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Selecting the correct oil type for your air compressor

In the same way that vehicles need a specific grade and type of oil to deliver maximum performance, so do dedicated air compressors. Utilising the right kind of oil in your air compressor will have numerous advantages for equipment. It can effectively reduce energy consumption, decrease friction and wear between different motor parts and maximise the lifespan of the compressor.

Read on as we explore the unique properties of air compressor oil and investigate the best kinds of this built-for-purpose lubricant for different applications.

Defining air compressor oil

Air compressor oil is an exceptionally specialised lubricant used to protect air compressors from premature wearing. Just like engine oil for your car, it typically falls into two different categories, synthetic and natural, and varies in terms of the additives included and its viscosity. However, a key difference between compressor oil and engine oil is that it has far less sulphur and never contains detergent.

Lubrication isn’t the only role that air compressor oils must perform, however. The following are the multiple benefits for use during air compressor operation.

Excellent heat absorption

Compressor oil effectively absorbs any heat created from compressed air, ensuring the compressor remains at a much cooler temperature.

Oxidation resistant

Compressor oil has additives included that can delay processes like acid formation and oxidation.

Extended lifespan

The additive package in air compressor oils also increases the lubricant’s life span, protecting machine parts when on standby, and it also makes the compressor lubricant compatible in an extensive range of operating conditions.

Viscosity under cold temperatures

While some oils perform poorly when the temperature falls, air compressor oil will maintain a stable viscosity even when it becomes cold.


Compressor oil is also infused with additives to enhance water separation, efficiently protecting compressors from oil and water emulsions. This can make it much simpler for the oleophilic bags to collect the oil at a later point in processes.


When large air bubbles rise up to the lubricant’s surface, a foam develops. This will increase oxidation, as it exposes a greater surface area to oxygen. Without including anti-foaming additives, the dedicated oil separators would become saturated by this foam, shortening the air compressor’s lifespan. The reason for this is that oil separators that are saturated create a drop in pressure, leading to greater energy consumption.

Choosing an air compressor oil that is right for your equipment

As mentioned briefly, standard and synthetic are the two main types of compressor oil available, and each one has particular characteristics.

Standard air compressor oil

Standard-type air compressor oil is manufactured with a mineral oil as its base. This type of oil is typically less costly than synthetic kinds and is recommended for use by homeowners and enterprises that don’t require continual use of their compressors. It can also be a suitable choice for air compressors that must only do light-to-medium work.

Synthetic air compressor oil

Unlike standard compressor oil, synthetic air compressor oils are created using a synthetic base instead. This oil type undergoes considerable processing, making it a far more refined product than standard oil. If you’re a professional who utilises your compressor for a minimum of three times per week, a synthetic oil is the best selection to suit your usage. Synthetic oils will enable your compressor to not only run more smoothly and quietly, but it will also efficiently protect it from any danger of overheating. Users will find that the overall range of temperatures with synthetic oils is much wider than those of standard compressor oils.

While rotary screw and reciprocating models are able operate with various types of oils, original equipment manufacturers will often recommend that users employ synthetic oils, as these products contain no additives or sulphur that can potentially cause and unwanted build up on the machine’s valves.

The key advantage of synthetic oils used with rotary screw-type air compressors are as follows:


Synthetic oils can extend the lifespan of a rotary screw air compressor by up to 8,000 hours.

Less deposits

Synthetic compressor oils cut down deposits like sludge and varnish that can lead to premature wearing.

Cooler operating temperatures

Synthetic oils can stay cooler during operation.

Lower oil consumption

Synthetic compressor oils are typically consumed slower meaning reduced oil use.

How often do you need to change the oil in your air compressors?

When exactly oil change intervals should take place in your compressor will depend on the machine that you’re using. Always check your user manual that shipped with your compressor first, as it will have detailed information on any specifications for air compressor oil listed inside.

If these details are not provided, the following guidelines can be used for reference – for rotary screw compressors, oil changes should be between every 7,000 to 8,000 hours of usage, while reciprocating air compressors should be ideally changed after a three-month period. Regardless of usage, users should change their air compressor oil at least once a year for best performance.

Suitable substitutions for air compressor oils

If you have difficulty sourcing a specific built-for-purpose air compressor oil, the following may be possible options:

Hydraulic oil

Hydraulic oil has numerous properties that make it a suitable substitute. It possesses a lower viscosity under colder temperatures, allowing it to flow freely. Having a low density, hydraulic oil operates at optimum at lower temperatures. Hydraulic oils also don’t experience oxidation, protecting your compressor form rust.

Automatic transmission fluid

Automatic transmission fluid, or ATF for short, is mainly used in vehicle transmissions; however, some types can be used with air compressors. ATF offers many benefits – it can reduce wearing and resists possible breakdowns while cooling components. Air compressors can generate considerable heat in operation, so ATF can make sure the compressor works effectively and doesn’t shutdown when it becomes overheated. It’s worth noting that not all ATF types will be acceptable and can even cause damage.

While these are potentially viable substitutions for compressor oil, to maximise the lifespan of your compressor and ensure it operates on top performance, using your equipment manufacturer’s recommendation is always advised.

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