Farm Collector

Let’s Keep ‘Em Puffing

7650 Banks St., Justice, Illinois 60458

Water is never pure, except when made so in a laboratory or by
distillation; the impurities may be divided into four classes; 1.
Mechanical impurities. 2. Gaseous impurities. 3. Dissolved mineral
impurities. 4. Organic impurities.

(a)   Mechanical impurities may be both mineral and
organic. The commonest suspended impurity in water is mud or sand;
these may be removed by filtration or by allowing the water to
stand long enough to let them settle to the bottom of the tank or
cistern and then carefully drawing the water from the top, and
without disturbing the bottom.

(b)  Gaseous impurities have no effect on water intended
for steam boilers.

(c)   Dissolved mineral impurities in water are of the
most varied description, and are almost always found in it. Among
these are found salts of iron, sulphate and carbonates of lime;
sulphate and carbonates of magnesia; salt and alkalies, such as
soda, potash, etc.; acids, such as sulphuric, phosphoric, and
others. All of these are more or less injurious to steam boilers.
The most objectionable are the salts of lime and magnesia, which
impart to water that property known as hardness. When such water is
used in a steam boiler a scale will gradually form, which will, in
a short time, become very troublesome.

(d)  Organic impurities are present, to a certain extent,
in most waters. They are sometimes present in the water in
sufficient quantities to give it a very decided color and taste but
have little or no bad effect in any water used for steam

Distilled water for boilers is not to be recommended without
some reservation. Chemically pure water, and especially water which
has been redistilled several times, has a corrosive action on iron
which is often very troublesome. The effect on steel plates by the
use of water several times redistilled, such, for example, as that
supplied for heating buildings, is well known; information is yet
wanting which shall point with certainty to the exact change which
the water undergoes and explain why its action on or affinity for
steel is so greatly intensified. It has been suggested as a means
of neutralizing this corrosive action of the water, to introduce
with the feed other water, which shall have the property of forming
a scale and continuing it long enough and at such intervals as will
permit the formation of a thin scale in the interior of the boiler.
However objectionable this may seem at first sight, it is at
present the best practical solution of the difficulty.

Scale is a bad conductor of heat and is opposed to economical
evaporation. It is estimated that a thickness of half an inch of
hard scale firmly attached to a boiler plate will require a
temperature of about 700° Fahr. in the boiler plate in order to
raise and maintain an ordinary steam pressure of 75 pounds. The
mischievous effects of accumulated scale in the boiler, especially
in the plates immediately over the fire, are: (1) preventing the
water from coming in contact with the plates, and thus directly
contributing to the overheating of the latter; and (2) by causing a
change of structure in the plates and the consequent weakening
brought about by this continual overheating, which would, in a
short time, render an iron or a steel plate wholly unfit for use in
a steam boiler. The two principal ingredients in boiler scale are
lime and magnesia. The lime, when in combination with carbonic
acid, forms carbonate of lime; when in combination with sulphuric
acid, it then becomes sulphate of lime. This is also true of

Sulphate of lime is not so easily gotten rid of, as it is
heavier than carbonate of lime and adheres to the plates while the
boiler is at work. It is the most troublesome scale steam engineers
have to deal with; it is very difficult to remove and by successive
layers becomes dangerous, on account of the thickness to which it
eventually accumulates.

The carbonates of lime and magnesia may be largely arrested by
passing the feed water through a suitable heater and lime
extractor. It must be apparent to everyone that any device which
will accomplish this is a very desirable attachment to a steam
boiler. As it is not possible to eliminate all the foreign matter
in the water from it, recourse is often had to the use of solvents
and chemical agencies for the prevention of scale. Some of these
are very simple and within easy reach; others are surrounded by an
atmosphere of uncertainty and the real nature of the compound is
hidden under a meaningless trademark. For carbonate of lime, potato
has been found to be very serviceable in preventing the formation
of scale; its action appears to be that of surrounding the
particles of lime with a coating of starch and gelatine, and thus
preventing the cohesion of these particles to form a mass. Various
astringents have been used for this purpose, such as extracts of
oak and hemlock bark, nutgalls, catechu, etc., with varying

Carbonate of soda has been used and with very great success in
some localities, not only in preventing, but in actually removing
scale already formed. It acts on carbonate of lime, not only, but
on the sulphate also. It is clean, free from grit, and is quite
unobjectionable in the boiler; one or more pounds per day,
depending on the size of the boiler, may be admitted through the
pump with the feed water; or admitted in the morning before firing
up, by simply mixing with water and pouring into the boiler through
the safety valve or other opening.

Tannate of soda has been similarly employed and is an excellent
scale preventive. It will also act as a solvent for scale already
formed in the boiler, acting on sulphate as well as carbonate of

Crude petroleum has been found very beneficial in removing the
hard scale composed principally of sulphate of lime.

The employment of zinc in steam boilers, like that of soda, has
been adopted for two distinct objects: (1) to prevent corrosion,
and (2) to prevent and remove incrustation. To attain the first
object, it has been used chiefly in marine boilers, and for the
second, chiefly in boilers fed with fresh water. In order that the
application of zinc in marine boilers may be effective, it is
necessary that the metallic contact should be insured. If galvanic
action alone is relied upon for the protection of the plates and
tubes, it will doubtless be diminished materially by the coating of
oxide that exists between all joints of plates, whether lapped or
butted, and also between the rivets and the plates. Assuming the
preservative action of zinc to be proved when properly applied, we
have now two systems for preventing the internal decay of marine
boilers: allowing the plates and tubes to become coated with scale,
and employing zinc. It remains to decide which of these two systems
is the best with respect to economy and practicability.

  • Published on Nov 1, 1971
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