Oil Separation and Skimming: Top Business Benefits of Removing Oil from Water

Download the eBook - The Benefits of Removing Oil from WaterMany industries—from food processing to steel—face a common, yet potentially challenging problem: oil on water.

If not addressed in the right manner, at the right time, oily water can have serious implications on business success, compliance, and more importantly, on our environment. Luckily, there are tools available to effectively and efficiently remove oil from water surfaces.

Read on to see how oil skimming can be your competitive advantage, and dive into the top five business benefits of removing oil from water.

What You'll Find in this Page:

Why Is Removing Oil from Water Important?

For much of history, mankind used rivers and other inland bodies of water as sewers in which to dump all manner of waste. The industrial age exacerbated the problem. Industrial facilities were located close to inland waterways as a means of transportation for inbound raw materials and outbound finished products. In addition, water was a necessary ingredient in many industrial processes. Those same waterways became convenient disposal sites for “used” water from industrial activities. Not surprisingly, inland waterways became spoiled with industrial waste—including oil.

For example, steel plants require large amounts of water in their processes. Some estimate they use the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water per shift. Inevitably that water becomes fouled with oil and other process by-products. In less environmentally enlightened times long gone, that water might have ended in a nearby river or lake. Today, reliable technology exists to remove oil from the water so that the water can be recycled and reused.

As late as the middle of the 20th century, rivers still caught fire from the oil and debris they accumulated. Pollution issues got so bad that they awakened American society to the importance of improving the environment. Local and Federal laws changed, effectively raising the environmental standards nationwide. As usual in America, new challenges drove the development of new products and new companies.

One such company, Oil Skimmers, Inc., was launched in 1968 with the mission to remove oil from the surface of oily water tanks and pits inside steel mills. Today, Oil Skimmers, Inc. uses some of those same technologies and others as well to efficiently remove oil from wastewater in many different segments of industry worldwide.

In just about every industrial process on earth, whether it’s making steel or cosmetics, food processing, mining, railroads, or construction, water plays an important part of a company’s operations. Similarly, in most, if not all of those same industries, oil plays some kind of role. Circumstances vary, it may be lubrication oil, fuel oil, or the process itself may consume or produce oil—such as in chemical plants and oil refineries Regardless, chances are that at some point water comes into contact with oil. In today’s world, the environmentally and economically conscious seek to recycle and reuse both the water and the oil. The very first step in any recycle or reuse process is to separate the oil from the water.

Read more on why you should skim oil.

What Is Oil Skimming?

Fats, oils and greases are lighter than water, so in many circumstances oil will float on the surface of water. Oil skimming is the process and methodology of removing floating oil from the surface of water.

There are a number of oil skimming devices and technologies depending on the type and the scope of the challenge, from large systems used on the ocean, to small units found in a local machine shop. Some skimmer designs feature rotating drums, discs, belts, ropes, or floating tubes to which oil adheres. Others float in the water itself. Depending on the physical circumstances and application, some are more effective or efficient than others, but all are designed to remove the oil from the surface of an oil-water mixture.

Read about the challenges of oil separation and removal.

When You Need to Remove Oil

It is important to remove oil as close to the point of origin as possible, or in other words, as soon as the oil enters the wastewater stream.


First, removing the oil quickly reduces the opportunity for the oil to “mix” with oil-free water. Typically, removing oil early in the process reduces the scope and associated costs of down-the-line wastewater treatment equipment, as oil tends to foul downstream filtration equipment. Bottom line: The more the oil mixes with water, the greater the challenge of the eventual recovery task of removing the oil.

Second, removing oil early in the process, before it can combine with other contaminants in the waste stream, allows it to retain its value for recycling and reuse within the facility or for sale to oil recyclers.

For more, read Skim Oil Early to Improve Your Process and Profits.

The Journey of Water: Opportunities to Remove Oil

Following the path of water in an industrial process, there are many points along the way where oil can be removed. In the infographic below, the Oil Skimmers, Inc. (OSI) logo represents opportunities to take action. These top opportunities include:

  • Skimming oil before reuse.
  • Skimming oil before discharging it to a municipality.
  • Skimming oil before chemical treatment.
  • Skimming oil before filtration.

Inforgraphic - The Journey of Water - Opportunities to Remove Oil

The Top 5 Benefits of Oil Skimming

Removing oil from water properly can contribute to more environmentally-friendly and economically-friendly operations. And, oil skimming systems have proven successful in cultivating improved manufacturing processes, and ultimately, an advanced finished product.

Once you implement your own oil removal solution, expect to reap all of the following benefits within your organization.

1. Reduce costs

Continuously removing oil from water used in an industrial or manufacturing processes can extend the life of the water for days, weeks or months. Cost savings are realized at several points in the process.

First, water needs to be replaced less often, reducing the costs associated with treating and discharging wastewater. Second, by removing oil, the life of the underlying “water” (which may be wash solutions, coolants or cooling water) is extended, saving money on fluid replacement and associated maintenance and labor costs. By removing the oil continuously, the cost to further treat the water with chemicals, and/or filters is reduced or eliminated. 

Opportunities to reduce costs by removing oil from water include:

  • Increased potential to reuse water for production processes.
  • Reduced overall water consumption by extending the life of process water and coolants.
  • Extended life of, and reduced maintenance required of water, coolant, and filtration equipment.
  • Reduced amount of chemicals needed to treat process water or wastewater.
  • Reduced costs associated with wastewater disposal.
2. Generate new revenue.

In many applications, recovered oil has value. It often can be cleaned and brought back to its original specification for a fraction of the cost of purchasing new oil. In other applications where the oil is too contaminated to be cleaned and used as new, it can potentially be recycled into other products, giving it value as well. For applications in the food industry, recovered waste oil is often sought after to be used in the manufacturing of biodiesel, soap, animal feed, and other products. This creates value for a material that was once considered waste.

Request you complimentary copy of the Waste Oil Recovery Manual.

Often, oil recovered by skimming holds significant dollar value and can be sold for profit in the following ways:

  • High quality waste oil can be cleaned and recycled into new petroleum products.
  • Industries that produce biodiesel, soap or animal feed may be consumers of reclaimed oil.
3. Enhance your environmental responsibility.

There are many aspects of proper oil removal that help a company become and remain more environmentally responsible. Regardless of where the water will end up, whether it be in streams, water treatment plants, or reused in a process, responsibility starts with removing oil from water. Reuse of recovered oil prevents it from ending up in landfills and extends the life of a non-renewable resource (petroleum). In many applications, removing oil from water allows the water to be reused—reducing unnecessary water usage and conserving a limited, costly resource.

Removing oil from process water and wastewater helps companies maintain cleaner operations and reduce pollutants in the water.

Additional benefits include:

  • Lowered overall water consumption and usage; less water is needed and wastewater can often be reused following oil removal.
  • Reduced need to use chemicals to treat wastewater.
  • Reduced consumption of other water filtration products downstream. The presence of oil at the filtration stage of treatment can cause filters to be less effective, shortening the life of the equipment.
  • Enhanced ability to reuse and/or recycle recovered oil.
  • Address environmental concerns regarding oil-related contaminants.
  • Meet established environmental standards and regulations, such as reducing the discharge of conventional pollutants (EPA) in wastewater as well as other industry-specific regulations.

See how Oil Skimmers helped a major global energy project meet tough environmental standards.

4. Provide a safer work environment.

Removing oil on a continuous or regular basis has a positive impact on the work environment. When left to linger, oil can trap anaerobic bacteria in wastewater or process water. This results in foul odors and, even worse, may cause skin disorders for workers. Removing the oil reduces and, in many cases, eliminates this bacteria and the related skin conditions.

Another concern is that when excess oil is allowed to remain in machining coolants, an oily haze may form in the air when the coolant hits a hot machine tool. Continuous oil removal eliminates, or greatly reduces this potentially hazardous condition.

Using an oil skimmer can:

  • Diminish the opportunity for bacteria to grow on stagnated oil which will minimize foul odors and skin disorders resulting from the bacteria.
  • Create movement on the surface of the water as it removes oil, both of which reduce the opportunity for bacteria to grow on, and under, the surface of the oil.
5. Improve overall operations.

In addition to the positive environmental aspects and financial benefits of oil removal, the continuous removal of oil from process fluids positively affects the customers’ finished product.

In parts washing applications, removing oil from wash water helps assure a clean product with a clean surface necessary for successful downstream painting, plating, or coating. If oil is not properly removed from wash water, it can coat the parts being washed, preventing proper adhesion of any coating. No oil residue means more successful surface coating which results in fewer rejected parts.

Related read: Remove Tramp Oil to Extend the Life of Coolants and Wash Solutions

In machining applications, excess oil in machining coolant will not only shorten the life of the coolant (adding costs) but will also shorten the life of the machine tool itself, and is some cases cause blemishes on the finished parts. In addition to these costs, additional costs are incurred due to maintenance needed to clean filters, nozzles and lines that become clogged with excess oil.

Delivering numerous advantages to production and wastewater treatment processes, oil removal systems employing oil skimmers bring various improvements to overall operations:

  • Extend the life of water re-used in processes.
  • Improve the efficiency of parts washers - removing oil extends the life of wash water, and cleaner parts make for higher quality painting, coating, or treatment downstream.
  • Eliminate contaminants that affect longevity and performance of coolants, and shorten tool life in machining operations.
  • Prevent clogged spray nozzles and filters.
  • Improve overall efficiency of wastewater treatment system, which decreases maintenance and treatment costs.

What Types of Oil Removal Solutions Are Available?

Oil Skimmers, Inc. provides oil skimmers, oil removal systems, and custom engineered solutions for all types of oil-on-water scenarios. The specific conditions of your application determine which oil skimmer or system is needed. Here are some examples of which oil skimmers and systems are used for some common applications.

Application: Tramp Oil on Wash Washer or Coolant

The most efficient and effective way to remove tramp oil from your parts washer or machining coolant sump is by installing the Model 1H Brill tube type oil skimmer. If there are obstructions in the sump, or insufficient access to accommodate the floating collector tube of the Model 1H, the next sure bet is the CoolSkim oil water separator. The CoolSkim uses a small floating weir skimmer that easily fits in sumps where space is tight. If you have multiple CNC machines, the Model 1H and CoolSkim can be cart mounted to move from sump to sump. For larger, centralized sumps with larger volumes of oil, the Model 5H, or Model 6V is the answer.

Application: Oil Floating on Wastewater in Sump, Pit, Pond, or API Separator

Model 5H, 6V, and 7V Brill® tube type oil skimmers work 24/7, removing oil from scale pits at steel mills, central sumps at power plants, wash bays at mines, oil water separators at scrap yards, and from thousands of other applications in all industries around the world. These oil skimmers feature our free-floating collector tube to recover only oil, leaving water behind. We have engineered several standard methods of mounting these skimmers, including:

Complete Oil Removal Systems

Some applications require more than just the oil skimmer and a mount. The ORTS, Oil Removal and Transfer System goes beyond just oil removal, and includes features such as decanting, oil storage, and pumping the oil to a remote vessel. The ORTS can also include a controller for controlling system power, timers, heat, level sensors, and other optional features.

The ESS™ Enclosed Skimming System protects the skimmer from wind, weather, or harsh environments, prevents tampering, addresses aesthetic and environmental concerns, and encloses leaks or drips. If required, the ESS can be completely sealed and gasketed to contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from escaping into the environment.

Want to remove oil, but no current spot for a skimmer?

If you have an oil-on-water issue, but don’t have an existing sump, tank, or pit where oil has a chance to rise to the surface and an oil skimmer can be installed, Oil Skimmers, Inc. offers tanks and separators with integrated oil skimmers.

  • Continuous Flow Rate Wastewater Treatment

    The SAS® (Separate And Skim) Tank is a full featured oil water separator that is implemented as part of your wastewater treatment process as a means to separate the oil and water into two distinct layers. The integrated oil skimmer continuously removes oil, eliminating build-up of oil in the separation chamber, which is the primary cause of inefficiencies in other types of oil water separators.

  • Varying Flow Rate or Batch Wastewater Treatment

    The Skim 1st Tank is another option that provides the opportunity to skim oil from water, prior to additional treatment or discharge. These tanks are sized to meet the requirements of each application. Wastewater is pumped or dumped into the tank where oil is given time to rise to the surface, and the integrated oil skimmer removes it. The water can then be pumped or drained to the next stage of treatment, or discharged to the municipality. Some open-top models feature debris screens for filtering out solids when contaminated water is dumped into the tank.

  • Custom Engineered Solutions

    The engineering team at Oil Skimmers, Inc. works closely with engineering firms and end users to develop the right solutions for their applications. From simple customization of standard equipment, to complete systems developed from scratch, we rely on our 50 years of applications knowledge and expertise to provide the right solution. We take pride in calling ourselves, “The Oil Removal Solution Experts.”

    Find Out How an Oil Removal Solution Could Work for You

    Ready to see how oil removal can be your competitive advantage? Designed to improve overall operations while reducing costs, among other benefits, a quality tube-type oil skimmer, stand-alone, or integrated into a complete system or oil water separator, offers advanced operation for an efficient, cost- effective oil removal process.

    Request a free Tube Test Kit to see how efficiently our oil skimmers would work for you.

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