Liquid Cooling System Maintenance
This particular guide is written for people who have fully
custom built liquid cooling setups. If you or someone else has built a liquid
cooled system for you, then this guide will provide some helpful hints and tips
on keeping your system maintained correctly.
This guide is NOT FOR CLOSED LOOP SYSTEMS! If you have a
closed loop system such as Corsair Hydro series, or the Thermaltake Water
series, or any other closed loop systems, these units are not designed to be
open and maintained by anyone other than the manufacturer. Do not attempt to
open these units and utilize the steps outlined in this guide, as it will
likely result in the damage of the loop, leaks and therefore damage to the
What has to be
Not all of your liquid cooling setup needs frequent maintenance.
Some parts need no maintenance at all. Let's look at the basic parts and assess
their need for maintenance.
Radiators are used to dissipate the heat brought in by the
hot coolant, by utilizing fins to spread the coolant over as larger area as
possible, to aid in the cooling process. Fans are mounted on the radiators,
typically in a push configuration, but sometimes double fan setups can be found
whereby they're setup in a push-pull configuration. Anytime you have fans
blowing through heatsinks, you have a dust accumulator. It's important that you
visually inspect your radiators to make sure fans did not clog the fins with
dust or dirt. Depending on how dusty the environment is, you should check the
cleanliness of your system at least once every six months. Depending on how
badly the radiators are coated with dust, you may either need to do a cleaning
every six months, or perhaps 1 cleaning per year if the dust isn't too bad.
Fans don't only accumulate dust on the radiators, but also
on themselves. Dust will usually tack on the blades and get worse and worse
with time, eventually slowing the fan down sometimes even to a complete stop.
When you inspect your radiator(s), inspect your fans as well and make sure they're
also clean. Vacuum, compressed air or a clean paint brush are all good ways of
cleaning out the blades and radiators.
Now there are several things to note about coolant. First,
maintenance of it will depend on the type of coolant you use, how much you use
and if you prefer to use any additives. For example, you can use distilled
water as coolant, or you can use water with color dye, or you can use pre-dyed
coolant that's sold per bottles. Most simplest and effective coolant will be
distilled water. Dyed coolant is usually used to give the system a certain
look. Dyed coolant is typically used with tubes that are clear. If you don't
have clear tubes, then there's no need to add dyed coolant, but rather go with
distilled water. When it comes to coolant, you need to worry about 2 things.
How clean the coolant is, and how much of coolant there is in your system.
Coolant has a tendency to drop the levels after first few months of use. This
is because last few air pockets are slowly being pushed out and replaced,
therefore water level drops. You want to keep your water level always the same,
so if you notice a drop in coolant level, add some more. As you continue to use
the system, heat levels will cause a certain amount of liquid to evaporate, so
keep an eye on the level of coolant every so often. You should never be losing
too much coolant in short time, as this may indicate leaks. Should you have
leaks, it's important to keep the system off until leaks are found. If your
coolant is older than 1 year, it's a good idea to check the color and the
condition of the coolant. Generally, most coolants including plain distilled
water don't need to be replaced more than once every 2 years. Of course, there's
nothing wrong if you decide to replace it once every year.
Tubing doesn't need to be replaced unless you want to pick a
different size, color or arrangement. Tubing tends to collect some of the
oxidation and dirt, so if you have clear tubing and it's beginning to look a
little muddy, it's time to replace the tubing. This effect is not visible on
colored tubing, so no need to replace it.
Water pumps don't require any maintenance, other than
recommended cleaning after a coolant flush. To clean the pump, one should use
distilled water to run through the system before putting in the new coolant.
Once the distilled water cleans the loop, it can be drained and replaced with
new coolant. This is how the pump gets cleaned. Other than that, the only other
maintenance left on the pump is to replace it when it fails.
Just like water pump, these can be cleaned during the
flushing process between coolant changes. Now of course, one can take off the
waterblock, disassemble it and put it in a solution of vinegar or lemon juice
to relieve oxidation. This may not be necessary if you feel uncomfortable removing
the hardware, but it's recommended to bring your water blocks back into proper
working order. Oxidation build up inside the water block will have an effect on
the performance of the block.
Unless compression fittings are used, typical barb-style
fittings require clamps to secure the tubes on them. Clamps tend to wear off
after a long time, especially if they're one of the cheap plastic ones. It's a
good idea to replace clamps when you're redoing your loop, or if you're
flushing coolant or replacing tubes. New clamps will ensure better clamping
power and prevent leaks in the future.
Generally speaking, fittings don't need to be replaced.
Unless you require a new angle or a new way of reaching a particular fitting,
you don't need to replace these. However, almost all fittings have a rubber
O-ring on their G1/4 threads. These rubber O-rings will become worn down after
a while, therefore it's a good idea to replace the O-rings if you're disconnecting
or re-doing your loop. As long as you do not remove any fittings, the O-ring
should be OK as is. However, if you find yourself removing the fittings and
putting them back in, especially if you do this frequently, then consider
purchasing extra O-rings and replace them whenever you remove a fitting.
Oxidation is a natural process that occurs in liquid cooled
system. It is typically manifested in the discoloration of coolant, water
blocks, and even tubing. Certain pre-mixed coolants claim to have anti-oxidants
already in them. If you're using plain old water, there are additives you can
put it to slow down and minimize oxidation. Silver coils are very typical products
that are thrown into the loop with distilled water. Silver in its nature
prevents oxidation from happening. Another product that many people like to add
to their loop is called PT Kill, which is supposed to kill bacteria and prevent
bacterial growth. Using these products simultaneously in distilled water will
generally yield good results over a long period of time. Pre-mixed coolants can
also be used, however their performance varies from coolant to coolant.
Most systems are setup with self-bleeding valves that will
push air out of the loop over a period of time. Some loops are better than
others, and sometimes they require shaking to get all the bubbles out.
Obviously, you don't want air in your system. The less air there is, the better
and more efficient your cooling becomes. If you perform fluid changes or
flushes, systems may need to re-bleed to get the new air out of the system.
Some pumps, or pump/reservoir combos, have a bleeding valve near the top of the
unit. The problem with this design is that requires water level to be at MAX
the entire time, otherwise the system will begin to suck in air. Make sure that
your water level is above the bleeding valve. If you're unsure where the
bleeding valve is, typically if you look at your reservoir and start to see
bubbles coming out of one specific area, chances are that's the location of the
bleeder valve. Maintain your water level above this position so that the
bleeding can take place properly.
While there's a lot to discuss, the actual maintenance of
the system is relatively simple. Depending on how much you're willing and
capable of doing, you can either perform simple maintenance tasks, or break
down the entire system for a thorough cleaning and maintenance. Of course,
while that is a better long term method, it's not required for proper operation
loop. Keep the water level high and making sure you have no leaks, as well as
cleaning the dust of fans and radiators will come a long way in keeping your
cooling loop working well. Coolant flushes are recommended once every 1-2 years
depending on the condition of the coolant, however you can even go 3 years
without flushing the coolant and it should still perform reasonably well. How
much effort you want to put into the details of your maintenance will solely be
up to you.