How to Detect Compressed Air Leaks

Set icons of air compressor and accessories isolated on white.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, compressed air leaks that are left unaddressed can waste as much as 20-30% of an air compressor’s output. Wow.

As easy as it is to ignore these leaks and sweep them under the rug, it is crucial that you identify and fix any leaks in your air compressors as soon as possible.

Air compressor leaks are a critical source of wasted energy. They significantly reduce productivity and system efficiency. They will eventually lead to incredible maintenance costs if they are left unattended.

It is very important that you check your air compressors for system leaks on a regular basis. If you suspect that you have a compressed air leak, make sure to get it taken care of right away.

Recommended Read The High Cost of Compressed Air System Leaks

Where Can Compressed Air Leaks Be Found?

Leaks can be found in any part of a compressed air system. However, they are most commonly found in the following areas.

  • Couplings
  • Hoses
  • Tubes
  • Fittings
  • Pipe joints
  • Disconnects
  • Thread sealants
  • Condensate traps
  • Shut-off valves
  • Pressure regulators
  • Filters
  • Lubricators
  • Baghouses
  • Cylinder rod packing

If you suspect that your air compressor is suffering from a leak, these are the first places that you will want to check.

Methods Used to Detect Compressed Air Leaks

There are three methods that are the most commonly used to detect compressed air leaks.

  • Good old fashioned listening and feeling
  • Soapy water
  • Ultrasonic leak detection

Leak Detection Method 1: Listening and Feeling

A low-tech way to detect compressed air leaks is to listen for them and then feel around for the leaking air. This method only works for large-sized leaks that are located in easily-accessible locations. It can also be difficult to hear leaks over the noise of the equipment.

For these reasons, this traditional method only works in a limited capacity.

Leak Detection Method 2: Soapy Water

In this method, soapy water is applied using a paintbrush to areas where a leak is suspected. If there is a leak, soap bubbles will form.

While reliable, this leak detection method can be time-consuming. It requires direct physical access, meaning leaks in hard-to-reach areas of the system will go undetected. It also does not indicate which leaks are losing the most air, so there is no way to prioritize leak repairs.

Leak Detection Method 3: Ultrasonic Leak Detection

Using ultrasonic leak detection is the best way to detect air compressor leaks, and it has quickly become standard in the industry.

These portable devices typically consist of directional microphones, amplifiers, and audio filters. They utilize either earphones or visual indicators to help the user detect the leak.

The equipment works by detecting the high frequency “hissing” sound created by compressed air leaking into the atmosphere, which is inaudible to the human ear.

The sound is both directional and localized to the source, pinpointing the location of the tiniest leaks, even in noisy environments.

Unlike the other two methods, ultrasonic leak detection doesn’t require direct physical access to the leaks. Some ultrasonic leak detection systems can even estimate the volume of air leakage, so repairs can be prioritized.

Recommended Read What Causes Oil Carry-Over in Compressed Air Systems?

So, What’s the Next Step?

Once detected, each leak should be tagged and given a unique identification number or code. Information on each leak should be recorded in a spreadsheet, including the location and severity of the leak (volume of air lost).

This helps to calculate the costs of fixing the leak and prioritize which leaks should be repaired first.

This process is part of a larger compressed air audit that can be performed by C&B Equipment. Over the course of a seven-day air study of your plant, we will detect any operating equipment leaks and measure cubic feet per minute (CFM), pressure, and amp load in the main airlines.

The audit consists of airflow measurements, energy, and pressure recordings. We offer complete recommendations for how you can lower energy costs, reduce wear on your equipment, and increase your production efficiency.

In addition to our compressed air audits, we also offer extensive, high-quality equipment installation, maintenance, leak detection, and repair programs.

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