Any appliance that makes use of an electric motor needs a certain amount of lubrication and that includes ceiling fans. The mechanism that rotates the fan blades has bearings that ensure smooth, noise-free operation.But when the bearings rub against one another, the friction generated gradually wears them down. Some ceiling fan models are designed to be lubricated by the user, and if you have one of these, you should do so once a year. Other models, particularly newer ones, have sealed bearings and are not supposed to require lubrication. If you have one of these, and noises or poor performance convince you that it needs lubrication, you'll have to disassemble the motor to do it.
How Do I Know What Kind of Fan I Have?
Fans manufactured before 1970, especially heavy ones made from cast iron, are usually designed to be oiled. The motor windings are typically visible through the vent holes in the bottom of the motor housing. Some newer ones also need oiling.
If you're not sure whether your fan is designed to be periodically lubricated, use this easy procedure to find out: Position a ladder under the fan and climb high enough to allow you to look down on the motor housing. Fans designed to be oiled usually have a clearly marked hole on the housing a short distance away from the down rod. If you don't see this hole, but suspect your fan needs oil, look up the model on the manufacturer's website to get specific instructions.
What Type of Oil Should I Use?
Use 10- 15- or 20-weight non-detergent motor oil to lubricate your fan. It's important to avoid detergent, which can gum up the bearings. Don't rely on penetrating oils, such as 3-in-1 oil. They are fine for loosening stuck screws but aren't heavy enough to lubricate a fan. You'll only need about 1 or 2 ounces of oil, so a quart of inexpensive motor oil, which is available at any car parts store, should last for years – unless you need it for your car.
When searching for the best way to oil your fan, your research may have uncovered instructions to do it with a lubricating fluid such as WD-40. This is incorrect. Lubricating fluids can clean gunk off the metal parts inside the fan motor. Spraying fluid into the lubrication hole can be beneficial, as long as you follow it with oil of an appropriate weight. If you don't add oil, parts cleaned with lubricating fluid will wear out more quickly.
Start by turning off the breaker that controls the fan. If you simply switch off the fan, someone could accidentally turn it on while you're working, especially if the fan is remote-controlled. Transfer the oil to an application bottle with a tapered tip, climb on the ladder and locate the lubrication hole. Pour oil into the hole until the reservoir is full and oil starts backing out, then spin the fan back and forth a few times to distribute the oil onto the bearings.
Lubricating a Sealed Motor
It's more complicated to lubricate a fan that isn't designed to be lubricated. You shouldn't have to do this at all, but it may be necessary if the fan is old and is making noise. Typically, the procedure involves removing the fan blades, taking down the motor and disassembling it on a work bench. You should do this only if you're comfortable working with electric motors. If not, it's best to take the fan to a repair shop.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.