Which Condensate Drain Is Best For Your Compressed Air System?

In a perfect world, your air compressor’s intake would be free of dirt, oil, and water. Proper maintenance (i.e., periodic cleaning and/or changing) of the intake filter will keep most of the dirt out. Oil and water vapor will pass right through…but that’s not the end of the world (however imperfect it may be); they’re easy to take care of later in the process.

Once these vapors have been compressed (along with all that air that was drawn in), it’ll go into the receiver (usually via an aftercooler in industrial compressors) where it cools down, and that vapor condenses. If it’s left alone, a couple of things can happen:

  • Standing water in the bottom of a steel tank will cause corrosion. This can be carried into your compressed air distribution system. Over time, it will also rust through the reservoir. You don’t want either of these things to happen.
  • Eventually, it’ll take up enough space that your reservoir’s capacity will effectively shrink. That can cause your compressor to cycle rapidly. You don’t want that either.

Even the smallest of compressors will have manual drain valves on the bottoms of their reservoirs. Users will simply blow down the gallon or so tank every so often and go about their business. The small amount of electrical power that the compressor will use to recharge those tanks makes this a perfectly acceptable practice.

In the perfect world I mentioned above, the large reservoirs on industrial air compressors could be drained of condensate in the same manner. There are a few challenges to periodic manual draining:

  • You could do it on a schedule, but varying levels of humidity mean different accumulation rates of condensation. Weekly blowdowns might be OK in the winter, but you may need to do it daily in the summer. And a couple days a week in the spring or fall. It can be a real chore to keep track of all of that.
  • A practiced operator may develop the skill to shut the valve immediately upon the last drop of condensate passing. More often than not, though, you’re going to lose some compressed air doing it manually.
  • File this under “don’t try this at home (or anywhere, really)” – an unfortunately all-too-common practice is to just leave a manual drain cracked open. It works, but it wastes compressed air. On purpose. There’s too much accidental waste to give this any further discussion. Just don’t do it.
  • Plain old forgetfulness, someone going on vacation, or even leaving the company could result in someone else noticing the compressor is frequently cycling (because the reservoir is filling with water…see above), and realizing nobody’s drained the tank in a while.

Again, these manual drains are quite common, especially in smaller air compressor systems…and so are the above challenges. I may or may not have personal experience with an incident similar to that last one. Good news is, there are automated products designed to prevent this from happening to you:

  • Timer drains are popular and inexpensive. They operate just as advertised: a programmable timer opens and closes the drain valve just like you tell it to. They don’t do anything at all to address the first two challenges above: they might blow down for longer than needed (and waste compressed air) or not long enough (and allow water to build up in the reservoir.) They come in two primary configurations:
    • Solenoid Valve: the timer energizes the valve’s coil to open the valve, and a spring shuts it when the timer runs out. Strainers will prevent blockage, and will need periodic maintenance.
    • Ball Valve: the timer operates an electric actuator to open & close the valve. The full port opening of the ball valve means a strainer is usually not necessary, so these are less maintenance intensive.
  • Demand (AKA “no waste” or “zero loss”) drains are actuated by the condensate level in the reservoir. They don’t discharge any of the reservoir’s compressed air, because they close before the last bit of water exits. There are a few common options to choose from:
    • Mechanical float drains can be internal or external…the latter is more common for use with air compressor reservoirs; the former is fairly standard with point-of-use filters (more on that later). When the liquid level rises, the float opens the drain; when liquid level drops, the float closes the drain…easy as that. They CAN be susceptible to clogging with debris, but many have screens to prevent or limit that.
    • Electronic types use a magnetic reed switch or capacitance device to sense the condensate level…so they require electric power.
    • These cost more than the timer types, though, and they’ve got a number of moving parts, so they can find themselves in need of repair. Inexpensive and user-friendly rebuild kits are oftentimes available, and many of these come with alarms to let you know when to use that rebuild kit.

Whether you have a manual, timer, or demand drain, keep in mind that some moisture can still be carried over, and rust/scale can still form in pipelines. Good engineering practice calls for point-of-use filtration, like EXAIR’s Automatic Drain Filter Separators and Oil Removal Filters. If you’d like to talk more about getting the most out of your compressed air system, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Compressed Air Leaks and the Problems They Cause

Over the Fourth of July I had a great opportunity to do some backpacking in the backwoods of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. “That sounds awesome!” is what most people would think; looking back on it, it was awesome. BUT, at the time it was the very definition of complete and total suffer fest. During my time on the trail, I learned three life lessons. First, always thoroughly study up on every bail out point along the trail. Second, water proofing has its limits; and thirdly, when things leak it is dreadful. After 7 miles of crawling over rocks and traversing lakes and streams in the pouring down rain everything was soaked and water was leaking through our rain jackets, leaving me and my girlfriend cold, wet, and sore as all get out – all on day one.

Heading up the Algonquin Mountain trail starting Colden Lake

Leaks don’t just stink when they appear in your rain coat, they are dreadful all around whether it is leaking faucets, a leaky basement or compressed air line leaks. Unlike the fact that I currently have no solution for the leaking rain coat, I do have a solution for your leaking air lines. Leaks are costly and an all-around waste of money that can have severe implications on how the air is being used and the entire system itself.

There are four main affects that a leak in your compressed air system can have and they are as follows; 1) leaks can cause a pressure drop across the system, 2) leaks shorten the life of almost all air supply system equipment, 3) leaks demand increased running time of the compressor, and 4) leaks produce unnecessary compressor capacity by demanding more and more air.

  • A pressure drop across your compressed air system can lead to a decreased efficiency of the end use equipment (i.e. an EXAIR Air Knife or Air Nozzle). This adversely effects production as it may take longer to blow off or cool a product or not blow off the product well enough to meet quality standards.
  • Leaks can shorten the life of almost all supply system components such as air compressors. This is because the compressor has to continuously run to make up for the air lost from leaks. By forcing the equipment to continuously run or cycle more frequently means that the moving parts in the compressor will wear down faster.
  • An increased run time due to leaks can also lead to more maintenance on supply equipment for the same reasons as to why the life of the compressor is shortened. The increase stress on the compressor and supply side components due to unnecessary running of the compressor.
  • Leaks can also lead to adding unnecessary compressor size. The wasted air that is being expelled from the leak is an additional demand in your system. If leaks are not fixed it may require a larger compressor to make up for the loss of air in your system.
EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector

It is fairly easy to find these leaks, simply use EXAIR’s affordable Ultrasonic Leak Detector. This leak detector uses ultrasonic waves to detect where costly leaks can be found so that they can be patched or fixed. So don’t get stuck in some rainy day with your compressed air leaking everywhere; find those pesky leaks, mark them for maintenance and seal them up.

If you have any questions or want more information on EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector or like products. Give us a call, we have a team of application engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Why Dryers Are Needed in Compressed Air Systems

Air compressors are extremely proficient at compressing anything in the air they are intaking. With that air that is taken in, moisture is going to be present. The amount of moisture will all depend on where you are located geographically and the ambient conditions in the area. Here in Ohio, we experience all 4 seasons so the moisture content is higher in the air during the summer months, rather than the winter months. When this air is saturated with water vapor and the conditions are right, the air reaches a point it cannot hold any additional water vapor. This point is known as the dew point of the air and water vapor will begin to condense to form droplets.

When ambient air is compressed, heat is generated and the air increases in temperature. In most industrial compressed air systems, the air is then processed to an aftercooler, and that is where condensation begins to form. To remove the condensation, the air then goes into a separator which traps the liquid water. The air leaving the aftercooler is typically saturated at the temperature of the discharge, and any additional cooling that occurs as the air is transferred will cause more liquid to condense out of the air. To address this moisture, compressed air dryers are used.

It is critical to the quality of the system and components downstream that actions are taken to prevent this condensation in the air. Condensation is generally detrimental to any point of use application and or the piping that conveys the air. Rust and/or corrosion can occur anywhere in the piping, leading to scale and contamination of the compressed air and processes. When trying to dry products off using compressed air or using the air to atomize a liquid such as paint, adding in these contaminants and moisture will cost production losses.

There are several options when it comes to the type of dryer that one may consider installing on their compressed air supply side.

• Refrigerant Dryer – the most commonly used type, the air is cooled in an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger.
• Regenerative-Desiccant Type – use a porous desiccant that adsorbs (adsorb means the moisture adheres to the desiccant, the desiccant does not change, and the moisture can then be driven off during a regeneration process).
• Deliquescent Type – use a hygroscopic desiccant medium that absorbs (as opposed to adsorbs) moisture. The desiccant is dissolved into the liquid that is drawn out. Desiccant is used up and needs to be replaced periodically.
• Heat of Compression Type – are regenerative desiccant dryers that use the heat generated during compression to accomplish the desiccant regeneration.
• Membrane Type– use special membranes that allow the water vapor to pass through faster than the dry air, reducing the amount of water vapor in the air stream.
The air should not be dried any more than is needed for the most stringent application, to reduce the costs associated with the drying process. A pressure dew point of 35°F to 38°F (1.7°C to 3.3°C) often is adequate for many industrial applications. Lower dew points result in higher operating costs.
If you have questions about compressed air systems and dryers or any of the 15 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR, and I or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

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
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


ISO 8573-1 Chart by Compressed Air Best Practice.