Sludge, a buildup of physical contaminants that slowly accumulates over time, is one of the most serious threats to your heating oil storage tanks. When the sludge gets, it can cause filter clogs, pipe clogs, and eventual heat loss. Consider it similar to the plugs that can form in your water lines if they are not cleaned out on a regular basis.
What is Heating Oil Sludge?
Water and sludge will eventually accumulate in an oil tank over time. Sludge is formed as a result of water condensing on the inside of the tank as the temperature changes. Water collects on the tank’s bottom because it is heavier than oil. Water deposits are ideal for the growth of various bacteria. Heating oil sludge is a mixture of bacteria, dirt, and debris that accumulates in tanks where oil has been stored for an extended period of time.
5 Tips to Remove Sludge from Heating Oil Tank
Prepare to get messy if you want to remove sludge from the heating oil tank on your own rather than hiring a professional. We recommend wearing gloves and clothes that you don’t mind getting grease on. To begin cleaning, you’ll also need the following items:
1. Drain the Oil Tank
To begin, drain all of the oil and loosen the sludge from the tank. Place one of your disposable containers beneath the drain valve, open the cap, and wait until all of the oil has been removed. Seal the lid and carefully move the containers out of the way, so they don’t spill.
Nestle another container beneath the valve. Spray clean water into the tank with your hose. Continue spraying until the water dripping from the valve is clear. Replace the valve cap and move the second container out of the way.
2. Scrub the Sludge Carefully
After all of the water has been drained, use your cleaning rags to remove any stubborn grime and sludge from around the drain.
While you’re at it, lightly clean the outside of the oil heating tank with the rags. While the tank’s exterior does not contribute to sediment buildup, removing any leaves and caked-on dirt or grime is always a good idea. If you notice any rust outside, clean it up and coat it with rustproof paint.
3. Add Cleaning Agent
You can now delegate all of the labor to your cleaner. Trisodium phosphate is typically recommended as an oil tank cleaner because it is tough on grease, dirt, and soot — ideal for heavy-duty cleaning applications. TSP is a dry, white powder that must be mixed with water.
After that, you can make your cleaner. The ratio for standard TSP or a phosphate-free alternative is 5 gallons of water to one cup of TSP powder. Fill your tank with water first, then add the TSP. If you’re using another chemical, dilute the mixture according to the directions on the container.
After adding the cleaner, insert your air hose into the tank and turn on the air pump. The air will agitate your cleaning solution and aid in the removal of sludge from the tank’s sides. Allow the pump to run for 12 hours. When the timer goes off, place another plastic bucket beneath the drain valve and allow the cleaning solution and remaining sludge to drain. Then, with your hose, spray down the inside of the tank to ensure that everything is gone.
4. Dry and Refill with Oil
You must remove the excess water from your tank after spraying it down. Water is what causes sludge buildup in the first place, and it can rust the inside of your tank. It will also degrade the quality of your fuel oil. You’ll need to do more than the air out of the tank, which is where the denatured alcohol comes in. Pour about 3 gallons in and splash it around from various angles to coat all of the tank’s internal walls.
The alcohol is very effective at absorbing excess moisture from your tank. After you’ve added it, reconnect your air hose and turn on the pump. Allow it to sit for about an hour or until all the moisture evaporates. When your tank is empty, refill it with fresh oil. Returning the oil, you drained from the tank will contaminate it with the oil-feeding bacteria that caused your sludge. Place an order with your oil supplier for a new supply.
5. Dispose of the Sludge Properly
You’re now down to a few containers of grime, diluted TSP, contaminated oil, and sludge. These bins technically contain hazardous waste; even when sealed, they can’t just sit in your garage. Contact your state’s hazardous waste disposal service or environmental protection department to find out how to properly dispose of your oil tank sludge.
The Final Takeaway
You may wonder if you need to remove all that sediment after learning what goes into an oil tank cleaning. Is it really such a big deal? On the one hand, oil tank sludge is only sometimes a cause for concern. It does contain microbes, rust, and other contaminants that you should avoid. However, it remains anchored on the bottom of a full tank of oil and will not enter your system. The real issue arises when your oil level runs low, which can damage your heating system.
With less oil in the tank, sludge is more likely to be drawn into and clog your supply line. It may also clog the oil filter, preventing some or all of the oil from entering the heating system. The clogged oil filter reduces the efficiency of your system, costing you more fuel than you should be using. In the worst-case scenario, your system may completely fail and necessitate extensive repairs.