Why PVC Piping Shouldn't Be Used For Compressed Air

PVC piping is strong and durable, which is why it's used in many types of applications that involve pressure, which is why it is commonly used for plumbing and gas lines. However, if you are considering installing PVC piping for your air compressor lines, don't do it. Even though PVC piping withstands high water and fluid pressure, it cannot withstand the pressure of compressed air. Here's what you need to know.

How PVC pipes react to pressure

When a PVC pipe fails due to pressure, it reacts in different ways depending on what type of pressure or force was put on it. With air pressure, a PVC pipe can explode and send shrapnel (shards of the material) through the air with such force that it can cause bodily injuries and structural damage. With fluid pressure, PVC piping tends to split open.

Think of the difference of what happens when you overfill a balloon with water and when you overfill it with air. It's the same concept here. A balloon overfilled with air will expand until it bursts and sends fragments of the balloon everywhere. A balloon overfilled with water will expand until it bursts and simply splits open.

Air is compressible, but fluid is not

The reason for the difference, and the primary concern of air from an air compressor, is that air is compressible, but fluid is not. Since air can compress, it will continue to compress inside the pipes until it cannot compress any further.

By that time, the pressure would have built up to cause enough force to create an explosion. Fluid, since it cannot compress, will either find a hole or crack to leak out of or cause the piping to split open. Essentially, the amount of water from within the pipe would be the same, whereas the amount of air in the pipe would be a lot more than it was before it built-up.

Compressed air piping systems

Now that you understand why and how PVC piping can explode when it is used for compressed air, you know why it is important to use piping that is specifically designed to withstand the pressure of compressed air.

It is crucial to not cut corner or try to reduce costs when it comes to installing compressed air piping systems for air compressors. The piping should be made of material that is stronger and more durable than PVC, such as galvanized steel or black iron.