Air compressor is an essential tool for a wide variety of applications. You may be a home DIY enthusiast or a professional mechanic; there’s a great chance that air compressors are a part of your everyday work. Air compressor has quite the impact on your work performance.

oil use in air compressors

Since this is such an essential machine for your workspace, it’s vital to ensure its maintenance to be able to get the maximum possible consistent performance from it. Proper lubrication with a suitable air compressor oil is part of this maintenance and a crucial one at that.

What is air compressor oil?

Air compressor oil is a conventional or synthetic oil that is made specially to be used in air compressing machines. There are different types of oil based on their basic characteristics like viscosity and the additives used in them.

Compressor oil is not the same as motor oil because it is a non-detergent oil, unlike motor oil. The difference between air compressor oil and motor oil is that the compressor oils don’t contain any detergent, and it contains lesser amounts of sulfur and carbon than motor oil.

Though detergents can help clean the engine of your machine, they can also cause the oil to carry debris like metal shards into the cylinder wall of your compressing device.

air compressors oil type

Why use compressor oil?

The main reason for using compressor oil is to prevent premature wear and tear in your compressor and improve the machine’s performance and life expectancy.

But, they also provide many additional benefits-

  • The lubricant absorbs the heat produced from compressing air.
  • There are additives in the compressor oil that delay oxidation and acid formation.
  • Air compressor oil also has additives that improve water separation. These additives protect the compressor from water and oil emulsions, making it easier for the oleophilic bags to capture the oil later.
  • There are anti-foaming additives in this type of oil to prevent foam production. When big air bubbles rise to the surface of the oil, they produce foam which increases oxidation by exposing more of the oil’s surface to oxygen.

Compressor oil type

What kind of oil to use in my air compressor? Well, there are two types of compressor oil available. Each of them has its own distinctive characteristics.

Standard air compressor oil

A mineral oil base is used to make the standard compressor oil. This option is cheaper than the synthetic one. It can be recommended to homeowners or those who don’t need to use their air compressing machine continuously. Also, for those who only do light- or medium-duty works, standard compressor oil can be a preferable choice.

Synthetic air compressor oil

To make synthetic compressor oil, a synthetic base (Group III, Group IV or certain Group V base) is used. It is more refined than standard oil. For professionals who use their compressors at least three times a week, synthetic oil would be the better choice. This oil will ensure that your compressor runs quietly and smoothly. It will also prevent overheating of the machine. Also, synthetic oils have an overall wider temperature range.

The synthetic compressor oils with higher purity are able to operate at an extreme temperature range, both cold environment and high temperature. These make the machines capable of operating better in extreme conditions and maintain or even improve their operational efficiency under standard conditions. They can maintain good viscosity in high-temperature environments because of their soft and large enough molecules. Synthetic oils usually have a higher viscosity index, which differs from other petroleum products. Synthetic oils ensure your machine’s longer engine life; they improve fuel efficiency, provide extended drain levels, and decrease evaporation loss.

30-weight synthetic oils are typically recommended by air compressor manufacturers recommended for a warm environment for better protection in the summertime.

Oils with higher viscosity offer a coat with resistive capabilities to harsh weather conditions. But if you work in comparatively colder temperatures, 20-weight oils would be ideal for you. They will protect your system from unwanted engine deposits and also reduce the chance of damage caused by the deposits on the oil passageway.

Even if an exact brand is not specified, it is still recommended that a 20 or 30 weight non-detergent oil should be used. 20 weight oils are to be used in cold temperatures, while 30 weight oil is better suited for warmer environments.

Substitute for Air Compressor Oil

Compressor oil is the best option to be used in compressors. They are produced specifically for this job. But, there may come a situation when you will not be able to manage compressor oils, and you’ll have to look for a substitute for the air compressor oil. So here are some potential air compressor oil substitutes.

Hydraulic Oil

Certain characteristics of hydraulic oil make them suitable to be used in air compressing machine.

Viscosity is the measurement of how smoothly fluid can flow or its resistance towards deformation at a given rate. Low-viscosity fluids have less density, and as a result, they can flow more smoothly. Low viscosity level can be observed at low temperature in hydraulic oils.

Hydraulic oil can be a preferable substitute for compressor oil if you are working in colder environments. The lower viscosity makes them capable of flowing more smoothly than the higher viscous options, even in low temperatures.

If you have a simple crank-case type pump in your compressor, you can use hydraulic oils. In winter, 10-weight hydraulic oils are suitable to be used in the winter season. Anything more has a possibility of getting jammed. However, you can use 30 weight hydraulic oils during the summer season.

Hydraulic oils are resistive to oxidation. This quality will prevent rust formation on your compressor.

Also, Hydraulic oils are compatible with sealant materials used in compressors.


Automatic transmission fluids or ATFs are usually used in car transmissions. ATFs contain various sort of additives and robust base oils, like antioxidants, anti-wear agents, demulsifiers, and detergents. They are capable of a wide range of tasks.

  • They reduce friction, wear and tear.
  • They can Keep the parts free from deposits.
  • They can work as a hydraulic medium.
  • They can reduce the temperature elevated because of the air compressing operation.
  • They can resist breakdowns when the device goes through high stress.

Although ATFs are mainly developed to be used in car transmissions, they are also usable for air compressors due to these capabilities. For example, prevention of wear and tear, reduction of temperature, etc.

To perform the aforementioned tasks, ATFs are formulated with additives and robust base oils. They contain antioxidants, anti-wear agents, demulsifiers, and detergents.

At the first look, ATFs may seem like an excellent candidate as the substitution of compressor oil. However, there are some disadvantages and drawbacks of using them.


You need to consider the compatibility of ATFs with your machine before using them. In most cases, ATFs won’t be compatible with your device. And, you should not use an incompatible ATF in your machine.


ATFs contain detergents. The presence of detergents will harm the motor of your device.

Motor Oil

Motor oils usually consist of a lubricant base stock or a lubricant base stock containing additives.

The additives are used to help boost the performance, detergency, prevent the corrosion of engine and reduce wear and friction on moving parts of the machine. Motor oils are pretty useful if you want to lubricate internal combustion engines (car engines).

However, motor oils are actually meant for automobiles. They have detergent in them for boosting the internal combustion of engines. They also have a lot of carbon, and this will lead to carbon buildup in compressor machines. These are the facts that make motor oils a non-ideal candidate to be used in air compressors. So, try to avoid using motor oils and at least find a non-detergent engine oil option if you have to use one.

However, you must keep in mind that substitutes are substitutes. They are not made for this job, and they will never be as good as the original option, even if you use a compatible ATF or non-detergent motor oil. There’ll always be some problems and drawbacks associated with these alternatives.

Also, there’s a great chance that the compressor manufacturer recommended a particular compressor oil for your machine based on the type of compressor you use (you may find it in the compressor manual). Using other staff before the warranty period is over may void your warranty. On top of that, if any problem arises after using them, you won’t have a compressor manufacturers warranty to cover for the damage.

Final Words

Air compressors are very useful tools in most of our daily lives. We, the air compressor operators, need them in their top-notch condition to be able to get the best out of them and to accomplish our works efficiently. Lubrication is a task associated with the maintenance of air compressors. You need to know what type of oil can be used for this task and which one is more preferable for improving their performance and ensuring their extended life. So, you must take this seriously and decide wisely when it comes to choosing an oil for your compressor.

Good luck!

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Hi, and welcome to Toolented. My name is Michael D. Sanders. I am a Mechanical Engineer by degree, who is a blogger by passion, and this combination of knowledge and passion is what brought Toolented to life. On my blog website, you will find necessary information about your needed automotive tools, reviews of your potential choices, and comparisons between different types of tools. To learn more click here.

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