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Air Compressor Maintenance – How to Guide – Preventative & Ongoing

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Air compressor maintenance is a set of practices that must be performed to various degrees in order to help maintain an air compressor. Whether you have just the one compressor at home for DIY projects, or you have several running collectively in a factory setting, you should routinely inspect all key components of the compressed air system and service them, when necessary.

Failure to do so can result in premature wear of the compressor and either costly repairs or failure. This article will provide you with all the air compressor maintenance tips so that you can ensure your air compressor system is running at optimum efficiency.

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Air Compressor Maintenance

Maintenance is one of the most crucial areas of systems management when it comes to factories or other similar industries. Due to the masses of machines and tools that rely on a supply of compressed air, it is very important to ensure that every air compressor within the premises is performing as well as it should. The failure of industrial compressors can result in costly downtime.

Due to the importance of air compressors to successful operations in so many industries, the maintenance itself has become an industry itself. Many companies lack on-site specialists who are able to service air compressors when required, and so, must contact a service specialist.

For example, the powering of pneumatic jackhammers on construction sites tend to be, more often than not, powered by rotary screw compressors. Now, imagine one of these rotary screw compressors breaking down and not having anyone on-site who can fix it… the construction work could dramatically fall behind schedule in an instance.

So what do we do? We conduct air compressor preventive maintenance. The same applies to compressor users at home, if your compressor breaks down halfway through a DIY project, well, you certainly won’t be finishing that project any time soon.

Air Compressor Preventive Maintenance

When you think about how easily a minor issue on an air compressor can turn into a major issue if not remedied in time, preventive maintenance can save a lot of time and money. Preventive steps can only take a few minutes and are certainly easy to learn. But neglecting them? Well, detrimental if you ask me!

What is the difference between preventive and standard air compressor maintenance? The sole purpose of preventive maintenance is to identify mechanical problems before they’re able to spread and lead to costly repairs or system downtime.

Inspecting every component as part of an air compressor maintenance schedule is what makes preventive maintenance what it is. Some companies, do this on a daily basis others on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annually. It typically depends on the amount of work you’re conducting with the air compressor. Taking these steps to ensure that everything works as it should allow you to detect problems early, and rectify them.

Preventive maintenance typically involves very low-cost measures that in the long run, will save you a lot of money. Let’s say you go to inspect your air compressor, and you find a minor crack in your air compressor belt. So, you replace your belt immediately and avoid a situation where the belt snaps and the compressor stops working bring your project to a halt. This is an example of preventive maintenance that saves you the downtime involved in a compressor failing during operation.

Air Compressor Preventive Maintenance Benefits

It doesn’t matter how great your compressor operation size is, whether that’s multiple compressors within a factory setting or just the one at home for DIY projects, you must oversee preventive maintenance work on a timely and consistent schedule. This is the only way you will be able to ensure that your compressor is capable of working optimally on a day-by-day basis. The benefits of having an air compressor maintenance checklist include:

  • Avoiding Downtime
  • Increasing Lifespan and Efficiency
  • Lowering Energy Costs
  • Saving Emergency Repair Costs
  • Superior Products

Avoiding Downtime

An air compressor’s downtime can be a very costly problem, especially in production facilities, as it halts production because the machine has failed to function. Therefore, one of the greatest benefits of preventive maintenance is that the compressor and its components are able to run smoothly and efficiently without the as-regular occurrence of downtime and, therefore, increased productivity.

If you fail to implement regular maintenance protocols you will certainly run the risk of encountering downtime more frequently. It’s very hard to predict when downtime is going to happen, and it tends to be at the worst moments when deadlines are being worked towards and high-cost production is underway.

How do you stay on the safe side? Performing scheduled maintenance and never missing it. Even if the compressor is running flawlessly and it seems inconceivable that the compressor will break down, do your checks!

Increasing Lifespan and Efficiency

If you were to add up the initial cost of your air compressor and all its components and tools, I’m sure you would want to ensure that the investment is worth many years of optimal performance right? The greatest benefit of regular maintenance is that you can increase the air compressor’s lifespan and efficiency.

In theory, the money you’re investing should reward you with thousands of hours of productivity and optimum performance. Without maintenance, you’re certainly jeopardizing this. The air compressor, all its components, and attached tools will not last noway near as long as they would if they had regular checkups.

There is an evident difference in the productivity of companies who implement responsible system maintenance procedures and those who don’t. Don’t be the latter.

Lowering Energy Costs

When you perform proper maintenance tasks on a regular basis, it will allow you to catch situations where a part of your system is over-exerting or struggling to maintain its expected operation. This will more often than not be due to a part that needs cleaning, lubricating, or replacing.

If you are able to identify these issues on compressed air systems before they grow devastatingly out of hand, you will have an air compressor that runs smoother and efficiently, directly improving your energy savings. Imagine saving “x” amount of energy costs each month, you will be able to invest the money back into your system or even your company infrastructure.

Saving Emergency Repair Costs

By reducing your downtime, you’re also saving yourself the costs of having to repair parts in an emergency. So you essentially are profiting in increased productivity and reduced overhead costs, it’s a win-win! These savings can also be invested in improved equipment to be added to your compressor.

Without preventive maintenance, the costs of having to repair an air compressor and any of its parts can be significant. Sometimes, the machine may not even be repairable, so, you’ll have the cost of a new air compressor.

Superior Products

The quality of air that comes from your compressor can pretty much make or break most operations. If any impurities like moisture, oil, or other contaminants are allowed to venture through your system to your spray painter or sander at the end of the line, you’re bound to have an undesirable result. Therefore, preventive maintenance that occurs either daily or weekly is crucial to ensure the quality of your work throughout each usage.

Air Compressor Maintenance Tips

A series of preventive maintenance can go a long way on air compressors. They are systems that employ a series of processes that turn incoming atmospheric air into a power source for multiple tools and machinery. Due to this, they consist of loads of various parts, and each much be maintained properly in order to function properly and, for you to get the best out of your system.

The key parts to check daily, weekly, or whatever your schedule is, include the filters, vents, belts, and bearings. All of these parts can become major problems if dirt or grime is allowed to build up. In short, a compressor needs to have its oil changed, its filters cleaned and its after cooler inspected every 2-3 months, and have its filters replaced and connections tightened at least once a year but preferably twice if you use the compressor a lot.

The following are some basic air compressor maintenance tips, some preventive, others general, that you must get into the swing of completing:

  • Clean the Compressor Fuel Tank
  • Clean the Intake Valves
  • Change Out the Oil
  • Change the Air Filter
  • Change the Oil Separator
  • Drain Condensate From the Tanks
  • Inspect the Air Compressor Shutoff System
  • Inspect the Hoses
  • Read the User Manual
  • Tighten the Nuts and Bolts

Clean the Compressor Fuel Tank

Air compressors that are powered by fuel require an additional bit of maintenance. The fluid that powers the compressor can ultimately become poisonous to the system if the tank is not cleaned at least once every year. Fuel particles will accumulate inside the tank and over time, become toxic.

Therefore, it is imperative that the tank is cleaned. To do so, you should drain the tank of any lingering air and then wet-dry vacuum the inside of it. It may also be necessary to replace the filter element in the filter or replace the filter to eradicate any lingering contaminants.

Clean the Intake Valves

You must have clean intake valves for the air compressor to function efficiently. It’s inevitable that dust particles and other air-bound contaminants are going to get sucked into the intake valves on your air compressor if you’re using them frequently.

Therefore, problems related to a clogged intake valve occur quite frequently, especially when you’re using tools that generate a lot of dust like a woodcutter or sander. These dust particles will no doubt accumulate within your intake valves rather quickly unless you have some form of dust vacuum in place.

If you’re working at a construction site, dirt particulates are inevitably going to get thrown up into the air by pneumatic tools as well as in factories where cooking products like flour and sugar undergo the same path. Therefore, regardless of your work environment, you must take preventive steps to ensure that the intake valve is checked regularly.

You should clean the intake valves at the very least once every three months but I would recommend checking them sooner just in case. This will help you to ensure the purity of the compressed air in your compressed air system.

Change Out the Oil

Of course, this only applies to those compressors that use oil. Just like you would with your car, every now and then the compressor needs an oil change to ensure that it remains fresh and full so that the compressor can operate smoothly.

As you should know already, oil can lose its viscosity in humid environments and ultimately fail to provide the necessary lubrication to all the internal parts of a compressor. Without this lubrication, moving metal parts will rub against each other and cause friction, stress that will eventually lead to premature wear and tear of the system.

On the contrary, in colder environments, the oil will become sludgy and potentially allow moisture into it which is not desirable by any means. You should really be topping off your oil supply before each usage cycle and changing the oil out four times a year, or after around 8000 hours of use – depending on which is first.

It’s crucial that the oil is free of impurities and have the correct viscosity to circulate as intended. Visit our Air Compressor Oil Types, Air Compressor Oil Substitute – Alternatives Compared & How To Change Air Compressor Oil guides for more information!

Change the Air Filter

When using your air compressor, as it is inevitable that dirt particles will enter your air intake valve, a lot of junk will be trapped in your air filter. Without your air filter, the dust and other contaminants could easily degrade your compressor and its attached pneumatic tools.

If you’re conducting applications like painting then the purity of your air is crucial. Without an air filter, it is likely that your projects will become blotched or heavily inconsistent. The quality of air will typically depict the quality of your work, and so, clean air compressor filters are a must.

The more dust and particulates that your air compressor filter collects, the closer it becomes to being less capable of effectively doing this, by becoming clogged. Therefore, it is imperative to check your filter regularly and change it at the very least annually.

Some air filters will come with a changeable filter element that will save you a good amount of money in the long run, which could be invested back into the compressed air system. Visit our Compressed Air Filtration Guide, FRL Air Compressor Filter Regulator Lubricator Guide & Coalescent Filters Guide for more information about filters!

Change the Oil Separator

Along with changing the oil in oil-lubricated compressors, you must also have oil separators in place to ensure no oil mist enters your air stream. Oil separators extract the oil from the air before it is able to reach your pneumatic tools, for good measure, because the oil will significantly affect the quality of your work. Oil separators allow your compressor to remain lubricated and your airstream pure and dry at the end.

If the oil separator is not working properly then your air will become oil-corrupted, which is potentially disastrous. You don’t want oil mist infecting your paint projects as this could lead to coats not drying on your surfaces or blotchy finishes.

For this reason, it is important to replace the oil filter at least every 2000 hours of use to ensure that your lines, tools, and projects remain free of oil. Visit our Air Compressor Oil Separator Guide for more information!

Drain Condensate From the Tanks

Moisture is an inevitable byproduct of compressed air. Condensate accumulates inside air compressor tanks and eventually turns into water droplets which must be drained to ensure that the air supply itself remains dry and pure for your pneumatic tools.

Moisture presence is very problematic, and if not dealt with, can cause significant water damage to your system and its attached tools. Moisture, just like dust and other particulates can have a significant effect on the quality of paint jobs, like in the automobile sector. The present water will make the finish looks spotty as the paint is being watered down in certain areas. This could result in expensive and time-consuming do-overs!

Just like air filters, moisture tanks or will eventually fill up. When the tank becomes too full, the water will move to other areas of the system and re-infect the air. It’s even possible for the water to rot over a long period of time and send bad smells and impurities through your compressed air system. Therefore, it is crucial to drain your air compressor tank on a regular basis, some advise that you do so after every use!

Visit our guides on How To Drain Water From Any Air Compressor Tank & How Often To Drain Air Compressor Tank for more information!

If you’re interested in Cleaning the Inside of Air Compressor Tank, visit our guide!

Inspect the Air Compressor Shutoff System

It’s quite common for a compressor to shut itself down to protect its well-being. For example, if the compressor becomes too hot to perform effectively, the thermal load switch will trip and turn the compressor off to give itself time to cool down. If this did not happen, the overheating internally and of parts could leave to failure. And the greater the size of the machine, for instance, an industrial-sized compressor, the more costly the repair will be.

The mechanism works similar to that of a computer, where it will reboot if it becomes too hot. These safety shutoff systems are important for internal protection without the need for manual inspection of whether the compressor is overheating or not.

Of course, the shutoff mechanism can fail to activate which will lead to air compressor failure. In humid environments, the intensity is of course higher and the pressure on the compressor to not overheat is not helped by the temperature of the incoming ambient air.

And so, you should check your user manual for instructions on how to prevent such a situation from occurring by inspecting the compressor shut-off system and ensuring it is operating as it should!

Inspect the Hoses

Hoses are one of the most vulnerable pieces of equipment on an air compressor. Why? Well, they transfer compressed air between the machine and your given endpoint and so, they carry a lot of responsibility and can easily strain as time passes. Hoses are supposed to be strong and tight while also loose and flexible.

It’s possible that if the pressure in the hose becomes too intense due to fluctuations, the hose can expand while trying to transfer the compressed air to your attached pneumatic tool. On the other hand, if the pressure drops for whatever reason, the hose may contract a small amount. Hoses are constantly moved around your workshop or garage and so, it’s very likely that bends and folds will occur.

A preventive measure here is to inspect the hoses on a regular basis to ensure they’re not worn and do not force your compressor to lag. If there are any signs of damage, or potential air leaks, either repair the hose or get a replacement immediately. If you neglect the inspection of hoses, you will hinder your compressor’s efficiency.

Also, visit our Compressed Air Leaks guide for tips on how to locate air leaks!

Read the User Manual

Typically, most air compressor problems are easy to solve with the information provided in your compressor user manual. Though it may seem obvious, you would be surprised at how many people neglect their user manuals and resort to stressful calls, when the fix was more often than not, very simple.

Of course, you will need some patience when referring to the manual, but it will only take several minutes to locate your problem and find a solution. It’s much better using those minutes to find out exactly what to do rather than taking initiative and potentially damaging the compressor further.

For example, let’s say you have an issue where one of your connections has become a problem and it doesn’t make any sense to you. You attempt to tinker with things manually in the hope that you’ll do something that will miraculously fix the issue, but you don’t, you make things worse. This is extremely common with a lot of air compressor users and so, you should never try to fix anything before referring to your user manual.

If you don’t have your user manual, contact the manufacturer directly or search for a copy online. Failure to abide by this step can cause you significant issues and costs further down the line. And don’t forget, if your compressor is still under warranty, you could risk it becoming void for doing some form of improper adjustment!

Tighten the Nuts and Bolts

The more and more you use your air compressor, the more likely nuts and bolts are to become loose. This is typically due to machine vibrations, parts are easily compromised and must be treated. Don’t sweat, loose screws and fasteners aren’t a sign that your machine is completely falling apart, it’s just time to pull out the wrench.

It’s really not a surprise how easily compressor nuts are loosened if you compare them to various household items that become unscrewed over time. If your compressor is powering heavy-duty tools or machinery, it’s likely that the vibrations will be intensified and so, the looseness of the bolts will accelerate.

To take preventive measures, you should regularly check each fastener to see if there is any give. Use a wrench and twist the nut or bolt to see if it does give, and if it does, tighten the bolt to the point it no longer moves. It’s extremely important to not over-tighten any nuts and bolts because you may strip them.

I’ve provided you with 10 necessary checks, but the list does not stop here. You should check the air dryer performance if you have one to ensure that is up to scratch. Check that your compressor is drawing the correct air compressor amps, and voltage, monitoring any other components that are connected.

Making a Preventive Maintenance Plan

If you’re able to make a preventive maintenance plan, like a daily or weekly checklist that becomes part of your schedule, you will be able to minimize your downtime and repair costs whilst boosting your air compressors maximum efficiency. Of course, the frequency totally depends on your preference, whether that is daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly.

Performing preventive maintenance according to a checklist will ensure you don’t miss tasks and allow you to prolong the lifespan of your compressor and its attachments with much greater efficiency. Preventive maintenance allows you to detect problems in their early stages and save yourself costly repairs, where you can then invest the savings into improving your system further.

A DIY homeowner or even general staff at company factories or plants will be able to conduct preventive maintenance. In some cases, it may be better to let a professional compressor service perform certain tasks – when the unit is large and complicated. Homeowners with smaller portable compressors will be fine to handle these tasks themselves. Though, it is best to contact a professional for any of the following scenarios:

  • Inspecting system safety-shutdown
  • Relocating a large heavy air compressor
  • When mechanical breakdowns occur
  • When you don’t have qualified staff on site (for industries)

A Preventive Maintenance Plan Example

You might be wondering what a preventive maintenance check list schedule looks like, or how to form one, so I will provide the following to you as just an example. It won’t apply to all types and sizes of compressors, and of course will vary depending on the amount of usage your compressor undergoes. See it more as a guide, to get your mind thinking on how you can create one yourself!

Daily Procedures

You should aim to perform the following procedures every day or after every 8 hours of use:

  • Check for leaks and vibrations
  • Check the lubricant to ensure that it is at the correct level
  • Drain the receiver tank of water
  • Monitor all gauges and indicators for normal operation
  • Visually inspect compressor and ensure all safeguards are in place

Note: never allow the lubricant to drop below half and if it becomes discolored, you should empty and refill it.

Weekly Procedures

These procedures should be conducted once a week or every 40 hours of use:

  • Check the pressure relief valves
  • Clean out the air intake filter
  • Clean the aftercooler and fluid cooler fins (for air-cooled units)
  • Clean the surfaces of the entire compressor (and intercooler for industrial sized compressors)
  • Inspect the compressed air system and hoses for signs of leaks

If the compressor is in a humid environment, or one that is dusty, you should perform the previous steps twice weekly, or after every 20 hours of use.

Monthly Procedures

Once a month, or after 160 hours of use you should:

  • Inspect the belt tension inside your air compressor

Quarterly Procedures

Once every three months, or after around 500 hours of use you should perform the following:

  • Change out the lubricant
  • Inspect the lubricant filter/oil separator and change if necessary
  • Inspect the torque on the pulleys screws and nuts

Biannually Procedurres

Once every six months, or after around 1000 hours of use you should perform these steps:

  • Change out the lubricant – no matter whether its synthetic or not
  • Check valves for signs of leaks or carbon prints
  • Clean the crankcase
  • Examine the motor-area contact points and pressure switch diaphragm to ensure everything is in order

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How often should a compressor be serviced?

This depends on how frequently you are using the air compressor. It’s typically advised that if you’re only using the compressor occasionally then a yearly professional service should suffice. In contrast, if you use your compressor continuously then it may be required that you get the compressor serviced every three months to ensure you avoid any issues.

How often should air compressor oil be changed?

You will find the exact answer to this question for your compressor in your user manual as specified by the manufacturer. As a guideline, DIY compressors that are used occasionally are advised to change oil every six to twelve months. While an industrial compressor that is used continuously is advised to consider change the oil every 300 hours of use.

What is an important daily maintenance procedure for air compressors?

Some of the most important tasks to perform as part of your daily maintenance procedure include checking for vibrations (i.e. have any nuts or screws come loose?), checking for leaks, inspecting the oil level and ensuring it has not dropped below half, draining the storage tank and, monitoring all the gauges for normal operation.

How often should air compressors be inspected?

Air compressors should be inspected daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, and annually. What you inspect varies depending on the frequency at which you’re doing it. For daily inspections, look at the compressor and safeguards. You should look for signs of leaks once or twice a week. Every month you should inspect the belt tension, and then inspect the torque on the pulleys screws and nuts quarterly. The inspections aren’t limited to these, they’re just examples. Don’t neglect any part of your compressor!

If you have any questions regarding air compressor maintenance, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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