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How does compressor oil work?

Lubricants, particularly oils for compressors that are engineered for industrial use, are tested and developed for the specific compressor types and their unique requirements. The key jobs a compressor oil must perform include reducing wear and tear, sealing, cleaning and cooling.

In the next sections, we’ll look at compressor oils closer and discuss some important considerations for users planning maintenance of a compressed air system.

What role does air compressor oil play?

Compressor oil is an essential component for maintenance of any efficient compressed air installation. Acting primarily as a coolant, the oil removes any heat that is being generated during the process of compression. A high-quality compressor oil will be able to reduce the wear on rotating parts. This is achieved using different additives and inclusions that prevent metal on metal friction. The oil efficiently cools the system, ensuring its element never overheats.

In addition, compressor oil lubricates parts such as the seals and rotors in the compression chamber. As compressor oil is employed as a coolant and sealant, it must be high-quality oil and can never be substituted with options like everyday motor oil. As the compressor oil flows in between and around the screw elements, it effectively seals the space where air is being compressed.

Cleaning is another vital task for compressor oil. In many situations onsite, dust will enter machinery via the air filter. The compressor oil picks up dust particles, carrying them to the compressor oil filter before flowing back. It’s worth remembering that if an oil fails in this duty, or lubricates parts ineffectively, a compressor’s internal components may swiftly be destroyed.

Kinds of compressor oil

The two key types of compressor oil are standard and synthetic oil.

Standard compressor oil

Standard compressor oil is manufactured using a mineral oil base and is less expensive than synthetic versions. Mineral oil is far more volatile than synthetic oil and evaporates faster, which means it is used much quicker.

Standard oils are also substantially more reactive than their synthetic counterparts. Their carbon chains aren’t 100 per cent saturated by hydrogen, meaning that the oil will react faster when mixed with other substances, leading to the formation of clumps. Unfortunately, this will shorten the compressor oil’s service life, and the service life of any oil filters and separators.

This kind of compressor oil is usually only recommended for use within compressors that don’t see continuous use or for lighter home and DIY applications.

Synthetic compressor oil

Unlike standard compressor oil, synthetic compressor oil uses a non-natural synthetic base oil. This sort of oil is a much higher quality and premium option that offers a far longer service life. Synthetic compressor oils can typically run 50 per cent longer than standard compressor oils.

Synthetic type oils are also able to extend a compressor’s lifespan. Consumed at a much slower rate, they can also stay cooler than standard mineral oil and effectively reduce harmful deposits building up that negatively affect compressor performance. Unlike standard oil, synthetic compressor oil doesn’t contain sulphur, which can cause debris to form on compressor valves.

An essential component of a compressed air installation, selecting the right compressor oil is key.

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