Can cooling tower fill be cleaned?

When it accumulates excessive slime, sludge or scaling can PVC fill be cleaned or is it just replaced?

Over my head Kenton, but I did find this…

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Mine too! I’m trying to cram it all into the Attic, and sometimes I think it’s already full. Just what I was looking for, Thomas, thank you!


Why would you want to try to clean tower packing. Not only is it time consuming, but the packing gets brittle over time. Just throw it out. Re-core the tower, and be done with it.

Because I read about it in multiple places online. I don’t know. I’m just trying to get through this information as best I can, and then have it vetted and make changes as necessary. I’m having to learn all this as I go. It’s a slow painful process and my sources of information are limited.

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No prob, Kenton. Learning is fun. Also, the key is your use of the word “excessive”. If a tower is fouling up annually, then that is excessive, and there’s a problem, and it’s not the fill. Cleaning fouled fill is meant to be a cheap alternative to get you through to the next budget cycle, and not a viable long term strategy if the goal is preserving the asset’s full, uninterrupted functionality for its full lifespan. I wouldn’t be caught dead recommending to a customer that he clean his 10 year old fill for the next ten years. Mitigate the problems (if there are any), and just replace it. Treat the water continuously, monitor performance, and anticipate re-coring the tower every 10 years.


My experience is with large commercial towers op to 300 tons. In this case we clean them every year with a pressure cleaner. Water treatment of the entire condenser water open loop is the most important factor. If the fills have heavy scale the odds are good the pipes and tubes have scale as well. Call a water treatment company and see if they can add a chemical that will reduce the scale and it will benefit the entire system.

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My understanding is that some scaling isn’t unusual or much of a problem, but excessive accumulation of slime, sludge, or scaling is a problem, both in system operation and in possible health considerations, and can be a result of an inadequacy in the water treatment system, possibly caused by a change in water of some sort (or of water velocity) in well-established systems. But eventually, fill will need replacement, and that timeline would depend on a number of things.

On commercial systems fills are generally budgeted every 10 years for replacement. Depending on the maintenance and water treatment cooling towers generally last 20 years.

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Patrick, I understand that excessive scaling of fill could also indicate excessive scaling of the water supply and return pipes, but what tubes are involved?

Doesn’t seem like there’d be much wear to the structure, except for corrosion or decay due to proximity to water and excessive drift, but I guess anything exposed to moving water, like the pipes, basins, sump, spray nozzles, and all the mechanicals are all subject to wear.

I was referring to the condenser and chilled water tubes on a chiller. The tubes are where the heat transfer occurs.

Keep in mind, excessive drift can be a contributor to Legionella if there is poor water treatment.

Ok, yes, I’m still on the tower and have to address chillers yet. I have a section on water quality and read about the possibility of Legionnaires Disease. I guess Legionella in drift can get pulled into the building indoor air by downwind RTUs?

Correct, that is the problem with excessive drift. The drift will obviously migrate to wherever the wind takes it.

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Hi Kenton, please reach out to me if you have any questions. I would suggest a good water treatment program for a long term solution. Having a good treatment program saves countless money over the expected useful life of HVAC systems.

Thank you Patrick! I’m working my way through what info I can find. It’s just a slow process. If I get stuck, I’ll ask.