The Truth About Hydraulic Suction Strainers

Some hydraulic filters can actually do more harm than good. And so their inclusion in a hydraulic system is misguided. Pump inlet (suction) filters fall into this category. Inlet filters usually take the form of a 140 micron, mesh strainer which is screwed onto the pump intake penetration inside the hydraulic reservoir.

Suction strainers increase the chances of cavitation occurring in the intake line and subsequent damage to, and failure of the hydraulic pump. Piston-type pumps are particularly susceptible.

If the reservoir starts out clean and all oil returning to the reservoir is filtered, suction strainers are not required since the hydraulic oil will not contain particles large enough to be captured by a coarse mesh screen.

So for the reasons outlined above, I generally recommend removing and discarding them where fitted. One of the common counter arguments to this recommendation is that they are a ‘rock-stopper’. This is typical from a suction strainer advocate:

“The one thing a strainer does that’s worthwhile is to keep out the trash that gets dropped into the tank during service. We lost pumps to things like bolts that we know were not in the tank when it got built. The process of adding hydraulic fluid to the tank often doubles as the trash-installation function. The screens that are often installed in the fill neck usually get a hole poked through them so that oil will go in faster.”

A couple of years ago, I was involved in a situation where the seals failed in the swivel on a hydraulic excavator. This allowed the automatic greasing system to pump grease into the hydraulic tank.

The grease clogged the suction strainers, which subsequently failed. The wire mesh from the strainers destroyed all four hydraulic pumps and several other components. Had suction strainers not been fitted, it’s possible that the grease would have eventually dissolved in the hydraulic oil with minimal damage to any components.

My point about this story is, I don’t use this example as an argument against fitting them. Because grease should not be in the hydraulic reservoir. Likewise, I do not consider trash exclusion to be a valid argument for fitting them. Because nuts, bolts or similar debris should not be in the reservoir.

Brendan Casey has more than 25 years experience in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of mobile and industrial hydraulic equipment. For more information on reducing the operating cost and increasing the uptime of your hydraulic equipment, visit his Web site: