You know that your air compressor is working properly if you hear the beautiful symphony of it spooling up and down. The oil inside lubricates the pistons so they can move easily without skipping a beat.

Selecting the right type of oil for your air compressor is essential for your machine to operate at peak performance- not just today but for years to come.

Air compressor oils are classified by temperature, viscosity, additives, and makeup. Synthetic oils like Dewalt 55001 can perform in temperature extremes while preventing rust and corrosion. Thinner oils (SAE 20 grade) are great for cold temperatures, while thicker oils (SAE 30 grade) are best suited for warmer weather.

Follow along to learn about the best types of oil for an air compressor and the properties of each. We’ll also give step-by-step instructions on how to change the oil in your machine!

Types of Oil Used in an Air Compressor

Not all oils are created equal- especially when it comes to your air compressor. Different oils are designed for various purposes, and the type you select will have an effect on how your air compressor operates.

It’s pivotal to understand your machine’s needs- do you need an oil that can withstand high temperatures or one with a thicker texture?

Some manufacturers may even recommend a specific type of compressor oil for their products. If your air compressor is under warranty, it’s especially essential to follow the company’s operational guidelines.

Properties of Air Compressor Oil

To begin the process of selecting an oil for your air compressor, let’s talk properties.

The 4 properties used to classify air compressor oils are:

  • Temperature Application
  • Viscosity
  • Synthetic vs. Standard
  • Additives 

Understanding what each of these means and how they impact the efficacy of the oil is pivotal to selecting the correct type for your compressor!

Temperature Application

The temperature range that oil is intended to operate within is a crucial factor. Air compressors can sometimes be used outside in extremely cold or extremely hot temperatures, which can impact the oil’s properties.

The average operating temperature range for any given air compressor oil is between 10 °F and 225 °F. Remember that oil oxidation and denaturation are accelerated at higher temperatures, resulting in the loss of intended lubrication and protection. This is why it’s important to follow application limits.

Your compressor also produces heat; thus, the range in which your air compressor operates according to the manufacturer’s specifications won’t really apply to the oil itself. It’s safe to assume that the oil will be subjected to higher temperatures (inside your compressor) than the surrounding climate.

Don’t worry- most air compressor oils are constructed to function in typical operating temperature ranges for oiled air compressors.

Viscosity

Viscosity is the measure of how easily a fluid flows- this is important relative to the climate your air compressor is used in

Thin oils allow for easy flow, while thicker oils are better for lubricating. SAE 20 or SAE 30 are the most commonly used oil viscosity types. SAE 20 is thinner and more suited for colder areas, while SAE 30 is thicker and better for warmer temperatures.

Manufacturers will also provide recommended viscosity ratings, best suited for their machines.

Synthetic vs. Standard

The next choice you have to make is between standard mineral oil, one of its synthetic counterparts. Generally speaking, the three types of oils are standard oil, 100% synthetic oil, or a synthetic oil blend.

Most air compressors will recommend either synthetic or standard for best practice, but if given the option, note the following.

Standard oils will be less expensive than synthetic oil, but they’re also more likely to leak. They might also wear out faster- especially if your compressor is used every day. Standard oils are best suited for light to medium-duty air compressors.

Synthetic oil and synthetic oil blends won’t evaporate as easily, although they contain additives. This makes them better suited for high temperatures and frequent use. Synthetic oil is most often used in industrial air compressors, where the ability to cool after repeated duty cycles and durability is of the essence.

Additives

The additives used to curate air compressor oil can sometimes be the most important aspect of all.

Anti-wear compounds and antioxidants help to prolong the life of your air compressor, keeping it cool, clean, and lubricated for as long as possible. These chemical compounds can also reduce the chance of part rust and corrosion. 

Most air compressor oils are labeled as being low-sulfur and low-carbon because these substances are known to cause degradation to compressor machinery.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that some additives will increase a lubricant’s thickness. Be sure to check the recommended viscosity rating for your machine!

Common Oils Used for an Air Compressor

The properties of each air compressor oil vary by type and brand.

Here are the 6 most popular air compressor oils on the market today:

We’ll get into the details and specifications of each below!

DEWALT Oil

The Dewalt D55001 is a synthetic oil that improves compressor efficiency, has superior protection capabilities in extreme temperatures, and allows for easier start-up in low temperatures.

Key features include:

  • Weather versatility: performs in hot or cold climates
  • High viscosity: great for industrial air compressors and heavy-duty/continuous use
  • Synthetic nature: prevents corrosion and rust

Additionally, it eliminates carbon build-up on machinery parts and is a non-detergent oil. The Dewalt’s lifespan is up to 200 hours of use (or 1 year- whichever comes first).

It’s important to fully empty your oil tank, not just cap off the reservoir, in between changes. This will eliminate aging oil from sitting at the bottom of your air compressor.

Campbell Hausfeld Oil

The Campbell Hausfeld oil is a non-detergent oil that combines the proper balance of lubricants to keep your pump running smoothly and extend its lifespan. This exceptional, 30 weight, single viscosity oil also limits carbon build-up in the compressor valves.

Key features include:

  • Standard mineral oil: an all-natural option
  • ISO-100 oil: equivalent to SAE 30; great for warmer temperatures

Non-detergent oils also reduce air compressor downtime, allowing for longer intervals between changes.

PowerMate PX P018-0084SP Oil

The Powermate Px is a 100% fully-synthetic air compressor oil- perfect for all sorts of equipment. Because synthetic oils protect the compressor pump 25% more effectively than a synthetic blend, it extends the life of your compressor.

Key features include:

  • Performs well in low temperatures: starts 10 °F colder than synthetic blend compressor oils
  • Non-detergent
  • Contains oxidation inhibitors: good for preserving metal parts
  • Makes air compressors run more quietly

This oil is great for all seasons. It performs better at both lower and higher temperatures than almost all of its competitors.

One con to this brand is the strong smell.

PowerMate 018-0060CT Oil

Powermate 018-0060CT is a synthetic oil blend. It’s made with a combination of additives that stop early wear and enable your air compressor to last longer.

Key features include:

  • Non-detergent
  • ISO-68: equivalent to SAE 20; great for cold temperatures
  • Colorless oil with high density
  • Lack of harmful ingredients: especially environmentally and human friendly

This air compressor oil is perfect for most moderate climates- but performs exceptionally in the cold. Additionally, it comes with an oil level indicator, allowing you to maintain your machine’s levels with ease.

Senco PC0344 Oil

The Senco PC0344 protects against part corrosion and extends the overall lifespan of your air compressor. It’s also perfect for oil-splash compressors and lessens the chance for leaks.

Key features include:

  • Limits air compressor noise
  • Low viscosity: great for extremely low temperatures
  • Standard mineral oil

Senco oil is noted for its extremely hydrophobic nature. However, it is relatively unstable at high temperatures and must be changed more frequently to reduce evaporation.

Pro Silent VS-32 Oil

The Pro Silent VS-32 is a versatile oil that may be utilized for both personal and commercial purposes.

This oil gives you complete resistance to hydrolysis and rust.

Key features include:

  • Synthetic nature: has additives to prevent oxidation and corrosion
  • High viscosity: good for extremely high temperatures (up to 750 °F)
  • Odorless

The Pro Silent oil is INCREDIBLY thick (hence the high ignition temperature), so it may be difficult to pour and hard to reach tight corners.

Can I Use 5W-30 in My Air Compressor?

It depends on your air compressor, although it isn’t recommended.

5W-30 is marketed as motor oil, commonly used in light-duty petrol and diesel engines. The W stands for “winter,” which indicates the oil’s high viscosity at low temperatures, and the number 30 is the motor oil’s viscosity at higher temperatures.

For compressors that take SAE 30 oil, Mobil 1 5W-30, a non-detergent or synthetic compressor oil, can be used if you’re in a bind. Never use regular car oil, namely 10W30. This will wreak havoc on your air compressor’s entire system.

Over the years, auto manufacturers alike have pushed 5W-30 oil for different commercial and personal vehicles. This includes cars with high-performance turbocharged and supercharged engines.

Can You Put Motor Oil in an Air Compressor?

The short answer to this is: absolutely not.

Motor oil has additives that air compressors cannot handle, like detergents and anti-foaming agents. These will destroy the air compressor pump after time!

If you must use motor oil (more of a one-time situation), your best bet is to find something of standard weight. Avoid multi-viscosity oil, and opt for something like 20W or 30W motor oil.

Best Oil Alternatives (If You’re in a Pinch!)

There are a few acceptable alternatives to recommended air compressor oil if you’re in a pinch.

They are:

  • Automatic Transmission Fluid
  • Hydraulic Oil / Hydraulic Fluid

Automatic transmission fluid (or ATF) is a good temporary oil to use when you run out of your usual choice as it stands up to heat pretty well. However, due to the lack of additives ATFs have compared to air compressor oil, they should not be used as a long-term replacement.

Hydraulic oil or fluid is another viable air compressor oil substitute. It doesn’t contain detergents and includes anti-corrosion chemicals that prevent rusting and support cooling. 

Any 20W or 30W hydraulic oil should make a good compressor oil alternative.

Warning: Never mix oil types due to risk for combustion and always try to clean out your oil tank when switching types or brands.

Are Oil-less Air Compressors Better?

The answer to this question really depends on what you’re looking for.

Oil-less compressors are cheaper, more transportable, and usually require less maintenance. They’re best suited for less-frequent applications. So if you’re looking for a user-friendly, smaller machine- this is your answer.

On the contrary, oil air compressors are more durable, heavier, and generally last longer. These machines are ideal for industrial situations and longer use.

How to Change the Oil on My Air Compressor

Overall, you should change the oil on your air compressor about once a year.

In order to do so, follow these steps:

  1. Unscrew the oil fill plug.
  2. Unscrew the oil drain plug and drain the old oil for sanitary disposal.
  3. Once this is complete, replace the oil drain plug.
  4. Fill the oil tank with fresh air compressor oil (depending on the viscosity, some oils require a nozzle to pour).
  5. Fill to the bottom of the insertion hole threads.
  6. Re-tighten the oil fill plug.

Following these easy instructions every year will significantly lengthen the lifespan of your air compressor!

To Summarize

Air compressor oil, similar to the oil in your car, is essential for the healthy function of your machine.

It works as a heat-resistant and lubricating shield that protects each part from the damage caused by heat and friction. There are many different types of air compressor oils- synthetic or standard grade, with high or low viscosity ratings, including or without additives- perfect for the needs of any compressor.

Consult the device’s manufacturer recommendations and use the tips above to select the perfect oil for your applications!