Compressed Air Quality and ISO 8573-1 Purity Classes

Airborne particles surround us everywhere.   In a general work environment, nearly four million particles per cubic foot is floating around us at any given time.  When a compressor compresses this air, the concentration increases substantially.  So, compressed air is not only expensive to make, but very dirty.  As the air exits your air compressor and travels into your pneumatic system, there is so much contamination that the International Standard Organization, ISO, created an Air Quality chart with Purity Classes.


This chart is easy to follow and can be found in the ISO8573-1 standard for Air Quality.  It is used to select a cleanliness level for your compressed air system.  The contamination is categorized into three areas; Particles, Water, and Oil (reference above).  A Class is associated with a number for each category ranging from 0 (most stringent) to 9 (most relaxed).  As an example, an Air Quality value of ISO8573-1:2010 [1.2.4] has a Class 1 for Particles, Class 2 for Water, and Class 4 for Oil.  These Class values will show the maximum value in each category.

To define the categories in more detail, I will separate the three to discuss the origins and solutions.

  • Particles: For solid particles, this part comes from many different areas.  The surrounding ambient air that is being drawn into the air compressor is filtered; but the intake filter will only remove large diameter particles.  The smaller diameter particles will go through the filter and into the compressed air system.  Another part is rust particles that occur from steel air pipes and receiver tanks.  Over time, rust will flake off and create particles that can affect pneumatic equipment.  Other particles can come from components inside the air compressor, valves, etc., that wear and breakdown.  In the ISO column for Particles, it is separated into three different micron ranges and concentrations.  The removal of particles from the compressed air is done by traps and compressed air filters.  EXAIR offers two types; Filter Separators with 5-micron filtration and Oil Removal Filters with 0.03-micron filtration.  There are other types of filtration systems depending on your ISO requirement.
  • Water:  Humidity is a natural occurrence as water vapor in the surrounding air.  It can be measured as a dew point temperature.  This is the temperature at which water will condense and make rain.  Inside an air compressor, the air is ‘squeezed”, and the amount of space for water vapor is reduced.  So, it will condense into liquid form as “rain” inside the pipes.  Air that comes out from an air compressor will always be saturated with water.  To remove liquid water, a mechanical device can be used.  Inside a Filter Separator, a centrifugal separator will spin the air and remove the liquid water.  To remove water vapor, a compressed air dryer is required like a refrigerant, desiccant, deliquescent, or membrane type.  Each type will have a dew point range that they can reach.  As an example, a refrigerant type will reduce the dew point near 37 oF (3 oC).  That means that water will not condense until the temperature reaches below 37 oF (3 oC).
  • Oil: This category can be found as a liquid, aerosol or vapor, and it includes more than just oil. It contains small hydrocarbons, CO, CO2, SO2, and NOX.  Oil mainly comes from inside an oil-flooded air compressor.  As the air passes through the compressor, it will pick up remnants of oil aerosols and carry it downstream.  With high temperatures inside the air compressor, some of the oil will vaporize.  Even with oil-less type air compressors, carbon vapor can still be an issue.  Small hydrocarbons can come through the air intake and condense inside the system like water vapor above.  To remove the liquid and aerosol type of oil, Oil Removal Filters can be used.  They are designed to “coalesce” the small particles into larger particles for gravity to remove.  Oil vapor requires an activated carbon to remove.  These types of filter units will adsorb the vapor.  This helps to remove odors as well as dangerous chemical vapors that may be in the compressed air line.

There are a variety of pneumatic systems that use the ISO8573-1 standard.  This will include breathing air operations, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and the electronic industries.  If you need stringent requirement for your compressed air system, the Air Quality standard should be used by referring to the Class numbers above.  This helps to dictate the types of filtration and air dryers that should be used within your pneumatic system.  If you have any questions about your compressed air system, an Application Engineer at EXAIR can help.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


ISO 8573-1 Chart by Compressed Air Best Practice.

Air Quality Classes – Understanding ISO 8573-1:2010

ISO 8573-1:2010 is the international standard for Air Quality Classes. It lays the ground rules for acceptable levels of pollutants, particulate, moisture, and oil in a compressed air source.

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Specification Example: ISO 8573-1:2010 [2:2:1]

This indicates Class 2 for particles, Class 2 for water, and Class 1 for oil.

Though the standard has detailed standards for maximum particle size, maximum pressure dew point and maximum oil content for different industries and/or environments (see Slide show above) we can generalize a bit and express the levels of air quality like this:

Plant Air – general plant compressed air used for air tools, nozzles etc.
Instrument Air – found in laboratories, paint and powder coat booths, used for climate control.
Process Air – used in food and pharmaceutical applications, electronics applications.
Breathing Air – used for breathing respirators, breathing tanks and hospital air systems.

Achieving the different levels of air quality can be done with 3 basic types of filtration.
     1. Particulate – a filter element removes particles larger than the opening in the filter material. Typically done with particles greater than 1 micron.
     2. Coalescing – use different methods to capture the particles; 1) direct interception – works like a sieve, 2) Inertial impaction – collision with filter media fibers, 3) Diffusion – particles travel in a spiral motion and are captured in the filter media.
     3. Adsorption – the filter element holds the contaminants by molecular adhesion.


The higher the class your air needs to be the more of these filtration methods you will use. Adsorption will remove more and finer particles than a simple particulate filter. And many applications will use a combination of these methods.

EXAIR products, all of which need a source of “clean, dry air” will operate very well utilizing a source of plant air and only a particulate filter. Your process, dictate if you need to supply additional filtration methods for better air quality. For example, an automotive plant using compressed air to blow parts off will not need the kind of filtration a food handling facility will need while blowing a food product off. If you are using a lubricated compressor or have lubricant in your compressed air lines from another source, you will want to use a coalescing oil removal filter.

EXAIR stocks 5 micron particulate filters which are properly sized for each individual product as an option for our customers if they choose. We also stock coalescing oil removal filters for customers who may need to remove oil from the air. Replacement filter elements are also available and should be replaced at least twice a year, depending on the quality of your air.

Oil Removal Filter
EXAIR Oil Removal Filter

Remember to ask about filtration if you have any concerns about your air quality. We can assist in sizing up the proper filters to get the air quality we recommend for proper operation and longevity of our products. 

If you would like to see how we might be able to improve your process or provide a solution for valuable savings, please contact one of our Application Engineers.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge

Oil Removal Filters – Keeping Compressed Air Clean

Compressed air filters help to keep the air clean and condensate free to protect equipment from dust, dirt, pipe scale, oil and water. Even though the compressed air system will typically have a main dryer, additional treatment is often necessary. For this discussion, we will focus on the oil removal process and filter type.

After the compressed air has passed through a particulate filter, the dirt, dust and water droplets have been removed.  Oil that is present is much smaller in size, and mostly passes though the particulate filter.  The installation of a coalescing filter will provide for the removal of the majority of the fine oil aerosols that remain. The coalescing filter works differently than the particulate filters. The compressed air flows from inside to outside through the coalescing filter media. The term ‘coalesce’ means to ‘come together’ or ‘form one mass.’  The process of coalescing filtration is a continuous process where the small aerosols of oil come in contact with fibers of the filter media. As other aerosols are collected, they will join up and ‘come together’ and grow to become an oil droplet, on the downstream or outside surface of the media.  Gravity will then cause the droplet to drain away and fall off the filter element.

Example of a 0.03 Micron Coalescing Oil Removal Filter

Some important information to keep in mind –

  • Change the filter regularly, not just when the differential pressures exceeds recommended limits, typically 5 PSI
  • Coalescing filters will remove solids too, at a higher capture rate due to the fine level of filtration, using a pre-filter for solids will extend the life
  • Oil free compressors do not provide oil free air, as the atmospheric air drawn in for compression contains oil vapors that will cool and condense in the compressed air system.

If you would like to talk about oil removal filters or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Super Air Wipe Exceeds Expectations

This forming application needed a way to remove excess oil (currently being collected by paper towels)

In the application shown above the end user needed to remove excess lubricant from the outside of a tube after a forming process.  The existing setup offered no removal of the excess oil, and as the tubes exited the machine, oil would fall from the tubes and drip onto the floor.  To prevent these oil drops from reaching the floor and accumulating into a potential safety hazard, paper towels were placed at the exit of the machine to catch the oil and replaced as needed.

Considering that a blow off solution was needed to provide coverage to the full OD of the formed tubes, this application was an excellent candidate for a Super Air Wipe.  The Super Air Wipe provides 360° blowoff for the tubes, removing excess oil as the tubes pass through the air stream of the Super Air Wipe.

The “wet” side of the application

An added benefit for this application in blowing the excess oil back into the machine was the need for lubrication on the machine components on the “leading” side of this application.  As the tubes exit the machine, no oil is desired; but on the preceding side of the machine, oil is very much needed.  Using the Air Wipe to remove excess oil from the tubes and simultaneously blow this oil back into a needed workspace made this product the perfect fit.

The exact model chosen for this application was the 2404, 4” Super Air Wipe.  Available from stock with same-day shipping, we were able to meet the needs of this application while exceeding customer expectations.

If you have a similar application or would like to discuss your application needs with us, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.  We’ll be happy to help.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer

Reclassifying Mufflers

Have you ever walked into an industrial plant and noticed a “fog” in the air? If they have pneumatic equipment, then it is a good chance that it is an oil mist. With many pneumatic devices, they need oil to lubricate the o-rings and cylinders for functionality and life. This is generally done with a lubricator. A lubricator puts a small amount of oil in the compressed air line to coat the inside of valves and cylinders. The problem becomes when the valve switches or the cylinder retracts, the excess air is exhausted into the atmosphere. And with that air, there is a fine mist creating the “fog”.

Reclassifying Muffler
EXAIR Reclassifying mufflers are available from 1/8 NPT through 1 NPT


Most pneumatic equipment will have some type of muffler to reduce the noise. Typically they are a sintered bronze muffler. They work well in noise reduction, but they do not capture the oil. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Association) has a requirement for operator’s exposure. Under the standard 29CFR 1910.1000, the cumulative exposure for a worker is 4.32 PPM (parts per million) for an 8 hour shift and a standard 40 hour week. As EXAIR Corporation is a leader in safety with compressed air systems, we created a muffler with an oil coalescer, or our Reclassifying Muffler. The Reclassifying Muffler will be able to accomplish two things: 1. reduce the noise level, and 2. remove the oil from the exhausted air. The complex matrix of fibers absorbs the noise caused by the pressure relief. Also, this same complex matrix of fibers creates a tortuous path for the oil particles. It will collect on the fibers and coalesce into larger particles. The larger oil particles will now be able to have gravity move the residual oil down the side of the Reclassifying Muffler. At the bottom, we have a sump that will contain the waste oil and a ¼” tube adaptor to discard it safely away. We have a range of sizes from 1/8” npt to 1” npt depending on the amount of exhaust air flow. In some instances, you can manifold the lines together to use one larger Reclassifying Muffler. An instance of this would be many small valves inside an electrical cabinet that would need to have the exhaust air removed. With our range of Reclassifying Mufflers, you will not have to walk around in the fog.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Why 5 PSIG Matters

Last week I pointed out the important locations for measuring your compressed air system pressure throughout your compressed air system.   One of the critical points to measure system pressure was before and after each filter.  This leads into another question that I receive every once in a while, “How do I tell when the filter needs to be changed?”  The answer to this is easy, when you see more than a 5 PSIG pressure drop across the filter.  This means that the element within the filter has become clogged with sediment or debris and is restricting the volume available to your downstream products.

EXAIR 5 micron Auto Drain Filter Separator


This can lead to decreased performance, downtime, and even the possibility of passing contaminants through the filter to downstream point of use components.  In order to maintain an optimal performance when using EXAIR filter separators and oil removal filters, monitoring the compressed air pressure before and after the unit is ideal.

Replacement filter elements are readily available from stock, as well as complete rebuild kits for the filter units. Changing the filters out can be done fairly easily and we even offer a video of how to do it.

The life expectancy of a filter element on the compressed air is directly related to the quality of air and the frequency of use, meaning it can vary greatly.  If you tie a new filter onto the end of a compressed air drop that has not been used in years, you may get a surprise by the filter clogging rather quickly.   However, if you maintain your compressor and your piping system properly then the filters should last a long time. Generally we recommend checking your filters every 6 months.

If you have questions about where and why to filter your compressed air contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer


Video Blog: Effectiveness of Filtering Your Compressed Air

The video below will give a brief demonstration on the importance of point of use filtration in order to remove unwanted material such as water, scale, particulate and oil from your compressed air stream. Point of use or end-use filtration will keep your air clean and your compressed air products running smooth.  If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us.


Brian Farno
Application Engineer