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What Kind of Oil Goes in an Air Compressor?

An air compressor will need oil to lubricate the motor parts, allowing them to function efficiently and properly. Mostly, this oil is necessary so that it reduces friction in the different components, cutting off the excess heat production. Not only will this allow you to consume less fuel, but it will also extend the life of the product.

Since air compressor oil can be either synthetic or natural, have a different thickness, or include a variety of additives, it may be rather difficult to choose the right one for your unit. This is why we plan on making the selection easier for you, providing an understanding of the type of oil that goes into your compressor.

The Manufacturer’s Advice

What Kind of Oil Goes in an Air CompressorIn most cases, an air compressor manufacturer will advise that you use 20-weight of 30-weight compressor oil – the non-detergent kind. You may use either synthetic or standard blends for your compressor oil, as long as the manufacturer states that you can do it. That being said, you may want to stick to the recommendations given to you by the manufacturer if you don’t want to risk voiding the warranty.

Oil-Less vs. Oil-Lubricated Air Compressors

Not every air compressor will need you to add oils into the mix. The oil-less electric models are generally coated and sealed when they are made – most likely using a Teflon-type of coating that will not need an oil addition. Thus, since they do not use any oil, these compressors tend to have a shorter lifespan and they are a bit louder.

On the other hand, an oil-lubricated air compressor will usually have a much longer life, being fairly quiet in comparison. One thing to remember is that you don’t have to change the oil as often as you would need with a car, but you should at least change it every year. This type of unit is generally a gas air compressor, making it a portable option as well.

Compressor Oil vs. Motor Oil

Obviously, air compressor oil has been specially made for compressors – and for the most part, it is simply a non-detergent oil type. In most cases, motor oils tend to have some sort of detergent in them, as it helps with combustion. Still, for compressors, this will cause carbon buildup that can damage your compressor.

Compressor oil is usually the smarter choice, particularly if you wish to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer. In a bind, you may also use motor oil – but go for a non-detergent kind (20 or 30w). This one has a “convenience” factor that allows you to use it both in your car and for other motors. However, if you don’t have access to this kind of motor oil, you are better off buying manufacturer-approved air compressor oil for your unit.

Synthetic vs. Standard Air Compressor Oil

Air compressor oil branches down in two types: standard and synthetic. Both types are very good, but the real question here is exactly how often you plan on using your air compressor.

For instance, standard compressor oil is the recommended choice for those that only use their units occasionally. It’s cheaper than most blends and it is great for light-duty tasks. If you only intend to use it a couple of hours now and again, then standard air compressor oil is certainly what you need to go for.

On the other hand, if you are a professional or are planning to use your compressor regularly (more than three times per week), then you might want to use synthetic air compressor oil.

These types of oils are more protected in terms of overheating and may also be used in a variety of temperatures – including cold weather. Even in the middle of winter, synthetic compressor oils should allow your unit to run smoothly and quietly, as they are more resistant to freezing.

The Recommended Viscosity

The Recommended ViscosityWhen thinking about what compressor oil you should use for your unit, you also need to keep the viscosity in mind. Most manufacturers recommend 20-30 weight compressor oil, depending on the season and the temperatures outside.

30-weight air compressor oil has a thicker viscosity, making it a better choice for the warm summer days. Due to the heat, oils generally tend to become less viscous – which is why this type of air compressor is a much better choice that will give your motor parts more coverage.

On the other hand, if the weather gets colder, then 30-weight might be too thick and can become even thicker under the low temperature. This might cause issues when you are starting up the compressor. So, you need to use a 20-weight type of oil. This would be more helpful if you have to give your unit a “cold start.”

Air Compressor Oil Substitutes

If you do not have the option of buying specialized air compressor oil, then there are several substitutes available.

  • Hydraulic Oil: Hydraulic oil has a low viscosity, which is why it is a suitable choice for air compressors. It also has immunity to oxidation, which means it can also protect your unit from rust.
  • ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid): Used for your car transmission, this can also prove to be a great substitute. It can reduce wear and tear and can also resist breakdowns, making it a good alternative.
  • Motor Oil: Motor oil can also be good in a bind, but make sure that you buy the non-detergent kind, as it might cause carbon buildups in your compressor.

If you can’t stick to the guidelines but don’t know what to use, these alternatives should prove acceptable.

The Bottom Line

Finding the perfect air compressor oil can be quite challenging, considering that there are so many factors to be considered. That being said, as long as you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, you should determine precisely what kind of oil is suitable for your air compressor.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker learned that being a cyclist doesn’t only mean riding – he decided to build his own workshop for maintenance and fixing. Soon enough, he realized that there is no decent workshop without air tools (of various types). Through research, trial, and error, he decided to gather all his knowledge (so far) into these blogs and guides.

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