Boiler Maintenance and Safety Checkup


(Image licensed by Ingram Publishing)

Matt Poe |

Experts share ideas for laundries to keep producing steam … safely

CHICAGO — The boiler.

It’s the “heart” of a laundry operation, so to speak, providing steam to make processing equipment function.

Just like the human heart, a laundry’s boiler needs to be kept in good health. A system of maintenance performed by laundry staff, manufacturer experts and boiler technicians is vital to help keep a boiler functioning properly and safely.

“On a steam boiler, you’re supposed to check soft water daily, and you’re supposed to check the low-water cutoff daily,” says Michael Leeming, national sales manager for Parker Boiler Co. in Los Angeles. “And in some jurisdictions, they require an attendant every hour. You’re supposed to go look at the water level and the steam pressure.”

He says that with a steam boiler, there are daily, weekly, quarterly and annual items that have to be checked and attended to.


What needs to be checked on a regular basis? While a complete list can’t be printed in one article, John Pabalan, vice president of field sales and service for Kemco Systems Co. based in Clearwater, Fla., has assembled a fairly comprehensive list of daily, weekly, monthly/quarterly and annual checks to provide a start for what maintenance is needed on a boiler.

Daily Checks:

  • Polishing softener—Brine tank should be checked for recommended salt level.
  • Check water hardness from the water softener.
  • For open-feed water tanks, ensure tank temperature is maintained at optimal temperature for feed water chemistry (consult with boiler chemist); for deaerating systems, ensure temperature and pressure is maintained as prescribed. Log these temperatures once per shift.
  • Check and log boiler feed chemical(s) levels.
  • Bottom-blow the boiler in accordance with operating procedures once per shift.
  • Surface blow—Ensure surface blowdown valve is opening based on set point.
  • Check blower inlet filter, schedule for cleaning/replacement if necessary.
  • Check and record boiler stack temperature.
  • Visually inspect boiler water level.
  • Visually inspect boiler makeup tank level.
  • Address all alarm conditions.
  • Average firing rate during slow times and busy times in production.

Weekly Checks:

  • If an hours meter is available for the boiler feed pump, change lead to lag pump every seven days of operation.
  • Check all steam traps for proper operation.
  • Operation hours for multiple boilers.
  • Check eyewash station/emergency shower water supply and operation.

Monthly/Quarterly Checks:

  • Feed pumps and boiler blower fan—Lubricate bearings, if applicable, in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
  • Perform calibration on automatic blowdown probe (or after recommended number of hours of operation).
  • Have a boiler chemist conduct a monthly check on chemical usage/perform sampling.
  • Check burner mechanical linkages; lubricate, if necessary, in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
  • Open, inspect and rebuild steam traps, if necessary.
  • Visual inspection of steam and condensate line insulation.
  • Gas train and combustion air safeties testing.
  • Flame scanner testing.

Annual Checks:

  • Boiler inspection conducted by boiler inspector. Have boiler chemist on-site at the same time, if practical.
  • Burner pull and inspection (by a boiler technician).
  • Blower disassembly and inspection (by a boiler technician).
  • Check safety relief valves (by a boiler technician).
  • Open and inspect sample cooler.


Of course, laundry personnel who work with the boiler, or even get near it, should follow appropriate safety precautions. 

“Typical boiler room safety considerations are risk of explosion exists, high-pressure steam, combustion gases, chemicals, moving machinery, electrical hazards and hot surfaces,” says Pabalan. 

His first safety recommendation is when cycling steam valves open and shut, always cycle slowly and wear gloves. Leeming also recommends safety glasses. Also, employees should not wear loose clothing around rotating machinery.

Finally, Pabalan says fire safety, chemical safety and lockout/tagout procedures should always be adhered to.

“The only difference between a laundry boiler and a ‘regular’ boiler is you have more make-up if you’re doing live injections, say in a tunnel washer,” Leeming says. “You have to pay a little more attention to the feed water temperature to make sure you got all the oxygen out of the water, and you have to be more sensitive to your water treatment because you’re making up a lot of water in a laundry steam boiler.” 

Laundries also need to be aware of state and local regulations when it comes to boiler safety, Leeming says. 

“Every jurisdiction has different requirements,” he says. “Like in Ohio, if you go over 360 square feet in heating surface, you have to have a licensed fireman on duty babysitting the boiler 24/7. California, you need a warm body. In Los Angeles and Seattle, you need an engineer. All they do is sit there and look at the boiler all day long. It’s expensive.”

Leeming says laundry operators need to be conscious of the operating pressure and the water level in the boiler.

“If a fire-tube loses its water level and then water goes back into it, it’ll level the building,” he says. “A water-tube boiler like ours, you get the floor wet.”


There are other options besides a steam boiler for laundry operations. One is a direct-contact water heater. 

Greg Thorn, sales engineer and service manager for Ludell Manufacturing based in Milwaukee, says the ideal direct-contact water heater equipment room should be secure and clean. 

“The room should not be used for other purposes than intended,” he says. “The room should be provided with adequate clean make-up air for combustion.” 

As with any boiler, manufacturer-recommended clearances and access for maintenance should be followed in the positioning of the water heater. All local, up-to-date building codes should be followed. 

Similar to a boiler, Thorn says a direct-contact water heater should be inspected daily and a log kept. 

“Items to log would be inlet fresh water pressure and temperature, outlet water temperature, exhaust flue gas temperature, ambient air temperature and inlet gas pressure, to name several,” he says. “A visual inspection of water level and the burner’s flame should also be made.”

Again, he says it’s a good idea to refer to the direct-contact water heater manufacturer’s operation and maintenance manual provided with the equipment and any other component literature included for additional detailed requirements, such as lubrication. 

A direct-contact water heater should be checked semiannually in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation for scale buildup due to hard water, Thorn says. The water heater’s safeties should be tested at a minimum annually by a professional service company. 

“The safeties on a direct-contact water heater are typically the inlet fresh water pressure switch, exhaust flue gas temperature switch, rear wall temperature switch, water wall or jacket level switch, and the sump level switch,” he says. “It should also have at a minimum an annual combustion test and tune-up by professional burner service company.”

Signs that a direct-contact water heater is in need of repair or replacement are lack of hot water, either in volume or temperature, Thorn says. The water heater has a number of safeties that provide both audible and visual alarms to assist in troubleshooting. 

“These safeties must be satisfied before the burner will run,” he says. “In addition, the burner manufacturer provides a flame safeguard that provides insight into any burner faults encountered, such as loss of flame.”

To limit downtime, Thorn says it is a good idea to keep spare parts on hand that are not readily available locally. Most direct-contact water heaters do not use proprietary parts that are only available through their maker. Frequently, direct-contact water heater manufacturers have in their operation and maintenance manual a section on recommended spare parts.  

Thorn says a direct-contact water heater’s shell and heat transfer packing are constructed out of stainless-steel material and are operated atmospherically. 

“Typically, a direct-contact water heater manufacturer will warranty their heater shell for 10 years from defect of materials or workmanship,” he says. “These are very corrosion-resistant shells that can last a much longer time.”  

A “newer” trend Leeming sees in regards to boiler technology is the steamless option. Steamless laundries, he says, basically use a closed loop, such as a system with which a building is heated.

“These use heat exchangers,” he says. “With that closed loop, you’re never making up any water, you don’t have any flash steam loss, you don’t have any traps going black, you don’t have any makeup water or any blowdowns, and you don’t have annual inspections.”

Leeming says the only other reason a steamless laundry would use steam would be for ironers.

“And they just went to a thermal fluid heater,” he says. “That’s the same thing, a closed loop heating the ironers. You can heat hotter with thermal fluid for the higher thread counts.”


While there are other boiler options on the market, Leeming estimates that 90% of laundries are using steam boilers. That means most laundries need to be aware of boiler maintenance and safety.

Laundries need to be conscious of what type of boiler is in use and stay in close contact with the manufacturer to be sure maintenance activities happen in a timely, correct and safe fashion.

About the author

Matt Poe

American Trade Magazines


Matt Poe is editor of American Laundry News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 866-942-5694.


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