What's the Risks of Particle Contamination in Construction Equipment Hydraulic Fluids?

Particle contamination in the hydraulic fluid can bring operations to a grinding halt causing pump failure, direction control valve sticking and hose leaking or failure

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Originally published on Chevron Lube Matters blog

Author Jason Gerig takes a closer look at where and how the risk of particle contamination affects specific industries.


Large hydraulic-powered shovels  depend on the smooth operation of hydraulic systems to safely extract ore and load trucks. It is especially challenging in mining with all the dirt and debris in the air. Particle contamination in the hydraulic fluid can bring operations to a grinding halt causing pump failure, direction control valve sticking and hose leaking or failure. Particulate matter also acts a catalyst for oxidation, which causes oil to break down more quickly and requires more frequent changes. Foaming in hydraulic oils can also be related to excessive particle contamination.  It’s more difficult to extend drain intervals if the lubricant is not clean.

Equipment manufactures understand the negative impact of particle contamination in hydraulic fluids, so they have developed ISO Cleanliness specifications set for their equipment to help maximize hydraulic system life and equipment uptime.


While construction equipment is similar to mining equipment on a smaller scale the same problems exist.  Majority of the equipment has hydraulic systems which experience similar failures and reduced component life due to particle contamination in the hydraulic fluids.

Many construction equipment managers utilize filtration systems to reduce the risk of particle contamination at the point of intake. Filtration systems need to be set up properly and well maintained, if they are going to be effective, but they should not be relied upon as the sole solution. It’s best to check and follow the OEM’s specifications for cleanliness and select lubricants that meet or exceed those specs from the start.


Tractors typically have combined transmission and hydraulic systems that share a common fluid. A single lubricant designed specifically for tractors will help ensure smooth performance as fluid flows from a central reservoir into the different systems. It’s not uncommon for farmers to share implements with their neighbors, which can add contamination throughout the entire tractor system.  Starting with a clean certified fluid that meets the OEM ISO Cleanliness specifications is critical to maximizing the life of the equipment.


Waste hauling trucks and compactors rely on hydraulic systems. If a truck breaks down on its route, it incurs not only maintenance and repair costs but also towing charges. If commercial customers have problems with onsite compactors, that entails field calls to perform maintenance. Both these risks can be greatly reduced by minimizing particle contamination in the hydraulic fluids.

While all these industries present different challenges, they have one thing in common: taking an expensive piece of equipment out of service for unplanned maintenance and repairs means lost productivity and profitability. There are many measures operators can and should take in the field to reduce the risk of particle contamination, including proper storage, handling and filtration. However, selecting a lubricant that meets or exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications for cleanliness is the critical starting point that makes all subsequent steps much easier.