Lubricant Viscosity

lubricant viscosity

What is lubricant viscosity?

Viscosity is the resistance of a fluid to flow. When a fluid is flowing, the molecules comprising it experience friction due to the molecular interaction among them. It means that different fluids with different viscosities flow at different speeds when the same force is applied. Another way to look at it is that the force required to induce movement of the fluid will be larger for more viscous fluids. Honey or corn syrup has a viscosity in the range of 2000-3000 cP (centipoise), while water only around 1 cP. Clearly water flows more easily, since it has much lower viscosity.

In other words, the shear stress developed in the fluids is a function of viscosity. The fluids in which the shear stress is proportional to the shear rate, are called Newtonian fluids and the constant of proportionality is called viscosity:

(1)    \begin{eqnarray*} \tau = \mu \frac{du}{dy} \\ \end{eqnarray*}


So why is this important?

Viscosity is key for any process involving fluid flow. It will determine, for example – How long a reservoir will take to fill. Viscosity will also determine how much energy is required to pump out process fluid. Viscosity can also help you determine the structure of molecules such as proteins in a solution or the force required to inject a new drug formulation into a patient.

The unit of viscosity is newton-second per square meter ( N \cdot s \cdot m^-2  ), which is usually expressed as pascal-second ( Pa\cdot s ) in SI units. In lubrication practice, the earlier mentioned cP unit is widely used,  1cP = 10^-3 Pa\cdot s .

Dynamic vs Kinematic Viscosity: What is the difference?

1. Dynamic viscosity: Dynamic viscosity is also known as absolute viscosity. The SI physical unit of dynamic viscosity (μ) is the Pascal-second (Pa s), identical to 1 kg m−1 s−1. The physical unit for dynamic viscosity in the centimetre gram second system of units (cgs) is the poise (P). It is more commonly expressed, particularly in ASTM standards, as centipoise (cP).

2. Kinematic viscosity: Kinematic viscosity is the ratio of dynamic viscosity and the density, so \nu = \frac{\mu}{\rho}. Kinematic viscosity has SI units of  m^2\cdot s^-1 . The physical unit for kinematic viscosity is the stokes (St), named after George Stokes. However, due to practicality reasons typically it is expressed in terms of centistokes (cS or cSt); 1 stokes = 100 centistokes = 1 cm2 s−1 = 0.0001 m2 s−1. Kinematic viscosity is typically used and reported in industry.

Viscosities of Common Lubricants Table

Dynamic Viscosity Measured at Atmospheric Pressures, mPas Pressure-Viscosity Coefficient, 1/Gpa
Temperature 30°C 60°C 90°C 30°C 60°C 90°C
High VI oils
Light machine oil 38 12.1 5.3 18.4 13.4
Heavy machine oil 153 34 9.1 23.7 20.5 15.8
Heavy machine oil 250 50.5 12.6 25 21.3 17.6
Cylinder oil 810 135 26.8 34 28 22
Medium VI oils
Spindle oil 18.6 6.3 2.4 20 16 13
Light machine oil 45 12 3.9 28 20 16
Medicinal white oil 107 23.3 6.4 29.6 22.8 17.8
Heavy machine oil 122 26.3 7.3 27 21.6 17.5
Heavy machine oil 171 31 7.5 28 23 18
Low VI oils
Spindle oil 30.7 8.6 3.1 25.7 20.3 15.4
Heavy machine oil 165 30 6.8 33 23.8 16
Heavy machine oil 310 44.2 9.4 34.6 26.3 19.5
Cylinder oil 2000 180 24 41.5 29.4 25
Other fluids and lubricants
Water 0.8 0.47 0.28 0 0 0
Ethylene oxide-
propylene oxide copolymer 204 62.5 22.5 17.6 14.3 12.2
Castor oil 360 80 18 15.9 14.4 12.3
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate 43.5 11.6 4.05 20.8 16.6 13.5
Glycerol (glycerine) 535 73 13.9 5.9 5.5 3.6
Polypropylene glycol 750 82.3 17.8
Polypropylene glycol 1500 177 17.4
Tri-arylphosphate ester 25.5 31.6



Viscosity-Temperature Relation for Water

It is interesting to know that the viscosity of liquids decreases rapidly with an increase in temperature, and the viscosity of gases increases with an increase in temperature. Thus, upon heating, liquids flow more easily, whereas gases flow more sluggishly. For example, the viscosities of water at 27 °C (81 °F) is 0.85 × 10−3 pascal-second and at 77 °C (171 °F) is and 0.36 × 10−3 pascal-second, respectively, but those of air at the same temperatures are 1.85 × 10−5 and 2.08 × 10−5 pascal-second.

Viscosity of water as a function of temperature can be obtained according to Vogel-Fulcher-Tammann equation:

(2)    \begin{eqnarray*} \mu = A\exp(\frac{B}{T-C}) \\ \end{eqnarray*}

where  \mu is the dynamic viscosity in  mPa\cdot s ,  A = 0.02939 mPa\cdot s, B = 507.88 K, C=149.3 K .  T is given in kelvins.

Here is a simple calculator that allows to calculate the viscosity of water as a function of temperature according to the equation above:

Viscosity-Temperature Relations for Lubricating Oils: Walther equation

For lubricating oils, viscosity drops with temperature rapidly. There are a number of models exist to describe the relation between viscosity and temperature. These models are usually fits obtained using experimental data. The known equations are due to Reynolds, Vogel, but the most commonly used one is known as Walther equation. This equation is the standard used it ASTM, ISO and DIN charts.  Here is the Walther equation:

(3)    \begin{eqnarray*} \log _{10} \log_{10}(\nu_{cSt} + a)= K - c\log_{10}T\\ \end{eqnarray*}

Here \nu_{cSt} is the kinematic viscosity given in cSt, T is temperature in kelvins, a is a constant for a particular fluid. For lubrication oils, it can be chosen as 0.7 (see the reference). The constants c and K are calculated from the kinematic viscosities at 2 temperatures (\nu_{cSt1} and \nu_{cSt2}):

(4)    \begin{eqnarray*} c = \frac{\log _{10} \log_{10}(\nu_{cSt1} + a) - \log _{10} \log_{10}(\nu_{cSt2} + a)}{\log_{10}T_2 - \log_{10}T_1} \\ \end{eqnarray*}

The lubricant manufacturers typically specify kinematic viscosities at 40C and 100C, which are then used in the equation above (but don’t forget to translate to kelvins). Here is a simple calculator for calculating the viscosity of an oil according to the Walther equation:


Viscosity-Pressure-Temperature Relations for Lubricating Oils

In lubricated contacts the contact pressure is typically in the range of 0.1-2 GPa. Viscosity of lubricants depends strongly on the pressure. Thus, for the calculation of the oil film thickness and lubricant friction in lubricated contacts, it is necessary to know the viscosity at the given pressure and temperature. There are several models available, here the most commonly used ones are presented.

Barus equation

This equation is a very simple one and therefore very common. It links the viscosity of the oil to the pressure as follows:

(5)    \begin{eqnarray*} \mu = \mu_0 e^{\alpha p} \\ \end{eqnarray*}

where \mu_0 is the viscosity at ambient pressure, \alpha is the pressure-viscosity coefficient. For lubricating oils, \alpha \approx 0.1 \times 10^-8 Pa^-1 to 4 \times 10^-8 Pa^-1.

This equation is known to be inaccurate for high pressure (>1 GPa), predicting a larger increase rate with increase of pressure than it really is.  Here is a simple calculator for calculating the viscosity of an oil at the given pressure:

Roelands equation

A more accurate relation that also includes temperature dependence, is by Roelands:

(6)    \begin{eqnarray*} \mu = \mu_0 e^{ ( ln(\mu_0) + 9.67)  ((1+\frac{p}{p_r})^z  (\frac{T_0-138}{T-138})^{S_0} -1  )  }\\ \end{eqnarray*}


  • p_r = 1.962 \times 10^8 Pa
  • T_0 –  temperature at which mu_0 was measured (in kelvins)
  • S_0 – viscosity-temperature index,  commonly 1.0 \le S_0 \le 1.5
  • z – pressure-viscosity index, commonly 0 \le z \le 0.8
  • \mu, \mu_0 are given in Pa \cdot s in this equation.

The pressure-viscosity coefficient \alpha used in the Barus equation above is related to the  pressure-viscosity index z in the Roelands equation as follows:

(7)    \begin{eqnarray*} z = \frac{p_r\alpha}{ln(\mu_0) + 9.67}\\ \end{eqnarray*}

Here is a viscosity calculator based on Barus and Roelands equations:

Viscosity Units Conversion

Here are a simple dynamic and kinematic viscosity unit converter, together with the density converter. The table below shows the conversion factors for dynamic and kinematic viscosities.

Multiply by
Convert fromConvert to
Poiseuille, (Pa s)Poise, (dyne s/cm2), (g/cm s)centiPoisekg/m hkgf s/m2
Poiseuille (Pa s)11010^33.63 10^30.102
Poise (dyne s/cm2) or (g/cm s)0.111003600.0102
kg/m h2.78 10^-40.002780.27812.83 10^-5
kgf s/m29.8198.19.81 10^33.53 10^41
lbf s/inch26.89 10^36.89 10^46.89 10^62.48 10^7703
lbf s/ft247.94794.79 10^41.72 10^50.0488
lbf h/ft21.72 10^51.72 10^61.72 10^86.21 10^81.76 10^4
lb/ft s1.4914.91.49 10^35.36 10^30.152
lb/ft h4.13 10^-40.004130.4131.494.22 10^-5

Viscosity Tests

Liquids that are resistant to flow or flow slowly have high viscosity. These are liquids like honey, sunscreen and dish soap. Liquids that are not resistant to flow or flow fast have low viscosity. These are liquids like water and vegetable oil.

Ways to Measure Viscosity

There are many ways to measure viscosity of liquids. Here is a list of the most common ways to measure viscosities together with videos of such operations.

Capillary Viscometer

A capillary viscometer is an instrument used to measure a liquid’s viscosity or thickness by measuring how long it takes the liquid to flow through a small-diameter tube or capillary. Here is a short video on the capillary viscometer operation:

Zahn Cup

A Zahn cup is a viscosity measurement device widely used in the paint industry. It is commonly a stainless steel cup with a tiny hole drilled in the centre of the bottom of the cup. There is also a long handle attached to the sides. There are five cup specifications, labelled Zahn cup #x, where x is the number from one through five (see table below). Large number cup sizes are used when viscosity is high, while low number cup sizes are used when viscosity is low. They are manufactured in accordance with ASTM D 4212, ASTM D1084 and ASTM D816 lubricants testing standards. Here is a quick demonstration of this test.

Falling Sphere Viscometer

A falling-sphere viscometer is a device used to measure the viscosity of a fluid by measuring the time required for a spherical ball to fall a certain distance under gravity through a tube filled with the fluid whose viscosity is to be determined.

Vibrational Viscometer

The vibrating viscometer determines viscosity by allowing a vibrating blade to vibrate in a liquid and measure the resultant viscous drag. The following formula determines the vibration amplitude when the measured fluid surrounds the vibrating shaft, and vibrational restriction occurs.

(8)    \begin{eqnarray*} \mu \rho= K(Ea/Ex-C)^n \\ \end{eqnarray*}

  • K: constant on the driving force and the displacement
  • μ: viscosity
  • ρ: density
  • Ea: amplitude in air
  • Ex: amplitude in the measured fluid
  • C : constant derived from vibration parts

The measured amplitude varies according to the fluid’s viscosity. After K is calculated using a specimen fluid for which the viscosity and density are already known, µρ can be derived by comparing Ea with Ex.

Rotational Viscometer

Rotational viscometers are designed to measure viscosity by analyzing the torque required to rotate a spindle submerged in a fluid at a constant speed. The continuous rotation of the spindle ensures calculations are made over time, allowing time-dependent fluid analysis. Digital models can evaluate low, medium, and high viscosity materials. Considerations for rotational viscometers should include the level of viscosity application, speed, and spindle configuration. Each consideration configuration will help hone the sensitivity and accuracy of measurement for your specific application. Additional considerations would be unit size and dimensions.

There are SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) grades for gear oils and crankcases (engines), AGMA (American Gear Manufacturers Association) grades for gear oils, SUS (Saybolt Universal Seconds), cSt (kinematic viscosity in centistokes), and absolute viscosity.

ISO VS Viscosity Grade Mid Point Viscosity cSt @ 40˚ C (104˚ F) Kinemetic Viscosity Limit. cSt @ 40˚ C (104˚ F)
10 10 9 11
15 15 13.5 16.5
22 22 19.8 24.2
32 32 28.8 35.2
46 46 41.4 50.6
68 68 61.2 74.8
100 100 90 110
150 150 135 165
220 220 198 242
320 320 288 352
460 460 414 506
680 680 612 748
1000 1000 900 1100
1500 1500 1350 1650
2200 2200 1980 2420
3200 3200 2880 3520
4600 4600 4140 5060
6800 6800 6120 7480


  1. Viscosity
  2. Zahn cup - Wikipedia
  3. Rotational Viscometer / Rotary Viscometers
  4. The vibrating viscometer

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