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Air Coolers and Cleaning

Updated on February 29, 2012

Engines are turbocharged to increase the amount of air entering the engine and allow more fuel to be injected. As the turbocharger is compressing the air, an increase in charge air temperature will occur. This will reduce the density of the air entering the engine. To reduce this effect the air is cooled which is the function of charge air cooler. There is also the added benefit that cooling the air reduces the engine thermal road.

Air coolers should be regularly drained as large quantities of water can be removed from the air during the cooling process. In tropical conditions, where the air is very humid, as much as 1000kg of water per hour can be produced.

Maintenance consists of cleaning the air and water sides of the tubes and inspecting the anodes in the water headers. The air side will gradually become fouled with oily deposits, which can be monitored by measuring the air differential pressure. Engine manufacturers usually have the limit for the differential pressure indicating when the cooler should be cleaned.

The air side can be cleaned on a regular basis. While the engine is in service, small dosing pots can be filled with diluted air cooler cleaner. Only special cleaners that are designed for this must be used.

Eventually the air cooler will require more thorough cleaning. On large engines there may be a circulating system for cleaning the air coolers. For smaller coolers these may have to be removed and soaked in a special solvent or cleaned ultrasonically. A typical air cooler cleaning system is shown in figure below.

Air Cooler Cleaning System
Air Cooler Cleaning System

The air cooler cleaner can be circulated in undiluted form and should be circulated for at least 12 hours, depending upon the degree of fouling. The air cooler should be hosed with clean freshwater after cleaning.

On the water side the tubes should be cleaned by brushing through with special tube brushes. This is ideal for removing soft deposits and slime, but if the tubes have scale or hard marine growth inside, it may require cleaning with a high pressure hose or de-scalant.

Leaking tubes can be a problem with air coolers and usually appears in the form of excessive water at the drains. It is possible to find the tube leak and plug it while the engine is running. The procedure is as follows:

  • Reduce engine speed. The air temperature after the turbocharger must be less than 70 degree Celsius
  • Isolate the cooling water and remove the cooler headers
  • Completely cover the tubes at one end of the cooler with a thick joint sheet. This can be held in place by end cover.
  • Brush soapy water over the other ends of the tubes. Leaking tubes will produce bubbles, which should be marked.
  • Plug leaking tubes with tapered copper or wooden plugs.



(click column header to sort results)
Charge air temperature too high
High engine room temperature
High sea water temperature
Cooling system out of balance (low low)
Fouled air side of tubes
Fouled water side of the tubes
Charge air temperature too low
Defective cooler controller
Sea water temperature too low
High pressure drop on air side
Air cooler fins fouled
Defective pressure gauge
High pressure drop on water side
Fouled tubes on water side
High coolant flow
Defective pressure gauge
External water leakage
Leaking joint on tube plate or pipe line connection
Internal water leakage
Leakage between tube and tube plate
Holed tube


"Operation and Maintenance of Machinery in Motorships" by N.E Chell

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    • Poetic Word Bird profile image

      Malik S Canty 

      6 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      Thank you for this type of information it can save a few dollars...Knowledge is Power.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great stuff.

    • Gurpreet Seehra profile image

      Gurpreet Seehra 

      7 years ago from Chandigarh, India

      Good one, Voted up.


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