Wash downs are a regular occurrence for many applications, but those wash downs can pose problems for certain bearings. Over time, the rush of water and cleaning chemicals can hurt performance and even lead to bearing failure without a proper part design. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate or prevent these issues.
Your choice of bearing materials is one major factor for why bearings succeed or fail after multiple wash downs. Certain materials will resist corrosion caused by water and chemicals more than others. For example, stainless steel and plastic both have natural resistances, whereas standard chrome steel may rust over time.
There are also features you can add to certain bearings to protect the inside of your bearings from unwanted fluid or contaminants. The right bearing seal or shield serves as a protective barrier that can keep the balls or rollers safe from the washdown process. It also can prevent the lubrication from being rinsed out on accident during the wash down process. In addition to a seal and shield, there are solid lubricants that will grease or oil up the parts while in use and suck up the loose lubricant during downtime. This can further protect the lubrication from chemicals and other contaminants.
Another potential issue for applications with frequent wash downs is that the bearing may not be compatible for those specific applications. For example, wash downs are frequently used in the food industry, which means you’ll also need food-grade bearings. As such, it’s important to invest in bearings that are designed for both wash downs and your specific environments.