Watercooling, different coolants

Watercooling, different coolants

What to cool a laser machine with has been and probably will be a split opinion for many users.
When asked in forums and discussion groups the replies are many and spread across a lot of different mixes and products.

With this article i will explain the different mixes, what they do and how they fit our machines, and why some may not fit.
In the end, it´s up to you as the owner to decide what mixture you want to use, read this article to decide and see what properties the different mixtures have and what the goal is with your machine.

Biocides

Preventing growth of bacteria, algea and other microorganisms. You do not want algae in your laser tube, it prevents heat transfer and may kill your tube.
I have seen usage of small amounts of bleach or chlorine in the coolant, it acts like a biocide too but in wrong amounts it will make the coolant very low pH and the mixture is corrosive for metal parts in the loop.
Biocides made for hot tubs or pools shouldn’t be used either.
There is readily products for this so i would suggest using a real biocide. Check out PC water cooling stores.

Surfactants

Or wetting agents is a premix, like Water Wetter, Purple Ice, HydrX and Hy-Per Lube with many more names depending where in the world you are.
Note 2018-01-20: Since i wrote this article it seems like Water Wetter has changed their contents or it differs between EU and US markets, so i would wait with adding water wetter at the moment until this is confirmed. It has showned higher conductivity than earlier.
Wetting agents lowers the natural surface tension of water. The effect causing water beads to form.
This helps water transfer, prevents bubbles from forming, lowers the viscosity and acts as a corrosion agent for metal parts in the loop.
Dish soap is one type of surfactant, but it also contains alot of other additives, like perfume and similar, read the bottle before using.
In auto stores you can find additives for your wiper fluid, DO NOT use this in your coolant, most of them are flammable and is dangerous to add to a 16000 volt system, just don´t do it to be safe!

Conductivity

Our laser tubes have ~16000 volts flowing trough the tube, the water inside the machine will get charged if it contains any particles carrying this charge.
Distilled water has almost no particles at all and do not get static charges. When you add anything to the water, you amp up the static charges also.
Why is this bad for a laser tube?
First off, having a couple of thousand volts in our coolant tank is dangerous, it hurts pretty bad if you happen to touch it.
Second, if alot of the energy in the tube goes away to charge the water, less energy is carried to the other end of the tube, thus lowering the power of your laser tube.
Third, static charges helps mineral build ups in your tube. With time these may create hot spots and a temperature difference in the tube, cracking it.
Remember, without any minerals/particles in the tube, you cannot have a static charge.
The static charge may also interfere with the beam, making it deviate from the path and hit the edges of the end mirror and you get a split beam inside your machine.

Cleaning and maintenance

Basic rules for your cooling tank
– Keep it out of sunlight
– Keep the return hose below water surface
– Have a lid on the tank, leave a small gap around the hose for pressure differences.

When changing the water in your tank, use 50-50 mix with Listerine+distilled water, or vinegear to flush your loop for a hour.
Then refill with your favorite mix of coolant.

Using tap-water for shorter runs

It works to use tap water for shorter runs. Use with caution, fill your tank with tap water, use the machine and empty the tank right after use. Add a mixture of vinegear+water or listerine+water and run the pump for 30-60mins.
I would not suggest keeping tap water in the tank longer than 3-4 days.
Depending on your tap water quality, it may go bad over night, or you´ll be fine for two weeks. Just as a precaution i never recommend tap water at all, even though i use it myself sometimes.

Different coolant mixtures, and their properties
Tap water
  • Good thermal properties
  • Microorganisms will flourish
  • Very high conductivity
  • Risk with mineral deposits creating hot spots, depending on water quality.
  • No corrosion inhibitants
Distilled water
  • Good thermal properties
  • With time, microorganisms may flourish
  • No corrosion inhibitants
Distilled water + RV antifreeze
  • Fair thermal properties
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Good protection against algea and other growth
  • False sense of security using a pre-mix.
  • Higher viscosity, less thermal pickup
  • Higher conductivity (about 400x more than distilled)
Distilled water + surfactants + biocides
  • Excellent thermal properties
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Not conductive, less than 2μS/cm (tap water: 1000-2000μS/cm)
  • Good protection against algea and other growth
Distilled water + surfactants
  • Excellent thermal properties
  • Corrosion resistance
  • With time, microorganisms may flourish
RO/DI-water
  • Good thermal properties, similar/identical to Distilled water
  • Will re-ionize very quick and go back to regular water.
  • With time, microorganisms may flourish
The “I have done it, you are wrong”-tale

Of course there is users who have cooled their laser with tap water, RV-antifreeze, camel urine or whatever, just because it works for them isn´t a rule to say it works for everyone 🙂
How fast a laser cooled with camel urine will fail depends on so much more than the coolant, as power usage, how often and how long it´s used, room temperatures, lasing temps of the water and so on.
The facts are there, you be the judge of how you want to cool your machine, i can only suggest what to do, or not to do.

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Comments (28)

  • Tony Reply

    Well, here’s the “I have done it, you are wrong” comment.

    Over 6 years and 5 lasers (3 x k40’s) I’ve only ever used tap water. I toss a cup of bleach in there to stop algae and then forget about it.

    My brother who lives in a colder area adds anti-freeze, I don’t need that.

    The oldest functioning tube (not killed by me being dumb) I have in a K40 is 3 years old, it works fine (down on power but that’s expected considering its age). Water flow rate hasn’t slowed.

    Now I wouldn’t advise using hard well water, but if your local city water is low mineral, then use it.

    When first started I read all the scare stories, including the bollocks “it’ll corrode your mirrors!” one. As usual no-one can produce a tube that’s been ruined by running plain tap water through it. By the time any minerals have built up to cause a problem the tube will have died of old age.

    If distilled water is cheap where you are then use it, note that it can rust metals more than plain water will (fittings and the stainless steel tank in your chiller). De-ioned water can be more damaging to metals.

    My main problem was the plastic tubing going brittle. Get black stuff, UV doesn’t attack it.

    4 November, 2017 at 03:25
    • HP Persson Reply

      Thanks for sharing! I use tap water too now and then, but i keep from suggesting it as water is very different even down the road. And we have seen very high conductive water acting on the power output aswell as the regeneration process. In my summer home i can use the tap water directly from the spring, but in the city it´s so bad the PSU starts to coil whine 🙂

      4 November, 2017 at 03:31
  • Paul Reply

    Why do you say “keep the return hose below water surface”? I like to hear the water trickling and so don’t do this at the moment.

    Thanks for the website and all the useful info.

    22 November, 2017 at 18:05
    • HP Persson Reply

      The trickling water creates air bubbles in the tank, get a visual indicator or a flow sensor that breaks the connection for the machine to use the laser if the flow stops 🙂

      22 November, 2017 at 18:07
  • Alf Reply

    Hi again,

    Why not use Destilled water and some antifreeze over tap water? Seems like better combo over tap water even if it costs some fe NOK.

    25 March, 2018 at 13:23
    • HP Persson Reply

      There is so many different antifreeze brand and blends out there, and many of them contain additives that will create problem in the laser tube. Either by making the water too conductive so the water is field charged (output power and gas regeneration process lowered), and some will act on the hoses, so it´s easier to just stay away from them. If you find one with low conductivity and not eroding the hoses, you can use it 🙂

      25 March, 2018 at 13:29
  • Jeff Reply

    I have built several custom PC rigs and I am researching cooling for a K40 I plan to buy. I have seen very little info on using mineral oil (zero conductivity) and heat sinks/fans for tube cooling. If you could provide any information on why not to use mineral oil that would be great. I know it is a bit more expensive than water but as far as use of length it can not be beat. I am not very familiar with laser properties and how it would react to mineral oil. Thanks!

    3 June, 2018 at 22:25
    • HP Persson Reply

      Mineral oil are denser and will cause problems inside the laser tube. The flow needed for it to work properly will endanger the glass tube due to the force applied. I have tested regular mineral oil without problems, but the gain is very slim. And cooling the oil through a heat exchanger or radiator will not work for most users, as the cooling will be limited to ambient temp, and that is often too high for the health of the laser tube. A laser tube wants 15-18c temperatures. Maybe if there is a oil with lower viscosity it can work, but with that there is probably a loss on the thermal pickup/exchange instead.

      3 June, 2018 at 22:31
  • Roland Reply

    Hi. Very interesting topic. Looking around how to cool my K40 laser and what to use. What is your opinion about EC6 non-conductive coolant? The supplier claims that their product has Electrical Conductivity <2µS/cm at 24C. It's not cheap, but if it is suitable, maybe it is good investment? They claim it should last for 2 years.
    There are specs from them:

    Details:

    • Pre-mixed with No Need for Additional Additives – Ships ready for use
    • Corrosion protection for Copper, Brass, Steel, Nickel and Aluminium Proven to ASTM D3306 and BS6580 standards
    • Prevents build up of Algae & growth within in your liquid cooled system
    • Electrical Conductivity <2µS/cm at 24C * (most competitors struggle to reach <10µS/cm)
    • Non-Toxic and RoHS Compliant
    • Freezing Point – 6C
    • 85% Bio-degradable Within 30 Days
    • Available in a None coloured option or an expanding range of *non toxic UV colours
    • Shelf Stable UV Reactive Dyes of up to 2 years
    • EC6 is a true Eco Friendly Product

    TIA
    Roland

    12 July, 2018 at 16:53
    • HP Persson Reply

      That one looks like a perfect coolant, if you have a closed system where air from the room cannot contaminate the coolant. The actual problem with distilled is not the water, it´s the shit falling down into the coolant.
      Similar coolant to the one you list above is the kind made for welders, they have similar standards.

      13 July, 2018 at 23:19
      • Phil Reply

        Hi.
        Do you think that EC6 non-conductive coolant would be ok to use with R/O Water or would i be better using distilled {all my R/O is free/also it will be running thru http://www.hailea.com/e-hailea/product1/hc-100a.htm.
        Cheers Phil

        24 July, 2018 at 14:53
        • HP Persson Reply

          RO is worse, it has a tendency to “re-ionize” from the air and go back to “normal” water quicker than distilled will. It may also rob any metal from the ions in the loop corroding them. How much and how quick depends on a lot of features, but i would go with distilled instead.

          27 July, 2018 at 00:00
  • glenn Reply

    what surfactants and biocides
    any suggestions? where to buy? ratios needed?

    12 July, 2018 at 18:55
    • HP Persson Reply

      Surfactant can be a few drops of dish soap until the surface tension is gone, or stuff made for PC water cooling is another option. For biocide a tbl spoon of bleach can be used in 10L of distilled water, not in metal loops though as its corrosive.

      13 July, 2018 at 23:20
  • Fred Heim Reply

    Thoughts on this coolant: Antifrogen Sol Ht
    Propylene glycol base super low corrosion on most metals. I picked up some for a solar heat application.

    12 August, 2018 at 21:06
    • HP Persson Reply

      Looks like really low conductivity and good density for our lasers, try it.

      15 August, 2018 at 13:51
  • cpunltd Reply

    Considering use of EC6 Mentioned before. Would it be best to use by itself or to add something to it? Also, what amount makes the most sense? I’m considering creating a loop with a radiator somewhere in the mix that would hold about a gallon of liquid overall. Is this too much or too little? Currently sing stock setup with a gallon of distilled water and the provided pump, but my readout tends to hover between 30C and 35C (room temp shows as ~22C before I even start the machine up.

    15 August, 2018 at 10:30
    • HP Persson Reply

      25% distilled to that wont hurt if you want to save some dollars, but you can go 100% EC6 too.

      15 August, 2018 at 13:53
  • RK Reply

    Hi i have a 60w laser tube, as a cooling system i have two radiators with fans and a water pump, the temperature of the water gets to high like 30 C°, because it’s a hot enviroment , what kind of coolant do you recomend, it’s possible to use any car coolant
    thanks

    30 August, 2018 at 23:41
    • HP Persson Reply

      The radiators can´t cool down the water any more than ambient temperature. So if you have 30c in the room the rads will never cool below that. You need active cooling, either a CW5200 or dump some jugs of ice in the water tank to keep it low. Keep away from car coolant.

      31 August, 2018 at 00:13
  • RK Reply

    hi
    can i use any car coolant for my cooling system
    thanks

    31 August, 2018 at 00:12
    • HP Persson Reply

      No, most of them are conductive and will field charge the water from the tube, causing both less power output aswell as lowered gas regeneration affecting life length of the tube.

      31 August, 2018 at 00:22
  • Jenny Searcy Reply

    I’m new to k40, arrives in 1 week. Re the coolant water, I see the best (all green +) is Distilled + biocide, + surfactant. What is a good biocide to use (? Vinegar) and how much? And surfactant, how much, a few drops, more?

    3 October, 2018 at 17:25
    • HP Persson Reply

      Bleach is a good biocide, 15ml per 10L of water is a good start. A few drops of dish soap works as surfactant, add a few drops and run the pump 15min, and look inside the tank, when the water stops curling up on the wall the tension is gone. Add 4-5 more if needed.

      3 October, 2018 at 18:50
  • Marco Reply

    Hi, what do you think about this kind of solution?

    http://diylaser.blogspot.com/2012/04/my-diy-co2-laser-tube-cooler.html

    Seem very elegant and space saving.. but is enough for dissipate the heat produced by k40?

    Thank you for your awesome work!

    1 November, 2018 at 07:54
    • HP Persson Reply

      It works partially, a radiator can only pull down the temperature to ambient temps. But a small one like that will have trouble disappating the heat quickly enough. If you have a bigger one you might get water temp close to your room temp. Or if you put it outside the window in the winter you get free cooling.

      1 November, 2018 at 12:08
  • Marco Reply

    I forgot another question 😛 for a “classic” system with a bucket, what is the minimum water quantity ? I’m running out of space… so I need to find the smallest solution.. as example 10 liters of water in a bucket sized for 15 liters is enough for running the laser for 1 hour of (more or less) continuous work?

    1 November, 2018 at 08:04
    • HP Persson Reply

      Depends on your room temp and how much power you use. You can go with 10L and a couple of ice jugs in that to keep it cold for longer time.

      1 November, 2018 at 12:08

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