What Happens If My Portable Air Compressor Gets Wet?
The last hurricane absolutely soaked your air compressor. And now, it won't start.
Maybe it's even starting, but it isn't giving you the air pressure that you need to get work done quickly and efficiently.
Relax, this isn't a major mechanical fault. It's a challenge you can easily manage by yourself, without having to take it to a technician, even if you have no prior technical knowledge about air compressors.
Understanding the Working Mechanism of Air Compressors.
By design, air compressors do not function under wet or cold conditions.
That's why they typically run smoother in the summertime and late spring than they do during the winter seasons.
There's a crucial link between cold weather conditions and the wet condensers. We'll explore that a little bit.
The Water and Ice Buildup Problem
Compressing air causes condensation to occur in the tank. Liquid water (or condensate) is formed from when the air is compressed, and the water vapor in the air is squeezed out.
These condensations are the biggest cause of wetness problems for an air compressor.
Condensation occurs even more rapidly when it is cooler outside, especially when the temperature falls below the freezing point. What's more, the condensate turns into ice when the ambient temperature remains low.
The immediate consequence of water build-up is a reduction in pressure of the airflow. But that isn't all.
If frozen, the expansion of ice would invariably cause a crack in the tank, weakening its structural integrity.
As ToolTally points out, if the air compressor is left unattended to, the water can also rust the tank, weakening it and creating a higher likelihood of it exploding.
Keep in mind that the cold weather systems also affect the state of the compressor oil, which impacts the operation of the air compressor.
Oil thickens and can seize the compressor piston when the ambient temperature gets too cold. As such, the motor won't roll, and the compressor won't start.
This is true for both oil-lubricated and non-lubed air compressors. (Oil-less compressors still has oil lubricating their moving parts.)
The only difference is you, the compressor owner, aren't required to add oil manually. Like the oil-lubricated type of compressors, if oilless compressors are exposed to a temperature lower than that specified by the manufacturer, the oil in it will thicken, freeze, and might not start.
What to Do If Your Air Compressor Won't Start In the Cold
Most compressors are designed for use in temperatures of over 40 degrees Fahrenheit. What do you do when your air compressor has cooled from winter has gotten wet over a prolonged use?
Drain out the Air Compressor
As was mentioned earlier, condensate builds up in air compressors over time. If your compressor system is wet or won't start, here is the first place you want to look. A good maintenance practice is to drain out the condensate frequently. The frequency of draining, of course, depends on the frequency of use. They always have a fitting on the bottom, which is supposed to have a drain valve in it.
Liquid or frozen condensate does much more than hinder airflow. Condensate left in the bottom of the tank for too long causes the tank's base to begin to rust. This slow process of degradation occurs from the inside out. By the time you notice rusting outside the tank, the damage is likely so far gone. At this point, the compressor is no longer safe for use, as it could explode, causing harm to persons and things in its proximity.
If you needed extra incentive to undertake the monotonous task of draining your compressor routinely, there you have it. Drain your compressor as frequently as necessary. The whole world will be better for it!
Transfer the Compressor into a Heated Environment.
Consider keeping your compressor indoor rather than outdoor. That way, the ambient temperature remains appropriate for the machine's effective operation, especially during the winter seasons when weather temperature drops low. If you inescapably have to keep your compressor in an uncontrolled temperature environment, bring it in to warm up a few hours before you intend to use it. The law of thermodynamics will take care of the rest.
Cold proof your Air Compressor
If you're unable to keep your compressor in a temperature-controlled room, this might be an option for you. As in the preceding point, the goal is to ensure that the compressor is at operational temperature. It involves;
- Fitting your compressor with an internal sump to maintain a temperature above 40ᵒF- the benchmark operating temperature for most compressors.
- Installing a low ambient air temperature limit switch.
- Insulating pipes to reduce the probability of freezing.
- Installing trace heating pipes to prevent freezing.
If Your Air Compressor Gets Wet:
It won't work! You need to drain it!
Get the water out of the tank and out of the pistons. Let it dry out and change the oil.
With any luck, your compressor will be good to go again in a matter of hours.
I couldn't find a way of making sure my assumption was accurate. You're the expert; please ensure that it's accurate. Otherwise, let's take it out.