Air compressors require specific oil types and grades to keep your machine running properly. It is important to consider the type of oil you are using to ensure that your air compressor is functioning optimally.

The two main types of air compressor oil currently available are standard and synthetic. Synthetic is the more efficient and expensive oil type while the standard is the more common and affordable oil option. Which oil type you need will depend on your personal preferences as well as the type of air compressor you have.

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.

This guide will focus on the similarities and differences between the two oil types and walk you through the different circumstances that could call for the use of one or the other. This can be valuable information to have when deciding which of the two oil types is the most efficient for your air compressor.

Air Compressor Oil Types

The two main types of air compressor oil are standard and synthetic. The next part of this guide will detail the key differences between the two oil types so that you can make a more informed decision when deciding which type is right for you.

Standard Air Compressor Oil

Standard air compressor oil uses a mineral base and is often referred to as simply “mineral oil”. Standard oil is generally the least expensive option to consider and is a versatile choice that can be used with many different air compressor types.

Standard oil breaks down faster due and is more prone to evaporation. This can cause you to have to top off and replace the oil and oil filter of your air compressor more frequently. Standard air compressor oil can also cause a build-up of vapor oil that could cause you to replace your air/oil separator more often.

Synthetic Air Compressor Oil

Synthetic air compressor oil is made from a completely synthetic base using artificially created blends of petroleum bases used in the standard oil type. Synthetic oil is the more expensive option but generally lasts at least twice as long.

Synthetic oil is known to be more stable and does not break down as easily nor is it as prone to evaporation as standard oil. It has better cooling capabilities and a better filtration rate for removing harmful deposits from your pump components.

Synthetic oil is often the best option if you wish to ensure a long life for your air compressor. Using synthetic oil in your air compressor will mean that you do not have to change the oil as often and will have greater protection from overheating and internal damage.

Air Compressor Oil Types By Grade

The best grade of oil to use with your air compressor is SAE 20 or SAE 30. The grade of your oil will determine the thickness and flow rate as it lubricates your air compressor. Thicker oil will be more resistant to flow and can cause issues with your machine.

Because of this, it is important to stay within the SAE 20 or SAE 30 range to ensure that your air compressor does not become clogged and damaged due to oil that is too thick. If you live in an area where it is colder, you should consider using the lighter grade SAE 20. This will ensure that the cold does not affect the flow rate of your oil.

No matter which oil type you choose for your air compressor, standard or synthetic, it is important that you choose the right grade. Using the wrong grade of oil will cause damage to your air compressor’s internal components. The higher the SAE rating, the thicker the oil, so it’s important to stay within the specified limits.

Air Compressor Oil Types By Price

Standard oil is the cheapest option for your air compressor. Because standard oil is mineral based, it is not difficult or costly to manufacture. This keeps the price of standard oil affordable, making it a more economical choice than synthetic air compressor oil.

You can purchase 5 quarts of standard air compressor oil for an average cost of $25. Synthetic air compressor oil is much more expensive. You can purchase 5 quarts of synthetic air compressor oil for around $45.

You can save money by purchasing your air compressor oil online. The table below contains some of the most popular online vendors and their prices for both oil types. This can be useful information when trying to find the best deal on oil for your air compressor.

VendorStandard Oil CostSynthetic Oil Type
Walmart$22$44
Lowes$25$45
Amazon$24$47
Home Depot$26$46
Harbor Freight$22$43

What Oil Should You Use For An Air Compressor?

You should use SAE 20 or SAE 30 synthetic or standard air compressor oil for your machine. Synthetic air compressor oil is recommended as it lasts longer and is more efficient than standard oil. You should only use oil that is specifically labeled and intended for air compressors.

The table below contains information on the best air compressor oils currently on the market. You can use this to help you find a quality air compressor oil that fits into your price range.

BrandOil TypeCost (per Liter)
Ingersoll Rand All Season Synthetic LubricantSynthetic$38
Powermate Px Full Synthetic Air Compressor OilSynthetic$44
Campbell Hausfeld Compressor OilStandard$22
Royal Purple Synthetic Compressor OilSynthetic$33

Can You Use Motor Oil In An Air Compressor?

It is not recommended that you use motor oil in your air compressor. Air compressor oil uses a specialized formula that is free of detergents and additives that are beneficial to combustion engines. These additives can cause build-up and damage to your air compressor’s internals.

If you do find that you are in a situation where you have to use motor oil in your air compressor, you should only use motor oil that is detergent and additive free. This will minimize the risk of damage to your air compressor.

Air Compressor Oil Types By Compressor Brand

The next part of this guide will focus on the different air compressor brands and the recommended oil types and grades that you should use with them. Some brands of air compressors have oil specifications laid out in the warranty. Using a different grade of oil can cause your warranty to be voided. Because of this it is important to know and follow these oil specifications closely.

Craftsman Air Compressor Oil Type

Craftsman recommends using a SAE 30 synthetic blend oil type with their compressors. This will ensure that your Craftsmen air compressor is always working properly.

Makita Air Compressor Oil Type

Makita recommends using a SAE 20 standard or synthetic blend oil with their compressors. Makita also advises using single-weight non-detergent oil in their compressors to avoid damage to the internals of the machine.

Kobalt Air Compressor Oil Type

Kobalt recommends using their own brand of synthetic air compressor oil in their compressors. You can find the Kobalt Synthetic Compressor Oil online for $10 per 16 ounces. The oil is a SAE 20 synthetic blend that is designed specifically to work well in all Kobalt air compressor systems.

Vespa Air Compressor Oil Type

Vespa recommends using a nonfoaming, non-detergent synthetic blend of oil with their compressors. Vespa air compressors can work well with either SAE 20 or SAE 30 oil grades. Vespa air will air compressors will also accept standard oil types but will run less efficiently.

Husky Air Compressor Oil Type

Husky recommends using a SAE 30 synthetic or standard blend oil type with their compressors. Husky air compressors work better when using the thicker and heavier SAE 30 grade oil. Husky also advises strongly against the use of multi-weight automotive engine oils in their compressors, as they can cause permanent damage.

DeWalt Air Compressor Oil Type

DeWalt recommends using their own brand of synthetic air compressor oil in their compressors. You can find the DeWalt Synthetic Compressor Oil online for $11.25 per 16 ounces. The oil is a SAE 20 synthetic blend that is designed specifically to work well in all DeWalt air compressor systems.

If DeWalt Synthetic Compressor oil is not readily available to you, you can substitute any SAE 20 synthetic blend in the meantime.

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.

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.

Final Thoughts

This guide has provided you with all of the information that you need to ensure that you pick the right oil type for your air compressor. It is important that you use oil that is specifically intended for use in air compressors to avoid damage to your machine.

The information provided for you in this guide can be a valuable resource when trying to decide which air compressor oil type is the best for you and your air compressor.

Using the wrong type or grade of oil in your air compressor can cause lasting damage to your machine. Because of this, it is important that you review all of the information in this guide to help ensure that you are using the optimal oil type for your air compressor.