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  1. #1
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    Lightbulb Coil cleaners bad for coils?

    Annual maintenance as we all know will prolong the life of the system. When preformed correctly anyway. When I make a service call and im on a roof I like to always make an effort to walk around to all of the condensing unit for a quick visual inspection. A lot of the time all of the units get cleaned at least once a year if not more. Im relatively new to the trade but with being new I still have noticed a pattern. It just always seems like condenser coils that are cleaned regularly are either in really good condition or looks terrible and the ones that look bad feel like an over sized heat gun. I've only been able to come to one conclusion. The chemicals being used.

    I remember my first HVAC job and when the guy that was training me pulled out that dark brown cleaner when we were cleaning a condenser coil for a yearly maintenance. When he mixed it about 4:1 and sprayed it on it looked like a high school chemistry class experiment leaving a nice shiny coil. I immediately thought that can't be good for the coil. I asked the guy if that was bad on the coil and started asking questions. His answer for the reason he used it was "It's just the way we have always done it". So with the power of the internet I began my research. First to find the SDS sheet of that product. Found that the main chemicals were Sodium Hydroxide(NaOH) at 50% and Potassium Hydroxide(KOH) at 45%. With a pH range of 11.6-13. Both chemicals with water have a chemical reaction with aluminium(Al). It seems to me that the way the cleaner and other heavy alkaline based cleaners "clean" is the cleaner has chemical reaction removing the dark grey aluminium oxide layer along with some of the Al that the dirt/grease is attached to.

    It would only make sense to me that if you use these type of cleaners on Al coils like that every year or more that it would slowly "eat away" the Al and slowly thin out the fins causing the coil to not transfer heat as efficiently. Also making the fins weaker causing them to fold and stick together from the air being drawn across it. Making the coil look in bad shape. I always thought just because the unit is working, charge is right, and the coil is clean doesn't mean its working as efficiently as it should be.

    Does this seem right? If so do these cleaners have a use for certain circumstances? What is everyone's opinion about this? What cleaners are everyone's go-to's giving the application? I went to my local supply house looking for Viper HD cleaner and I would always get talked to like I'm dumb for wanting a certain cleaner and not using the heavy foaming cleaners they had on the shelves.

  2. #2
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    Ive been using the triple D pink stuff. Its not as corrosive brown stuff or the blue stuff, i think the blue stuff is the strongest.


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  4. #3
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    Sometimes the nonfoaming cleaners just wont jar the dirt loose. Sometimes the foaming cleaners like Nubrite or Foambrite can be hard on the coil. With MC a mild detergent is all you need. I’ve seen the aluminum coils start smoking before.

  5. #4
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    You're correct on the aluminum reaction. It'll chew it up.

    Try Simple Green or Formula 409 degreaser.

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    The use of sodium hydroxide coil cleaners is hardly ever done correctly. If done correctly the coil is cleaned and does not damage the aluminum to copper bond. My experience is that the cleaner is rarely rinsed out enough, thusly leaving trace filming for rain or snow to allow further etching. Several white papers have been written by the chemical people and manufacturers, and they all say the same thing. First wash out the coil thoroughly with fresh water then apply the proper concentration of cleaner. Two applications of a weaker solution versus one strong application works much better. When you think you have it all rinsed out, it's not rinsed out. Rinse again to be sure every square inch is completely free of residual chemical. Yes it takes a little longer and requires a lot more water, but the center of the coil's fins will be clean and stay clean a lot longer. I prefer potassium hydroxide as much as i can.

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  9. #6
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    The foaming is due to a reaction with the aluminum so even if used properly it does degrade the coil to some extent. I use it on need be basis. But around here coils are in pretty bad shape regardless after about 10 years due to the gulf air.


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  10. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Core_d View Post
    The foaming is due to a reaction with the aluminum so even if used properly it does degrade the coil to some extent. I use it on need be basis. But around here coils are in pretty bad shape regardless after about 10 years due to the gulf air.


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    Exactly. I can tell you this because I had a gallon spill in my truck. It melted everything cardboard, paper, and cotton. Anything made of aluminum or a steel alloy started to bubble and foam. It also stripped the paint off my aluminum ladder rack.

  11. #8
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    I only use it if plain soap and water don't work no doubt it's bad for the coil.

  12. #9
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    yes I agree ive seen people who use straight cleaner with no water.

  13. #10
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    I've used simple green quite a bit. It seemed to me to do a pretty good job. Never tried 409. Before I started using viper HD I mainly used dawn dish soap and simple green. Used Dawn if it wasn't too bad and simple green for the more heavy duty cleaning.

  14. #11
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    If the coil is so bad that you are going to replace it, then why not try something harsh? SImply washing the coil out will usually do the trick but if it has been several years or if some newbie washed the coil (wrong) then you have to use the harsh stuff.

    The biggest problem is that the contract usually only gives you an hour or so to PM the unit including coil cleaning. So a pre-wash, 2 rounds of mild chemical concentration with a fresh water rinse in between and a final fresh water rinse or 2 at the end just ain’t gonna happen.

    But you are correct, that is what should happen.
    "Right" is not the same as "Wise".

    Don't step on my favorite part of the Constitution just to point out your favorite part.

  15. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by jayguy View Post
    If the coil is so bad that you are going to replace it, then why not try something harsh? SImply washing the coil out will usually do the trick but if it has been several years or if some newbie washed the coil (wrong) then you have to use the harsh stuff.

    The biggest problem is that the contract usually only gives you an hour or so to PM the unit including coil cleaning. So a pre-wash, 2 rounds of mild chemical concentration with a fresh water rinse in between and a final fresh water rinse or 2 at the end just ain’t gonna happen.

    But you are correct, that is what should happen.
    Ive suggested a few coil cleaning on roofs that would take an equipment fee and a good bit of time just to get water all that way.

    At the end of the day i dont care if its r22 and your head is above 300psi and it dont cool too good. I done made a note that it needs chemical washed and i dont have access to do the job in a reasonable time frame.

    It could end up costing them 1.5k just to wash the 3 ton POS.

    Ill love telling customers they should replace because of a dirty coil.


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