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Maintain and improve your compressed air

How to Improve and Maintain the Air Quality of Your Compressed Air System

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25 November 2019

How to Improve and Maintain the Air Quality of Your Compressed Air System

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

According to the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, poorly maintained air compressor systems are responsible for some $3.2 billion in excess utility costs and inefficiencies. Maintaining the air quality of your compressed air system can save your time and money. But before you install new filters and aftercoolers, it’s important to understand the specific needs of your air compressor.

Common issues with compressed air systems

Solids, liquids and gas vapours can all affect the smooth and efficient running of your air compressor system, with particularly common issues caused by particulates, moisture buildup and lubrication contamination.


Dust and other small solid materials are present in the air. While this might not affect the general environment a great deal, it can cause inefficiencies in your air compression systems and lead to inadequate performance. It's also not easy to actually see particulates. The human eye can only see particles about 40 microns thick or higher. To put that into perspective, a single strand of human hair is somewhere between 50-70 microns thick, while particulates that can affect the quality of air in your compressor can be as small as 3 microns. Even particulates 1/10th of a micron in size can have adverse affects on your compression system. Risk of particulate companion within an air compression system is increased depending on the location and reasons for usage. For example, a woodworking workshop or carpentry store produces plenty of sawdust, with smaller particulates posing a threat to the compression system. Particulates will mostly damage end points on an air compression system. Compressors with a high volume of particulates will also require more lubrication, which is not only costly, but can lead to over-lubrication of the compressor system.

Moisture buildup

Humidity within a compressed air system can damage pipes and ruin the efficiency of your system. While air compressors produce hot air (which holds higher levels of moisture) as the air moves from the compressor it begins to cool, and moisture builds up. Moisture can lead to rust on the piping which will damage your system and eventually lead to failure. Even without the rust, moisture affects the efficiency of your air compressor system, making it more expensive to run.

Over or under lubrication

Some compressed air systems require lubrication to function correctly. Failure to correctly lubricate by applying too much (or too little) lubrication can damage your system. Use of low quality lubricant can also gum up the compression system and reduce the efficiency of your compressor. Lubricant contamination is a serious concern for air compressors used in food production and food sciences, as well as other chemical based industries where purity of chemical process is paramount.

Compressor contamination can affect all compressors

While higher end air compressors boast more power and features than more economical units, all types of air compressor are at risk of material damage and poor air quality from particulates, moisture buildup and lubrication contamination. WIthout proper care and maintenance, even best in class air compressors are at risk of damage without proper maintenance.

Tips for understanding your air quality needs

So, how exactly do you improve air quality for your air compressor system? The first rule is to determine the level of air quality you actually need for your air compressor, as overspending on filters and drying equipment can run up excess costs and reduce your efficiency where they aren’t needed. There are a couple of ways to determine the air efficiency you need for your air compressor system.

Four levels method

Provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, this relatively simple guide states: 1.Plant Air: Is used for equipment and tools in industrial manufacturing. 2.Instrument Air: Any usage relating to climate control, laboratory work. Spray painting and powder coating. 3.Process Air: The processing of air for food and pharmaceuticals, as well as electronics. 4.Breathing Air: Air systems for respirators, dive tank refills, hospital air etc. In this model, 4 is the highest level of air quality requirements.

ISO quality classes

Air filters and other equipment can also be defined by this handy table at Air-compressor-guide.com, with 0 representing the highest quality standard. The table breaks up ratings of particulates and other contaminants into solids, liquids and gas (vapour), and is ideal for matching specific filters to your specific needs.

Specific equipment

It’s essential to define both the the intended uses for your air compressor and the level to which you require filtration, that way you can make the best use of available equipment.


Air compression maintenance can get tricky when it comes to filters. For example, a class 2 dirt filter will supply your compressor with air quality at that level for dirt only. So if you’re concerned about liquids or gases, it might not be the best fit for your system.


Aftercoolers prevent moisture buildup in the end points beyond the compressor by cooling the air before it reaches the end point. Once the air is cooled, water is removed, keeping compressed air close to ambient temperature. Aftercoolers come in two basic models. •Air cooled: Simpler system using only air extract the moisture. •Water cooled: More efficient provided you can find a water source. Some compressors come with aftercoolers as standard.


Dryers tackle the same problem as aftercoolers (moisture buildup) but from a different approach. Rather than cooling the compressed air before it reaches end points, dryers lower the dew point so that moisture build up isn’t possible. Dryers can be expensive, so be sure that it’s necessary for your compressor needs, and purchase the right sized dryers for your system.

A clean system is a quality system

There’s no doubt that regular maintenance of your air compressor system will keep it running smoothly and more efficiently. But the most important takeaway for improving your compressor’s air filter is to both understand the needs of your compression system and the right equipment to meet those needs. That way, you can have a high quality air compressor system that is cost efficient and easy to maintain.

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