Air compressors pack quite a lot of power and are always a major investment, which is why you deserve only the best. While some oil-free air compressors hover around the 100 to 135 PSI mark, some have a maximum of 150 PSI for example!
Air compressors have been around for a very long time, meaning several designs have popped into being over the years. In current times, two primary categories of air compressors exist oiled air compressors and oil-less air compressors.
If you are in the market for a new air compressor, there are some important things to take note of to make the most out of your future purchase decision. These two types have many similarities, but at the same time, they also share a number of key differences. In the following guide we will help you delve into how oil-less air compressors work as well as their pros and cons. We’ll even let you in on our top 5 choices of oil-free air compressors in the market today!
What are Oil-Free Air Compressors?
Oil-free air compressors are compressors that are capable of fulfilling everything that traditional oiled compressor designs can do but without the need for frequent oil changes and fussy daily maintenance.
They are generally lighter compressors that are functionally a bit different from oiled ones.
Their chief principle design focus is efficiency and higher cleanliness through pre-lubricated design that removes the need for the application of oil.
How do Oil-Free Air Compressors Work?
The process of how such compressors work is quite complex, yet at the same time for expert users and designers of the compressors, it is quite straightforward. In brief, the process starts with the drawing in of air from the outside through a set of filters and a valve.
From there, a low-pressure compressor element begins compressing the air, while other parts cool the air to render it safely usable. The compression process generates quite a bit of heat, which is where the cooling comes in.
From there, pistons do the work of shifting the newly compressed air to where it needs to be for further compression. These are called intercoolers, which facilitate the cooling of the air to not only make it useable but also to keep the machine itself from similarly overheating.
Due to condensation, many designs use filters to remove this water to keep air quality high. Once cooled, further compression continues in the main chamber.
Additional cooling is conducted in what is called the aftercooler, and from there pressure switches help regulate control of this air when you are ready to use it.
The pressure switches power the compressor on and off and monitor the status of your compressor in real-time. Make note that when the main chamber runs lower than a specified level, the compressor will begin starting the process anew to ensure a continued supply of the compressed air.
10 Best Oil-Less Air Compressors
1. Porter Cable PXCMF220VW – Best 20 Gallon Oil-Free Air Compressor
This model by Porter-Cable has a very properly-portable design with a 20-gallon chamber that gives you a great supply of air for small to intermediate-sized uses.
- Lightweight and portable
- Wheels allow for greater ease of movement around the work area
- Ample air storage for extended use
- Can only be used in default upright position. Laying it on its side is not advised
- Does not come with its own air-hoses, must supply your own
2. EnviroAire Series – Best Oil-Free Screw Air Compressor
It offers models up to a maximum of 110 kW motor powers. Made by Gardner Denver, it offers both a consistent air supply of high quality and versatile, high-efficiency compressor performance.
- Wide array of different power levels from 15 kW to 110 kW for different compression needs
- Efficiently produces high quality and clean air
- Very long service life with routine inspection and maintenance of the rotary screw and the rest of the compressor
- Larger models have lengths of around 85 inches so you must ensure you have sufficient space to safely operate the more powerful models
3.Puma Industries PD1006 – Top Rated Oil Free Air compressor
Made by Puma Industries, this model features 1.5 gal storage but packs a 0.75 horsepower engine, making it very ideal for residential uses and easy to move around.
- The lack of the need for oil allows for air compression that is cleaner, creates less pollutants and is quieter than many oiled models
- Consumes less power than other models, allowing for less costly power bills if you used compressed air often in regular projects
- Can reach a pressure up to 135 PSI
- Electric cord-based power supply makes it dependent upon outlet locations on-site. Usage of extension cords with air compressors of all types is not recommended.
- Small air storage tank makes it more suited for light tasks only
4. Tichop Portable Air Compressor – Best Oil-Free Portable Air Compressor
It is not only portable but also extremely versatile with support for a wide array of various tools and a motor life that is 10 times longer than previous models. Weighs no more than 16.5 pounds, allowing for easy movement around your worksite as well! What’s more, it has very robust accident prevention systems.
- Supports a wide variety of tools that may be used across your work site that rely upon compressed air
- Quiet 68d engine noise, making it less of a bother on-site
- High efficiency system and digital gauges that make it very easy to monitor compressed air supply and compressor status
- Built-in safety measures
- Requires an additional tank if you wish to store lots of compressed air for more heavy-duty work
5. California Air Tools 15020C-22060 – Oil-Free Quiet Air Compressor
Quiet yet powerful, this California Air Tools model is an ideal choice with its 15-gallon tank and a maximum PSI of 135, and its efficient 2 horsepower electric engine.
The addition of wheels makes it ideal for sites that require the compressor to be moved quickly and with ease. It is an all-star in power despite its small size.
- Powerful yet quiet, with an engine that produces sound up to 70 decibels
- Wheels and handle make it much more portable despite its weight
- Can store a hefty 15 gallons for extended use and high compressed air demanding projects
- Larger storage space results in a weight of 98 pounds which means a sacrifice of portability for greater effectiveness. May actually be a pro depending upon your needs
Oil-Free Air Compressor vs Oil Lube Air Compressor
As you can surmise if not already familiar, while internally they function a bit differently, both types of air compressor achieve the same ultimate effect. Where they differ is chiefly in matters of lubrication and performance type. For traditional oiled compressors that require re-oiling often, they are bulkier.
The oil used for lubricant can oftentimes linger in the local air as a pollutant, so safety should always be observed in that regard as well. They are also usable in warmer climate types, and have a much greater RPM internally compared to oil-free air compressors.
For an analogy, think of them a bit like diesel 4×4 trucks vs gas 4×4. One is designed for really high tier industrial-scale usage, whilst the other is more frequently used for smaller scale and intermediate work, depending upon the model. Oil-less air compressors, on the other hand, operate at much lower RPM, again depending upon the model, and are quieter for the most part.
They are much more ideal for residential and small commercial use, and are far more versatile overall in that regard. It is much more easily man-portable, requires no extra materials for oil such as filters, and is more suited for projects in colder climates.
On top of this, while in some models the service life may be a smidgeon shorter than in many oiled air compressors, the unit is much more efficient in day-to-day performance.
Advantages of Oil-Free Compressor
One of the immediately obvious benefits of the oil-less air compressor over its manually-oiled counterpart is its lower short term maintenance demands. Overall, the oil-free compressors require less annual maintenance and only routine checkups and adjustments to keep it running as smooth as new.
What’s more, modern oil-free air compressors feature quiet motors. Indeed, some are so quiet that they even make less noise than their oiled compatriots in most situations!
That quiet nature often implies efficiency, and that assumption is usually correct. Most modern oil-free air compressors tend to be more efficient and cleaner than their oil-using counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s better: oil or oil-less compressors?
Which is better strongly depends upon the needs and project context of the individual that is going to be using an air compressor in the first place, as well as personal preferences. Those who require an air compressor that has low maintenance needs and are willing to accept a slightly shorter operational lifespan in the older oil-less air compressors would find oil-free compressors, in general, the more optimal choice. Generally, short-term and low-intensity projects that require compressed air are likely to benefit the most from oil-free air compressors.
On the other hand, somebody who accepts frequent upkeep with an air-compressor that has high maintenance needs with a slightly longer service life is likely going to be better suited with an oiled air compressor.
Oiled air compressors are ideal for large teams working on long-duration professional projects that require compressed air and in greater demands. More people are able to regularly keep track of the machine’s needs as it serves as a critical tool in high-stakes projects. Likewise, a larger staff can more easily ensure a constant supply of the necessary oil to keep the compressor or group of compressors properly lubricated.
How long will an oil-free compressor last?
While exact timelines are hard to determine as they vary wildly upon a number of different factors, your oil-free compressor can, in theory, last for years with regular maintenance and careful use. Beware however that the longer you operate an ageing oil-free air compressor, the longer it will overall cost versus its oiled counterpart on a historical basis, even despite the oil-free models’ generally lower demands for maintenance in the short term. This is mitigated slightly with the latest lines of oil-free air compressors as the technology has matured, but older ones tend to fall into this disadvantage more often.
Can you lay down an oil-free air compressor?
While it varies from model to model, newer air compressors are generally safe to lay down. Older air compressors should be avoided being positioned at angles they were not intended to be right out of the factory, as this can result in things like dirt and sluge buildup that can gum the system and cause general mechanical and safety issues with your compressor. Whenever in doubt, consult your compressor’s user manual and all additional documentation before laying your oil-free air compressor at an irregular angle from the norm.
How do I maintain my oil-less air compressor?
Though oil-free air compressor requires a lot less overall maintenance compared to its counterparts, it is still a machine. Like all machines, your oil-less air compressor does still require some TLC and routine maintenance to keep her running smoothly for years.
The best way to ensure the continued reliability of yours is to regularly check the air compressor air filter for starters. Alongside that, always be sure to drain the compressor’s tank completely after each use. Lastly, routinely check your air compressor’s safety valve and every part of the unit, hoses, valves, and seals included, for any signs of damage, wear, or tear.