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 Water for steam locos

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Carl Hibbs

Location : Haute Normandie - visitors welcome

PostSubject: Water for steam locos   Sat May 30, 2009 11:30 am

We talked a little about this a while back.
I know there are people who use forums for advice but sadly this 'open forum advice' often becomes misleading.
There has been discussion elsewhere on other forums about the use of correct water for model steam engines.

Without questioning those effluent steamologists with seemingly far superior chemical knowledge here is the most important information and advice published by the 3 major manufacturers.

....Fill the boiler..... ideally using distilled water...

Use distilled water plus 5% tap water.

Roundhouse (copied from their website).
Well, water is just water isn't it?.
Actually no, it's not quite that simple.
Our miniature steam boilers are made mostly of copper, with some bronze and silver solder and there are also brass steam fittings for the steam to negotiate before it exits to atmosphere. Although all these items are made from non-ferrous metals and therefore do not rust, they are subject to chemical attack in other ways. Here is a quick run down of the common sources of water with their pros and conn s.
Tap water - in soft water areas, this is fine but in hard water areas it can quickly lead to a build up of 'lime scale' on the inner surfaces of the boiler, fittings and pipe work. The easiest way of establishing what your water is like is to look inside your kettle. If it's thick with white 'lime scale' deposits, avoid using it.

Rain water - free of charge and quite good if you can get sufficient quantity. It must be filtered to get all the dirt, grit and other crap out of it and the filters used by home brewers and wine makers does an excellent job.

De-ionized water - this is often sold for use in steam irons and the general opinion amongst the small scale live steam community is that it should not be used. Because of the way it is 'purified', it can cause long term problems by slowly removing zinc from the brass fittings - commonly called de-zincification.

Purified water - tricky one this, as it is not always clear how purification has taken place. Shops that sell it will variously tell you it is de-ionized, or distilled. If you can't be sure that it is distilled, don't use it.

De-humidifier water - another good source. A de-humidifier is a bit like a fridge in reverse, and the water that collects in the tank is quite safe to use.

Refrigerator/deep freezer ice - good. It is basically moisture in the air that has frozen and once thawed out is good to use if you can get sufficient quantity.

Distilled water - the best water you can use. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get hold of. If buying distilled water, be very sure that it actually is. Some retail outlets will sell 'purified' or 'de-ionized' water (for steam irons or car batteries) and tell you it is distilled but it is actually quite different.

You will probably find that a combination of these will supply all your needs but if you store or stock pile collected water, be sure to filter it well before use and change the containers from time to time. If not, you will find algae and other deposits forming in the water which will cause steaming problems. Dirt, algae and other debris can cause the water to foam as it boils and this will cause priming to the cylinders and syphoning at the safety valve.

I personally use twice filtered rainwater in containers regularly replaced.
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Carl Hibbs

Location : Haute Normandie - visitors welcome

PostSubject: Re: Water for steam locos   Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:08 pm

Just to bring this subject to the fore again and with the open weekend in mind.

If anyone has been trying to follow the diatribe on GSM about this subject I would like to re-emphasise that it is best to just follow the manufacturers advice in the post above.

There has been so much hogwash written about things like 'dezinctification', 'galvanic corrosion', 'caustic embrittlement' and other bamboozling chemical processes.
Most of this advice seems to come from self-emulating, quasi-knowledgeable folk who have lost sight of the fact that we just want to fill up with water, gas and oil and run a locomotive sensibly and safely.

There is no need to be paranoid over what type of water to use. Mad

Last edited by Carl Hibbs on Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:48 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Water for steam locos   Tue Jun 30, 2009 3:18 am

For the weekend I have laid in a couple of gallons of grande cru distilled water flown in from the Ganges river and hand distilled on the thighs of cuban ladies dressed in shimmering silk gowns and I think I better have a lie down now.
I see the other place have just shouted down a perfectley reasonable and truthful comment that Garden Rail is predominately? about british narrow gauge steam which it is. Pedants!
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Location : Charente, France

PostSubject: Re: Water for steam locos   Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:06 pm

On a serious note, I have a 7,500 Litre tank of filtered rainwater.

I can happily bring 20 litres or so to the VPR if required ????

also blogging at
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PostSubject: Re: Water for steam locos   Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:51 pm

Thanks but I have loads of wasser from the distillation tank at the univerdity
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