Materials for lubricating a fan

Keep ‘Em Spinning: How To Lubricate PC Fans

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Sleeve bearings fans have a well-deserved reputation of wearing out quickly. But they’re inexpensive, and not necessarily cheaply made. They can perform very well indeed. We want to use them on our heatsinks, but we worry that they will fail and leave our CPU’s overheating. Wouldn’t you like to be able to use a sleeve bearing fan and not have to worry? Read on.

If you peel back the label and pop the cap of sleeve bearing fans you will find many have lubrication wells that are dry as the proverbial bone. In other words, no matter how well-designed the fan, if it is assembled without enough oil, its life will be shortened. And it might not perform as well as it should. In one case I sped up a fan by 15%, just by putting a couple drops of oil in it. That turned out to be a crucial increase, because the fan went from essentially useless to pushing a fair amount of air. And that fan will last a lot longer with oil in its well than if it had run with a dry bearing.

I would recommend lubricating every fan that has a well you can get to — that includes any ball bearing fan — before putting it in service. For sleeve bearing fans you should inspect their lubricant wells every six months or so, and top up those that need it. It’s a lot like changing the oil in your car. Preventative maintenance.

So, how do you lubricate a fan?

Here’s How

Materials for lubricating a fan

Materials for lubricating a fan

1. Gather your materials. Any machine oil will do. If you are oiling a ball bearing fan, a light oil would penetrate through tight clearances, but in a sleeve bearing fan you may want a heavier oil that will tend to cling to surfaces. Probably the best compromise is Singer sewing machine oil, available at Wal-Mart and other places for under $3.00. I have used a number of oils. No problems with any so far. You might even want to dip a little from a can of car oil. According to some who have tried it, it does work.

Peel back the label

Peel back the label

2. Peel back the label. Most sleeve bearing fans have a little cap that holds in the oil. Ball bearing fans tend not to have a cap. They seem to believe their bearings are sealed. Maybe so, but you can watch a low viscosity oil seep in. That’s not really sealed, is it? But there are fans with hard plastic well covers that are glued tight. Let those be.

Pop the cap and expose the lubricant well

Pop the cap and expose the lubricant well

3. Pop the cap. I use a toothpick because it is wood, and less likely to damage the cap. But any pointy tool will do. Just go easy. BTW — that well looks dry, doesn’t it. Good thing I opened the cap.

Put oil in the well

Put oil in the well

4. Put in the oil. Don’t overfill, or you will squirt out oil when you put the cap back on.

Put the cap back on and clean off any spilled oil

Put the cap back on and clean off any spilled oil

5. Put the cap back on. Now clean around it if any oil spilled. Rubbing alcohol will do — the higher the alcohol content the better. Acetone will do as well. I suppose even soap and water. You just want the label to stick again when you are done.

Reseal the label and re-mount the fan

Reseal the label and re-mount the fan

6. Reseal the label and re-mount the fan. Be sure to check again in a few months.

In conclusion, I will repeat:

Conclusion

Lubricate every fan that can be lubricated before you install it, and re-lubricate it just as you would your car: with proper treatment a sleeve bearing fan might last a long time. And a ball bearing fan will run more quietly.

I showed you how. It’s quick and easy. Do it and you’ll be happy you did.

ehume

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Discussion
  1. The sleeve fans are cheaper, usually of lower quality, and make less noise in the short term (but of course make lots of noises as they wear out). But top quality sleeve fans such as Panaflow don't follow that generalization.
    I also vouch for 3-in-1. I use that when repairing our bun toasters at work. The motors are running 24/7, 365 days a year and we get about two to three years of life from them. They are surrounded by 200+ degree heat at all times and under load during 95% of the time
    Ball bearing fans tend not to have a cap. They seem to believe their bearings are sealed. Maybe so, but you can watch a low viscosity oil seep in. That’s not really sealed, is it?
    So, after applying the oil, how long should one wait before using the newly lubricated fan? (set-in period?) Also, how long should one wait once the fans are in use before discontinuing use (turning off) of the fans?
    knightshade91
    I also use the oil that comes with my Wahl electric hair clipper.

    That's good oil.

    I agree about not using vegetable oil. I used olive oil on my hair clipper and it only lubes it well enough for one shave but the clipper oil works for several.

    It kept my ball bearing fans on my old build (I think it was ball bearing as there's no cap, just a sticker) running since 2005!

    Now I have a newer computer with 4 sleeve bearing fans so I cleaned and lubed them along with my Corsair PSU fan (sleeve bearing).

    The computer is about as quiet as it was before but it seems to be quieter and push more air.

    When I turn off the fans, two of them spin 25-50% longer than they used to.


    Wahl electric hair clipper oil. Now there's a blast from the past. My mother used to use that, and it was about the perfect heaviness for a fan.

    I never saw that oil later. I would have added it to the group shot.
    I also use the oil that comes with my Wahl electric hair clipper.

    That's good oil.

    I agree about not using vegetable oil. I used olive oil on my hair clipper and it only lubes it well enough for one shave but the clipper oil works for several.

    It kept my ball bearing fans on my old build (I think it was ball bearing as there's no cap, just a sticker) running since 2005!

    Now I have a newer computer with 4 sleeve bearing fans so I cleaned and lubed them along with my Corsair PSU fan (sleeve bearing).

    The computer is about as quiet as it was before but it seems to be quieter and push more air.

    When I turn off the fans, two of them spin 25-50% longer than they used to.
    Hi,

    wagex
    those meters on those apps are terribly inaccurate not to mention all the variables that could be changed by just the angle of the mic / inches of distance. those DB's are more than likely ambient noise, as im sure that is alot higher than those fans do.


    I agree that they are inaccurate in the absolute sense but it has worked well for me in measuring relative noise levels to compare different fans and different speeds.

    I forgot to put that silence in the room (no computers on, no cars going by outside and me holding my breath) measured 53.5dba. So the noise levels of the fans will be relative to that. (I guess that my ipad 53.5dba would probably be in the 30-35dba region in reality.) It was just an easy objective way to measure relative sounds levels.

    The mic of the ipad was placed directly on the grill of the case above the centre of the fan. I have a protector on the ipad so it was probably 1mm to 2mm above the grill. Interestingly, you can sometimes get a different figure for 'airflow' noise, when you place the mic halfway between the centre of the fan and the outside edge of the fan, also with mic directly above the grill. This only showed up when there is some bearing noise but the airflow was quieter. But if the bearing noise get too loud then it dominates the airflow noise.

    And ... to investigate why some fans sounded quieter but measured louder at 0cm, I started measuring dba levels at 25cm and 0cm, and found you can have a fan A that is louder than fan B at 0cm but fan A can be quieter than fan B at 25cm. I would guess it is due to the difference between bearing and airflow noise, the frequencies generated, which then determine how quickly the sound levels drop off.
    firehorse
    Hi,

    I've been documenting my build here

    Anyway, using an ipad and an app (db meter pro - default settings) to measure the dba levels:

    Scythe AP-15 mounted as top fan of Lian-Li PC-Q08 case, at 0cm.

    At 750rpm, it was originally 65.5dba, after three drops of sewing oil it was 69 dba, after three drops of 10-40w oil it is 71dba

    At 1600rpm, it was originally 73dba, after sewing oil it was 79 dba, after 10-40w oil it is 81dba

    So, unfortunately, this hasn't worked for me :(

    As a comparison, the Scythe AP-13 was originally measuring 61dba @460rpm and 65.5dba @ 1050rpm, and I was trying to make the Scythe AP-15 match the AP-13 sound levels.


    those meters on those apps are terribly inaccurate not to mention all the variables that could be changed by just the angle of the mic / inches of distance. those DB's are more than likely ambient noise, as im sure that is alot higher than those fans do.
    Hi,
    Bobnova


    Used 20w50 on my Fiance's laptop, as that's what I had on hand when they fan ate it.


    I've been documenting my build here

    Anyway, using an ipad and an app (db meter pro - default settings) to measure the dba levels:

    Scythe AP-15 mounted as top fan of Lian-Li PC-Q08 case, at 0cm.

    At 750rpm, it was originally 65.5dba, after three drops of sewing oil it was 69 dba, after three drops of 10-40w oil it is 71dba

    At 1600rpm, it was originally 73dba, after sewing oil it was 79 dba, after 10-40w oil it is 81dba

    So, unfortunately, this hasn't worked for me :(

    As a comparison, the Scythe AP-13 was originally measuring 61dba @460rpm and 65.5dba @ 1050rpm, and I was trying to make the Scythe AP-15 match the AP-13 sound levels.
    wagex
    yearly service? :eek: should be 4 services a year or more!

    looks like we have something in common bobnova :D i was a semi mechanic fora few years an i still go out in the shop and help every once and a while, mostly with electrical stuff now though


    I'm hoping the oil is getting changed more often than yearly!

    That said, it's a fan thread rather than an oil change thread :chair:
    firehorse
    Hi,

    I did think of it but the car is about 3 months away from its yearly service so I wouldn't want to contaminate the bearing with any dirty oil from the car.

    I have already put 3 drops of the sewing machine oil into the fans. I am a little worried about putting too much oil into the fan and it spewing out inside the fan and making things worse.

    But I will see if I can get some 20w50 oil :)

    Thanks for your experiences.


    yearly service? :eek: should be 4 services a year or more!

    looks like we have something in common bobnova :D i was a semi mechanic fora few years an i still go out in the shop and help every once and a while, mostly with electrical stuff now though
    Hi,
    Bobnova
    Could always take the fan out to your car, pull out the dipstick out like you were checking the engine oil and use that to put a drop on the bearing.

    I'd do it fairly soon after you get your oil changed, don't need a bunch of carbon fines in it.

    If you're not familiar with the dipstick location / checking the oil on your car, I highly recommend you become so!

    (I'm an auto mechanic, a lot of people don't know how to check their oil, or do in theory but don't actually check it. Don't be one of those people!)

    I've had excellent luck with automatic transmission fluid (dexron-III / mercon) myself. Largely because that's what I had on hand.

    Used 20w50 on my Fiance's laptop, as that's what I had on hand when they fan ate it.


    I did think of it but the car is about 3 months away from its yearly service so I wouldn't want to contaminate the bearing with any dirty oil from the car.

    I have already put 3 drops of the sewing machine oil into the fans. I am a little worried about putting too much oil into the fan and it spewing out inside the fan and making things worse.

    But I will see if I can get some 20w50 oil :)

    Thanks for your experiences.