It’s said that what comes out of the joint is what goes back into the joint, but sometimes we’re asked if there’s a better material to use. That’s because the expense of replacing a gasket often far outweighs the cost of the part. When that’s the case a little extra spent on better gasket material might save a lot.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to the material question. All we can say is, “It depends.” Here’s why, along with some guidance on selecting the best gasket material.
Four Key Criteria
It’s impossible to determine an appropriate material without knowing the temperature, environment, media and pressure the gasket will experience. It’s also important to determine the actual range of every parameter and every operating condition. Cleaning with caustic agents, for example, creates very different gasket challenges than handling a benign fluid like milk.
This refers to the temperature of the media. Many elastomers harden when cold, making them less able to resist pressure and reducing their ability to flex as the joint changes size. Neoprene, for example, has a lower limit of -40°F while high-performance fluoroelastomer (FKM) only goes to -10°F.
Temperature is one factor, sunlight another. A gasket used outdoors in a midwestern winter could see low temperatures while one exposed to the desert sun will get extremely hot. In addition, UV light damages some common gasket materials. NBR, for example, has poor UV resistance while EPDM holds up much better.
Some gasket materials suffer swelling when exposed to oils and other will oxidize rapidly. Brake fluid is incompatible with nitrile rubber and FKM while silicone and EPDM are a poor match for gasoline.
The pressure inside a pipe or enclosure can force gasket material to extrude out sideways. Harder materials generally hold up better but require higher clamping forces. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to consider PTFE, spiral-wound or metal gaskets.
Every gasket application is different and it’s never easy to say which is the best material to use. Start by determining the four criteria listed above, then consult a material specialist.