Increasing calcium content in lubricating oils

Year of publication: 2008


We regularly have the circulating lubrication systems monitored by oil analyses. We have noticed that in some systems the calcium content is rising steadily, even though there is no calcium-containing additive in the fresh oil. What could be the cause of this? Is there a warning value for calcium above which an oil must be cleaned or changed?

OELCHECK answers:

Circulating lubricating oils and industrial gear oils, with a few exceptions, contain no or only very low levels of calcium. In engine oils and most hydraulic oils containing zinc, however, calcium is present as an additive. It is intended to detach impurities and keep them in suspension. Since lubricant manufacturers do not usually provide information on additive concentration, in case of doubt the "natural" calcium content of a fresh oil can be determined and compared with the values of the used oil. Several causes are possible for a significantly increased or rising calcium content:

  • Ingress of calcium-containing dust, such as lime or cement dust
  • Residues from mineral-containing or "additivated" water
  • Mixing with an oil containing high levels of calcium
  • Entry of a lubricating grease or an assembly paste.

The exact cause of the calcium increase in an oil sample can almost always be deduced from the interaction of the over 20 individual values also determined. If an oil sample shows unacceptably high calcium values, the experienced OELCHECK tribologists will of course address this as part of a diagnosis and comment on any unusual trend. Depending on which irregularities are detected in a sample, these indicate certain causes. The typical correlations are shown in the checklist below. However, because of the widely varying starting points, there can be no generally valid warning and limit value for calcium in a used oil sample. Nor can the changes be limited by rigid values or percentage changes, because there are too many different causes in a large number of different plants. Therefore, the experienced OELCHECK tribologists also take into account the oil grade, machine or equipment type, and trend history in their commentary of the laboratory report when there is a large change in calcium content. Depending on the cause or origin of the calcium, they then suggest, for example, better filtration or a complete oil change.

Reason, cause Accompanying circumstances

Calcium-containing dust such as lime, rock, road or cement dust

Simultaneous increase in typical "dust values" such as boron or aluminum in the case of cement, silicon in the case of road or rock dust. Wear on all oil-wetted components due to abrasive dust particles

"Hard" water such as tap or dirty water. Feed water that has been specifically inhibited with calcium containing additives.

Increased levels of minerals and salts present in water as hardness minerals, such as potassium, sodium or magnesium. Water content, but water may have evaporated. Corrosion (small particles, non-magnetizable) on metals.

Mixing with a type of oil that contains a high calcium content as a dispersant additive.

Change of other additives. Change in viscosity, different viscosity index. Indications from FT-IR spectrum. Color difference.

Mixing with Ca-, Li-Ca- or Ca-complex-based grease.

Change in other additive elements, without significant viscosity change. Little wear. High number of relatively large particles (non-metallic in the case of OPA). The Ca-containing grease thickener is optically visible in elemental analysis or FT-IR spectrum.

Typical calcium values in mg/kg (ppm) of different oil types

Industrial oils
CLP gear oils 0 - 5
Special gear oils 50 - 1200
Circulating lubricating oils 0 - 10
Flushing oil 0 - 1500
Hydraulic oils

HLP hydraulic oils

15 - 80

HLP hydraulic oils

0 - 5
HLP-D hydraulic oils 100 - 800
SAE hydraulic oils 600 - 1000
Bio oils 0 - 5
Engine oils
Gasoline engine oils 1200 - 2000
Diesel engine oils 2800 - 4000
Gas engine oils 250 - 600
Marine engine oils 8000 - 25000