Handling Water In Your Air Compressor: Causes & Solutions
Stuck trying to figure out why is there water in your air compressor?
Sadly, thousands of people are struggling with the same issue. Water can easily damage your equipment and affect the product’s quality.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place to get this issue solved.
If you have water in your air compressor, you’ll need to drain it by reducing the pressure and opening the valve. To prevent water buildup, I recommend using an air dryer or filter, oiling the tool inlet, or opening the drain a little.
Keep reading to learn why is there water in your air compressor and how to fix this issue!
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Why Is There Water in Your Air Compressor?
Basically, your compressor is drawing in air from its surroundings and there’s a TON of moisture on the air.
So what happens when all that air is compressed? It condenses and creates water.
Unfortunately, water can damage the air motor, valve, and any other components connected to the system.
How to Drain Water From Your Air Compressor: 5 Simple Steps
As you learned in the section above, water can damage your equipment.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to drain the water in your air compressor. You’ll just need to:
- Turn the compressor off. Make sure it’s completely switched off, and ideally unplugged.
- Reduce the pressure. We don’t want air bursting out the drain. Use the safety valve to reduce the pressure until it’s less than 10 PSI.
- Prep for water. Find the valve (on the bottom of the tank) and, if necessary, place something underneath it to catch the water.
- Open the valve. Just open it slowly and allow the water to drain out. Once done, tip the tank at a few angles to encourage every last drop to come out.
- Close the valve. Use the compressor as standard again. This may seem a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people forget this, then wonder why their pressure doesn’t build up afterward!
It’s sometimes asked if the valve should be kept open when you’re not using the compressor. In my opinion, this isn’t worth the risk of insects bringing in dirt and making your compressor their home. Just quickly drain it before you use it the next time.
If your drain is in a difficult spot to reach, you can get drain extension kits to draw the valve point out and make it easy to reach (meaning you’ll drain it more often, which is better for your compressor).
If you don’t want to deal with this manually, you can use an automatic tank drain.
It hooks up to the compressor and drains the tank following a certain trigger. Generally, this is when the compressor is turned off, or even right after every burst of air.
Automatic drains not only save you hassle, but they help your compressor last longer – by preventing a greater build-up of water and rust.
How to Prevent Water in an Air Compressor: 4 Tips
The section above helped you remove the water from your air compressor. However, it’s important that you know how to prevent this issue from happening again.
This way, you’ll prolong your air compressor’s life, and save time and money.
Follow these simple tips to prevent water in an air compressor:
#1 Air Filters / Separators
There’s a ton of water in the air, and we want to make that minimal.
The most basic weapon against water is to filter it out using a simple air filter.
An air filter will clean the air and pull out some of the water that’s in the line, so it doesn’t go directly to your tools.
These are cheap, simple tools that will quickly pay for themselves in maintenance savings. You can find an air filter in almost every home improvement store.
#2 Dry the Air
If you have a quality air compressor and want to fully protect it, a refrigerated air dryer is the only way to go.
These are more costly than a basic air filter, but for good reason.
Instead of a basic filter system, an air dryer will actively cool the air down to a much lower temperature (say 40F). This causes the air to condense and release much of its moisture.
This water is quickly collected and drained out.
The now-dry air can be passed into the tank and through the pipe system with zero chance of it condensing. The lower temperature means it’s pressure dew point is far lower (even down to -40F!).
On top of this, they are often combined with air filters and pressure regulators – like in the example above.
#3 Oil It Up
Truth is that you’re going to get dirt in the line. And, you’re going to get a little water in the line, too.
To help, make sure to put a bit of oil in the tool inlet. Just turn the tool upside down and put a few drops of oil in the inlet.
This keeps the tool intake lubricated, and helps to prevent dirt or water from getting into the tool itself.
#4 Open the Drain (A Little)
This isn’t something you should do all the time, or even if you’re unsure.
If you’re using a water sensitive tool (like a spray paint gun or a sandblaster) then it might be worth opening the drain a bit.
With the drain slightly open, any water built up will seep out and keep the air extra dry.
Bear in mind that this will cause air to look out and put much more demand on your compressor. This should only be done in certain situations and monitored with care.
Frequently Asked Questions
#1 What Is Pressure Dew Point (PDP)?
To understand water in an air compressor, it’s important you understand the pressure dew point (PDP).
Simply, this is the point (temperature) when vapor water saturates and starts condensing into liquid.
This accounts for the pressure that the water vapor (or any gas) is under. The PDP changes as the pressure changes.
To minimize water levels, we need to minimize the PDP.
# 2 What Affects the Pressure Dew Point?
This is a good question. Some climates will cause your compressor to seem like it’s drowning within a few hours, while others almost never have an issue.
All the factors are related to the air itself.
- Intake Rate. Air contains moisture, and the more air we take in, the more moisture we take in. A higher intake rate (in CFM) means a higher water content in the system.
- Relative Humidity. This number is the percentage of saturation in the air relative to the maximum it can handle at that temperature. The wetter the air, the more water we get.
- Temperature. The warmer air gets, the more moisture it can hold. This is why hot climates can get so humid, but cold climates are often dry.
- Pressure. Think of pressure like squeezing a sponge—the more you squeeze, the more water comes out. In other words, the more air we pack into a container, the more the water separates out (since the air can’t hold it).
Want an estimate for your compressor? There’s a great calculator over at AtlasCopco.
#3 What Harm Does Water Do?
Water can harm our tools and systems in a lot of ways. Mostly these happen gradually over time – they may not be noticeable until damage is done. Some examples include:
- Corrosion of the equipment and/or piping system
- If it’s ice-cold, water may freeze and expand inside the system.
- Many issues with spray paint – diluted, color changes, harder to apply.
- Issues with pneumatic controls, which are hard to repair.
The best way to avoid the issues is to prevent them from happening – using our tips above.
Water in an air compressor can cause a ton of worry. Hopefully, with the help of this article, you’ll be able to drain the water and prevent it from building up.
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Thanks for reading, and have a great day.