What to Do When Your Oil Has High Particle Counts

Noria Corporation
Tags: particle counting

"What are the corrective actions for a high particle count? Is there any standard particle count for fresh oil?"

There are multiple corrective actions for a high particle count. Selecting the appropriate action will depend on the operational and environmental conditions. If a high particle count is noticed in a component through oil analysis, the first question you should ask is where are the particles originating.

The initial reaction is usually to change or filter the oil. However, determining where the particles are coming from can save time, money and numerous headaches down the road. Simply removing the particles only focuses on the failure symptom and not the root cause.

Common root causes of high particle counts include new oil, ventilation and breathers, seals, wear generation, service and manufacturing debris, and filter dumping or bypassing.

New Oil

It is a common misconception that new oil is clean. In fact, when tested straight from an unopened drum, most new oils have particle counts that are in some cases 32 times dirtier than what you would prefer to have in your equipment.

Ventilation and Breathers

Every machine "breathes," so proper precautions must be taken to ensure that clean, dry air is entering the system. Otherwise, particles will build to uncontrollable amounts over time.

Wear Generation

Some particles measured during a particle count may not be strictly contamination from outside sources but rather the effect of this contamination in the form of wear debris.

Service and Manufacturing Debris

Even brand-new equipment must be inspected for cleanliness. Often new components are not flushed or cleaned after assembly. This will lead to high particle counts after installation.

Filter Dumping or Bypassing

Systems with built-in filtration may run dirty because of operational conditions or a flaw in the design. In this case, all the particles that you assume are being caught by the filtration system are being sent throughout the internal components.

While this is by no means a complete list of potential causes of high particle counts, it does represent some of the most common. The best practice is to determine how the particles are entering or being generated by the system.

It has been proven that exclusion of particles is 10 times more cost-effective than removal. Therefore, exclusion should be the first priority, and then a focus can be placed on removal.

Keep in mind that new oil particle counts vary widely, and many factors contribute to high particle counts. The simple truth is that new oil should be assumed to be dirty, and it must be cleaned before being used. 

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