Beware of Vinegar - The Pump Killer

redfishbluefish

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I have posted bits and piece of my vinegar story over the past three years, and I thought it would be beneficial if one post contained all that I've learn. You'll be surprised! This story will contain three parts; my history with vinegar, the cause and simplified chemistry what's happening; and the solution to cleaning your pumps without fear of swelling magnets.


MY STORY

I've been using MP's for many years, and as a good boy, cleaned the wetsides in vinegar (aka, acetic acid) to make them look good and function correctly. I had a very simple way of doing this by immersing the entire wetside in straight vinegar over night and then rinsing and putting back into service.

Cleaning MP40 in Container.jpg



If anyone is interested, this small plastic container that perfectly fits an MP40 wetside is a one pint talenti ice cream (gelato) container....an overpriced ice cream my wife enjoys....too many times!
Talenti.jpg


About three and a half years ago I found one of my MP40 wetsides slowly spinning. To be crystal clear, the entire wetside...cage and all, was spinning. When I pulled it out I found the magnet had swelled and was binding to the body of the powerhead, causing the entire thing to spin.

1567041664548.png



I wasn't a happy camper, but over the next couple months, two more were found with swollen magnets (plastic case either swollen and/or cracked), and now also not functioning.

1567041726890.png


1567041764829.png



Now this isn't just an MP thing. In retrospect, I had four Koralia Evolution powerheads before switching over to MP's. All four were dead in the water within a year of purchasing new. Two with obvious swollen magnetic portions of the impeller shaft, and two that I couldn't even get the impellers out of the body of the powerhead because they were swollen and stuck within the body. Note that these powerheads were also regularly cleaned in vinegar.

So I have a confession...."Bless me Father for I have sinned"....my wife didn't know what I paid for all the MP's I have...and now I need to go out and drop another $225 for three wetsides. I wasn't happy!!! Note, if I die, my wife will be selling MP40's for about $20 - $25, half of what I supposedly paid.

To finish this story, I later had three MP10's do the same thing. My wife will be selling these for $15 - $20 a piece. Now I know, with six MP's with new wetsides, you're all waiting for me to die!


WHY IMPLICATE VINEGAR

So I was puzzled why my overpriced MP's crapped out, and about six months after loosing my first MP, I came across a post by @Randy Holmes-Farley in which he posted:

"I think the effect on plastic may be worse with vinegar than muriatic acid but it may depend on the plastic.

Vinegar can be in the form of acetic acid and that neutral molecule can enter plastic. Diluted muriatic acid won't have any neutral acidic molecules in it to enter plastic, so just exposes the outermost leading edge of plastic. So while the muriatic acid after dilution is a much stronger acid, i would not assume it is worse on plastics."



This made perfect sense! To clarify, charged molecules won't penetrate plastic, but neutral small molecules will. I will repeat that saying it differently....ionic molecules will react at the surface while small neutral molecules will potentially penetrate that material.

If we look at acids in aqueous solution, they dissociate into ions, which is commonly shown as:

HA(aq) + H2O(l) ⇌ H3O+(aq) + A−(aq)

where HA is the acid. Note that the left side is "neutral" while the right side of the reaction contains "charged" molecules (ions). Specifically, for acetic acid (vinegar), this dissocation looks like this:

CH3COOH + H20 ⇌ H3O+ + CH3COO-

Now here's the kicker....some acids dissociate easily and readily while others dissociate very poorly. In the case of acetic acid, it dissociates very poorly, with the majority still in the neutral CH3COOH configuration. To repeat what I said above, charged ions do not penetrate, while small neutral molecules can.

So what is happening when you clean your parts in vinegar, is that it being neutral, has the abililty to penetrate the plastic and, if within the plastic is metal, cause it to oxidize (rust), and swell. Now this doesn't happen over night, or by one cleaning, but happens over time....months, maybe years, but it will happen. In addition, the type of plastic could impact how quickly (or slowly) the acid penetrates.

Don't get me wrong, vinegar is still great for cleaning tanks and pure plastic parts, but I'd avoid it with metal parts encased in plastic (impellers and pumps.) If the cages alone need to be cleaned of coraline, I'd still consider cages only to be soaked in vinegar. But plastic encased magnets...NO, NO, NO!


IF I CAN'T USE VINEGAR, WHAT AM I TO DO

So what can you use to clean your powerheads and pumps that won't potentially cause the magnets to rust and swell and ruin your pumps? We need to find acids that dissociate completely and/or are too large to penetrate the plastic.

Well there just happens to be two readily available acids available that are reasonably price, and in my opinion, with one, clean better (faster) than vinegar. These two acids are Muriatic Acid and Citric Acid.

Muriatic acid (dilute hydrochloric acid) is available at HD and pool stores (and I'm sure other places as well.) One note with muriatic acid, it is hydrochloric acid and needs to be handled with care. It will burn you, cause for holes in your cloths, and is dangerous. So wear rubber gloves, eye protection and be careful.

For cleaning tank parts, I'd recommend dilution 1 to 10. Even at this dilution, it will clean pumps and whatever, much faster than vinegar. You'll actually see the calcification fizz off the equipment.

The other acid that is pump safe is citric acid. You can find five pounds on ebay for a reasonable amount of money....a life time supply. Here you want to dilute about 1 cup to a gallon of water. Throw your pumps into this solution and allow to sit over night and you should find a cleaned pump


CONCLUSION

Vinegar, being a neutral acid, will penetrate plastics. If metal is encased in this plastic, it will find it's way and cause that metal to rust and swell. To avoid this, use other acids, such as muriatic acid or citratic acid to clean your pumps...and have them last forever!
 
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redfishbluefish

redfishbluefish

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GREAT write up!
So is the citric acid safer to use? Seems like it just adding a cup to a gallon water.
Not sure how to answer this! Both need to be handled with care, but I definitely don't want to get muriatic acid on me, my clothes or anything else. As a chemist, I know it burns. Citric acid is a little more forgiving, but doesn't clean as fast.
 
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MTBake

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I have noticed this swelling in equipment over the years. I haven't used vinegar in almost 2 years now and have noticed an improvement.

Switched to muriatic acid and it literally takes minutes to clean all but the heaviest encrusted equipment. I use a half cup per gallon of water. Gloves and face protection as well as clothes I don't care about are used.
 

JPergamo

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I wonder if my pump cleaning technique in vinegar is slowly negatively effecting my gyres. I've had them about 2 years now with no issues. I disassemble 1, let it run in vinegar for 30 minutes, brush off and rinse then do the other. Never had any issues. Maybe because it is only 30 minutes? Great write up thank you.
 
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redfishbluefish

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Wonder if any citrus based cleaners would do the job or even simple green instead.
Simply Green are consumer surface cleaners and believe that they wouldn't have sufficient "acid" to dissolve calcifications in a reasonable amount of time. Citric acid is cheap....approximately $15 for five pounds on ebay, which should last a long time at a dilution of 1 cup to a gallon of water.....certainly cheaper than Simply Green.
 
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redfishbluefish

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I wonder if my pump cleaning technique in vinegar is slowly negatively effecting my gyres. I've had them about 2 years now with no issues. I disassemble 1, let it run in vinegar for 30 minutes, brush off and rinse then do the other. Never had any issues. Maybe because it is only 30 minutes? Great write up thank you.
Excellent question. I'm not a gyre person, but believe there are no magnets involved. I'm under the impression that it's a shaft coming from a motor that spins the "basket" impellers. That said, I'd still question whether vinegar could penetrate the plastic portion containing the motor. Keep us appraised if you run into a problem.

Personally, I'm anti vinegar because of what it did to my pumps, and to be on the safe side, I'd switch to muriatic acid....not 30 minutes, but maybe only 10....it works fast.
 

JPergamo

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Excellent question. I'm not a gyre person, but believe there are no magnets involved. I'm under the impression that it's a shaft coming from a motor that spins the "basket" impellers. That said, I'd still question whether vinegar could penetrate the plastic portion containing the motor. Keep us appraised if you run into a problem.

Personally, I'm anti vinegar because of what it did to my pumps, and to be on the safe side, I'd switch to muriatic acid....not 30 minutes, but maybe only 10....it works fast.
reel.
Good point about the gyres just being a shaft system and not a magnet like the MPs. I have done a muriatic acid bath for old rock. It is powerful stuff.
 

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Great write up! Thanks sharing this!
 

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