Built Up Calcium Deposits
If I had a penny for every customer who’d proudly told me they put vinegar in their heads, & flushed it with fresh water, in order to prevent calcium building up in the sanitation hoses, I’d likely be retired now. The truth is, despite their best efforts, I still find the sanitation hoses plugged & occluded with calcium build up.
Yesterday was one of those days. I hate these jobs, and don’t technically do them, but for good customers I will occasionally make exceptions. In this case the customers hose was plugged with calcium and they had also used vinegar religiously to prevent just such a situation.
As an experiment, I dropped the head outlet elbow into straight vinegar and left it there to see if there was any change. I had done this before but never took pictures or placed the time in the vinegar into the photo.
In this case the calcium was submerged into 100% undiluted white vinegar. When putting vinegar into your head there is very little chance you will ever get 100% undiluted vinegar in your hoses. This means that in your situation the vinegar will be considerably less potent than this experiment was…
Bowl, Elbow & Straight Vinegar
I filled the bowl enough to submerge half the elbow. I only submerged it half way because I wanted to see the before & after results.
At 10:44 a.m. I snapped a picture of the elbow to log the time.
Once again, zero change…… Straight undiluted vinegar has done NOTHING…
At this point I had to put the elbow back in so I broke some chunks out and let them sit in the bowl of vinegar. The chunks were still extremely hard and virtually unchanged from when I dropped them into the straight vinegar solution.
Ok, I’d seen enough and quite frankly was sick and tired of the vinegar smell. Even in its 100% undiluted state the vinegar did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the calcium chunks.
My take on vinegar in the head, save your money and put it towards something that may actually do something. Snake oil? Urban myth? You decide…..
Please keep in mind that what you put into the head will pass through most of the hose very quickly and where it sits in the low spots will be very, very diluted. This boat had religious use of vinegar as well as fresh water flushing and the hose was plugged tight with calcium…
Good luck & happy boating!
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The main reason the vinegar was ineffective is that these calcium deposits are not just mineral deposits, but are, in fact, biofilms made by the bacteria living in the hose. These biofilms are complex, poorly understood composites, with the minerals in a matrix of polysaccharides, nucleic acids, and glycoproteins. See the Wikipedia article on biofilm for more detail. This material is extremely resistant to the usual chemical attacks, and even much stronger acids, such as muriatic acid, are generally ineffective in removing them. I know; I’ve tried it. You have to chip them out mechanically or get new hoses and fittings.
If there’s something we could run thru the head that WOULD dissolve the calcium (and not the hoses) that would be wonderful, but I suspect nothing exists that meets all the conditions. Fresh-water flushing is the best, but not a total solution – when I switch to saltwater flush, the calcium buildup on the bowl is noticeable (tho easily scrubbed off).