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How to clean and maintain your boiler

Your boiler is an integral part of your home, working all year round to keep you warm and provide you with hot water. We often forget all about them until a breakdown happens. Often these breakdowns could have been avoidable, had we given them basic cleaning and maintenance. But how exactly do you clean and maintain your boiler?

Regular boiler maintenance is essential, not just to ensure your home is cosy during the cold winter months, but to provide peace of mind about the safety of your boiler system and to prevent paying out for repairs as long as possible. If you do have to repair or replace your boiler, make sure you get expert advice from professionals like Boiler Central, Worcester Bosch or Alpha, so that you get a fair deal.

There are some simple cleaning and maintenance tasks you can do yourself at home to maintain the efficiency and health of your boiler, from basic observations to a more hands-on approach.

This handy guide will talk you through how to clean and maintain your boiler at home, and provide you with our top tips on how to do this safely, highlighting when to seek help from a registered heating engineer.

How do you clean and maintain your boiler?

You clean and maintain your boiler by arranging a boiler service, bleeding your radiators, balancing your radiators, installing a carbon monoxide alarm and turning on your heating regularly.

You can also keep your boiler in good shape by checking its flame and pressure, avoiding blockages and enhancing ventilation, listening out for unfamilar noises from your boiler and preventing frozen pipes.

Let’s jump right in, and explore how to clean and maintain your boiler in more detail.

What kind of maintenance does your boiler need?

Keeping your boiler clean and well-maintained is of the upmost importance to ensure safe operation and to increase system efficiency. Failure to clean and maintain your boiler can cause components to break and could leave you in the dreaded situation of having no heating or hot water when you need it the most.

A boiler requires regular maintenance in the form of an annual boiler service, to be carried out by a registered engineer, but there are additional ways to maintain your boiler yourself at home throughout the year. As winter approaches, and the need for a well-operating boiler is greater than ever, it is wise to check your boiler for any potential issues.

Why should you clean and maintain your boiler?

Keeping your boiler clean and well-maintained helps your boiler to operate at its maximum efficiency. If your boiler breaks or develops weaknesses due to poor maintenance, the boiler will try to compensate by using more energy – costing you more money and negatively impacting the environment.

A poorly-maintained, unclean boiler is far more likely to break. Keep your home safe and avoid costly call outs by preventing and identifying issues before they arise.

Can you take care of your boiler at home?

There are many ways in which you can carry out boiler maintenance yourself at home.

Some tasks require the expertise of a gas safe registered engineer, but there are some simple maintenance methods you can carry out yourself, such as cleaning your boiler, monitoring the pressure gauge and pilot flame, and bleeding your radiators.

10 steps to clean and maintain your boiler

There are several ways in which you can maintain and clean your boiler, from basic dusting to a full boiler service. Below are our top tips for boiler maintenance and cleaning, where we’ll run through the best ways to keep your boiler working at it’s best.

Arrange an annual boiler service

An annual boiler service is an essential element of boiler maintenance. Your boiler should be serviced by a gas safe registered engineer at least once a year.

Servicing your boiler ensures that the system is safe and will highlight any need for repairs before any potentially dangerous or costly problems arise. Failure to ensure annual servicing is completed could also void the warranty on your boiler.

The best time to get your boiler serviced is in the summer, when demand is lower, as this will ensure your boiler is ready for the colder seasons.

Bleed your radiators

Air can become trapped within your radiators which prevents them from heating properly. You may notice cold spots on your radiator, a rattling sound, or the top may remain cold whilst the bottom of the radiator gets hot – these are signs you need to bleed your radiator.

You can bleed your own radiators at home with the radiator key, by inserting it into the bleed valve and turning it. This will release the trapped air and you will hear a hissing sound. Once this stops and water starts to leak out, turn the key to close the valve. Always turn your heating off beforehand.

Bleeding your radiators ensures your radiators are working correctly and will improve the energy efficiency of your home. You should check your radiators every few months, especially as the cold weather approaches.

Balance your radiators

If your radiators are heating unevenly, with those closest to the boiler getting hotter than the radiators which are furthest away, you may need to balance your radiators. This involves adjusting the valves of the radiator to redistribute heated water evenly amongst your radiators.

The process of balancing a radiator is similar to that of bleeding radiators, but slightly more complicated. It is possible to do this yourself at home, although you may feel more comfortable calling out a gas safe registered engineer.

Balancing a radiator should be done as needed, when you notice uneven heating. You’ll generally need to balance your radiators if you make alterations to your heating system, for example, replacing parts or removing radiators for decorating.

Install a carbon monoxide alarm

Boilers can release carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas. As carbon monoxide is tasteless and odourless, it is very hard to detect and so people can become unknowingly poisoned and this can be fatal.

A simple solution to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home. Install the alarm at least one meter away from your boiler but ideally within the same room. If the alarm detects the gas, it will sound an alarm to alert you immediately.

Don’t forget to test your alarm at regular intervals.

Turn your heating on regularly

A quick and easy way to maintain your boiler is to turn on your heating regularly, for instance once a month, even during warmer weather. This will help to keep your boiler running efficiently, by clearing the boiler pump of any residue that may gather when it’s not being used.

Simply turn your central heating on occasionally for 10 – 15 minutes to help to keep all the parts moving correctly and prevent a breakdown.

Check the flame

The boiler flame should be blue in colour. If you are able to see the pilot flame, check this to ensure the flame is not orange or yellow in colour, as this may indicate a problem. Checking this regularly allows you to call out an engineer at the first sign of an issue, before a breakdown occurs.

Check the boiler pressure

You can check your boiler’s pressure by examining the pressure gauge. These can vary depending on what boiler you have, and it may be a digital gauge. Generally, an ideal pressure reading should lie between one and two bars.

If your boiler pressure is too low, below one bar, you can increase it by repressurising your boiler. You can complete this task at home yourself; boiler-specific instructions can be found in your boiler’s instruction manual.

If the pressure reading is too high, call out a certified engineer, as lowering the pressure yourself can be dangerous.

Avoid blockages and allow ventilation

Your boiler must be sufficiently ventilated to run safely and correctly. Do not cover your boiler, and ensure the area surrounding it is free of clutter. You should also ensure the air vents and flue pipe are not blocked to allow proper ventilation.

Listen for unfamiliar noises

Any strange or unusual noises coming from your boiler could indicate an issue. Pay attention to the noises your boiler usually makes and if they should change or you notice unfamiliar noises like ticking and clicking, it may be worth calling out a heating engineer.

Prevent frozen pipes

During colder weather, condensate pipes can freeze which can cause your boiler to shut down. This is a common issue for condensing boilers and highly inconvenient at a time when you need your heating most.

To prevent your pipe from freezing, ensure it is insulated. If it is not, you can use foam pipe insulation or even just some old towels to insulate it.

If you already have a frozen pipe, avoid pouring hot water over the pipe as the water may freeze as it cools and this can lead to a damaged pipe. Instead, use a hot water bottle to thaw the pipe.

Top 4 tips for boiler cleaning

Often overlooked by the homeowner, a boiler needs cleaning just like anything else. Periodic cleaning will prevent a build-up of dust and help prolong your boiler’s life.

1. Dust the exterior of the boiler

Use a soft cloth, such as a microfibre cloth, to dust the exterior of the boiler. If your boiler is contained within a cupboard of boiler room, vacuum the room and area surrounding the boiler to ensure these areas are dust-free. This will help reduce dust-build-up and should help prevent dust from getting inside of the boiler. Remove any obstructions from around the boiler to prevent blockages and allow proper ventilation.

2. Clean the inside of your boiler

Before you start to clean, locate the main switch and turn off your boiler. Wait for a few hours to allow it to cool before proceeding.
Once cooled, use a screwdriver to remove the front panel. Now that you have gained access to the internal boiler, you can clean the tubes in the heat exchanger. You may need to consult the owner’s manual of your boiler to locate the heat exchanger.

Use cleaning brushes or a cloth to clean any soot, dust or carbon from the tubes. You can use clean water to wash the burner tubes. Once the tubes are dry, vacuum the bottom and outside of the boiler.

Once cleaned, reassemble the unit, refasten the screws and restart the system. Check that the heating system is operating as normal.

3. Remove limescale build-up

Hard water and limescale build up can negatively effect the efficiency of your boiler. Limescale build up accumulates naturally over time but it can prevent the boiler from being able to maintain temperature properly. It is important that you clean the water in your boiler to ensure it is working at an optimal level.

After winter, when your boiler has been working its hardest, flush the water out of the system and use a limescale remover to descale the boiler.

Turn off your boiler before you start. Then turn off the ball valve to stop the water flow. Drain the system by opening the taps until the water stops running out.
Fill your cold water tank with the recommended quantity of your purchased limescale remover.

Turn the system back on and wait for approximately 4 hours to complete the descaling process, during which, you should turn on the hot taps every half an hour or so, to allow hot water to run through the whole system. Flush the system with cold water as well.

Combi boilers don’t have tanks, so with this type of boiler, you should descale the heat exchanger directly.

4. Seek help from a professional

Whilst it is possible to clean your boiler yourself, you may feel more comfortable seeking help from a professional gas safe engineer instead, to ensure the boiler is cleaned safely. Cleaning the boiler yourself could result in damage to the boiler’s internal parts or could cause a leak if not done correctly.

During your annual boiler service, the engineer should carry out a clean then too, as this is a key element of the service.

Do you need a Gas Safe Registered Engineer?

The annual service must be completed by a gas safe registered engineer, but additional maintenance tasks can be completed yourself.
Repairs should generally be carried out by an engineer. You may be able to complete small repairs yourself, such as thawing a frozen pipe, but as detailed above, some tasks such as lowering the pressure are potentially dangerous and the help of a heating engineer should be enlisted.

Now that we’ve gone through how to clean and maintain your boiler, we hope you’ve found this an informative read. Remember that it’s easier to make the time now to remove limescale build up and regularly check your boiler pressure, than have to pay out for costly repairs later.

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