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Old gas tank sludge, How do I get rid of it?


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Take it to your local radiator shop and have it spend 30 minutes in their hot tank. Finish the flush with their steam cleaner and it should look like new inside & out. Most radiators are copper or brass base material and the cleansers they do not destruct the copper material. Stude8

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I ran the following article in the last issue of the Brass-Nickel newsletter. It was written by one of our members on how to clean a old steel gas tank using lye. You might be able to use it on your tank although being copper you might want to limit the amount of time the lye is in the tank. Perhaps after reading the procedure, the DFs would offer an opinion as to the feasibility on using lye on copper. Here goes -

Q. Hey Bob. I purchased a restorable car, which runs very well, but the carburetor keeps clogging up causing the car to backfire and eventually quit running. What can I do?

A. I assume that the car you purchased has been sitting for quite some time without the engine having been started. Use a flashlight to look inside the gas tank and you will probably discover that it is lined with a black, gummy looking substance. You will probably also notice a very strong odor. Both coming from gasoline breaking down over a long period of time. This gunk can keep getting into the carburetor and causing lots of problems.

Not long ago I purchased a car which had, reportedly, sat in a barn for about twenty years. It still had gas in the tank! At first I thought it was a throw away tank but I was able to take care of the problem using common household lye.

Here?s what to do. Go to your favorite super market/grocery store and look for Red Devil lye on the shelf with other household cleaners. There might be other brands but I have not found any. You will probably see cans of Drano right beside it. Don?t uses Drano because it contains powdered aluminum which causes it to foam and perhaps get on you which you really don?t want it to do. More about that later.

Buy two cans of Red Devil lye and on arriving home, remove the gas tank from the car. This is an outdoor activity so find a spot with bare earth or just weeds. Don?t do it over your wife?s pansies. First read the label on the can which tells you what to do-if. Of course, you don?t want it in your eyes, etc.. It isn?t as scary as it sounds, however. I have gotten it on my hands many times-no big deal. It feels like soap. Just wash it off with running water. Not washing it off is what causes the problems. I suggest having a garden hose handy during this whole operation.

Empty the gas tank of whatever is in it and invert a way to close any bottom openings so it will hold water. I usually use wooden dowels and duct tape. Now, remove the gas cap and pour in the two cans of lye. Then fill the tank about two-thirds full of water. Don?t use the hose because it can come back at you. Use a container and pour the water in slowly. You will notice that as soon as you put some water on the lye, it starts to cook and actually becomes quite warm. I like to just put in a couple of quarts and then wait till it simmers down after which it is easy to add the rest of the water.

That?s all it takes to clean your tank. Put several layers of household plastic over the fill hole, then the gas cap and slosh the mixture around so it gets on all surfaces. Then remove the cap. You will want to repeat the sloshing every half hour or so until finished. It will probably take all day to clean really well. However ?-.

If you heat the mixture it cleans better and faster. I take my kerosene stove (with which I heat my shop) outside, light it and set the gas tank on it. The hotter you can get it the better. Boiling is best. No, a gas tank full of water won?t explode, but I hope you remembered to remove that gas cap. Slosh the mixture around every once in a while after replacing the plastic and gas cap each time. Use gloves (I usually leather ones) so you don?t burn your hands. After it gets hot, two more hours should be plenty.

Now, all you need to do is empty it. Get someone to help you because a gas tank full of water is heavy. My wife has become quite adept at this chore. She needs gloves too! If the water is hot, the heat will kill those weeds. However, the mixture won?t damage the soil.

Now take the garden hose and rinse and rinse and rinse. Then drain the tank completely and let it dry. You can speed up the drying the time be using the air hose on your compressor, or even a hair dryer.

Retrieve the flashlight and look inside the tank. I?ll bet it?s as shiny as a new nickel and it only cost you about five dollars! I?ve done five tanks so far and each one has come out looking like new!

The outside is rusty? Just seal up all openings, sand blast and paint it.

Hope this helps!

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I know recently my husband had to clean our 1934 Chevrolet gas tank out. My Dad, before passing away, had the tank sealed. At the time they were selling oxygenated gas in Raleigh. The car sat for six months before we tried cranking it. You guessed it - the gas turned to sludge.

Someone suggested that we remove the tank, pour in some acetone and marbles, seal the openings, and rattle the tank over a period of time. This was slow but seemed to worked fairly well. Just another suggestion.

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Over the weekend, I used the Lye method to remove the 50 years worth of gooy sludge from a 1917 40 gal copper gas tank. I must say that it worked well. I ended up using 8 canisters of lye with 40 gals of very hot water. It slowly loosened up the sludge so the I could manual remove it with a purpose built tool. The inside of the tank is now free of the sludge and the green corrosion on the sides. Thanks for the help. <img src="http://www.aaca.org/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

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a Very original and unmolested 1917 Seagrave F6 fire engine with a 750 GPM Pump. Originally from Hillsboro Texas. I have known of this particular engine for 25 plus years and was finally able to acquire it late last year. I has sat for the 25 years protected from the weather. Complete down to original wheels, ( very rare) and solid tires. Goes real nice with all of my other early fire apparatus, which include American Lafrances and Ahrens Foxes.

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Hell, had 2 jobs last month with crappy gas tanks, took'em to the radiator and gas tank guy in Saint James{email me for the name and #} 1 Durant and 1Plymouth PA, and had 'em hot tanked, 1 was rubber coated as well, what's the big deal???

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  • 16 years later...

The last radiator shop that had working hot tanks in my area shut down 30 years ago due to EPA regs.  Fortunately you don't need all that, Dawn and a hot water pressure washer works great.  Same stuff that takes oil off of penguins for Exxon works great with fuel and oils - remember the Dawn commercial where they put a drop in an oily sink and you watch it break down the oil?  Same thing.  Hot water is also required, preferably 200*.  This is going to be the hard to find part for most people - not many people have "steam cleaners" or "hot water pressure washers" because they're expensive and heat is not required for most pressure washing.

 

So who has hot water pressure washers?  Restoration shops that have to clean up greasy, oily cars, engines, frames, axles and yes, fuel tanks.  Restaurant service companies that clean grease from vent hoods also use hot water pressure washers though you'll likely find a restoration shop more receptive to your needs.   Most pressure washing companies (at least in my area) do not use hot water.

 

We use one daily here at Iron Pig.  I just cleaned a tank with 2" of thick black sludge that started out as unleaded fuel 21 years ago using just hot water and dish soap.  To be fair, I would not use vinegar and baking soda in a fuel tank and none of the other degreasers that I had worked as well as dish soap.  Simple green, purple power, TSP, none work as well as Dawn.  I also have a flexible probe with a rotating head and agitator that we send into frame rails to remove rust scale but that was not required for this tank as the goo prevented rust from forming in the tank.  The goo was dumped out of the tank and into a tub and skimmed right off the top.  We have hazmat disposal here but I'm sure if you need to dispose of bad fuel or chemicals your local landfill has a method for accepting waste fuel.  (the attached picture shows goo in "flowing" state because it's very hot - 200* water inside the tank makes the outside of the tank uncomfortably hot to the touch, it solidifies at room temperature)

 

I consulted google for some magic fuel tank cleaning solution but it turns out hot water and dish soap are the key.  Hope this helps fellow enthusiasts with rare parts that need to be repaired rather than replaced.

 

Lance

Iron Pig Off Road

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To dry out fuel tanks after you've cleaned them, do not use compressed air or a hair dryer. Air from those sources is warm or hot, and when you have that air going into the tank, it contacts the metal surface, which is in contact with the cooler air outside the tank. That causes condensation of water on the metal -- the opposite of what you want. Instead, insert a vacuum suction hose and allow it to draw in air through the two or three openings in the tank (fuel filler, fuel pickup opening and drain plug). Since the incoming air and outside atmosphere are the same temperature, there's no condensation occurring on the metal interior surface. You'll be surprised how quickly the incoming air dries out the tank.  

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Timely information for me. Just finished having my gas tank cleaned @ a local radiator shop. It turned out good, some minor surface rust inside,  when asked about coating the interior with a sealer, they said "its not necessary" What's your thoughts about using a "sholishing sealer" ?

Thanks!

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I haven't tried it yet but my cousin swears by SeaFoam. With a tank that he described as having a tar like substance in it, says he pour it in shake it around, let it sit for awhile then dump it out filter out any chunks and dump it back in repeat. Says tank came out like new inside.

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