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INTRODUCTION   TO
KEROSENE HEATER SERVICE
AND
TROUBLE SHOOTING

Home Our Store Wicks Heaters Accessories FAQ's Order

GATHERING THE FACTS

Dealer: When accepting a kerosene heater for service, it is important to ask a few simple questions. This will give you insight into the exact problem and save you time in servicing the heater. We do strongly suggest that you test the heater yourself so that you completely understand the problem.
1. What kind of heater is it?

This may seem rather obvious; however, many units lack identification, and you may want to request the owner’s manual.

2. How old is it? How long has it been used? When was it last serviced and by whom?

This will determine if the repair is a warranty claim and will also help
you to determine if the cause is from use, misuse, or neglect.

3. When did the problem begin?

If the problem developed immediately, it may be an indication that
the unit is defective. A symptom that develops any time after 2 days
is generally the result of customer misuse or neglect. Conditions that develop after 6 months to a year may be caused by normal wear,
such as in the case of an old wick.

4. What does the kerosene look like?

Kerosene that is not clear or clear as red tap water is generally the true
cause of most problems.

5. How is the kerosene being stored?

Anything other than an approved container that has never been
used for anything other than kerosene storage could contaminate
the kerosene.

6. Where is the kerosene being stored?

Kerosene that is stored in a COLD place and then brought into a
warm house can have water problems caused by condensation.

7. How long has the kerosene been stored?

Old kerosene (6 months + ) may have deteriorated during storage or developed condensation.

8. Where is the heater being used?

Any heater exposed to draft or wind conditions will have trouble.
Check to see if the unit has been used in front of a door, in a drafty basement, near a heater vent or fireplace. A convection heater
used in a non-insulated garage may not appear to be giving off
much heat.

 

KEROSENE HEATER TUNE-UP SERVICE

1. Examine the unit carefully, and identify any malfunction
and it’s probable cause. Do not accept your customers
word, as they may from time to time over or understate a
problem.

2. Dismantle the unit as required to replace the old wick.
Some service centers use a drill with screwdriver adapters
to speed the tear down process. Take note to the height
and condition of the existing wick prior to removing.

This can help to identify if it was set right originally, and also
provide insight as to the quality of fuel used.

3. Remove all tar and carbon build up from the wick adjuster
assembly, and other moving parts. A wire brush mounted
in a drill can speed the process of carbon removal.
Do not use this method on delicate springs, etc.
Wipe off other carbons with a cloth or paper towel.

4. Examine the fuel tanks and clean as needed with K-1
kerosene. If rust, dirt, water, or other impurities are found,
continue to flush with K-1 until clean. You can swab out
the base tank by using a soft cloth and a paint stick or
similar instrument. Some brands of heaters have very
inexpensive base tanks that should be replaced if rust or
other damage is noted.

5. Install the new wick per owner’s manual or wick
instruction sheet directions. Recheck to make sure the
wick is installed correctly and is even.

6. Reattach the wick adjuster unit, making sure the wick
adjuster gasket "Rubber Packing" is in good condition.
Take care not to misalign the wick adjuster by uneven
tightening of the wing nuts.

7. Make sure the wick control assembly raises and lowers
the wick properly without binding. Some units may be a
little tight until the wick becomes fully soaked with kerosene.
Check all moving parts for proper operation and replace as
required.

8. Check the safety shut-oft assembly by setting it and then
jarring the heater to set-off the safety. Do not allow a
customer to operate a unit that does not have a properly
functioning safety shut-off.

9. Examine the heat chamber assembly. The heat chamber
must be absolutely free of dirt and carbon. If one hole
remains blocked, it may decrease the burning efficiency
of the heater. It is suggested that gloves be worn when
dismantling or handling the inner parts of the chimney.
Avoid touching the chimney unit with bare hands as this
may leave a blackened fingerprint which will cause a
decrease in burning efficiency. Chimney glass should be
cleaned with soapy water, and left to dry completely.
Replace any broken or cracked glass at once. BTU
output can be increased by replacing a worn wire coil or
wire net, which are very inexpensive for most brands.

10. Check the ignition system. It is advisable to change
the igniter bulb, and replace the batteries with every wick
change to insure trouble free service. Use standard duty
batteries only. If the igniter unit is bent or otherwise
damaged, it should be replaced. Discourage the use of
matches, as this can cause smoke, dirt, and other
problems with the heater.

11. Examine the Mica windows on convection heaters.
This durable mineral consists of fine layers, and is
quite flexible. It cannot melt but may become cracked or
discolored from use. Replace missing and dirty mica
windows at once. Do not operate a heater with a missing
or damaged Mica window, as it will cause improper
airflow and a decrease in burning efficiency. Mica can
be cut if needed with sharp scissors.

12. Clean the exterior of the heater thoroughly. Dirt and
other foreign materials can cause odors and other problems.
Clean with a non-aerosol spray-type household cleaner.
If you clean heaters with soapy water, they must be rinsed
and allowed to dry completely or moisture may collect on
the wick and in the tank.

13. When returning the unit to the customer, make sure
to give them a copy of your evaluation, and make notes
as to any needed improvement they should make in
regards to heater maintenance, proper usage, or kerosene
selection and storage. Friendly suggestions are usually
welcomed, and will let your customer know that you really
care about them.

CONCLUSION: Some heaters will require more repair than listed,
while others will require less. The purpose of this is to give a
general guide to kerosene heater service, and to aid in the
training of new technicians and owners. Any questions or suggestions should be sent to mail@msiwix.com .

THE WICK: IT’S FUNCTION AND FUNDAMENTALS

Kerosene Heater Wicks are composed of bundles of tiny fibers
that when held together form thousands of little gaps between the
fibers called capillaries. It is through these tiny passageways that
kerosene is absorbed, and flow to the wick surface where it is
gasified through evaporation.

Most early wicks were made of cotton since it was known to have
excellent absorption qualities, and little else was available. In later
years, it was discovered that the wick could have increased life and performance by adding fiberglass fibers. Most modern wicks still
use the excellent absorption of cotton fibers in the bottom section
while adding the strength and durability of fiberglass to the top
section. The two sections are joined together by either sewing or
knitting them together, and securing the seam with a protective
band of tape. Some wicks have added a ceramic inner support for
ease of installation. Other wicks incorporate springs, wick sleeves,
pins, or clips to add a mechanical function as is required in certain
heaters. It is important to remember, that even though wicks may
appear different in shape, size, and appearance, their primary
function remains the same for all.

THE COTTON SECTION - IT’S FUNCTION: ABSORPTION

The cotton bottom section of the wick absorbs the kerosene initially
and transfers it through capillary action to the fiberglass upper
section.
This section is manufactured using a special method that does not
employ threads running crosswise, thus increasing the overall
elasticity of the wick and smooth wick adjustment.

THE FIBERGLASS SECTION - IT’S FUNCTION: COMBUSTION

The upper section consists of fiberglass and other fibers with
consideration given to strength and workability. Fiberglass adds
a durability factor, since the heat generated at the wick surface is
too low for the fiberglass to melt or burn. It is in this upper section
that kerosene is gasified through evaporation to allow combustion.

At the moment of ignition, the flame is formed directly on the wick
surface. As the temperature of the wick surface increases, the
flame will rise slightly above the surface of the wick in what is
referred to as normal combustion.

Temperatures above the top and the sides of the wick will reach
482 degrees Fahrenheit during normal combustion. This is
important to know, since only K-1 kerosene can be vaporized
and burned completely at this temperature.

THE WICK BAND - IT’S FUNCTION: PROTECTION

The purpose of the wick band or tape is to protect the seams
that join the upper and lower sections of the wick together, and to
aid in smooth wick height adjustment. The band also provides a
contact surface for the pins in the wick sleeves of certain units.
The band is held in place by a small amount of kerosene resistant
glue. This glue although resistant to kerosene, will dissolve
quickly if exposed to water. A lose band will cause height
adjustment problems, and possible heater failure.

HANDLING CONCERNS:

The tiny capillaries that absorb the kerosene vary in size from
wick to wick. Because of this variation, it is important to soak the
wick completely before lighting. We suggest allowing the wick to
soak in the heater for no less than 30 minutes prior to initial lighting.
It is also important to observe this waiting period anytime a wick is
permitted to burn dry. If a wick is ignited prior to properly absorbing
the kerosene, problems can occur that may only be corrected by
installing a new wick.

When a wick is ignited prematurely, numerous air holes quickly
develop within the capillaries causing a blockage that downgrades
kerosene absorption. When this happens the flame forms and
remains on the wick surface causing the temperature at the wick
surface to rise abnormally. When this condition occurs, the point of vaporization lowers. As a result, the vapors can cool as they rise
rather than burning off completely, and this causes a build-up of
unburned tar and carbon to collect on the burner tube and wick
casing. This build-up of carbon and tar will continue to deteriorate
the performance of the unit, and will cause smoking, odor, low burn problems, slow ignition, and eventually heater failure, if not
corrected. ALWAYS ALLOW THE WICK TO SOAK COMPLETELY (30min.+) BEFORE LIGHTING. It is also important that the fuel
level in the heater is at maximum. If you soak the wick in a tank that
is less than full, you may greatly increase the amount of time
needed to soak the wick, because of the reduced amount of
kerosene that is in direct contact with the lower section of the wick.

THE WICK: EFFECTS OF POOR KEROSENE & IMPROPER COMBUSTION

WICK HARDENING: Hardening of the wick can be caused by
improper height adjustment, and also by poor kerosene,
specifically kerosene contaminated by water. Wick hardening
is a result of unburned tars and carbons collecting and crusting
the surface of the wick. When contaminated kerosene is used,
the heater cannot burn the fuel completely, resulting in this crusting condition. This same condition occurs if the wick is installed too
low or if the heater is operated lower than recommended. When
the heater is operated at too low of a setting the kerosene cannot
be properly gasified, and normal combustion cannot occur
resulting in this crusting effect.

INCOMPLETE BURNING: If a wick is observed to have spotty
burn marks at the top of the wick, suspect poor kerosene. This is
caused by clogs in the capillaries resulting from the formation of
unburned tars, dirt, water, or other contaminants. Once this
condition occurs the wick must be replaced.

STRONG ODOR: K-1 kerosene has a very distinct aroma.
If the wick or the kerosene in the heater has an odd smell,
suspect fuel contamination. If an odor of alcohol or gasoline is
present, use extreme caution, and dispose of this fuel in waste
fuel containers as may be required by local health codes in your
area.

ODD COLOR: The color of the wick is another way of detecting
poor kerosene. Since Red K-1 kerosene is red, the color of the
wick will change in use. If it takes on any color other than it’s
normal red
appearance, suspect contaminated kerosene has been used.
Some wick manufacturers do use a tinted water repellent that
may add color to the wick.

BAND FALLS OFF OR HARDENS: The glue used to hold the
band in place has been designed not to lose it’s strength in
kerosene, however, it will deteriorate quickly if exposed to
even a small amount of water. This is sometimes mistaken
as the sign of a faulty wick, but wick replacement alone will
not solve the problem if water is present.

The presence of water will also take the resilience out of the
band, and if allowed to dry, the band will become stiff and hard
and will crack if bent. Also note that if water is significant it will
force the kerosene out of the wick as it dries through evaporation.
This will make the wick very dry. A wick soaked in K-1 kerosene,
and dried, will always retain a certain amount of oily residue.

LOW BURN: A low burn will result if a lesser grade of fuel
than K-1 kerosene is used. These other fuels may appear OK,
and may even burn fairly well initially, but because of their high
sulfur content, and lack of refinement, they cannot be completely
burned at the temperatures achievable in a kerosene heater.

A low burn can also be caused if the wick is not cleaned as
suggested in the owner’s manual for the heater. The frequency
of wick maintenance will vary from heater to heater, due to
differences in the capillary action of their individual wicks, and
heater usage.

LOW BURN ON ONE HEATER - OTHER WORKS PERFECTLY:
The effects of low grade kerosene on the wick can be most
puzzling when the same fuel is used in two heaters, and one
seems to function fine while the other experiences low burn
conditions. As stated earlier, the capillary action varies from
heater to heater, and from wick to wick.

Therefore it is reasonable to assume that symptoms of low grade
kerosene or other troubles will occur at different times. Determine
how both are used, where they are used, and if both are filled from
the same container. Check the kerosene quality of both heaters.
Check to see if one unit has been adjusted too low or the wick
installed too low. Find out how long they have been used, and
examine the wicks for carbon build-up. A closer look will generally
disclose what is causing this unusual effect. It is important to find
the problem and not just ignore it, since it may eventually cause the
same problems in the other heater which seems to work fine.

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HOW TO CHECK FOR POOR QUALITY KEROSENE
CONTAMINATION CHARACTERISTICS OF
HIGH-QUALITY KEROSENE

High quality kerosene is clear or red, not cloudy.
Has no visible dirt or debris.
Has been properly stored in an approved container.
Has been kept in a cool dark location.
Has it been purchased recently?

 

CHARACTERISTICS OF POOR-QUALITY KEROSENE

Poor quality kerosene has a yellow or cloudy cast.
May have visible debris or other contaminant.
May have water collected on bottom of container.
May have been stored in direct sunlight or high heat.
May have been stored for an extended period of time.

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Good Quality Kerosene

1.To check kerosene, siphon a 6-8 oz sample from the
very bottom of the fuel storage container or heater base
tank using a mini siphon or manual siphon pump, and
drain into a clear glass jar. Draw the sample only from
the bottom of the container, as water and dirt settle there,
and a test of kerosene from a higher lever may be
misleading.

2. Let sample stand for 30 minutes to allow kerosene to completely settle.

3. After 30 minutes, examine the sample taking note of
any off odor that might indicate the presence of gas,
alcohol, or anything other than kerosene. Also note any
yellow or dark tint, which indicates old kerosene or
kerosene mixed with a lower grade of fuel. Substandard
fuels may burn initially, however because of their high
sulfur content, and lack of refinement, they cannot be
completely burnt at the temperatures achievable in a
kerosene heater. As a result, these fuels will leave a
residue of carbon and unburned tars that will clog the
wick, sometimes with only 1 hour of use, depending
on their level of concentration.

4.Beware of tiny bubbles that appear near the bottom of
the test sample. This is likely to be condensation caused
by improper kerosene storage, and can result in wick
damage.

5. A hydrometer may be used to indicate lesser grades
of fuel by measuring the specific gravity, however this
test is not always reliable. If the traces of substandard
fuel are not significant, they may not effect the specific
gravity of the kerosene. Therefore, kerosene that tests
safe, may actually contain enough trace fuels to cause
problems. If the kerosene is not clear, it probably should
not be used in a kerosene heater, even if the hydrometer
reads "safe".

6. Dealers who sell kerosene may be puzzled by a
complaint that one heater owned by a customer functions
fine while the other has a low burn problem. This usually
indicates a possible condensation problem that only
showed up in one, because of the difference of capillary
flow of the different wicks or kerosene drained from a
different source. Review proper storage techniques, and
have them replace the kerosene. Show them visually that
what you are selling them is water-clear K-1 kerosene,
and they must take care to protect it.

7. The visual inspection of kerosene is usually the easiest
and most reliable way of testing kerosene quality.

 

PROPER STORAGE OF K-1 KEROSENE FUEL

After your customer locates a reliable source of quality "water-clear"
or red K-1 Kerosene, they must learn proper storage and transfer of
the fuel or it can quickly deteriorate.

K-1 Kerosene should only be stored in an approved container,
designed specifically for the storage of kerosene, and not
previously used for the transfer or storage of any other liquid
substance. The kerosene container should be stored in a cool,
dark place away from the living quarters, and out of reach of
children.
You may wish to consult your local authorities concerning any
codes or ordinances that may regulate the storage of kerosene.

DO NOT expose kerosene to direct sunlight or high heat. These
two conditions can quickly deteriorate the fuel.

DO NOT store the kerosene in a location where it may come in
contact with any source of water.

DO NOT store kerosene without a cap as dirt and moisture may
cause contamination. DO NOT store the kerosene for long
periods of time ( 6 months + ). As time passes, water can condense in the
container and settle to the bottom. Micro-organisms can grow
in this watery environment, feeding on the kerosene, and on any
other debris in the container. Their growth causes a gummy
residue or a layer of sludge to form on the bottom of the can,
resulting in the corrosion of metal, fouling of the wick, and fuel contamination.

DO refuel the heater outside, after it has been allowed to cool for
at least 30 minutes, using an approved siphon to transfer the
kerosene to the heater. The use of funnels, etc., may result in
spills, and expose the user to unnecessary hazard. Wipe up any
spilled kerosene at once. This will insure safe, odor free operation.

DO avoid temperature changes in the kerosene. The transferring
of a container of kerosene from outside into warmer environments
can cause the kerosene to expand as it warms, and cause the fuel
to overflow in the heater. For this reason, it is advisable not to
overfill a fuel tank. It is also advisable to avoid temperature
changes, because condensation can develop inside the
container when
heating and cooling of the container occurs. This water can then
be transferred to the heater if the container has not been cleaned.

CONCLUSION: It is advisable to take great care in selection and
storage of kerosene. Use only clear or red K-1 Kerosene and test fuel
quality frequently.

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LAST UP DATE ON: 02/06/2014