Oxygen Cleaning

The Importance of Oxygen Cleaning in the Aerospace Industry

Key Take-Aways:

  • Oxygen cleaning removes flammable and explosive contaminants that pose extreme risks in aerospace oxygen systems.
  • Thorough cleaning is essential for safe, reliable performance of aircraft passenger oxygen delivery, spacecraft life support, and other oxygen-exposed components.
  • Overlooked contaminants can cause catastrophic fires, explosions, aborted missions, and loss of life in aerospace applications.
  • Standards like ASTM G93 dictate stringent oxygen cleaning protocols and cleanliness verification procedures that must be strictly followed.
  • Proper oxygen cleaning mitigates dangers and prevents accidents related to ignition of contaminants in enriched oxygen environments.


The safety and reliability of aircraft are of utmost importance, and one crucial aspect that cannot be overlooked is oxygen cleaning. As the name suggests, oxygen cleaning involves the thorough removal of contaminants from oxygen supply systems and components used in aerospace applications. This process plays a vital role in ensuring the safe transportation and delivery of oxygen, making it a critical requirement in the aerospace industry.

Definition of Oxygen Cleaning

Oxygen cleaning is a critical process in the aerospace industry that involves the complete removal of contaminants from oxygen supply systems and components. The goal is to create a safe environment by eliminating substances that can react violently when exposed to high-pressure oxygen.

Oxygen cleaning is an indispensable requirement in aerospace to ensure the integrity and reliability of oxygen systems and to safeguard the well-being of passengers and crew members.

The Risks of Oxygen Environments

One of the primary risks of oxygen-rich environments is the increased potential for combustion. Oxygen acts as a powerful oxidizer, promoting rapid and vigorous burning when combined with flammable materials. While materials may not burn in normal air, they become highly combustible in the presence of concentrated oxygen. Even seemingly harmless sparks or heat sources can trigger fires and explosions in such environments. It is essential to exercise extreme caution and follow stringent safety protocols when working in areas with high oxygen concentrations.

What Does Oxygen Cleaning Remove?

Oxygen cleaning is designed to remove all potential contaminants that could lead to safety risks when components are exposed to oxygen. This includes substances that can combust, ignite, or affect oxygen purity. According to ASTM G93, there are three main categories of contaminants targeted:

1. Particulate Contaminants

Particulates removed include lint, fibers, dust, metal shavings from machining or welding slag. These particles can ignite or explode when exposed to enriched oxygen environments, especially under pressure or flow conditions. Tiny metallic particles impacting surface irregularities can release tremendous amounts of energy. Oxygen cleaning eliminates these dangerous particulates.

2. Inorganic Contaminants

Inorganic contaminants like nitrates, phosphates, acids, solvents, water-based detergents and cutting oils are also cleaned away. These substances can contaminate oxygen purity or leave reactive residues on component surfaces. Some are also flammable or explosive risks. Thorough oxygen cleaning rids systems of inorganic contaminants.

3. Organic Contaminants

Organic contaminants removed include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrocarbon oils and greases. These are highly flammable substances that can ignite easily with disastrous consequences when combined with high-pressure or pure oxygen. The cleaning process must eliminate all traces of dangerous organic contaminants.

What Are The Aerospace Applications Requiring Oxygen Cleaning?

Oxygen cleaning is a vital process for many critical aerospace applications. The consequences of overlooked contaminants in oxygen environments can be catastrophic. Here are some of the key aerospace systems and components that require oxygen cleaning:

Aircraft Oxygen Delivery Systems

In commercial aircraft, oxygen cleaning is essential for passenger oxygen mask systems. Contaminants in the supply lines or masks could react violently when activated, putting passenger safety at risk. Oxygen generators and gaseous manifold distribution systems must also be thoroughly cleaned.

Spacecraft and Launch Vehicles

Spacecraft and rockets rely on oxygen cleaning to prevent disasters. The oxygen systems, lines, valves, and tanks used for propulsion and life support must be contaminant-free. Even minor ignition sources can destroy entire spacecraft when combined with pure oxygen at high pressure.

High-Pressure Oxygen Lines and Valves

Oxygen lines and valves on aircraft, spacecraft, and ground support equipment must undergo cleaning. Particulate contamination where high-pressure oxygen flows through restrictive openings is an extreme ignition hazard. This makes cleaning critical.

Oxygen Storage Tanks and Cylinders

Before filling with oxygen, storage tanks and cylinders must be cleaned to remove any residual hydrocarbons, chemicals, or particles. Contaminated oxygen storage can lead to violent explosions. Meticulous cleaning is key.

Other Oxygen-Exposed Systems

Any aerospace system that will be exposed to high concentrations of oxygen requires cleaning, from fuel cells to life support. Trace contaminants in oxygen environments present too much of a safety risk. Cleaning removes those threats.

What Does a Typical Oxygen Cleaning Process Look Like?

Oxygen cleaning involves a meticulous, multi-step process to eliminate contaminants and make components safe for oxygen service. Here are the key phases in a typical oxygen cleaning workflow:

  • Mechanical Cleaning: The first step removes loose particulate, grease and visible dirt through methods like solvent wiping, spraying, or abrasive blasting. Mechanical cleaning prepares surfaces for deeper cleaning.
  • Aqueous Cleaning: Next is aqueous cleaning with water-based detergents at high temperature. This chemically removes oils, greases, fingerprints, and remaining particulates from the surface. Proper rinse steps prevent detergent carryover.
  • Water Break Free Test: After aqueous cleaning, parts undergo a water break free test. This verifies all detergent has been rinsed away and no organic films remain on surfaces. A continuous water sheet should flow over the entire surface with no beading or breaks.
  • Passivation: Passivation reforms the protective chromium oxide layer on metallic surfaces. This provides corrosion resistance during downstream handling. Common mediums include citric acid or nitric acid.
  • Visual Inspection: Thorough visual examination under bright light ensures there is no remaining contamination like particles or streaks from improper rinsing. All surfaces must pass inspection.
  • Validation: Validation testing like ash residue, particle counts, or Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy can verify cleanliness standards are met. This provides quantitative confirmation.
  • Drying: After cleaning, components must be thoroughly dried to prevent any moisture-induced corrosion during transport or storage. Vacuum drying chambers or baked gas purges are typically used.
  • Packaging/Protection: Finally, cleaned parts are securely packaged to prevent recontamination during handling. Extra protection like gloves, cleanroom procedures, sealed bags, and capped ports maintain cleanliness.

With this multi-step oxygen cleaning process completed successfully, components are contaminant-free and safe for oxygen service. Strict adherence and validation ensures the process was effective.

Oxygen Cleaning Specifications

Consequences of Improper Oxygen Cleaning

When oxygen cleaning isn't performed thoroughly and properly, the results can be dire. Contaminants left behind can lead to catastrophic failures, accidents, and grave harm.

Here are some of the potential consequences of improper oxygen cleaning:

Costly Damage to Equipment

Inadequate cleaning risks extremely expensive damage to oxygen system equipment. Even small particles or trace oils can ignite violently in oxygen environments. This can rupture lines, damage valves, breach tanks, and destroy system components. Repairing or replacing equipment damaged in oxygen-fed fires is extremely costly.

Risk of Injury or Death

The greatest danger of improper cleaning is the risk of serious injury or death. Contaminated oxygen systems can explode with little warning, putting operators and passengers in harm's way. Severe burns or fatalities can occur. Human safety depends on meticulous cleaning.

Operational Failures or Accidents

Combustion events from contaminated oxygen spells disaster for flight operations, space missions, and other critical tasks. Equipment failures lead to aborted missions, crashed aircraft, loss of life support, and more. Accidents caused by overlooked contaminants during cleaning can completely undermine operations.

In conclusion:

Proper oxygen cleaning is absolutely critical for the safe and reliable functioning of aerospace systems and other applications using enriched oxygen environments. Thorough cleaning mitigates the genuine threats of fire, explosion, equipment damage, and loss of life.

Oxygen cleaning is mandatory for aircraft passenger oxygen systems, spacecraft life support and propulsion, high-pressure oxygen lines and valves, and any other component exposed to oxygen. The cleaning process follows stringent protocols like ASTM G93 involving steps such as mechanical cleaning, verified aqueous cleaning, passivation, inspection, and careful packaging. Compliance with specifications is validated through testing.

Ignoring oxygen cleaning protocols courts catastrophe through contamination oversight. Make no mistake - proper oxygen cleaning is an absolute non-negotiable requirement preceding work with oxygen systems. Don't skip this essential process under any circumstances.

With accurate adherence to oxygen cleaning standards, the risks of contamination can be effectively mitigated. Consistent, diligent cleaning provides assurance of component integrity and system safety when oxygen exposure occurs downstream. In mission-critical aerospace applications, verified proper oxygen cleaning is a foundation for success.

Why Precision Fabricating & Cleaning is Your Go-To Source for Oxygen Cleaning

For over 50 years, Precision Fabricating & Cleaning has been an aerospace industry leader in specialized oxygen cleaning services. When safety and reliability are absolute necessities, trust the oxygen cleaning experts.

Our trained technicians and state-of-the-art facilities ensure aerospace components meet the most stringent cleanliness standards for oxygen systems. We follow all required protocols and verify cleanliness through testing.

Precision Fabricating & Cleaning offers full-service in-house oxygen cleaning capabilities scaled to your needs. Plus, our fabricated parts and assemblies have a legacy of outstanding performance. For contaminant-free oxygen systems you can count on, choose Precision Fabricating & Cleaning - the trusted name in aerospace oxygen cleaning. Contact us today.

About PFC: Precision Fabricating & Cleaning is an innovative, highly qualified company with unique capabilities to accomplish a wide range of industrial testing and Precision Cleaning services, specializing in Hydrostatic Testing, Oxygen Cleaning Service, Cryogenic & Cold Shock Testing, Mobile Field Cleaning, Passivating/Passivation, High Purity Cleaning, Ultrasonic Cleaning, and so much more.

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