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Oil Tank Cleaning

A question we receive a lot here at GreenTRAX, Inc. is, “I have water in my tank – can you pump out my oil tank so I can have it filled with new oil?” Another is, “the furnace service technician is here and says he is pulling a lot of black oil and sludge out of the oil line and oil filter – can you come clean out my tank?” Both questions usually always refer to USTs or Underground Storage Tanks. Once in a while it could be for ASTs or Aboveground Storage Tanks.

Oil Tank Basics

To start off, the useful lifespan of an oil tank is 20 years. If you’re calling us about a sludge buildup problem or a water accumulation problem in your UST, we can almost guarantee your tank is much older than 20 years.

So, if you are reading this post right now because you have this problem with your tank right this minute and you don’t have any heat or hot water, there is no need to waste any time, call GreenTRAX, Inc. NOW.


The tank will need to be removed and replaced with an AST. But let’s not jump ahead too much. If you’re heat is working and your problem is not urgent, these are the facts you need to know about your home’s heating oil storage tank. 

Oil Sludge is a Problem

Heating oil or home heating fuel is very dirty. Over the years the particulates settle to the bottom of the tank and sludge starts to build up. This is almost unavoidable; all tanks accumulate sludge. If the sludge has built up to a significant enough level to block or interfere with the free flow of good clean fuel into the supply line that goes to the furnace, that is a problem. That is the tank is then telling you “Hey! I’m old and need to be replaced!”

This is a problem because in most tanks, the suction line that takes oil to the burner is typically about 4 inches off the bottom of the tank. So, if the sludge accumulation is greater than 4 inches that is a problem that will not go away on its own.

How GreenTRAX Cleans Your Oil Tank

Maybe you’re asking, “Well, why can’t you just suck out the sludge?”

That is a good question, but unfortunately not realistic. The fill pipe is the only place to get into the tank, and the typical fill pipe 1 ½ inches or 2 inches in diameter. The typical UST is between 5 feet and 11 feet long. The sludge is very thick like mud. There is no way to use a pipe or hose to get all of that sludge out from the sides or ends of the tank.

When we clean tanks out during the removal process, we cut a giant hole in the tank so we have plenty of room to work. Then we use water and a pressure washer to clean the tank and then another machine to suck out all the sludge. There is just no way to do all this cleaning through a 1.5” or 2” diameter fill pipe and with only one access point. 

Alternative Methods of Cleaning Your Oil Tank

…There really aren’t any.

You may be thinking, “Well, there are 2 pipes sticking out of the ground!”

You are correct, but the 2nd pipe is a vent. it is usually a remote vent, which means there are two or more 90-degree bends in the pipe. and the pipe is usually smaller in diameter. AND most importantly, there is a whistle adaptor screwed into the top of the tank and this prevents anything from getting into the tank through this pipe.

You are not getting a suction pipe or pressure washer hose in the vent pipe no matter what. So now you know why the tank cannot be cleaned out of sludge just through your fill pipe! 

Your Tank is Deteriorating as We Speak

Now the other consideration is that since that sludge has been sitting on the bottom of the steel tank for years, likely decades, it also holds moisture and or water in it. That moisture has been eating away and degrading the tank for years. This greatly enhances the chances of the tank leaking due to holes. Now you have the soil and other outside factors eating away at the tank from the outside and the sludge etc degrading the tank from the inside. Sooner or later all tanks will leak its just a matter of when. All (or 99.9%) of residential buried oil tanks in Maryland are single-wall steel. They will all eventually leak – nothing lasts forever. 

Moisture = Damage

You know about sludge, but what about water? Water in your tank is worse than sludge. Water in your tank is usually a very good indicator the tank is leaking.

Why is that, you say? Well, I’ll tell you.

Water can get in your tank two ways:

  1. from the top if you do not have a cap on the fill pipe, however that is usually not typical as you can always cover the opening with something else
  2. through holes in the tank itself – this one’s the killer

If there are any holes in your oil tank, the groundwater will get into the tank. Water is heavier than oil, so it settles to the bottom. And as we learned above, if the water has built up to several inches, that is bad. It will get sucked up into the fuel supply line and end up in the oil burner. And since your heat doesn’t run on water, it shuts off and you have no heat.

“Can’t you just pump out the water?”

We can try, but it’s a terrible idea. The tank will continue to take on water. If it’s leaking the leak will continue to get worse and create more contaminated soil.

If we pump out the water, most, if not all, the oil will be wasted as well, and we won’t get all the water out… because of the sludge in the bottom! Remember…? From reading before…?

This is only a temporary fix and a waste of good money.

So, if your furnace service tech, or the oil delivery driver tells you to have the water pumped out, you can educate them that, that is a terrible idea. Maybe it’s not their fault, they don’t know any better. They are not TANK people. GreenTRAX is “TANK PEOPLE”!

So, let’s let the service guy stick to furnaces, burners etc, and let the delivery driver stick to filling the tank. And we (at GreenTRAX) will stick to what we do best (and better than anyone else in Maryland) doing residential oil tank removals and installations.

GreenTRAX Can Clean Your Oil Tank

Call GreenTRAX today and we can discuss your UST removal or abandonment in place, and the replacement with a new aboveground tank. Because, let’s be honest. If you’re here reading this particular blog, you are probably at that point where it’s time to make the call to us and we can at least have a conversation.

We are here to help.

AND the proposal is free and we don’t even have to come to the property to give you a proposal.

GreenTRAX has removed and installed thousands upon thousands of tanks in Maryland.

We have standardized our pricing.

We can usually get a proposal to you same day within hours or minutes or our phone conversation.

You don’t have to take off work a day to meet us! (good deal, huh?)

Call us now 410-439-1085

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More To Explore

The Maryland Department of the Environment is cancelling the reimbursement fund for homeowners with leaking heating oil tanks!

This cancellation takes effect June 30th, 2024. You need to have your buried oil tank removed NOW, so if the tank is leaking you can get reimbursed for remediation costs before the program goes away. Click here for more information on the reimbursement fund as it operates now.

We urge everyone to contact their representatives in Annapolis and the Governors office and tell them DO NOT cancel the homeowner reimbursement fund for leaking residential oil tanks! They can still renew this program before this year’s legislative session ends.

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