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Why Lubricants Fail

It seems simple enough, lubricants are necessary to keep your equipment running and to avoid catastrophic results from compressor oil failure. The causes associated with lubricant failure are explained in this article, but let's start with the purpose and function of air compressor lubricant.

Purpose of a Lubricant

Lubricant in your compressor is its life blood. It serves four essential functions in maintaining equipment performance and extending the expected life of the equipment. Lubricant provides protection, acts as a coolant, keeps the equipment clean and seals the equipment to aid in compression. Here’s how:


Compressor lubricant, first and foremost, reduces friction and wear. The oil prevents metal-on-metal contact and protects the equipment against rust and corrosion.


The removal and transfer of heat to a reservoir allows the oil to cool. Operating temperature affects the lubricant performance and is essential to the equipment’s optimum performance and the life of the oil.


By transferring solids and foreign matter to the oil filter, the lubricant functions to keep the equipment’s internal parts clean and reduces wear on those parts. Some oils' natural solvency allow it to hold dirt, or detergency to prevent harmful sludge and varnish.


The oil’s viscosity and coating of parts, aid in the compression process by effectively sealing the internal operation of the integrated parts.

Causes of Lubricant Failure

Several conditions (such as contamination, degradation and additive depletion) contribute to the eventual failure of the oil in your air compressor. Here’s why:


External sources of contamination originate from dirt, moisture, or process related liquids and metals around the location of the equipment. Internal sources of contamination include machine wear and fluid degradation byproducts.

Oil Degradation

Operating Temperature is a prevalent factor contributing to the degradation of the quality of the oil in your compressor. For every 18ºF rise in operating temperature, fluid life is cut in half. Oil rated for 4,000 hours at 200ºF is affectively a 2,000 hour oil at 218ºF. Another contributing factor is oxidation. The hotter the oil, and an increased exposure to oxygen, will increase the rate of fluid deterioration.

Additive Depletion

Normal consumption of certain additives occurs while performing the intended function of the additive. Other additives are chemically changed at the molecular level and become ineffective, eliminating enhancement properties through the normal operating life cycle of the oil.

At SA Performance, air compressor lubricants are our specialty, but customer service is our focus. We know air compressors and stand ready to assist you with helpful information that will benefit your customers and grow your business. Learn more by contacting one of our specialists.

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