In a closed system of any kind of pipes that carry liquids or air, leaks will downgrade the effectiveness of the system. Large breaks or cracks are easy to spot but even a tiny hole can cause a leak that will be problematic. Methods have been developed to locate leaks so that they can be repaired. One of the oldest of these methods is smoke testing. It is still used today in several applications.
Woodwind instruments such as saxophones, flutes and clarinet can develop leaks in many places, most commonly in the pads that cover the holes. Any leak will make it difficult or impossible to play any note that requires that hole to be closed. Repair technicians once searched for leaks using smoke testing. The holes would be wedged closed and the instrument plugged up at one end. The tech would blow smoke into the other side and look for it escaping. Although this method worked, it has been discarded in favor of leak lights that will shine through a hole. It’s much safer for the tech and the instrument.
Smoke testing is still used today to find leaks in pipes and drainage systems. The smoke is non-toxic and pressurized to force it through the leaks. This type of testing can be used in the water pipes of houses and offices. It is also used to test leaks in sewer pipes. Sewage can release gases through holes that are foul-smelling and can even be deadly.
Smokers for testing large pipe systems are driven by powerful gasoline-driven fans that can push the smoke through with sufficient pressure to create plumes at any leaking points. Smoke may be generated by a smoke bomb or liquid smoke can be used.
Another application that works similar to woodwinds and plumbing is auto repair. Vacuum systems can develop leaks that will affect how the engine runs. Pushing smoke through vacuum lines enables mechanics to find difficult-to-locate leaks. Leaks also sometimes develop in evaporative emissions control systems. Smoke can be used to find holes in these systems as well.
Locating leaks in any kind of pipe or hose can be a tricky business. They must be found and repaired to keep the system running properly. Small holes and those in hard-to-see areas can be very difficult to spot but by using smoke, a leak will reveal itself when it gushes a plume. A simple, yet very effective way to find leaks.