Influences of Water Chemistry and Flow Conditions on Non-Uniform Corrosion in Copper Tube

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Water chemistry and fluid velocity are factors that can perpetuate certain types of non-uniform pitting corrosion in copper tube, specifically in waters with high chlorine and a high pH. These two parameters can further act synergistically to alter pitting propensities in copper pipes subjected to this type of water.

A preliminary short-term experiment considered pitting propensity in copper pipe as a function of water chemistry. This study used a water chemistry that had been documented to promote and sustain pitting in copper tube that further developed into fully penetrating pinhole leaks. Modifications to this base water chemistry found that dosing a chloramine disinfect (rather than free chlorine) or the addition of silica greatly reduced corrosion activity and pitting propensity on copper pipes.

In another short-term experiment, copper pitting propensity was considered as a function of fluid velocity. A number of different fluid velocities were tested in several different pipe diameters using the same documented pitting water. Velocity was observed to significantly increase pitting propensity in all pipe diameters considered. At the highest fluid velocity tested (11.2 fps) a pinhole leak formed in ¼â tubing after only 2 months of testing. Larger pipe diameters were also found to increase the likelihood of forming deeper pits on the pipe surface at the same fluid velocity.

Chlorine was a driving factor in corrosion for preliminary tests conducted using this pitting water. The reduction of chlorine to chloride is believed to be the primary cathodic reaction limiting the overall rate of corrosion in this type of water. As such, a subsequent study considered the relationship between the rate of chlorine reduction and corresponding corrosion activity. Chlorine reduction or demand rates were found to be good indicators for pitting propensity and corrosion activity for this particular type of water.

All preceding work led to the development and design of a large scale, long-term, copper pitting study. A matrix of 21 unique conditions tested various water chemistries, flow conditions, corrosion inhibitors, and galvanic connections of copper pipes to other metallic plumbing materials. The severity of pitting corrosion was observed to be dramatically decreased by lower free chlorine residual concentrations, high alkalinity, and sufficient doses of copper corrosion inhibitors such as natural organic matter, silica, and orthophosphate. Pitting severity was consequently observed to increase at a low alkalinity, indicating that this parameter has a significant effect on corrosion reactions.

Furthermore, the addition of aluminum solids to the base pitting water chemistry dramatically increased the formation of tubercle mounds on the inside of the copper pipes in contact with the waster. Aluminum solids have been observed to be a vital constituent for sustaining pit growth in this specific water at lower pHs, however, the role of this constituent at the high pH levels tested in this study was previously unknown. From simple visual observation, aluminum solids appear to increase the aggressiveness of this water even at higher pHs.



Copper, Water Chemistry, Velocity, Pitting Corrosion, Chlorine Demand, Corrosion Inhibitors, Galvanic Connections