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What Kind of Oil Does an Air Compressor Take?

an air compressor

an air compressor

The air compressor sitting in your garage may not be totally maintenance-free. Many of them need to be oiled to keep them running correctly. If you have never lubricated your air compressor before, you are probably asking yourself, “What kind of oil does an air compressor take?” That is the question that we hope to answer for you today.

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The first thing you need to know is if your model of air compressor is one that requires being oiled. Some, like small 12-volt ones, don’t need it. These compressors typically have a maximum of two to five CFM, so they aren’t as powerful.

Oil is used to lubricate all the moving parts inside your air compressor to keep them running their best. Compressors that don’t require oil experience more wear and tear on their interior components, causing them to have a shorter lifespan than the oiled ones. This is due to the manufacturer oiling the parts and putting a coating on them to aid their movement. This works well at first, but the coating deteriorates over time.

Characteristics of Oil:

The guidelines for oil use in air compressors don’t only vary by manufacturer, but also by model. Make sure to read what the specs are for your specific machine. Look specifically for the essential characteristics and what their recommendations are, so you’ll know exactly what you need before you buy it. Oil characteristics include:


Viscosity is the texture, or weight, of your oil. Thicker oils have higher viscosity numbers than thinner ones do. Lower weight means it has a consistency closer to water than to syrup.

Most air compressors use oils with a 20 or 30 weight. The viscosity is the most crucial component in air compressor oil. The machine won’t function properly if the oil is too thick or too thin. The wrong oil can cause internal damage.

Temperature Range

Viscosity is essential, but just using the correct oil doesn’t mean that your air compressor will run efficiently at all times. Compressors operate differently when used in extreme weather situations (below freezing or above 120° F).

Each bottle of oil should be labeled with the temperature range it runs best in. When you are looking at the hot side of temperature, remember that your air compressor will generate heat itself, so you will need to add that heat to your calculations.

If you live in an area with extreme temperatures, you may need to swap your oil out at different times of year to match the weather, so that its viscosity will maintain its intended qualities.


Some oils have additives in them, and they aren’t all good for your air compressor. For instance, detergents are great for cleaning diesel engines but will ruin the one in your compressor.

Additives that are beneficial to your air compressor include components that help resist corrosion build-up and prevent rusting.

Standard vs Synthetic Air Compressor Oil:

Most air compressors can be run with standard or synthetic oils, but each model may have its own unique requirements regarding which will work best with its motor. In most cases, synthetic air compressor oil is recommended.

  • Standard: has oil-based lubricants
  • Synthetic: has synthetically made base

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All oils are not created the same way. They all have different viscosities that are appropriate for specific types of motors. Some have additives that can be helpful for one kind of engine but will destroy another. It is imperative to read the manufacturer’s recommendations on what oil is best for your machine to keep it running at peak performance.

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