Air Compressor Oil Substitutes

What can you substitute for air compressor oil?

Believe it or not, there are alternatives to air compressor oil. Compressor oil does, however, differ greatly from engine oil in that it contains less sulfur and carbon and no detergent (cleaning agent).

You have three alternatives when it comes to changing compressor oil or finding an alternative. Each air compressor oil substitute has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Please keep in mind that while these replacements can let you run the compressor in an emergency, the performance will not be the same as it would be with the best air compressor oil. However, if you are unable to obtain compressor oil or are forced to use a replacement, the following solutions are the best choices. There are hazards to using automatic transmission oil, hydraulic oil, and non-detergent synthetic motor oil. So be cautious!

Hydraulic oil has a variety of advantageous qualities that make it an excellent substitute for air compressor oil. Hydraulic oil, like compressor oil, does not include any cleaning agents, which makes it relatively safe to use. Another excellent option for air compressor oil is synthetic oil. The distinctive characteristic of synthetic oil is that it allows your compressor to execute jobs at both high and low temperatures.

You can also use automatic transmission fluid (ATF), hydraulic oil, or non-detergent motor oil. Your compressor can work at both low and high temperatures thanks to synthetic lubricants. They work well with the sealant materials used in air compressors, making them an excellent substitute for compressor oil. Created from a robust base oil, Automatic Transmission Fluids are a well-known substitute for air compressor lubricant in effectively completing a wide variety of jobs – the transmission fluid contains emulsifiers to manage condensation that can build up in a compressor head and functions as a hydraulic medium.

Before putting an alternative oil in your compressor, keep in mind that the performance of an oil that is not designed expressly for a compressor will never be as excellent as specialized air compressor oil.

Synthetic oil is a pretty good substitute for air compressor oil. You should conduct extensive research and check your compressor manual or contact your manufacturer before purchasing to ensure that the one you’re searching for is compatible with your compressor.

What type of oil for an air compressor?

Oil-lubricated air compressors have motors that use compressor oil, which should be changed once a year ay least. Standard compressor oil is substantially less expensive than a mix and is the best choice for light to medium duty application in terms of compressor uptime. Compressor manufacturers warn customers not to use motor oil or other inappropriate oils to power their compressors.

Both standard and synthetic air compressor oils can be effective, but the key issue you should ask yourself when deciding on a type is how frequently you use your compressor. There is a specific sort of oil, known as air compressor oil, that is designed specifically for compressors. When compared to a vehicle, you don’t need to change the oil in your compressor as frequently, but you should change it at least once a year.

Because air compressor oil is free of sulfur and additives, it will not leave damaging deposits on compressor valves and other surfaces.

To achieve the optimum results from your compressor, manufacturers now recommend using a synthetic lubricant with a weight of 20 or 30 instead of mineral oil. This, in turn, can reduce noise from the air compressor and keep the system from overheating when it is in use for an extended period of time. Typically, the oil that is optimal for your compressor is determined by the manufacturer’s recommendations.

You should also state whether synthetic mixes are suitable for a specific air compressor in the manufacturer’s recommendations. If the manufacturer specifies it, you can use standard or synthetic mix compressor oil; nonetheless, you must follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid warranty lapse. Instead, use a compressor oil that has been specifically formulated for your machine. It comes in two varieties: natural and synthetic, and they differ in terms of viscosity and additives.

In cold weather, a 20-weight oil works much better to ensure that the compressor starts and runs on demand. While piston and rotary screw versions can operate on a variety of oil products, manufacturers frequently prefer synthetic oils since they do not include sulfur or additives that can generate undesired valve deposits. Another reason why a thorough oil change is necessary, rather than simply topping up compressor oil, is that the aged, degraded oil mixes with the fresh, additive-rich compressor oil.

Of course, you can avoid having to deal with air compressor oils altogether if you choose an oil-free compressor! For more information on this, see our guide on Oil Vs Oil-Free Air Compressors.

Is SAE20 or SAE30 oil best for an air compressor?

Compressor manufacturers often prescribe a compressor oil with a weight of 20 or 30 (non-detergent oils). SAE30 oil has a higher viscosity, which means it coats better and provides more protection in hotter temperatures.

While 30-weight oil coats items more effectively, if the temperature drops too low, it may become too thick to use. It is largely dependent on your work cycle. Finally, we recommend using a high-quality synthetic oil with a high concentration of preservative and corrosion-resistant compounds. While this is a possibly viable substitute for compressor oil, it’s always a good idea to follow your equipment manufacturer’s recommendations to extend the life of your compressor and keep it running at optimal performance.

There isn’t much of a difference between SAE20 and SAE30 for air compressors – certainly not enough to force you to use one or the other. In general, running a multi-viscosity oil in a single compressor is not recommended because it can generate foaming issues. The more helpful compounds in air compressor oil keep the engine from corroding and rusting.

Obviously, your compressor generates heat, thus the manufacturer’s stated temperature range for the air compressor to work does not also apply to the oil, which must withstand far higher temperatures in your compressor than the surrounding environment.

The oil in the compressor will also need to be changed or topped up on a regular basis, as most air compressors require lubrication systems to perform properly and avoid major maintenance. This functions in the same way as engine oil does. If you reside in a country with cold weather you may need to go from a 30-weight oil to a 20-weight oil for half of the year.

Is air compressor oil the same as air tool oil?

While a dab of compressor oil may be able to pass through your air tool, you do not want to introduce pneumatic tool oil into your compressor. Pneumatic tool oil, on the other hand, most likely contains emulsifiers to remove moisture where air compressor oil would not, and to precipitate water from the suspension so that it may be removed by draining. Hydraulic oil is distinguished by the fact that it is specifically designed not to foam and hence reduces efficiency losses in a sealed system. In conclusion, we do not recommend using air tool oil in an air compressor.

Can I use regular oil in my air compressor?

There is a lot of discussion concerning the differences between engine oil and compressor oil, from the source to the pour point, and from the constituents to the viscosity index. But it’s kind of in the name; compressor oil was designed specifically for compressors, whereas engine oil was designed specifically for engines – though if you Google air compressor oil, you’ll inevitably come across forums full of compressor users who have been pouring engine oil into the equipment without any problems for years.

However, the following explanation will help you better comprehend the effects of utilizing engine oil in compressors. When water is introduced into the mix (as is unavoidable with screw compressors), the oil emulsifies, thus diminishing or removing its protecting and lubricating characteristics and, as a result, significantly limiting the life of your air compressor.

A normal compressor oil works perfectly and is more suitable for households and people who do not use their compressor on a regular basis. However, if you have no other choice or have opted to utilize engine oil for your compressor in an emergency, you can do so.

What weight of oil should be used in the air compressor?

SAE 20 oil outperforms SAE 30 oil in terms of efficiency when used for extended periods of time in a lower temperature environment. Most air compressor applications should be able to maintain viscosity using the 20 and 30 weight options. If you don’t think a synthetic oil is necessary for your air compressor, conventional 20-weight 30-weight oils should suffice.

Most synthetic oil makers have a list of compressor models that perform best with their various polymers. Simply ensure that the compressor oil you use is non-purifying and non-flammable. If the manufacturer advises it, you can use a synthetic or conventional blend with an air compressor.

This also improves the dependability of compressors that work in moderate to tough situations. It is a single viscosity oil that can help the pump last longer by decreasing carbon buildup on the valves. As previously said, if you are truly stuck, you can use non-detergent synthetic motor oil. However, compressor oil is preferable because it is specifically developed for compressors. If your compressor routing has not been stated, for example, you can use ordinary SAE20 or SAE30 oil without detergent.

When it comes to high-load operation or working in extremely fluctuating climatic conditions or fire hazard zones, synthetic lubricants excel in particular. As a result, you must consider the type of job you intend to accomplish with your air compressor as well as the amount of use.

For more information on oils, see our main article What is Air Compressor Oil?


Jeff Stelling

Jeff Stelling is an air compressor obsessive who has been working with compressors for over 25 years, since he was an apprentice engineer in the mid 90’s. He designed to offer technical guidance and buying advice for compressors.