Fluorescent Leak Detection Cuts Refrigerant Costs

EP Editorial Staff | March 1, 2000

Refrigerant leaks in air conditioning and process control systems cost industry hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Companies that allow refrigerants to escape unchecked into the atmosphere risk fines from the Environmental Protection Agency of $25,000 per day for each violation. So it’s imperative that all leaks be detected and repaired as quickly as possible. However, repairing the leaks is not the biggest problem; finding them is.


Dye deposited from leaks glows bright yellow when scanned by a high-intensity ultraviolet or UV/blue light lamp.

Finding leaks
Ron Baldridge, air conditioning and refrigeration technician at Boeing Corp. in Palmdale, CA, originally had tried electronic detectors to find a troublesome refrigerant leak. He and his staff searched unsuccessfully for the elusive leak (or leaks) for more than 3 months.

Unfortunately, electronic detectors cannot be counted on to find multiple leaks. When there are several leaks in an area, a large leak often will hide or mask smaller ones.

After the first leak is found and repaired, the unit is recharged with a new supply of refrigerant, which again escapes into the atmosphere because of the remaining leaks that were not found.

Not until the system fails a second time do most service personnel consider looking for multiple leaks. It is not uncommon for large systems, especially older ones, to have 5, 10, or more leaks at the same time.

Baldridge next tried a simple and inexpensive method to find the leak: fluorescent leak detection. “We immediately pinpointed multiple leaks in a single inspection.

“In our 23 years of doing this kind of work, this system is definitely the easiest, quickest, and most accurate method of leak detection,” Baldridge said. “Another benefit is that you don’t have to be concerned with wind or convection currents when looking for leaks. With some leak detection methods, you have to spray a solution over the entire system. This gets quite messy, especially on evaporators and condenser coils.”

How fluorescent leak detection works
The user adds a small amount of OEM-approved fluorescent dye into the air conditioning system, then allows the dye to circulate throughout the system. Wherever the refrigerant escapes, so does the dye.

Although the refrigerant evaporates, the dye remains at the sites of all leaks. When the system is scanned with a high-intensity ultraviolet or UV/blue light lamp, the dye glows bright yellow to pinpoint the precise location of every leak.

“We use the Spectroline method to detect leaks in our comfort air for offices, as well as for temperature-controlled laboratories where we test electronics on chilled tables,” Baldridge continued. “We make equipment for the Space Station and motors for Delta rockets and the Space Shuttle.

“No matter where we check for leaks, this method cuts refrigerant expenses because we spot leaks while they are still small. And since we find the leaks so quickly, our labor costs have been reduced considerably.” The fluorescent leak detection method has been shown to reduce inspection time by 75 percent or more.

Fluorescent leak detection was invented in 1955 by Spectronics Corp., Westbury, NY. This leak detection method is so accurate that it locates the smallest, most elusive leaks in tubing, soldered joints, fittings, coils, valves, compressors, and more.

Ideal for preventive maintenance programs
Fluorescent leak detection allows a service technician to see leaks from up to 20 ft away. This eliminates the need for ladders and lift platforms, which also helps cut inspection time.

With other leak detection methods (electronic detectors, bubble solutions, and halide torches), a technician must be very close to the leak, within about 1/4-3 in. in order to locate it.

Also, with these methods, technicians can only spot check a system. Fluorescent leak detection allows them to check an entire system in minutes, find all the leaks, repair them, and check to make certain the leaks were repaired correctly.

Spectronics’ AR-GLO fluorescent dye is the only OEM-approved, solvent-free dye. It remains safely in the air conditioning system until the lubricant is changed.

To check for leaks, scan the system with a lamp. If there are any leaks, they will glow brightly. Future leaks will be found instantly with the lamp whenever the system is reinspected.

Another advantage of fluorescent leak detection is that it allows easy confirmation of repairs. After a leak has been fixed, clean off the remaining dye from the site with a nontoxic spray cleaner or with a water-based dye remover.

Then, after the equipment has operated long enough for the refrigerant to circulate fully, recheck the site with the lamp. If there is no glow, the leak has been repaired properly. MT

Information supplied by Mike Fleming, Spectronics Corp., 956 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury, NY 11590;telephone (516) 333-4840; Internet




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