Abstract A rotary lip seal usually operates with full-film lubrication. However at low speeds, such as those encountered during startup and shutdown, mixed lubrication occurs and asperities on the lip contact the shaft. To simulate this condition, a mixed soft EHL model has been constructed. The fluid mechanics of the lubricating film is described by a Reynolds equation that can handle interasperity cavitation. The bulk deformation of the lip is computed using influence coefficients, while the junctions between the asperities and the shaft are modeled as Hertzian contacts. Since the shaft is rough, the flow is unsteady and an unsteady analysis is required. The model shows how the shaft roughness affects such seal characteristics as load support, contact load ratio, contact area ratio, cavitation area ratio, reverse pumping rate and average film thickness.