical or physical conditions in the water in such a way as to prevent mineral scale buildup.
This study conducted a field test of the performance two magnetic and one electronic descalers to determine if the devices would reduce or prevent the formation of mineral scale under field condition. The devices tested did not prevent mineral scale formation under the conditions of this study.
The heat exchange capacity of all three shell and tube heat exchangers was considerably reduced by the formation of mineral scale during the course of the study. This study found no significant difference between the devices and the controls in the amount of scale that formed.
Zhi-hui, Wu, Chen Yong-chang, Xing Xiao-kai, and Ma Chong-fang. "Experimental Research on Mechanism of Electromagnetic Scale-inhibition [J]." Technology of Water Treatment 4 (2006): 012.
Magnetic Water De-Scaling for Plumbing Systems - Research
Baker, John S., and Simon J. Judd. "Magnetic amelioration of scale formation." Water Research 30, no. 2 (1996): 247-260.
Busch, Kenneth W., M. A. Busch, D. H. Parker, R. E. Darling, and J. L. McAtee Jr. "Studies of a water treatment device that uses magnetic fields." Corrosion 42, no. 4 (1986): 211-221.
Gabrielli, C., R. Jaouhari, G. Maurin, and M. Keddam. "Magnetic water treatment for scale prevention." Water Research 35, no. 13 (2001): 3249-3259.
Guo-fu, LIU Wei-guo LI. "Discussion on the Descaling Mechanism by Magnetic Treatment [J]." Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection 2 (2008): 016. Abstract: In the practice of magnetic treatment,the descaling mechanism is discussed,finding out that the essence of the process lies in the formation of polymorph through polymorphism,making calcium carbonate produce gel calcium and vaterite,which transmits energy through water solution and makes old scale fall.This mechanism is also used to explain the "memory" effect of magnetic treatment.
Fathi, Alimi, Tlili Mohamed, Gabrielli Claude, Georges Maurin, and Ben Amor Mohamed. "Effect of a magnetic water treatment on homogeneous and heterogeneous precipitation of calcium carbonate." Water research 40, no. 10 (2006): 1941-1950. Abstract:
In this paper are reported experimental results on the effect of a magnetic field on the precipitation process of calcium carbonate scale from a hard water. Carbonically pure water was circulated at a constant flow rate in a magnetic field. After this treatment, calcium carbonate precipitation was induced by degassing dissolved carbonic gas. The nucleation time was identified from the variations of the pH and the Ca2+ concentration.
The ratio between homogeneous and heterogeneous nucleation was determined from the measurement of the mass of precipitated calcium carbonate.
It is shown that the magnetic treatment increases the total amount of precipitate. This effect depends on the solution pH, the flow rate and the duration of the treatment. In addition, the magnetic treatment modifies the ratio between homogeneous/heterogeneous nucleation. Homogeneous nucleation is promoted by an increasing the pH of water, the flow rate as well as the residence time. The magnetic treatment enhances these effects with a maximum for a 15 min treatment time.
It is shown that the presence of calcium carbonate colloid particles is not necessary. It is advanced that the main magnetic effects concern the associations of ionic species which are present in the solution and which are involved in the nucleation process of calcium carbonate precipitation
Water treatment; Magnetic field; Calcium carbonate precipitation; Degasification; Homogeneous; Heterogeneous nucleation
Sverre, Severin F., and John O. Richmond. "Magnetic water conditioning device." U.S. Patent 4,422,933, issued December 27, 1983.
Watch out: do not confuse magnetic water purifiers and magnetic de-scaling methods. Magnetic water filters and purifiers: are junk science and are not a reliable means of assuring safe drinking water. Discussed in FILTERS for DRINKING WATER PURIFICATION
Abrasive Jet De-Scaling
CHEN, Ke-qing, Peng-fei CHENG, and Min PENG. "The Process Research on Abrasive Water-jet Descaling for Stainless Strip [J]." Surface Technology 6 (2009): 023.
Ren-jun, D. U. A. N. "Automatic Control System in the High-pressure Water Jet Descaling of Steel-pipe Product Line." Control Engineering of China (2007): S1.
How Mineral Deposits and Heating May Weaken a Water Heater Tank Bottom, Contributing to BLEVE Explosion
Water heater tank explosions are rare thanks to the widespread requirement for and use of pressure and temperature relief safety valves.
The photo (left) shows a hole in the roof made when a water heater exploded, becoming a rocket that passed up through the building.
[Click to enlarge any image]
But if the safety valve has been damaged, modified, or even omitted (as we saw on our neighbor's water heater), that condition, combined with overheating can cause a water tank to explode, creating a BLEVE - boiling liquid vapor explosion that releases tremendous force and causing extreme damage to a building.
Because repeated heating of the water tank bottom may combine with other conditions (such as corrosion or excessive heating due to mineral deposits on the tank bottom) to produce a weak water heater tank bottom, that is the part more likely to fail in an overheat and overpressure condition.
A failure at the water tank bottom may explain why a BLEVE can produce a water tank explosion that behaves like a rocket, sending the water tank skyrocketing up through a building.
Why and how the calorifier coils are affected by scale and corrosion
7 Jan 2015 Prabhu said
Could please suggest me why and how the calorifier coils get affected by scale and corrosion?
Also suggest to me some points to avoid these effects.Thanks
Let's separate calorifier scaling from calorifier corrosion.
Scaling is the formation of a hard mineral deposit on the internal surfaces of a water heating device. Scaling occurs because of the combination of a water supply that is high in mineral content (usually calcium and magnesium) and heat that causes minerals to precipitate out of the water and onto the heater surfaces forming scale. The article above addresses scale prevention.
Corrosion is the deterioration of (in this case) metal surfaces in a calorifier or piping surfaces, not scale deposition (though both can occur in a single system). Corrosion in water systems is a feature of water chemistry. Some water may have a high index of corrosivity.
Municipal water supplies are in most communities required by law to be maintained within acceptable limits of hardness (mineral content) and corrosiveness (corrosivity index). But property owners served by a private well bear that responsibility themselves.
Have your water tested for hardness and corrosivity - that can tell you what water treatment equipment may be needed.
8 January 2015 prabhu said:
Many thanks for your information. Upon your suggestion, the coils getting affected because of the water quality, right?
"Water quality" is a rather broad and vague term. The answer is yes but only by being more specific can we be useful The specific water qualities involved in tankless coil clogging are hardness and the specific qualities involved in corrosion include a corrosivity inde of the water along with possibly other chemicals in it.
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Thanks to researcher Robyn Goldstein, Rush Manager, Information Express, 650-812-3585, email: email@example.com,for researching the Purdue bulletin No. 74 original citation 03/2010
. Information Express supplies "... institutional document delivery needs - A full service company specializing in the fast, accurate and competitively priced delivery of published articles for all industries"
Pounds of lime deposited vs. temperature and hot water usage: see Purdue Bulletin #74 (also provided by A.O. Smith in the article below). Purdue's chart shows the number of pounds of lime deposited per year as a function of the water usage in gallons per day, with an assumed 10 grains of water hardness.
"When, Why, and How to Remove Water Scale from Tank Type Glass-Lined Water Heaters (for non glass-lined tanks, consult water heater manufacturer)" PDF provided by A.O. Smith Water Products Company - hotwater.com/lit/training/4800r9.pdf 800-433-2545 - 01/07/2009.
A.O. Smith's Form No. 4800 Rev. 8 Why? When? & How? /UN•LIME Specific Deliming Instructions for use with Up-N-Down Transfer
Kit for Tank Type Heaters. (Normally supplied in UN-LIME shipping cartons),
Supersedes Form Nos. 4800 Rev. 7 and 4813-100.
A.O. Smith's Form No. 4778* All about Deliming Coil-Type/Tube-Type Commercial Water Heaters and Hydronic Boilers *Normally supplied when ordering Part No. 4930 Motorized Deliming Pump Kit
Rheem Electric Water Heater "Owners Guide and Installation Instructions", (Australian models) rheem.com.au/images/pdf/owners_dom-elec_121996C_0707.pdf
"Scale formation in water heaters and methods of prevention", Krappe,
Justus Maximilian, Engineering experiment station. Gas engineering
bulletin; no. 6; Research series; no. 74; On cover: Engineering
bulletin, Purdue university. Vol. xxiv, no.
3a. June, 1940 (Layfayette Indiana) commonly referred to in some references as "Purdue University Bulletin No. 74" - thanks to researcher Robyn Goldstein for the full citation. LCCN: 40028844 & OCLC: 1038544 - Water analysis, water softening, hot-water supply. 27pages. You can obtain this document through your local library.
(full copy file at InspectAPedia 3/31/2010)
Purdue B074 can be hard to locate online.
Also Bradford White Corporation (a manufacturer of water heaters) has published excerpts from that document, available at Purdue_B074_BradfordW.pdf
Other sources of information on calculating the rate of lime deposition from hard and hot water:
Wilkes University Center for Environmental Quality Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences Hardwater, Water Hardness "Hard Water Hardness Calcium Magnesium Water Corrosion Mineral Scale" http://www.water-research.net/hardness.htm
Chemical Engineering, Joseph D. Hagerty Editor, McGraw-Hill, 1989,
ISBN 0685270831, 9780685270837
"To calculate the amount of material that will be deposited in 1000 gal. of water per day, take the number of grains per gallon of each as shown by the ..." also difficult to obtain except as a used copy.
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