Can You Use PVC Piping for Compressed Air?

broken pvc pipe compressed air accidentPVC piping is inexpensive, versatile, and strong, considering how much it costs. It can transport liquids of all kinds, as it is highly corrosion-resistant. Despite how much it can do, there are certain jobs that PVC pipe just can't handle. One of those jobs is compressed air.

When using PVC pipe with compressed air, you run serious risks. The most dangerous of these is that of explosion. If put under stress that it cannot handle, PVC pipe can explode, sending plastic shrapnel flying. There have been numerous cases of this happening in compressed air applications, so OSHA does not allow the transportation of compressed gases in above-ground applications.

Another problem that can arise when using PVC pipe with air compressors is that of leakage. PVC pipe is very easy to install incorrectly. Sometimes PVC cement isn't given enough time to set, or thread sealant isn't applied properly. These mistakes are hard to avoid when using PVC and can seriously compromise a compressed air system. A third issue with using PVC for any compressed gases is that of temperature. PVC pipe is plastic, and is therefore more susceptible to constitutional changes from outside temperatures. When exposed to freezing temperatures, PVC pipe can become brittle and shatter much more easily than it usually would, so compressed gases should not pass through it.

What confuses many people considering using PVC piping with compressed air is the pipe's psi rating. Most consumer air compressors compress air to 125-175 psi, which does not sound like much. Most smaller sizes of PVC pipe are rated for between 300-600 psi, but that is only if the pipes are new and the system is perfectly sealed. As we mentioned before, it is extremely difficult to make a PVC system airtight. Also, due to the fact that it is plastic, PVC pipe becomes brittle with age. After around 10 years of use, the manufacturer's psi rating must be taken with a grain of salt.

OSHA does allow underground use of PVC pipe when transporting compressed gases, since it does not endanger anybody's safety. The problem with that is that underground systems have the same capacity for failure as above-ground systems. An underground or buried compressed air PVC system can still break and will need repair eventually, which will involve digging up the pipes and replacing parts, usually around joints and fittings. For more information about PVC pipe and compressed air, check out this great thread.

We have shown that PVC is insufficient for compressed air applications, but there are many other pipes you can use! Practically any metal pipe will do the job just fine. These include, copper pipe, steel water pipe, stainless steel pipe, galvanized pipe, and aluminum pipe. Regular black iron pipe should not be used because of how easily it corrodes and rusts. Rust in a compressed air system can be catastrophic and should be avoided.stainless steel ball valve with yellow handle

In addition to the pipes and fittings, the valves in a compressed air system should also be metal. Despite its name, PVC Fittings Online sells a wide variety of metal valves that are perfect for compressed air systems. Our metal ball valves, check valves, and gate valves are all perfect for a metal piping system.