Last Update: 02 May 2020

Air Compressor Oil Substitute - 3 Major Things to Should Know

James Kelly
James Kelly

Hi! This is James. I'm a professional writer and working on this field for a long time. Basically I love to write about everything related to tools, diy and home improvement. All my writings speak for itself as I'm passionate about this. I love to explore new things as well as new places whenever I get free time. You'll never find me free for this reason!

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Air compressor generally has a lot of moving parts. Especially the engine that pumps air to the tank. That’s why most air compressors need lubrication from time to time. Speaking of lube, have you ever wondered if you can use motor oil in compressor or what is the air compressor oil substitute?

To keep your air compressor well and to run, you have to use a suitable lubricant. There is no alternative to that. Most manufacturers recommend that you use synthetic oil. Because it is sulfur-free, and it helps reduce friction, heat, and energy consumption. It also prevents any build-up.

Well, if you are using a reciprocating model that doesn’t require any oil. You don’t have to worry much about lubrication. But the one you are using is a rotatory screw model; you have to use lubricants. No way around that.

As you know, there are lots of air compressor lubricants in the market. It may be a bit overwhelming at first, assuming you are new to compressor oil. But do not worry, we are here for you.

In this article, we will be talking about compressor oils and all the best alternatives that you can use safely. To know more, continue reading.

What Kind Of Oil Is Safe For Your Air Compressor?


An Air compressor needs lubricant to work correctly. And after continued use, it tends to dry out, and performance starts to drop due to the increase in friction. This is never a good sing. Lack of proper lubrication can cause irreversible damage.

Air compressors normally use non-detergent and low sulfur oils, that can be either synthetic or standard. But It is always advisable to follow the manufacturer’s guide to get the benefit from the warranty coverage. if nothing is specified, you can use any standard 20- 30-weight oil without detergents.

Most professionals and individuals who use their compressors frequently, they rely on synthetic compressor oil. on the other hand, standard compressor oil is ideal for individuals who rarely use their compressors. The standard oil is much cheaper than the synthetic one.

Air Compressors: Oil-less Vs Oil Lubricated

Oil-less air compressors feature an engine that doesn’t require lubrication to operate. This is due to the Teflon-coating that removes the necessity for oil to run. They are expensive and need less maintenance.

On the other hand, Oil-lubricated air compressors operate on oil that has changed or topped up once a year. They are durable and can run quieter than the models with oil-less options.

Can I Use Motor Oil In Air Compressor?


Not every oil work in the same way. It’s easy to differentiate between your cooking oil and car oil, but when it comes to the variety of lubricants, it’s not so easy anymore. Similarly, air compressor oil composition is different from other common lubricants. They are more like hydraulic fluid in nature.

For example, you should not use Motor oils for your compressor. Because that often contains detergent that can be bad for your compressor.

3 Oil Substitute for Air Compressor

The idea of using substitute oil for your compressor is to get you out of an emergency. Plus, using other than a proper compressor oil won’t guaranty top performance.

After some research, I found Synthetic Oil, Hydraulic Oil, and Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) can be your best alternative.

Let’s see, how good are they?

Air Compressor Oil

Synthetic Oil

Artificial chemical compounds are mainly used in Synthetic oils. They are meant for specific cases, as they go through a lot of refining processes to meet the requirement.

The advantage of using synthetic oils as a substitute is, the oil has great flexibility at various temperatures. Whether you are in a cold or hot environment, synthetic oil will help your compressor to perform without any issue. It is recommended to use 30 weight oils in a warmer environment and 20 weight oils in Colder weather.

Furthermore, synthetic oils help keep noise levels much lower while working. Thus, you can have a smooth and quiet working session Also, it prevents overheating by reducing friction.

Synthetic oils are a good substitute option for you if you run out of your compressor oil. But the only drawbacks are, they don’t come in cheap and they are made to serve a specific purpose. just Make sure your synthetic oil is made for air compressor.

Hydraulic Oil

Hydraulic oils contain certain characteristics that make them appropriate for use in air compressors. Such as –

Like synthetic oil, they also perform great at low temperatures. Mainly because of low viscosity, which indicates how smoothly fluid flows in a cold climate. The Lower the viscosity rating, the better it will flow without resistance.

The great feature of hydraulic oil is, you don’t have to warm it up before starting the compressor. In cold climate most oil with high viscosity rating often condenses. And cause the compressor not to star up right away.

Another reason to use hydraulic oils in your compressor is, they are immune to oxidation. That means you don’t have to worry about rust build up in your compressor.

Lastly, air compressors are built with sealant materials to maintain proper pressure. Hydraulic oils are well-suited with such materials. So, using hydraulic oils will have no adverse effect on the pressure.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

Automatic transmission fluids or in short, ATFs are a special type of fluid, that generally used in a vehicle transmission system. They perform the following task-

To perform the above tasks most ATFs are mixed with enhanced additive packages like anti-wear agents, antioxidants, and robust base oils.

Although these features are relevant to the car transmission system, they can also apply in air compressors. Similarly, ATFs can benefit air compressors and help achieve optimal performance in a crucial situation.

FAQ About Air Compressor Oil Substitute

When to use air compressor substitute oil?

A: Air compressor oil composition is different from other common lubricants. Using other oil can harm your compressor. Therefore, you should only use substitute oil, when the recommended oil isn’t available or your compressor leaked all the oil.

How Often Should I Change My Air Compressor Oil?

A: It is always best to follow the owner’s guide to get optimum performance. In a general sense, you should change oil at least once a year. Though you might have to change the oil a lot sooner if you use your air compressor frequently.

Difference between air compressor oil and hydraulic oil?

A: The hydraulic oil is a good substitute oil air compressor. But there is a difference between these two oils. They are both made to serve a different purpose. For instance, Hydraulic oil comes with a lot of additives that are essential to hydraulic machines. On the other hand, air compressor oil doesn’t need all that.

Choosing The Right Air Compressor Oil

Final Verdict

An Air compressor isn’t a cheap tool. You need to protect your investment by taking care properly. In this case, using suitable air compressor oil.

But if you can’t find the right oil for you, I hope this article will help you to understand and choose the next best air compressor oil substitute to use safely.

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