A sootblower is a device which is designed to blast soot and ash away from the walls of a furnace or similar piece of equipment. Sootblowers operate at set intervals, with a cleaning cycle that can vary in length, depending on the device and the size of the equipment which needs to be cleaned. Replacement sootblowers which can be used to retrofit a boiler with a failing sootblower can be obtained through companies which sell heating and cooling supplies.
No matter what a boiler burns, it will generate a certain amount of gases, ash, soot, and other byproducts of combustion. Some boilers tend to produce such buildup at a greater rate, either because of the fuels they use, or because they are not operating efficiently. Over time, the material builds up inside the boiler, where it poses two separate problems.
The first problem is that soot acts as a heat insulator, limiting heat exchange. This makes the boiler less efficient, because it relies on heat exchange to operate, and thus, over time, it will produce less heat, and require more energy. The second is that soot is a fire risk. Conditions get hot inside the boiler, and the soot can catch fire, damaging the boiler or spreading to the neighboring area and putting the entire structure at risk.
The solution is a sootblower, which directs a jet of air or steam at the soot to knock it away. If the device has a filter, it will trap the material as it is knocked off, while otherwise, it will be released into the environment around the boiler. The sootblower can be set to operate on a timer, or whenever it is manually activated. The frequency of operation varies, depending on the size of the boiler.
As an alternative to the sootblower, some boilers use acoustic cleaners, also known as sonic horns. These generate a burst of sound at frequent intervals which is designed to prevent the buildup of particulates inside the boiler. Acoustic cleaners are less prone to failure than a sootblower because they have fewer parts, and they can increase efficiency by ensuring that the boiler is always operating in efficient conditions.
When a sootblower is in operation, it is advisable to wear facial protection. Soot blasted out of the boiler is not pleasant to inhale, and it can be hard to breathe with particulates in the air. For reasons of air quality, many companies recommend using filtration systems with sootblowers, to trap the particles for safe disposal.