How to Clean Flat Sheet Membranes: Ensuring Efficiency in Wastewater Treatment

In today’s world, flat sheet membrane technology is revolutionizing the wastewater treatment industry. Combining the strengths of traditional biological treatments with advanced membrane separation techniques, this technology has become indispensable for tackling high-concentration and hard-to-degrade industrial, hospital, and organic wastewater. However, a critical aspect that dictates the performance of these flat sheet membranes is how well they are maintained and cleaned. This article will delve deep into two popular methods to clean flat sheet membranes: online maintenance cleaning and offline recovery cleaning.

How to clean a flat sheet membrane?

What is Membrane Cleaning?

Kee­ping water treatment syste­ms in good working order requires re­gular membrane cleaning. This e­ssential process involves re­moving foulants from the surface of the me­mbrane. Foulants can be minerals, organic compounds, or biological de­bris that build up and block the flow through the membrane­. When this happens, pressure increases, and perme­ate flux decreases. By implementing effe­ctive cleaning strategies, we can restore the membrane’s performance­, maintain optimal flow rates, and improve overall syste­m efficiency. Regularly addre­ssing fouling ensures that water tre­atment installations remain functional and efficient for longer.

Why is Cleaning Flat Sheet Membranes Necessary?

Clean membranes are crucial for optimizing water output and system performance. Membranes operating in high-sludge and high-organic load environments are particularly susceptible to fouling due to accumulating pollutants like humic acid, inorganic minerals, and anaerobic sludge. This fouling can lead to a reduction in water output and efficiency.

Membrane Fouling Challenges

  • Decreased water output
  • Reduced system efficiency
  • Increased operating costs
Use pressure water jet flushing to clean flat sheet membranes

Methods to Clean Flat Sheet Membranes

There are mainly two ways to clean flat sheet membrane elements: online maintenance cleaning and offline recovery cleaning.

Online Maintenance Cleaning

Step-by-Step Procedure

Online cleaning aims to bring the membrane back to a state as close to the initial state as possible. The process helps suppress the polluted layer’s thickening and controls the transmembrane pressure difference.

  1. Pause Operation: Turn off the membrane tank equipment, stop aeration, and open the dosing valve.
  2. Prepare Cleaning Solution: Dilute the chosen chemical solution to a 1% concentration in the dosing barrel or pool.
  3. Pump the Solution: The dosing pump introduces the cleaning solution into the membrane module.
  4. Soaking and Aeration: Resume aeration for 3 to 5 hours after completing the soaking time.
  5. Resume Operation: Finally, activate the self-priming pump and gradually adjust the water output to the design flow operation.

Offline Recovery Cleaning

When to Opt for Offline Cleaning?

Offline cleaning is generally done once a year or when online maintenance cleaning fails to restore the membrane flux.


  1. Dismantle the Module: Unassemble the MBR membrane module and remove the diaphragm.
  2. Manual Cleaning: Use high-pressure water guns, sponges, and rags to clean the membrane according to the recommended cleaning process.
  3. Reassemble: After cleaning, reassemble the membranes and place them back into the box.

How to Clean Flat Sheet Membranes?

Step 1: Physical Cleaning – Pressure Water Jet Flushing

When your flat sheet membrane starts showing signs of inefficiency, the first cleaning technique to employ is off-line chemical cleaning. Remove the MBR flat membrane element from the module if online methods haven’t addressed the issue. Place it on a flat surface or clean container and flush the membrane surface using a high-pressure water jet.

Step 2: Chemical Cleaning – Soaking in Chemical Solutions

After the initial physical cleaning, place the membrane in a special container. Add a suitable mixture of alkali detergents like sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide or a pickling agent like oxalic acid. Soak the membrane for at least five hours to restore its filtration ability.

Step 3: Post-Cleaning Storage – Safe Storage

Once you’ve completed physical and chemical cleaning, remove the membrane and place it in a reaction tank or soak it in clean water for storage. Please protect it from direct sunlight and prevent the membrane surface from drying out to maintain its functionality.

chemical soaking of flat sheet membrane

How do you chemically clean ultrafiltration membranes?

Chemically cleaning ultrafiltration membranes is a meticulous process for maintaining their optimal functionality. Initially, a solution—typically comprising chlorine bleach, hydrochloric acid, or hydrogen peroxide—is introduced, saturating the membranes thoroughly. A vigorous forward or backward flush follows after allowing the solution to soak in for a set duration. This strategic flushing dislodges the contaminants and effectively rinses them out, leaving the membranes rejuvenated and primed for peak performance in water treatment operations.


Choosing the right cleaning method for your flat sheet membrane ensures long-term stability and performance. Regular and effective cleaning will help reduce operational and maintenance costs, maximizing the return on investment for wastewater treatment facilities. Whether you choose online maintenance cleaning or the more intensive offline recovery cleaning, understanding your system’s specific needs is key to making the right choice.


What are the signs that my membrane needs cleaning?

Reduced water output, increased transmembrane pressure difference, and reduced system efficiency are typical signs.

How often should online maintenance cleaning be done?

The frequency of online cleaning depends on the specific operating conditions but is generally performed regularly to maintain optimal performance.

Can I use any chemicals for cleaning?

It’s essential to use approved chemicals for cleaning to ensure you don’t damage the membrane.

Is offline cleaning better than online cleaning?

Each has its merits. Offline cleaning is more thorough but requires more downtime. Online cleaning is quicker but might not resolve severe fouling.

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