Machines with moving parts require lubrication, ceiling fans included. But the oil holes present on older model ceiling fans seem to be missing from today’s designs.
It turns out, the missing oil hole does not indicate a change in how you oil the fan. Rather it means that the entire lubrication system has been upgraded. This is not to say that it will never fail, and there are still other reasons why your fan may be squeaking or wobbling.
The vast majority of modern ceiling fans either have long-lasting lubricant reservoirs within the ball bearings that do not require replenishing, or they are made from a self-lubricating material. Neither of these designs would need to be oiled.
Modern Ceiling Fans Don’t Need Oiling
Modern ceiling fans have self-lubricating bearings and don’t need to be manually oiled.
While it isn’t clear when self-lubricating bearings were first used in ceiling fans, some assumptions can be made as to when they were first incorporated into the design of these units.
Self-lubricating bearings were first used in the 1920s in automobiles. They were made in smaller sizes in the ’50s, and then in the ’80s, they started to be used for pulleys (generally) and power steering.
From this progression and the similarities between pulleys, power steering, and ceiling fans, it is reasonable to assume that self-lubricating bearings may have entered ceiling fan design around the 1990s.
To give a personal observation, which aligns with this date, I grew up in a house that was built in the 1990s, and this is when the ceiling fans were installed, too. None of the ceiling fans need to be manually oiled.
However, in my grandmother’s house, her ceiling fan, which dates back to the late 1960s, when the house was built, does have an oil hole for manual oiling.
Confirming No Oil Is Needed
Now, just because your fan has a seemingly modern design doesn’t mean that you should just assume that your ceiling fan doesn’t need to be oiled. This may result in damage to the fan. Instead, look for evidence to back up this assumption.
The first thing that can be done is to check the owner’s manual. This should explicitly state whether or not the fan needs to be oiled.
If it is not explicitly stated, one can assume that the ceiling fan does not need to be oiled. Manual oiling will definitely be included in the general care instructions if it is required.
Another factor you can check is one that we have spoken about quite a lot already. You can check for the presence of an oil hole. The hole is normally located on the upper portion of the housing for the motor.
If you end up finding the hole, then you will have to introduce a lubrication schedule. Happily, you don’t have to take the fan down to do this.
For an absolutely surefire way to find out if your ceiling fan needs oil or not, contact the manufacturer directly.
If this is the route you go, be sure to provide the manufacturer with the correct type of fan you have. They may manufacture fans that need oil to be added as well as fans that don’t.
How Do Self-Lubricating Ball Bearings Work?
Self-lubricating ball bearings are contained within two circles. One is smaller, one is larger, and the bearings are contained in between these circles.
On the inner portion of the circles is a lubricant that comes from a reservoir inside one of the circles (normally the outer one).
As the ball bearings move, they contact this lubricant and become lubricated.
Now, if you are anything like me, then at this point, you are wondering if the reservoir of lubricant can run out. The answer is that it certainly can, but we’ll get to this in the next section.
First, let’s look at the other design for these ball bearings.
Self-lubricating ball bearings can also work by having the lubricant be a part of the ball bearing material itself. These are the types of self-lubricating ball bearings that are considered lubricated for life.
Can Self-Lubricating Ball Bearings Fail?
So, as hinted at, self-lubricating ball bearings can fail.
The only type of self-lubricating ball bearings that can’t fail are those that have a lubricant in their own material (i.e., the second type of self-lubricating ball bearing that we discussed above.
The ball bearings that are lubricated by contacting small amounts of lubricant from a reservoir can fail in two ways:
- The lubricant could simply run out.
- The balls stop moving for long enough that the lubricant dries up.
Although rare, the supply of lubricant within a self-lubricating ball bearing system could run out. This is most common if the bearings are moving at high speed and going through the supply of lubricant quickly.
Lubricant running out could also be caused by a crack in the piece that is supplying the lubricant.
Self-lubricating ball bearings could also fail if they haven’t moved in a while and the lubricant they were coming into contact with dries out.
This is also quite rare but it is possible. How long a lubricant can go before drying out will depend on the type of lubricant it is.
Other Causes of Noise or Wobbling
Ceiling fans wobbling or making undue noise could be caused by ball bearings that are not properly lubricated. However, if you have a self-lubricating fan, it is less likely that this is the cause of your troubles.
There are other reasons why ceiling fans become noisy or unsteady, which you should consider. Noise or wobbling could be caused by any of the following:
- Loose/missing screws for fastening the fan to the ceiling.
- Loose/missing screws fastening the blades to the mounting piece (makes the fan unbalanced).
- Dust on the blades (can also cause imbalance).
- Misaligned blades.
- Warped blades.
- Overworked or improperly maintained motor.
- Loose light fixture.
- Poorly positioned motor cover that is in contact with parts of the fan it shouldn’t be.
It’s important to address a wobbly ceiling fan as it could pose some dangers, although not the one you are thinking of—it’s very unlikely the fan will fall down on your head. Instead, the danger is from things like trapped or frayed wires or excess strain on the motor (overheating).
Noises should also not be discounted as harmless. Often, they are an early indicator of a larger problem and potential danger.
While some noise should be expected from ceiling fans (I certainly can’t think of any ceiling fans that never made a sound!), uncharacteristic, loud, or altered noises may be the result of some problems.
Any noises like electrical pops or hums should be looked into with urgency.
Modern Ceiling Fans Still Require Maintenance
If you have a self-lubricating ceiling fan, this does not mean that you can cross it off of the list of appliances/devices requiring maintenance.
Two of the most important things that are required are cleaning and occasionally tightening the screws.
You need to clean the blades and the motor to prevent unbalanced rotations and motor strain. And you need to tighten the screws, which become loose from the fan’s movement, to prevent the fan from becoming unbalanced and noisy.