Guide to a Stress-Free Freeze Dryer Oil Change

Tips for changing the oil in your freeze dryer

When I debated whether to get a Harvest Right, my biggest fear was the freeze-dryer oil changes. I equated the process to an automobile oil change, and I was dreading it. Even after my unit was delivered, I could only get excited about the first few loads because I knew that inevitable pump maintenance would soon be upon me. The anxiety was wasted. The oil change is super easy. Here’s how it went.

Time to Change the Oil

I upgraded to the premium pump instead of the standard oil pump, which requires oil changes or filtering every 4 to 5 loads. The premium pump increases the time between oil maintenance by over 500%. The manual states that the upgraded pump can go 20-30 loads. When ordering my unit, I hoped the extended period between changes would make the upkeep more manageable.

Harvest Right makes it pretty easy to tell when it’s time to tend to the pump. There is a physical oil gauge on the front of the pump, with markers for the maximum and minimum oil levels. Do a visual check before each load to ensure the oil is still between the lines and has not become cloudy. As a secondary backup, the freeze dryer’s digital brains also count the number of cycles and prompt you every 20 or so loads to change the oil.

I hadn’t gotten any digital notifications that my oil was dirty or low. Still, I always check the gauge before each load, and I could see the level was nearing the bottom parameter during a pre-load inspection. I decided to bite the bullet and get the oil change over with. At this point, the decision was whether to filter or replace the existing oil. The machine comes with a filter (it looks a lot like a Brita pitcher), but the process looked messy, so I decided to just go with a complete change. I also knew there wouldn’t be much left to reuse/filter since the oil level had been so low. I had purchased a quart online, so I had a replacement on hand already. If the supply change gets crazy or inflation stays high, I’d be willing to take the extra time for the filtering process, but I decided on the easiest route to get me up and running again.

There are only three brands of oil you can use in a Harvest Right

The Right Oil Matters… A Lot.

Freeze dryers are expensive. The last thing you want to do is spend all that money and then get cheap about your oil. Harvest Right clearly states that only three oil brands will keep your machine operating at maximum efficiency.

The guide explicitly states that you should never use Dairyland Oil in a Harvest Right pump, or serious damage may occur.

I chose the Robinair oil and purchased it from Amazon. Based on the price when I bought it, I determined the oil price adds about $.50 per load to operational costs.

Read the Manual. Trust Me On This One.

I’ve joined a few freeze-dryer social media groups to get valuable tips and tricks before I try something new. One common thread is that you should thoroughly read and adhere to all Harvest Right procedures outlined in their manuals. Usually, I briefly scan an owner’s guide and wing it from there. In this case, enough people pointed it out that I realized the importance. The last thing I want to do is invalidate my warranty.

There is a stand-alone guide that arrives with the unit. It is solely dedicated to the vacuum pump. Once I knew I couldn’t avoid the oil change, I grabbed the guide and got to work.

Pemier Pump with labeled parts

Let’s Get Started!

The first step is to run the pump for one minute. Harvest Right is pretty specific about not running the pump too long, so I stood there and counted. After the minute is up, turn the pump off.

Make sure the gas ballast is in the open position. It must remain open for the duration of the oil change.

Place or hold a bucket or other receptacle directly below the oil drain. Twist the drain open and let it completely empty into the container. The manual recommends tipping it slightly at the end, but it also says not to over-tip the machine, so that caused a bit of panic on my part. (I decided just to keep the oil drain open a few seconds longer and forego the tipping)  When you are satisfied no more oil is dripping, close the drain.

Remove the demister on the top of the machine (See the above diagram). Using a funnel, add the new oil until the level is between the two markers on the window gauge on the machine’s front. My pump takes just under a quart. I save the extra little bit and add it if the oil level in the machine starts to drop after a few batches have been run through. Screw the demister cap back on.

You’re all done! See how easy that was?!

Final Thoughts

The entire process took less than 10 minutes to complete. I can’t believe I invested so much time worrying about whether or not I would be able to change the oil in my Harvest Right freeze dryer. I’m excited for the future and plan to keep the machine full a lot more than I had been. Knowing that oil changes are incredibly easy means, there are now zero reasons not to keep the loads running as frequently as possible. It seems much easier than filtering the oil, so I will probably continue replacing it every 20-25 loads until I am in a situation where filtering makes more sense.

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Chris Richards

Chris a mid-level prepper who lives in Eastern Pennsylvania, USA and loves taking courses to increase her skill set. She enjoys gardening and finding ways to be better prepared through preservation and newly acquired knowledge. Her favorite pastime is swapping stories with her octogenarian Dad with a similar mindset.

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