Return Systems: Ensuring you have the correct specs

Return Systems: Ensuring you have the correct specs

by Katie Ladas March 22, 2024

Having the right specs for your Return System is critical

Written by Barry Victor, PROS Parts Founder and President

Return System is a term used to describe the components that are required to replenish the water required to operate steam boilers. During normal operation, a boiler is constantly turning water into steam. Steam is directed through pipes to various machinery which use it as a source of heat energy. This heat could be used to heat air to dry garments, or to boil solvent in the distillation process, or perhaps it is used to heat a press or ironer surface for finishing garments or flatwork. Determining the correct specs can be complicated, but it’s important to have the right size. A Return System that is too small can cause the boiler to shut down; one that is too big results in unnecessary costs. 
No matter how the steam is used, once the heat energy has been removed from the steam it is turned back into hot water called condensate. This hot water is directed back towards the return system where it is stored in a tank until the boiler level controls call for more water.
A return system can come in a variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and configuration options. The basic components in a return system include a tank with a stand, a level gauge, a high-pressure water pump and a water level control valve. This blog will describe the various components and help you navigate the options so you can pick the best solution for your return system components. 
The most important decision is sizing the return system. These systems generally will match a specific tank size with a specific pump and are designed to accommodate a range of boiler sizes. The chart below lists different systems based on the size of the boiler in boiler horsepower (BHP). Calculating the correct size can be complicated. If your installation is unique due to longer piping runs from the boiler to the equipment, PROSParts can help define the specs and provide customized systems. Contact us for help in these situations.

As you can see, a typical drycleaning shop boiler with a 10 BHP capacity can usually get by with a tank of only 33 gallons and a pump with a 1/2 horsepower motor. Notice that the sizing of the components is not proportional to the size of the boiler. If that was the case a 20 BHP boiler would require a 66 gallon tank and a 1 HP pump motor. In practice, the increase from a 10 to 20 BHP boiler requires only about a 20% larger tank and a 50% more powerful pump. 
While we are talking about the tank, keep in mind they are available in either a vertical orientation to save floor space or a horizontal orientation for plants with more room to spare.  The standard tank material is 11 GA steel, but if you are willing to pay a little more it can be supplied with 3/16” thick steel which should offer a longer service life. In some cases, an installation may warrant making the tank out of stainless steel due to harsh water conditions or a desire for extremely long life.
The pump supplied with the system is typically a turbine style pump capable of supplying a high pressure stream of water back to the boiler to overcome the internal pressure present while the boiler is in operation. These pumps are available in single or three phase for various voltage and hertz electrical supplies.


While great care is usually taken to make sure the steam supply lines and condensate return lines are well sealed, it is inevitable to lose some of the steam and water in the process. To resupply the return tank with sufficient water to keep the process going, a small mechanical valve with a float is used. When the tank level drops below the minimum level, the valve opens and allows water from city supply lines to enter the tank which is at normal atmospheric pressure.
During the life of a return system, it is not uncommon to have the need to replace components.  Pumps can fail after many years of this extreme operating environment and tanks can corrode. These components are readily available and can usually be shipped quickly and inexpensively by UPS.   
PROSParts is a proud representative of REMA who has been manufacturing these systems since 1947. 
PROS is here to help you get the parts you need in the specs that maximize the effectiveness of your equipment. Contact us with your replacement components requirements and we will help you choose the correct parts.

 About Barry Victor
Barry founded PROS Parts in the spring of 1988. Before starting PROS, Barry worked in the sales and engineering departments of Vic Manufacturing, one of the largest manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment in the U.S. At Vic, Barry launched a parts sales division that supported dry cleaning equipment imported from Italy and Germany. In its early years, PROS manufactured dry cleaning machinery and then evolved into an industrial and commercial laundry equipment and dry cleaning operations parts supplier. Barry lives in Plymouth, MN with his wife. He has two sons, a step son, a step daughter and his dog, Sora. 

Barry can be reached at 763-231-7379 or barryv@prosparts.com.

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