January 2016

Choosing Gasket Material

When changing a gasket most technicians choose a new one made from the same material. If a paper, fiber or cork gasket came out of the joint, then the replacement is usually the same.

That’s not necessarily bad, assuming the gasket hadn’t failed prematurely, but it could also be a missed opportunity. Other gasket materials might hold up better in the application. That would allow more time between inspection and replacement, reducing downtime frequency and saving on maintenance hours.

Gasket materials are specified by multiple criteria, and the importance of each depends on what the application needs. One way of looking at these properties is to divide them into mechanical – their gap-filling ability – and material – how well they handle the media.

Mechanical properties

Whether looking for boiler seals or food grade gaskets, the primary considerations are thickness and hardness. Thickness is easy to understand, (always choose the thinnest that will do the job,) but hardness is less obvious. Gasket material hardness is reported in terms of Durometer, usually on the Shore A scale. (See “Measuring Gasket Material Hardness.”) When comparing two materials of the same thickness, the softer one is usually the better choice.

Other properties to look at are compressibility and creep relaxation. Compressibility measurement is defined by the ASTM F36 standard and describes the load needed to provide a given level of deformation. In general, higher compressibility implies lower loads are needed to secure a joint. Creep relaxation, addressed in ASTM F38, indicates how the gasket thins over time, which reduces bolt loading.

Material properties

Gasket material must be appropriate for the media. For example, nitrile gaskets are preferred for applications involving petroleum, mineral or vegetable oils but don’t perform well with ozones, ketones, esters and aldehydes.

The ability to handle expected temperatures is also important. This is especially critical where the environment causes severe temperature gradients through the joint. (Imagine piping liquid nitrogen in the desert southwest.) Nitrile gaskets may be appropriate for the media but an alternative, like silicone, might handle the temperatures better, (although has poor hydrocarbon resistance.)

The Difference Between Soft, Semi-Metallic and Metallic Gaskets

Gasket selection is driven by the needs of the application. Temperature, environment, media and pressure dictate the gasket required. While there are many different types, to aid selection they are usually separated into three classes:

  • Soft
  • Semi-metallic
  • Metallic

Soft gaskets

These are made from materials that compress easily, such as elastomers like nitrile, (NBR,) EPDM and silicone, as well as graphite, PTFE and fibrous materials. Their corrosion resistance is good but they are limited in the temperatures they can handle. Nitrile gaskets for example only work from -60 to 250°F (-51 to 121°C) and EPDM is only slightly better with a range of -70°F to 350°F (-57°C to 177°C). Silicone gaskets will however go up to 500°F (260°C) and PTFE is effective from cryogenic temperatures up to 450°F (232°C).

Soft gaskets are also limited in their ability to handle high pressures. The best applications are those involving sealing variable gaps as might be found around the doors of an electrical enclosure.

Semi-metallic gaskets

Bridging the gap between metallic gaskets and soft gaskets, the semi-metallics combine features of each. The two main types are spiral-wound and metal-jacketed, although other forms exist. Spiral wound gaskets are made from a ribbon of soft material like PTFE or graphite layered with metal, usually in a ‘V’ form to provide compressibility. Jacketed gaskets consist of a metal cover over a filler material.

Semi-metallic gaskets can handle a wide range of temperatures and pressures up to 6,000 psi, (based on ANSI pressure class 2,500,) so are used in applications ranging from refineries and chemical processing plants to aerospace.

Metallic gaskets

As the name implies, this type of gasket is made from metal. That allows it to resist pressures as high as 10,000 psi but also means it has virtually no compression. Very high bolt loads are needed to create enough deformation for joint sealing.

Metallic gaskets are vulnerable to galvanic corrosion. To minimize problems the gasket metal should be close to the flange material on the electrochemical scale. Alternatively, the material should be chosen to make the gasket the sacrificial element.