What is the difference between a relief valve and safety valve?

Safety valves and relief valves have similar structure and performance, both of which discharge internal media automatically when the pressure exceeds the set value to ensure the safety of the production device. Because of this essential similarity, the two are often confused and their differences are often overlooked as they are interchangeable in some production facilities. For a clearer definition, please refer to the ASME boiler and pressure vessel specifications.

Safety Valve: An automatic pressure control device driven by the static pressure of the medium in front of the valve is used for gas or steam applications, with full open action.

Relief Valve: Also known as the overflow valve, an automatic pressure relief device driven by the static pressure in front of the valve. It opens proportionally as the pressure exceeds the opening force, mainly used for fluid applications.


The basic difference in their operating principle: The safety valve relieves the pressure into the atmosphere i.e. out of the system, it can be a pressure relief device of fluid vessels, when the set pressure value reached then the valve opens almost fully. On the contrary, relief valve relieves the pressure by relieving the fluid back into the system, that’s the low-pressure side. Relief valve opens gradually if the pressure increased gradually.

The difference is also generally shown in capacity and setpoint. A relief valve is used to relieve pressure to prevent an overpressure condition, the operator may be needed to assist in opening the valve in response to a control signal and close back once it relieves the excess pressures and continues to operate normally.

A safety valve can be used to relieve the pressure that does not need a manual reset. For example, a thermal relief valve is used to bleed off pressure in a heat exchanger if it is isolated but the possibility of thermal expansion of the fluid could cause overpressure conditions. The safety valve on a boiler or other types of fired pressure vessels must be capable of removing more energy that is possible to be put into the vessel.

In short, Safety valves and relief valves are the two most commonly used types of control valves. The safety valve belongs to the pressure release device, which can only operate when the working pressure exceeds the allowable range to protect the system. The relief valve can make the high-pressure medium quickly to meet the pressure requirements of the system and its working process is continuous.

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