Patio heaters can be a real-life savior when it gets cold outside and you want to relax. But sometimes they can cause problems that prevent you from using them. There can be a range of issues that cause your patio heater not to work, but the main ones stem from the thermocouple and pilot tube.
How does this happen?
When you don’t clean your pilot tube or thermocouple, dust and debris build up, which causes the heater to stop working. In this post, we will explain how to clean the thermocouple and pilot tube on your patio heater, so you can get back to relaxing. The good news is that you can do it in couple of hours, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.
How to Clean a Thermocouple on a Patio Heater
What is a Thermocouple?
A thermocouple is basically a safety device on the heater. Its job is to keep the furnace pilot lit. How does this happen?
Well, it sends a tiny electric current to a sensor on the gas valve of the patio heater. This signals the valve to stay open. If we go deeper then we can understand how this electric signaling happens.
In its probe, the thermocouple contains 2 different metals. When 1 of those 2 metals is heated then the voltage is generated. This phenomenon is known as the Seebeck effect, or the thermoelectric effect.
So, when the thermocouple goes dirty the pilot goes out. Now, let’s look at the cleaning procedure-
Here is a list of recommended items:
- Steel wool (Our pick: Red Devil 0320 Steel Wool)
- Sponge (Dry) (Our pick: O-Cedar Scrub Sponge)
- Pencil Eraser (Our pick: EAONE Magnetic Whiteboard Erasers)
- Screwdriver (Our pick: Klein Tools Screwdriver)
We have turned the cleaning method into a step by step method. We did that so that you could clean your patio heater thermocouple in the easiest way possible. So, let’s get going with it-
- Shut off the heater fuel supply.
- Locate the thermocouple
- Take the screwdriver at hand
- Loosen the screws by using the screwdriver
- Remove the thermocouple from the pilot assembly
- Take the steel wool or the sponge
- Use the steel wool or the abrasive side of the sponge for gently rubbing the thermocouple.
- Rub until you remove the soot from the thermocouple.
- Use the pencil eraser and start cleaning between the threads of the screw (the thermocouple attaching screw).
- Reattach the thermocouple to the pilot assembly once it’s clean.
Caution: Don’t use any cleaning product for cleaning this part. Especially stay away from cleaners that contain flammable chemicals.
Symptoms of Defective Thermocouples
Just before we move on to cleaning the pilot tube, it’s worth understanding that there are a few signs that you should get your hands on a new thermocouple. In other words, the signs that a quick clean won’t do:
- Tube contamination signs — Think cracks, pinholes, and discoloration.
- Physical connector damage — Faulty connectors can interfere with the effectiveness and safety of the heater.
- Corrosion and wear — This could be missing insulation or bare wires.
- Ensure you switch off the gas line and keep it away from any heat sources.
How to Clean the Pilot Tube on Patio Heater
What is a Pilot Tube?
Before jumping into the cleaning process, let’s understand what a pilot tube is and how it is used in patio heaters.
The basic idea behind these is actually pretty simple. A pilot light provides us the flame needed to light the main burner. As soon as we turn on the furnace, a valve releases gas to the burner. And Mr. pilot light here ignites that gas.
A clean pilot tube ensures that the pilot light works properly. So, it’s pretty important that we clean it. Now, let’s go directly to the cleaning method:
- Screwdriver (Our pick: Klein Tools Screwdriver)
- Rubbing Alcohol (Our pick: Vaxxen Labs 99% Isopropyl Alcohol)
- Cotton Swab (Our pick: 5″ Rectangular Foam Swab for Cleaning)
- Pipe cleaner (Our pick: Formula 420 Pipe Cleaner)
Again, we have put the whole method into a couple of steps. You can easily understand the process just by going through the process. So, let’s take a peek.
- Disconnect your heater gas line. You can do it by unscrewing the coupler that is attached to the gas inlet valve. You can find the gas inlet valve at the bottom of the burner.
- Start removing the top cover from your patio heater. Try to follow the manufacturer’s instructions while doing this. However, at this point, you’ll use your screwdrivers the most.
- Locate the burner assembly.
- Open the rubbing alcohol bottle and soak the cotton swab end with it.
- Start rubbing the alcohol-drenched cotton swab over the burner assembly holes.
- Keep on rubbing until the grease, dirt, and debris get cleaned away.
- Locate the venturi tubes at the back of the assembly. These tubes are small silver tubes that have holes in the end.
- Take the pipe cleaner at hand and twist it in a circle.
- Pull the twisted pipe cleaner straight out. Do this to remove any debris or spider webs that were blocking the inside.
- Reassemble the patio heater cover just by reversing the removing steps.
- Reconnect that gas coupler to the inlet valve.
- Turn on your patio heater to test the pilot light.
Once you’re done with the whole process, you’ll feel the difference. Sometimes the patio heater goes out of order just because of the clogged pilot tube.
Symptoms of Defective Pilot Tubes
Pilot tubes can become kinked or bent. If that happens to yours, it’s replacement time. Otherwise, you won’t benefit from a full patio heater flame.
Note: Don’t assume a low flame is due to a defective pilot tube! Sometimes, it’s simply to do with the outside temperature. For example, if it’s less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and you’re low on gas, expect a low flame.
Important Safety Measures
Although this process is pretty easy still, we would like to give out some safety measures. What are those? Let’s take a look-
- Use goggles while removing the clogs with the pipe cleaner.
- Make sure there are no flames near the alcohol-drenched cotton swab.
- Do not bring any sorts of flames near the patio heater while you’re working on it.
Keep these in mind and act accordingly. We hope that you’ll be safe from accidents. As additional protection, you can use flame-resistant gloves.
Here are a couple of important safety items:
- DEWALT DPG82-11/DPG82 Clear Anti-Fog Dual Mold Safety Goggle
- Jolly Green Versatile Heat Resistant Gloves
Finding elaborated details on cleaning these 2 parts of a patio cleaner is pretty tough. That’s why we have tried to bring it all together to you. Homemade, natural cleaning solutions are not recommended. Instead, stick to our steps above, and you’ll get the job done right.
We believe that by now you’ve gathered up enough knowledge to clean the pilot tube and the thermocouple on your patio heater. We know the value of your hard-earned money and so we are suggesting you that try to fix these sometimes. Sometimes a little cleaning can make these good as new.
Good luck and happy cleaning.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Should You Do If Your Patio Heater Won’t Stay Lit?
Often, heaters won’t stay lit because of clogged thermocouples. So, cleaning them should solve the issue. But if the problem persists, check your propane tank or natural gas line. Your tank might be empty, or someone may have cut your gas line.
If neither of these things solves the issue, it could be due to a faulty tilt switch. Unfortunately, fixing this is near-on impossible, meaning replacing it is necessary.
Can You Bypass Thermocouples On Your Patio Heater?
The constant, appropriate heat maintained by a working thermocouple ensures the pilot light remains lit. But if the heater isn’t receiving any heat, it won’t work. You can bypass the thermocouple until you get the money to replace it.
- 13mm socket wrench
- 8mm wrench
- Gently move the tilt switch wire to the side.
- Take the thermocouple off using the 8mm wrench.
- Use the 13mm socket wrench to pull the valve housing to one side.
- Take out the valve using the pliers. The valve is the component that pushes the thermocouple in and out. It produces electricity to open the electromagnet.
- Reattach the thermocouple using the 8mm wrench.
After following these steps, the gas will flow directly to your patio heater when it’s turned on.