#45 - How to Clean Dirty Fire Sprinklers
#45 - How to Clean Dirty Fire Sprinklers
Dirty sprinklers must be replaced or cleaned – but you can't touch them to do the latter. SprinklerVac is the solution.
Cleaning, like taxes and death, is unavoidable. But even if you're a pro at removing dust, dirt, and grime, cleaning fire sprinkler heads is uniquely tricky. It's critical that you correctly follow the guidelines below – because one small mistake could result in a very, very bad day. Accidentally breaking the heat-sensitive element will discharge most sprinklers.
The mission of fire sprinklers is to control a fire during its critical early stages to save lives. Unfortunately, it's common to overlook regular fire sprinkler inspection and cleaning, which is necessary to ensure quick sprinkler deployment.
Dirty sprinkler heads can cause water spray patterns to become distorted as grime builds up, and the thermal element – most commonly a glass bulb designed to break at a specific temperature – can become insulated, delaying sprinkler activation. There are of course also health concerns associated with dust and dirt covering your fire sprinklers. Dirty sprinkler heads in hospitals, restaurants, offices, and hotels can collect and ultimately re-transmit bacteria and viruses.
Unfortunately, it is all too common to look up and find sprinkler heads coated with dust, grime, and aged cobwebs. Whether it’s because they are unaware of the problem or uncertain about how to clean them, many building owners, facilities maintenance professionals, and janitorial service providers often fall short of accepted standards. But sprinklers must be kept clean – and there is now an easy way to do it without damaging a fragile sprinkler head.
NFPA standards for cleaning fire sprinklers
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a non-profit organization that drafts fire, electrical, and other standards commonly adopted and enforced by local governments through their fire and building codes. NFPA 25 provides the standard for inspecting, testing, and maintaining water-based fire protection systems. Section 18.104.22.168.4 states (emphasis added) that “Any sprinkler shall be replaced that has signs of leakage; is painted, other than by the sprinkler manufacturer, corroded, damaged, or loaded; or is in the improper orientation.” The operative term in that section is "loaded" which means covered in dirt, dust, or grime.
Replacing dirty fire sprinkler heads
NFPA 25's first directive is to replace "loaded" fire sprinkler heads but there is an option to clean them if the loading is not severe. If you do need to swap one out, check out these 5 tips for replacing fire sprinkler heads.
Replacement is the most expensive way to deal with dirty fire sprinklers, however; it can render a building or floor unusable while it's completed and it requires hiring a professional contractor to do the job. Changing sprinkler heads involves shutting off the water source, draining the system, removing and replacing the sprinkler head, recharging the system (aka turning the water back on), and then testing the sprinkler system. In a worst-case scenario, this can take days and cost thousands of dollars. It also requires immense effort and coordination; all employees, patrons, residents, or patients must vacate the affected floors during the process. In short, replacing fire sprinklers is not always the most practical way to keep them clean.
Cleaning dirty fire sprinkler heads
Luckily, NFPA offers two alternatives to replacement. NFPA 25 Annex A.22.214.171.124.2 (5) states: “In lieu of replacing sprinklers that are loaded with a coating of dust, it is permitted to clean sprinklers with compressed air or by a vacuum provided that the equipment does not touch the sprinkler.”
The first option provided by NFPA for cleaning sprinkler heads is to use the same cans of compressed air commonly used to clean keyboards or other electronics. Although compressed air is readily available and convenient, it has complications. A liquid propellant drives the air from the can. If you’ve ever used one, you know that this instantly cools any surface it touches. Cooling the sprinkler’s thermal glass bulb could cause it to burst, as could accidentally poking it. Result? 25 gallons per minute of water released inside the room!
And even if you avoid breaking the sprinkler, the propellant can stick to the sprinkler’s frame, bulb, and any other surface it touches. Over time, this residue could actually accelerate a build-up of dust and grime.
The best choice for cleaning fire sprinkler heads
Without question, the best option for cleaning fire sprinkler heads involves vacuuming the dust and cobwebs off the sprinkler. As NFPA states, however, this must be a touch-less operation to avoid damaging the sprinkler. And until recently, no touch-free vacuum attachment was available for this specific task. Thankfully, there is now a way to do it:
James Middleton, a retired veteran who has worked in the occupational safety and health profession since 2001, invented the SprinklerVac vacuum attachment to address this very real need. Seeing the risks posed by canned compressed air to sprinklers and understanding the arduous process of replacing heads, he developed the patent-pending SprinklerVac to avoid the problems of other options. The SprinklerVac has made cleaning your fire sprinkler heads a whole lot easier.
SprinklerVac’s touch-free operation naturally complies with NFPA standards for cleaning fire sprinklers. The attachment works for nearly every sprinkler head on the market, past or present. Its “trunk-like” end encapsulates the sprinkler head completely, ensuring a safe, efficient cleaning. It is see-through to enable easy positioning for touch-free cleaning.
The SprinklerVac's “one-size-fits-all” design makes it compatible with any standard vacuum. The only thing you need is a typical home vacuum hose (1.25" connection) or an industrial vacuum hose (1.5" connection). The SprinklerVac also cleans smoke detectors and recessed and pendant lights.
How to clean fire sprinkler heads with SprinklerVac
Cleaning fire sprinkler heads with the SprinklerVac involves a simple, 5-step process:
- Securely attach the SprinklerVac to your standard home or industrial vacuum hose.
- Assess the size of the loaded sprinkler head(s) and gauge whether SprinklerVac will clean them touch-free. If it will touch the sprinkler head, adjust the SprinklerVac attachment below the sprinkler head so the SprinklerVac does not bump the sprinkler.
- Turn the vacuum on.
- Safely place the SprinklerVac near or over the sprinkler head, using the clear plastic to monitor your placement and progress. The SprinklerVac logo, when facing away from the user, is in the shape of a pendent fire sprinkler and was designed to guide your placement.
- Watch the dust, dirt, and cobwebs disappear.
Clean-up is simple, as well. All you need is warm water to rinse the SprinklerVac and a soft cloth to dry it.
It really is the best option for cleaning fire sprinkler heads. Avoid spending an immense amount of effort and money replacing dirty sprinklers, or risking a burst-bulb using compressed air. Grab your SprinklerVac attachment, get the job done, and move on!
It's a great option to efficiently clean dirty sprinkler heads for building owners or facilities maintenance staff. And janitorial or cleaning professionals can add the SprinklerVac to their current cleaning offerings for a service that differentiates them from competitors and opens up an entirely new revenue stream.