It’s Elementary: What an Element COULD Mean on Your Oil Analysis

By: Allan Zieser, STLE, CLS

Frequently, we get asked what certain elements shown on an oil analysis report mean for the equipment being tested. Without knowledge of the components in the equipment, oil analysis reports can be quite frustrating to the individual attempting to read them. Still there is much information to be gained from repeated testing and trending of the oil analysis results from a piece of equipment.

Here is a run-down of some of the more common elements, contaminates, and some of the sources for them.


Newer cooling systems are comprised of aluminum components and as such, we are starting to see more aluminum in the oil sample results that we are receiving. Aluminum is also being used more and more in various components because of weight savings.

Other sources of Aluminum – Pistons, Bearings, Bushings, Pump Vanes, Blower/Turbos, Washers, Dirt, and Shims.


This element can be found in a variety of components used in modern machinery.

Sources of Copper – Bearings, Bearing Cushions, Thrust Washers, Valves, Guides, Injector Shields, Oil Cooler Tubes, Wet Clutches, Coolant Systems, Gears, and Motor Oil Additive (not currently used in most motor oil formulations.)


Iron is a major component of most machinery and as such often has higher numbers than other elements found in an oil analysis test.

Sources of Iron can include – Rings, Crankshaft, Cylinder Walls, Valve Trains, Pistons, Anti-Friction Bearings, Gears, Shafts, Clutch Plates, Washers, Rust, and even Water.


Lead is used in many components and is often plated onto surfaces to act as a sacrificial surface in journal bearings.

Sources of Lead can include – Babbitt Bearing Surfaces, Plating, Grease, Paint, Sealers, and Solder


Phosphorus can be found in several products that are used in vehicles and machinery.

Sources of Phosphorus – New Oils (Anti-Wear Additives), Gears, and Coolant Leaks.  


Silicon is all around us every day and it works its way into most of our equipment. Paying special attention to your air filters and filter hoses will help keep some of this dirt out of your system.

Sources of Silicon – Sand, Dirt, Dust, Anti-foam additives, Antifreeze, and Gasket Sealers.


Another abundant element on the planet.

Sources of Sodium – Some new oils, Coolants, Saltwater, Salt on roads, and Greases.

These are just a few of the elements that are tested for and found in oil analysis reports. From the oil analysis results that you receive, it is possible to help diagnose component wear and help predict failures that will allow you to be prepared for downtime and to minimize it where possible.

Repeated and careful sampling from the same spot in your equipment on a regularly scheduled basis is key to knowing what is happening inside your equipment. This procedure will allow you to see the wear and contamination trends of your equipment and gives the maintenance professional the tools to help keep things operational for your business.

For more information on oil analysis result interpretation, be sure to contact your Ottsen Oil Expert!



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