For years, the thought of water in a hydraulic system would cause just about anyone to cringe.
With standard oil-based hydraulic systems, if water gets in, everything can go wrong. The milky mixture of water and oil slows down the mechanisms and can cause long-term damage if not addressed quickly. And, the introduction of water usually means at least one seal is cracked and needs to be replaced while you’re draining and cleaning the system.
But a new breed of hydraulic equipment uses water instead of oil.
What are the benefits of switching to a water-based hydraulic system?
Water is a cheaper lubricant.
Water is more readily available than hydraulic oil or fluid, and it is much easier to dispose of. When a water-based system is flushed, it would not be necessary to ensure that the entire system is completely free of water, as water is the fluid being used for lubrication.
Water is safer for the environment.
Used hydraulic fluids requires special disposal because they do not biodegrade. Depending on the local ordinances, some county disposal sites may take the fluids free of charge in small quantities, but others may charge a fee, especially when disposing of a large volume of hydraulic oil or fluid.
Water is easily disposed of and environmentally friendly.
Water won’t combust.
When temperatures get too high, there is a risk of fire in hydraulic systems. However, water is not a flammable liquid, and it will resist combustion in high temperatures or if there is an errant spark.
However, there are some drawbacks to consider before switching to a water-based hydraulic system.
Water must be mixed with an additive.
By itself, water may not be the best lubricant, so it is mixed with a chemical additive in a 10:1 ratio.
Antifreeze is a commonly used additive. The most common and low-cost antifreeze is ethylene glycol, which is used in car and truck antifreeze. It is cheap, but it is not biodegradable and is toxic to people and animals. Instead, propolene glycol might be a better choice, as it is biodegradable and non-toxic. It is slightly more expensive, though.
Different components may be necessary.
It is not recommended to simply flush a system and replace oil with water. Different materials for cylinders and moving parts may be necessary for a water-based system’s proper function. Tubing and seals can usually be used interchangeably.
Water systems can wear out faster.
Because water provides less lubrication than oil, parts can wear out faster. To keep things working correctly over the long term, it is critical to maintain the proper ratio of water to additive. If condensation builds up within the system and puts more water than the 10:1 recommended ratio, parts may not receive adequate lubrication and wear out faster.
To ensure that the ratio remains correct, avoid humidity and check seals frequently.
A water-based hydraulic system might be the better choice if you keep up with maintenance and need fire resistance. Look into your options for switching over and make the best choice for you and your company’s hydraulic systems.