Keeping Your Lubricants Clean Provides Reliable & Profitable Equipment Service

Quality and cleanliness of food grade lubricants starts with cutting edge R&D technology, proprietary formulations and select quality raw materials. The food grade lubricants blending room environment should be segregated with contamination standards and special filtration equipment on line.

Quality and cleanliness of food grade lubricants starts with cutting edge R&D technology, proprietary formulations and select quality raw materials. The food grade lubricants blending room environment should be segregated with contamination standards and special filtration equipment on line.

Quality blending (manufacturing) of lubricants has risen to a new levels with the installation of modern filtration equipment and oil cleanliness technology. Updated processes are used for all food grade lubricants manufacturing. Quality control checks are ongoing during blending, drum filling, small container packaging and storage of all food grade lubricants. All food grade lubricants should be packaged in a new containers, not reconditioned drums as is the case with some lubricant suppliers. Each drum should be inspected inside and out prior to filling, one more step to further insure ISO cleanliness.

Temperature swings, moisture, airborne contamination, package integrity as well as appearance and label legibility is critical for maintaining lubricant cleanliness and correct reservoir fill/top off. Everything from raw material to finished inventory storage should be 100% inside storage eliminating nature’s opportunity for contamination and package degradation. The utmost care should be taken to ensure blended and packaged food grade lubricants are free of contaminants meeting and exceeding their stated specifications (typical values).

However, to maintain ISO cleanliness levels, food grade oils and greases should be stored following the best possible Storage and Handling Practices. More often than not, the manner in which oil is stored and transferred results in new oil contamination. As destructive as particulate contamination is, there are other contaminants that also contribute to oil degradation and premature machine wear, sometimes failure.

One contaminant in particular is water, which by itself plays a significant factor in the degradation of lubricants. When water laden oil is combined with iron or copper fines in a machine there is an aggressive assault on the oil and additives. Thus, oxidation and additive precipitation begins immediately. Changes in viscosity, corrosion and fatigue of the lubricated surfaces have begun. Where did the water come from? The drum was sealed.

When oil drums are stored outside, rain water and melting snow puddles on the drum head. As temperatures fluctuate the drum breathes allowing water to seep through the bungs even when tight. As the water has evaporated there is no suspicion of water ingress, only the sight of a water logged label that is no longer legible. The drum is moved inside for use. Water being heavier than oil is now on the bottom of the new drum of oil. The drum pump is placed in the drum and the first gallon of oil pumped from the drum is saturated with water and then poured into the equipment reservoir. You just installed a damaged part on a new machine. The equipment was just given a jump start for failure. An oil sample is taken and the analysis report shows high water content among other contaminants. The director of maintenance wants to know how could this possibly happen. There is only one answer: lubrication management has not been implemented.

Training in storage and handling is a must for maintaining the ISO cleanliness level of food grade lubricants.

Why is Oil Cleanliness Important?

Ask yourself this question: Would you install a dirty or damaged part on your equipment? I’m sure the answer is no.

Then why would you install damaged or contaminated lubricants? Oil is the lifeblood of machinery.

Oils and greases can deteriorate over time. Poor storage and handling practices can and will have a significant effect on the cleanliness and performance of any lubricant subsequently affecting the efficiency and longevity of expensive machinery. 

Contamination is not only the leading cause of machinery failure; it directly impairs the lubricant’s ability to control friction, wear and corrosion. There have been instances where contaminated lubricants have caused equipment and assembly lines to shut down completely. This creates tremendous inconvenience and unbudgeted expense.

OEM’s have determined that 45% of premature component failures are traceable to external contaminants. It is said that 85% of hydraulic component failure is due to improper storage and handling of lubricants. The smallest particulate, let alone water can raise havoc with hydraulic systems. Preventing dirt and water ingress is about 1/10th the expense of damage assessment and repair. Industry spends approximately 200 billion dollars annually addressing mechanical wear occurring as a direct result of particulate contamination. This is not to imply that 100% of lubricant contamination is directly related to the delivered lubricant, storage, and handling. Industrial facilities, food and beverage plants and other equipment/machinery applications unintentionally create a contaminated environment for lubricants by merely manufacturing a product.

The problem is that lubricants are usually stored in the same contaminated environment without contamination protection. A good oil analysis technician can tell what type of manufacturing environment a sample of oil came from just by examining the contaminants. By reducing the level of drum and container contamination, as well as reservoir contamination, the service life of the lubricant, the performance of the equipment (production output) and machine efficiency will be dramatically extended.

Facility Storage of lubricants

Ask yourself this question: Can the lubricants storage area or storeroom become more efficient? Of course it can. A safe, clean, user friendly lubricants storeroom leads to lubrication excellence and equipment reliability. Where do we begin and how do we maintain the ISO Cleanliness levels of food grade lubricants”. For starters, you begin with a team commitment, lubrication management training and a plan.

Examine and evaluate your current lubricant storage and handling practices. Identify any possible source of contamination. Is there any way that dirt, dust or moisture could get into the lubricants from the day they are received to how they are stored and how they are transferred to the equipment /machine reservoirs. After your evaluation, concentrate on improvements. It helps to take before and after pictures that can be used for training purposes and SOP pictorial guidelines.

Think outside of the box when designing your lubricant storage area or lube room. Make your lubricants storeroom a maintenance department showcase. Keeping it clean and keeping it dry insures the integrity of every lubricant over the course of storage and service life.

There are two locations for lubricant storage. Inside (preferred) and outside (only if space prohibits inside storage). Inside storage that is temperature controlled, dust free and dry is ideal for maintaining lubricant integrity and ISO Cleanliness. Ask your lubricant supplier if they can insure that all food grade lubricants are packaged and shipped ISO clean and dry. 

When new lubricants arrive at their destination, they should be immediately moved to the lubricants storage area, preferably inside. Do not remove the drum seal and or the cap seal until it is time to open the drum for service. If the drums are left outside for any length of time, cover them with plastic/metal drum covers or a tarpaulin. If drums have dust, pallet splinters, sand and gravel, floor dri, leaves, etc. on the drum head, use a soft bristle brush to remove the debris. Never use a water hose to rinse off the top of a drum and never let rain water or snow remain on top of a drum head. Before opening the drum take a shop towel preferably a lint free towel and wipe the fine dust off. A car duster works very well to remove settled dust from drum heads. Do not blow dust off of lubricant packages. After opening the drum for use, immediately install a spigot, drum pump or molasses valve to extract the oil or grease. Always remember to reseal the bungs, close spigots and valves or place a dust/drip cap over the drum pump outlet for maintaining cleanliness of the lubricant. If drums will be in service using a drum pump, it is a good idea to place a drum top absorbent pad on each drum to aid in the control of drips and cleanliness.

  • Never store used oil in the same location as new oil. Create a used oil storage area preferably outside in compliance with local regulations and easy access for the used oil carrier. Do not create the opportunity for used oil to be reintroduced to production equipment or to cross contaminate new lubricants in storage.

Inside Storage

Storing lubricants inside is always preferable. There is more to storing lubricants than finding an empty corner in the warehouse. If a specifically designed lube room is not in the budget, there are still guidelines to be followed for proper storage and maintaining ISO Cleanliness. In large plants, several strategically located storage areas improve efficiency and service.

  • The optimum temperature in the storage area should remain constant, without fluctuation. Ideal temperature is 68°F/(20°C). In other words find an area away from high heat and severe cold. High heat can damage lubricants and extreme cold makes lubricants flow extremely slow, especially gear oils.
  • Contamination such as blowing dust from a parking lot or dust from product production can be blown onto the drums if they are stored in the path of forklift traffic or plant fans. Find a dust free area or a closed store room.
  • Seal storeroom floor with a non-slip paint/sealant.
  • Lubricants should be stored in product groups with matching labels on the wall, racking or shelves. Incorporate color coding from storage, to transfer container, all grease guns, transfer carts and filter carts in use and all applications. Also color code small package lubricants.
  • Small package lubricants should be stored in cabinets or on shelves, not on the floor or on top of drums.
  • Floor dri can be very dusty, therefore, store away from new lubricants.
  • The lubricant storage area should be kept dry.
  • Oil spills should be cleaned up immediately.
  • Drums, kegs, pails and all lubricant packages should never be left open.
  • When using drum pumps absorbent drum top pads should be used to control the dripping oil from the pump. Most pumps are threaded at the end of the nozzle which allows for the use of a dust/drip cap to be used when out of service.
  • Do not store used/empty drums in the lube storage area, find a separate location. Preferably outside in a visibly marked contained area.
  • Safety first, post all rules and regulations and lubricant procedures. Have an eye wash system in or next to the lubricant storage area.
  • Train all personnel on using the lubricant storage area. Appoint someone to take ownership of the lube storage area.


Outside Storage

Storing lubricants outside is not desirable. However, sometimes there are space constraints and other reasons for outside storage. If possible, use outside storage for stock purposes only. Open and dispense lubricants inside. Remove opportunity for contamination whether it be rain water or dust, etc. Once the lubricant has been opened, keep sealed and under cover. As with inside storage there are guidelines to be followed for proper storage/handling and maintaining ISO Cleanliness.

  • Storage temperature range of 68°F/20°C we know is ideal. However, outside temperatures are not consistent. Storing lubricants betweenthe temperatures of 9°F/(-13°C) to 85°F/(30°C) can affect the lubricant shelf from several When storing drums outside, they should be on their side off of the ground on 4x4” lumber laid out like a rail tracks. The drum bungs should be positioned at 3:00 and 9:00. This keeps oil against the bungs preventing the ingression of contaminants common as the drum breathes. Airborne moisture/dust can enter the bungs with temperature fluctuation. The drums should be chalked so as to remain in the 3:00 and 9:00 position.
  • When and if storing the drums in a vertical position place a 4x4 board on the ground and tip the drum chime (bottom ring) onto the board, again using the 3:00 and 9:00 bung position parallel to the 4x4 which will allow rain water to drain off the top and not puddle around the bungs. When drums are stored upright they breathe with the temperature fluctuation. The head space (air above the oil) escapes with heat expansion, then contracts when cooling down creating a powerful suction. Thus, any standing water will be sucked into an uncovered drum settling on the bottom contaminating the oil and equipment.
  • Do not store used drums in the same area, find a separate location. Preferably visibly marked and contained. Make sure all bungs have been tightened.
  • Train all personnel on using the lubricant storage area. Appoint someone to take ownership of the lube storage area.
  • Use forklifts, drum trucks (dolly) to move full drums on asphalt to prevent damage, the drum chime (bottom ring) will cut into the asphalt.
  • Cold lubricants also become quite viscous and are difficult to pour and pump.
  • Drum covers and tarpaulins should be used to protect drums. Even a shelter is better than uncovered and exposed to the elements. Sunlight and water will fade the drum label if not covered. Use a tire marking crayon and color code label to mark the side of all drums in the event of a faded or missing label.
  • Avoid stacking drums as this usually defeats the FIFO inventory system.
  • Forklift operators can be in a hurry and the top row will always be picked first allowing previously delivered lubricants to age, eventually surpassing their shelf life as well as being exposed to the elements for a long time.

About the author

Sam Hall is the Industrial Technical Service Manager for Bel-Ray Company, LLC. He has 41 years of experience in Lubricant Production & Plant Management, Plant Maintenance, Lubricant Sales Management and Industrial Technical Service. He has conducted numerous Lubricant Sales Training Seminars, Plant Lubrication Surveys and Audits. Has been a guest speaker at the NORIA Lubrication Excellence Conference and is a member of STLE, certified OMA 1, ICML MLT 1. For more information about all Bel-Ray Food Grade Lubricants, contact

More in Operations