Finding the Right Jetting Nozzle

Selecting a jetter nozzle is all about your application and how much you want to invest in quality

Finding the Right Jetting Nozzle

Investing in more expensive, high-quality nozzles means replacing them less often. Even high-end nozzles eventually wear out, but with maintenance they should last three to seven years before losing effectiveness. 

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Pipe cleaning nozzles are highly engineered tools that combine water pressure and sophisticated metallurgy to overcome whatever is impeding the flow in a pipe. The nozzles are part of what is sometimes called “aquadynamic cleaning technology” and come in myriad sizes, configurations and price ranges.

“We market nozzles to everybody from household plumbers to contractors cleaning 10-foot-diameter pipe. There are so many different ones. It’s all about the application,” says Dana Hicks, U.S. sales manager for Swiss manufacturer Enz, which has been producing nozzles for 30-plus years.

The wide variety of jetting nozzles can be daunting to tool buyers. To help, NASSCO began categorizing the field of nozzles into three tiers. Tier One nozzles are fairly unsophisticated cast metal pieces with holes drilled in them to admit water in volume and directionally spray it out again. These basic nozzles are relatively inexpensive — costing $100 or so — with a relatively short life cycle, as little as three or four months.

Tier Two nozzles have channels inside to pass the water more efficiently. Instead of drilled holes, they feature replaceable inserts. These nozzles last three times as long as first-tier models and cost three times as much. Then there are Tier Three nozzles, which also offer replaceable orifices. Tier Three models have superior fluid dynamics and can withstand water wear for years. For this enhanced performance and durability, buyers can spend 30 times what they spend on a Tier One model.

Hicks doubts most nozzle shoppers even think about these tiers anymore. Rather, they know their budgets and how durable of a nozzle they want to buy. The real deciding factor for a buyer always is: Will the nozzle do what I need done? “It’s all about the application,” Hicks reiterates.

Quality and durability

Richard Rauckhorst, part owner and engineer at Arthur Products in Medina, Ohio, says it’s impossible to buy a cheap, long-lasting nozzle. “No such thing. If you buy a cheap one, you’ll get a couple of uses out of it. On the other hand, a customer of ours bought a rotating nozzle and used it for 14 years.”

Like with any other product, a buyer can go one of two ways. “When the price of a nozzle is low, you might buy two or three of them and toss each one when it wears out,” Rauckhorst says. “Or you can buy a high-end nozzle and not replace it.” He adds that maintenance also determines how long a jetting nozzle will last. If the unit experiences calcium buildup and isn’t cleaned, for example, it loses its effectiveness. “It depends to some extent on how customers maintain their equipment.”

Recycled sewer water that increasingly is being deployed by municipalities for nonpotable uses is also a factor. As the contaminated water is being sprayed, it can scar the interior of a nozzle and render it inefficient. Though recyclers have come a long way in purifying the liquid, recycled water “still has a lot of contamination in it,” Rauckhorst says.

To resist the wear of particles in recycled water, manufacturers keep improving their hardened tools. Scott Paquet, owner of Florida nozzle manufacturer NozzTeq, says wear-resistant materials employed in better nozzles include 304 stainless steel and 442 hardened steel. For the same reason, some manufacturers fabricate the inserts from ceramic material.

“We use ceramic jets and have a five-year guarantee on nozzles with the ceramic inserts,” Hicks says. “Don’t get me wrong, they will wear out. But a drilled hole will wear out faster. Water will eat it up. Ceramic reduces that.”

The useful life of a jetting nozzle, then, depends on its maintenance, how effortlessly fluid can pass through it and the wear resistance of the material from which it’s manufactured. Paquet estimates a higher-end nozzle will last three to seven years on average before the tool begins to lose its effectiveness. “These aren’t your Amazon-type nozzles,” he says. “They’re not your Walmart nozzles.”

Many options

Whether nozzle orifices are simple drilled openings or fitted with removeable sleeves, the holes are not randomly placed in the head. Their positioning is by design so they can perform one or more hydrodynamic functions. The simplest example is a fixed nozzle with one hole up front that emits a single jet of water to cut through total blockages, with all 1,200 psi or so being concentrated at a single point.

Other static nozzles — as opposed to rotating or oscillating units — average six to eight orifices and send out jets of water at calibrated angles. For example, some have two or more jets spraying at 45-degree angles to a pipe wall to batter and lift material clinging to the sides of the pipe.

Meanwhile, rearward-facing orifices send jet streams behind the head of the nozzle, a force that both propels the nozzle forward and sends loosened debris skittering behind to a clean-out. In some situations, pipeline contractors opt for a nozzle without rearward-facing jets, preferring to mount the nozzle on a lance that pushes the unit forward and reserves impelled water for debris removal.

To reiterate: Nozzles alone clean nothing. It is the water rushing through them that gouges out and sweeps away the debris, roots or encrustations that clog a pipe. The water’s pressure does the gouging; its volume does the sweeping. So, how many pounds per square inch and gallons-per-minute flow is needed for a nozzle to work properly?

“We like to say if you can maintain 1,200 to 1,400 psi at the nozzle, you are going to be able to clean about any kind of pipe,” Hicks says. “Remember, that’s the pressure at the nozzle, not in the hose. The rule of thumb is if you are pumping 60 gpm into a 1-inch pipe, you will lose 1 psi per foot of hose.” Using that formula, if a pump is blasting out water at 1,200 psi, by the time the water exits the hose at the nozzle 50 feet away, the pounds per square inch has dropped to 1,150.

On the other hand, high pressure isn’t always the best use of water in pipe cleaning. If debris or residue is simply cluttering the pipe, rather than being caked to pipe walls, the nozzle is inserted mainly to flush out the debris. In that instance, volume flow is more important than pressure and angle of attack.

Matching the application

So what are the applications that determine nozzle choice? For clearing away grease, Paquet recommends either a fixed nozzle with four forward-facing jets or a slowly rotating unit. “Or if it’s really bad, you could use a rotating nozzle with a chain cutter.” Rauckhorst would attack grease with a degreaser/de-icer elongated nozzle with jets blasting forward at 45-degree angles. Hicks would opt for a rotating nozzle to ensure grease at the top of a pipe is blasted free.

Roots generally require a mechanical intervention: a flailing chain on a rotating nozzle or a high-torque auger cutter. How about a good scouring nozzle? On 4- or 8-inch pipe, Paquet would use a fixed nozzle: “Maybe with jets at 10-degree angles. Some like to use a nozzle with a variety of angled jets to really clean the pipe, maybe at 8 and 12 degrees, but 10 degrees is pretty normal.”

Obviously, techs have many nozzle choices — almost too many choices. “I tell everybody, ‘If I made one nozzle that did everything, I’d be rich’,” Rauckhorst says. “There’s no one nozzle that does everything.”  

Contractors generally have a variety of nozzles in their toolboxes and often will employ two or more types in a single application. The sequence might be first inserting a rotating model to flush the worst of the debris, then a spinning chain model or cutter to chew through areas of protruding hardened matter and, finally, a scouring nozzle to rid pipe walls of encrusted material.

Given the need to design nozzles for different sizes of pipe and different tasks, manufacturers’ variations in the tools seem virtually endless. Sophisticated innovations keep coming.

One example is NozzTeq’s BL Swiper nozzle for pipe ranging from 4 to 60 inches in diameter. The patented Swiper uses air in a pipe to maximize the thrust of jet streams and minimize turbulence while halving the rate of water flow. The Enz product line includes its Bulldog Antiblast nozzle that cleans a sewer line without blowing a toilet and its Rotopuls vibration nozzles with an off-center rotor that creates vibrations and jet pulses that fracture deposits.

Arthur Products offers a full range of innovative nozzles, and each nozzle sold is custom-built for the buyer. Founded in 1946, the eight-person firm has from the start marketed custom nozzles, according to Rauckhorst, a part owner since 2006. The company produces finely machined stainless steel blanks — that is, undrilled stock — in quantity and fabricates each nozzle according to a customer’s specifications. One of its signature products is its Cnt-r-KUT flexible centering nozzle that optimizes the impact of jetting sprays and helps nozzles navigate bends in pipes.

What’s next? “There’s always a new nozzle coming out,” says Paquet, who has been in the industry for 23 years. “The market is rapidly changing. With nozzles, it always is a continuing education.” 


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