The Synergy of Membrane Cleaners

So many variables exist when it comes to choosing the right cleaning product for your facility. Here's what you should consider.

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Water treatment facilities across various industries are often challenged by membrane cleaning. As membranes become fouled from use they become less effective. Clean membranes allow for the proper flow of water. Keeping membranes clean is key to maintaining an optimal flux rate and helps to ensure that the treatment plant is operating effectively.

The economics of maintenance
Treatment plant operators realize the importance of implementing a regular membrane cleaning regimen, but are often challenged to find the right cleaning products. Ideally they want to find a cleaner that will restore membrane flux, which will in turn prolong the life of the membrane, reduce the cleaning frequency needed, be safe for the membranes and the environment, and prove easy to use. Using the right membrane cleaner is a good economic decision as it minimizes downtime and prolongs membrane life. Because membranes are extremely expensive, most facilities try their best to keep them operational for as long as possible.

Many membranes are sensitive to harsh chemicals and extreme pH levels. It is important for treatment plant operators to choose cleaners that will not be harmful to the membranes. Many specialty cleaners with mild pH ranges and safe ingredients are formulated to be effective, non-harmful cleaning agents for membranes.

The right chemical is key
Another consideration in choosing a proper membrane cleaner is the type of soil found in the water being treated. Alkaline cleaners dissolve oils and greases; some also contain chelants that can suspend metals and minerals. Citric acid cleaners are excellent at dissolving scale, such as calcium carbonate or iron oxide. Hazardous acid cleaners, such as sulfuric, hydrochloric and phosphoric, serve the same purpose, but citric acid is much safer and has a broader range of filter compatibilities. A citric acid cleaner that also contains surfactants can go after many oils and greases that might be present in addition to the scale. In the food processing industry, soils can contain proteins and starches, so enzymatic cleaners might be needed. Most foulants are combinations of various soils, so choosing a formulated cleaning product with multifunctional ingredients is usually best.

An upsetting problem
One U.S. wastewater treatment plant has an auxiliary effluent reuse facility constructed specifically to produce reverse osmosis quality water destined for ethanol production. The plant requires about 1 million gallons of reverse osmosis water per day above the plant’s normal processing volumes. The wastewater control systems manager runs the effluent reuse facility to ensure this additional volume is met on a daily basis. A key component of the effluent reuse facility is the ultrafiltration process, which uses 0.4μ polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) membranes with an upper pH limit of 10. These membranes are fouled primarily with petroleum sulfonates and bacterial secretions. Particularly in cold weather, the upstream BOD step has frequent upsets, where the bacteria die and secrete a water soluble foulant that adheres strongly to the PVDF polymer and significantly increases the trans-membrane pressure (TMP). These upsets must be resolved quickly to ensure a plentiful supply of pure water.

Passing the test
To determine the optimal cleaning regimen, the plant manager systematically evaluated the performance of 20 different cleaners and hundreds of different combinations and concentrations, including commonly used commodities and many formulated membrane cleaners. The results found International Products Corporation’s Micro-90 was one of the top performing cleaners in the study. Micro-90 stood out because the product performed better than all of the commodities and other formulated membrane cleaners, particularly on the bacterial secretions. Micro-90 worked effectively without the use of phosphates, silicates and strong alkalis, at a membrane-compatible pH of only 9.5, and at a 0.3 percent concentration.

The synergy of Micro-90
Micro-90 is a mild, yet powerful, multipurpose, alkaline-cleaning concentrate that has long been used in laboratories, industrial applications and critical cleaning processes. Micro-90 is a unique chelating detergent that contains ionic and nonionic ingredients that combine to produce various cleaning actions. Micro-90 lifts, disperses, emulsifies, sequesters, suspends and decomposes soils, then rinses away leaving the surface absolutely clean. Micro-90’s target soils include oil, grease, wax, tar, flux, particulates, hard water stains and biological debris. Micro-90 is highly effective at defouling filter membranes and can be validated in critical cleaning applications.

A model for the future
Micro-90 has been in use at the reuse facility since October 2010. Some of the original PVDF membranes are still used and continue to see significant TMP drops after cleaning with Micro-90. Although the bacterial upsets cannot be prevented, their fouling can be resolved in a predictable manner with the use of Micro-90. Since the initial use of Micro-90, the reuse facility design engineers have recommended the cleaner to other similarly designed effluent reuse facilities nationwide because of the product’s effectiveness, safe profile, compatibility and economical cost per use.

Because so many variables exist in choosing the right cleaning product for each facility, it's important for treatment plant operators to work with cleaner manufacturers that can offer technical guidance and many products. When selecting a membrane cleaner, find a company that provides a range of proven products, referrals, free technical support, free product samples and onsite assistance.

Micro-90 is manufactured in the U.S. by International Products Corporation (IPC) and is readily available worldwide through a network of global distributors. For more information, visit or email  


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