Cleaning water-based heating systems

July 28, 2015

Because a clean radiator or baseboard convector runs most efficiently, possibly saving you money in the long run,  here are tips in keeping your cleaning system clean.

Cleaning water-based heating systems

Remove dust from radiators

  • Dusty radiators are less efficient than clean ones. While you're doing your weekly housekeeping, take a few moments to dust the radiator's surfaces, and do more intensive cleaning twice a year.
  • Vacuum away surface dust with a brush attachment, and use a crevice tool to clean between the radiator's tubes.

Remove dust from baseboard convectors

  • Most modern hot-water heating systems use baseboard convectors instead of old-fashioned radiators. Hot water from the boiler flows through a finned pipe in the convector; the fins in turn transfer heat to the surrounding air. What you don't want is dust building up between the fins — the convectors won't operate as efficiently.
  • Periodically vacuum baseboard convectors with a brush attachment. Take off the covers to get at the fins inside, but be careful not to bend them. If you do see bent fins, use needle-nose pliers to straighten them.

Safely empty radiators or convectors

  • Air that's trapped in the radiators or convectors of a hot-water system will keep hot water from flowing into them freely. But there's an easy way to prevent this from happening: Once a year (before the heating season kicks in), "bleed" or empty the radiators or convectors.
  • With the boiler on, grab a cup or thick towel and head to the unit farthest from the boiler (start on the second floor if your house has one).
  • Using a screwdriver (some units require a special key), slowly and carefully open the bleed valve on that unit. (Look for the valve under the cover of a convector or on the top corner of a radiator at the end opposite the inlet valve.) Catch the hot water that spurts out in the cup or towel. Leave the valve open until water flows out without sputtering.
  • Taking care not to burn yourself — you may want to wear gloves or use a potholder — close the valve and repeat the process on the next radiator and then the next, working your way back toward the boiler.
  • Never try to clean a hot radiator. Let the unit cool completely first; you could burn yourself if you don't. Or save any major cleaning for the off-season or in the fall just before the heating season begins.
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