Air compressors are extremely handy tools. These machines have evolved over time, and now there are many different types of air compressor to choose from.

When it comes down to it, oil-based compressors are better for heavy duty applications and they generally have a long service life. Oil free compressors, on the other hand, are lower in cost but are known to be less reliable and less powerful than an equally sized oiled air compressor. 

Choosing the best type of air compressor, however, can be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with a few key concepts. One of the most important aspects of an air compressor is whether it’s of the oil-free variety or not. In this article, we will go over all the main differences between an oil free air compressor and a traditionally oiled one.

Oiled vs. Oil Less Air Compressors

Air compressors work by drawing in air with a piston. After that, the air is compressed in either one or two passes before it’s sent to a storage tank. In a traditionally oiled air compressor, in order to produce the lowest amount of friction and therefore have the highest efficiency, it’s important for a compressor piston chamber to be adequately lubricated.

In an oil-free compressor, however, the cylinder is pre-lubricated with a permanent lubrication coating that is usually made out of Teflon.

So, the main difference between an oiled compressor and an oil-less compressor is that oil-less compressor pistons have their own built-in lubrication, while oiled air compressor pistols rely on an external, liquid lubricant.

Air Compressor Maintenance

Another big difference is in maintenance. Traditional oil compressors are known to require far more maintenance than their oil free counterparts. This makes sense, because just like in your car, an air compressor oil needs to be changed every so often. In contrast, this is never required for an oil free air compressor. 

Another key differentiator is weight. Because of the required pumps and reservoirs, oil-lubricated compressors weigh a whole lot more than an oil less air compressor of the same capacity. Also, and most importantly, an oil free air compressor will generally cost less, seeing as they require fewer parts to manufacture.


While it is true that oil free air compressors are lighter and lower cost than their oiled counterparts, they are also less durable. Remember, all air compressors need some form of lubrication.

 In an oil free air compressor, that lubrication comes from a Teflon coating on the piston. And while it may be a marvel of modern engineering that we can make a solid coating that works well as a lubricant, it has its limits. After a while, this coating will start to break down. So, they don’t last as long as a well-maintained oil-based air compressor. 

Don’t let that scare you away, though. Oil-less air compressors last for a very long time. If you are needing an air compressor for home use, an oil less 

The model may work just fine for you and last for many years. Just remember, it won’t be lasting nearly as long as an oiled air compressor. 

For these reasons and others, oil compressors are more popular for industrial purposes and long running times. Another important thing to consider is heat. An oil less air compressor will generally run a bit hotter than an oiled one. This makes sense because remember, no oil is used in these designs.

Air Compressor Noise Levels

Noise is another major difference between an oil less air compressor and an oiled one. As you would expect, the lubricated, oil air compressors are a lot more quiet than the oil free variety. So, if you plan on putting an air compressor in a relatively quiet environment, it would probably stand out a lot more and seem a lot louder if it is an oil free air compressor.

The truth of the matter is, there are many pros and cons when it comes to oiled vs oil free air compressors. As far as which one is best to get, that really comes down to your specific needs, budget, and use-case.

Buying an Air Compressor

If you are in the market for a new air compressor, one of the most important things to check for is a warranty. As long as you choose a machine made by a well-known manufacturer, then chances are it’s going to include a good warranty. It also means you have access to a complete line of replacement parts and accessories.

If you are looking for a great, general purpose, light-duty air compressor, then you should check out some of Craftsman’s oil free air compressors. Compressors by this brand are known to reliably provide their rated power and generally include a 1 to 3 year warranty. One of the best things about Craftsman air compressors is that they are very fairly priced.

If you are looking for a heavy-duty air compressor, however, then you should take a look at Dewalt, Bosch, or Makita. Compressors by these brands are generally a bit more expensive, but they are totally worth it. These heavy duty oil-based compressors are designed to be able to stand up to years of demanding, continual use.

How to Maintain an Air Compressor

Like most things, as long as you take care of it, a decent air compressor will last you for several years. Doing things as simple as following the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance plan can be the difference between a compressor lasting a few years or a decade. So, if you want to make to sure to get most out of your air compressor, follow these tips:

1.Drain Moisture From The Air Tank 

air compressor tanks collect moisture from the air that it is compressing over time. This effect is especially pronounced if you look in an area that has a humid climate. Also, don’t let it build up before you drain it. The best thing you can do is release the pressure from the air tank and drain the moisture every time you are finished using the compressor.

2.Clean Intake Filter

If dirt and debris builds up in your air compressor’s inlet, it will cause your machine to work harder than it needs to. This will result in your air compressor not lasting nearly as long as it could have. 

Over a period of time, the intake vents and filters get clogged with dirt, dust, and debris that cause an air compressor to lose power. So, if you clean these areas and, where applicable, regularly change any filters it will drastically prolong the life of your air compressor.

3.Miscellaneous Maintenance Operations

In addition to the things above, there are a few other things you can do to keep your air compressor running at its best:

  • Regularly check hoses 
  • Test the safety shutdown feature
  • Purge moisture from the air tank
  • Change compressor oil if applicable
  • Clean the air inlet 
  • Replace air filters

What is the Highest Air Compressor Rating?

That depends on the size and type of the air compressor. Each type of compressor has a different maximum PSI associated with it. Also, the max PSI a given air compressor can provide is a function of the size of its air tank.

With that being said, it’s common to find oil and oil free air compressors as high as 200 PSI. With that being said, you will generally find that oil-based air compressors will have higher max PSI rating compared to their oil free counterparts.

What Kind Of Oil Do Air Compressors Use?

Oiled air compressors use specific air compressor oil lubrication. The two most common types of synthetic oils that are used are phospate-esters and flurosilicones. The air compressor manufacturer will list which type is required in the manual.

While it is best to use an air compressor-specific oil, just about any 30 weight motor oil will work, so long as it doesn’t have any detergents included.

What Can I Use for Air Compressor Noise Reduction?

There is great news, however. As it turns out, there are a few simple tricks that you can do that will quiet your equipment significantly. In this article, we are going to cover 5 things that you can do to quiet an oil less air compressor.

The tips provided in this article are all things that you can do to reduce the volume of your compressor while maintaining its production capacity.

1.Use An Intake Muffler

attach some sort of muffling apparatus to your oil less compressor intake to decrease noise levels by about 2 decibels. Intake mufflers also generally include some form of additional silencing components and an air filter.

2.Add a Sound Blanket

A sound blanket is a simple, temperature-resistant blanket that is designed to allow air flow in and out of the blanket while blocking most sounds from coming through.

Remember, an oil less air compressor doesn’t use a traditional lubricant so its  piston-cylinder area is known to get quite loud. So, simply covering this area with a sound blanket can absorb a lot of the sound and reduce the noise level of your air compressor.

3.Install some rubber grommets

Rubber is a very extremely effective sound absorption material and extremely low-cost. So, something as simple and cheap as installing rubber grommets to prevent vibrations will go a long way in dropping the noise level coming from your air compressor. 

4.Isolate Your Air Compressor

So, if your work area permits and you are able to locate your compressor a decent distance from your workspace, then that is obviously the cheapest and easiest solution.

If a loud oil less air compressor is in a completely different room than the one you are working in, chances are it will seem very quiet. In fact, just moving the compressor around a corner can reduce decibel levels by as much as 25%.

5.Perform Regular Maintenance 

If you change your oil less air compressor’s gaskets, vales, and belts when they are recommended to be changed by the manufacturer will not only keep your machine a lot quieter, but it will also ensure that it has a long life.


Compressors are essential shop tools, but there are many different types of air compressors on the market. This can leave many confused as to which type they should buy. While there are many different types of air compressor, they all fall into one of two categories: Oil free and oil-based. 

If you have a light task or plan on using your air compressor for occasional, residential use, then an oil free air compressor will do just fine. If you are needing an air compressor for a job site or some other heavy-duty situation, however, then you are going to want an oil-based air compressor. Their higher cost and maintenance requirements are worth extra power and longevity.

We hope this article helped you learn more about the different types of air compressors out there. Thanks for reading!