Compressor Oil Leaks in the Finishing Shop

If your compressor blows oil into your finishing shop air, you could be entering a world of hurt. Here's advice. October 13, 2008

I have been shooting clears for ten years and never had a problem. I am pretty sure I have an oil lifting problem from my compressor. I bought some filters for my lines and they did not seem to help. I have a new bucket of finish and still the same effect. My rep said to re-seal my doors then top-coat. I am not sure which way to go. I am half scared to seal and shoot again. I am getting tired of sanding the same doors over and over! What causes oil lifting?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
Do you mean fisheyes?

From contributor B:
If you are not sure if the compressor is the culprit, blow your compressed air onto a sheet of copy paper and check it for oil spots. Even the smallest speck will give you tons of trouble.

From contributor A:
If your compressor is losing oil either into your lines or into the air, filters will not solve the problem. Find the source first and fix it, then it is easier to buy new lines than to try to remove it from your existing lines.

If the compressor is spewing oil into the air you have a much more serious problem, as your whole shop could be contaminated. Even fisheye eliminator in your coating will not solve it completely. You may have to do a very extensive house cleaning to overcome the contamination.

From the original questioner:
What is the best way of cleaning oil in the shop? I do think I just wore out my compressor. It has lasted ten years and I have worked it pretty hard.

From contributor A:
Prepare yourself mentally for a potential nightmare of a project. Begin by getting rid of the compressor or disconnect and seal it in 6 mil plastic and duck tape. Get a new compressor (or a rebuild on the old if possible), and buy all new lines immediately. Throw away the old lines.

Then begin the process of cleanup. Everywhere this oil has been blown, walked through, touched and transferred through shoes, hands, air, may have to be cleaned and isolated until the problem is resolved.

As to the chemistry required, it is best to start by pulling up the MSDS on the exact brand of oil your compressor has been using. Machine oils can contain all kinds of additives these days and zeroing in on your brand will help find the answers.

Most manufactures have a website and or technical support number listed on their bottles. If there is on yours call it and ask to speak to one of their chemists. Explain the problem and see if they can quickly provide you with the chemical antidote. If there is silicone involved, your best bet is toluene and xylene, but that might not solve the whole problem.

You may have a mild case which won't ruin you and your production for long but you could be in for a major contamination cleanup. This kind of stuff migrates and attaches to everything it had a chance to. If it was spewing through your airlines it could even be on the ceiling and rafters (in the dust) just waiting for a breeze to drop it down onto your production area.

Workers clothing that may have been exposed should be removed also. Start everything with a very complete vacuuming with a hepa that will contain what you suck up. Then don Tyvek suits, gloves, boots, and respirators if you have to get into the serious chemistry. Change respirator cartridges daily or more until this is over.

You and only you can assess just how far this could have spread. Do the worst most logical areas first and see if you have overcome it.

From contributor J:
Do you have to add oil to your compressor?

From the original questioner:
No I have not checked it lately, last time I did it was ok. I have been seeing oil around the switch and main regulator.

From contributor T:
The quickest way to tell if your pushing oil is to remove one of your water traps and take a look, if it's not visually present then take a little sniff. You'll have no problem detecting that petroleum order. If that occurrence took place in my shop it would be months before I got a good night’s sleep.

As Contributor A stated even after complete clean up you can and probably will have contamination episodes. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about this. I'm not going to say good luck because what you may need is a divine intervention.