The Three Most Common Leak Detection Methods!!

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A single leak detection method that locates every leak in every possible situation simply does not exist. So, how do we determine which method is most appropriate for different air conditioning and refrigeration systems?

To answer that question, let’s look at some of the more common leak detection methods available. Armed with that knowledge, you should be able to make an informed decision about selecting the one that’s best for your particular application.


Bubble Solutions. The oldest method of leak detection is the bubble solution. In a nutshell, soap solution is applied at suspected leak points, usually with a squeeze bottle, brush, or dauber. Theoretically, the escaping refrigerant will produce bubbles at the leak sites. However, very small leaks or windy conditions may make this method ineffective.


Fluorescent Leak Detection. This method requires adding a fluorescent dye to the air conditioning or refrigeration system. The dye then mixes with the lubricant and circulates with the refrigerant throughout the system. Wherever refrigerant leaks out, so does the dye. When the system is scanned with an ultraviolet (UV) or blue light lamp, the dye glows a bright yellow-green color, pinpointing the location of the leak.

It is important for a contractor to use an OEM-approved dye that is compatible with the system’s lubricant. Be wary of dyes containing cosolvents because they can adversely affect the lubrication qualities of the system’s oil, which can lead to premature compressor failure.

Electronic Detectors (Sniffers). There are two basic types of electronic detectors used to test for escaping refrigerant: corona-suppression and heated diode.

Corona-suppression technology measures variations in the conductivity of gases passing between two electrodes. The instrument creates a high-voltage dc spark that jumps from one point to another in the sensor, establishing a baseline current between the two points. A drop in current between the two points indicates the presence of an insulating gas. The greater the current drop, the higher the concentration of gas.

One advantage of fluorescent leak detection is its ability to accurately pinpoint multiple leak sites in a system. Once the dye has circulated, inspection can begin with the system off or running.

Heated-diode technology consists of a ceramic element that heats refrigerant and breaks apart the molecules, leaving positively charged chlorine or fluorine ions that are attracted to a negatively charged center collection wire. The flow of chlorine or fluorine ions to the center collection wire creates a small current. As the refrigerant concentration between the electrodes increases, the current increases to a level that sets off an audiovisual alarm. Generally speaking, heated-diode sniffers are more accurate and less prone to false triggering than corona-suppression detectors.

Click on link to watch video of electronic leak detector: IMG_0086