Common Problems Associated With Steam System

The most common problems associated with the steam system are water hammer, pressure drop, freeze up, air binding, steam bind, dirt, scaling and corrosion.

Water hammer

Steam condensate collected at the lowest point of the pipeline. If it is not removed as soon as it condensed, steam at high velocity will pick up accumulated water and slam against the wall of pipeline and other robust equipment. The kinetic energy of steam converted into pressure energy. Resulting high pressure shock wave can cause devastating damage of steam system, even death of the operator in severe cases. To avoid this problem steam separator and traps must be employed on system pipeline.

Freeze up

It happens to the poorly insulated system. In extreme cold condition water in the drainage pipe to get frozen. Resulting difficulty to start the machine and get the system to optimize production temperature. It will cause stalling entire system. The best solution is the drain water as much as you can. Thermostatic controls also help to beat this problem.

Air binding

Prior to starting up the system already filled with air, during the working it gets mixed with steam. Air is non-condensable; it will not return to the boiler, create air pockets. The air in the pipeline causes the steam trap close and then prevents circulation. Thermostatic air vents used to avoid air pocket.

Steam binding /Steam locking

It is similar to the air binding, here the problem caused by steam instead of air and non-condensable gas. This is a condition usually seen in a long horizontal pipe in which steam traps tend to close and restrict the circulation. It may lead to water hammer. Unlike air binding, it may resolve itself as steam condenses.

Dirt and scaling

pipe cross-section thick scale on the inside wall.
Heat exchanger pipe cross-section with the thick scale crust on the inside wall. - credit:wikimedia
It is very difficult to keep feed water pure. Sludge and minerals deposited at narrow passages of boiler equipment. The precipitation interferes heat transfer. It causes scaling in the boiler, kettling, lead to outages and downtime. The solution of this problem is purification and pre-softening of water, use dirt pocket and strainer.
The oil leaking also a reason of dirt.


All equipment associated with the steam system suffers corrosion. The main corrosives are dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide (forms carbonic acid). A poor drainage of condensate plays a relevant role in corrosion. Water treatment is the only way to solve this problem.

Pressure drop

For efficient operation pressure must be constant. The pressure drop happens mainly due to the leaking of steam.  You need to check pressure relief valves.

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