Oil-Free Air Compressors vs. Oil – What’s The Difference? (Quick Answer)

Cody
| Last Updated: January 23, 2021

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There are many variables to consider when looking for a new air compressor. These differences can make your life easier or harder, depending on the environment you're operating in or how you'll be using the compressor.

Below, we'll discuss the differences between an oiled and oil-free air compressor to determine which one suits you best.  

Oil vs Oil-Free Air Compressor - What's The Difference?

We'll show you the main differences between an oiled and oil-free air compressor, how they'll impact you, and the reasons why each type might be more or less helpful depending on how you'll be using it or the environment that it's operated in. 

Before we get too far, here's the answer you came here for.

The main difference between an oil and oil-free air compressor is their size and use. Oil-free air compressors are lightweight, portable, and most likely used in "on-the-go" situations.

Oil air compressors on the other hand, are those large air compressors you'll see stashed away in the corner of a shop. They are big, bulky, but pump out lots of air when needed. 

What is an Oil-Free Air Compressor? 

When an air compressor is oil-free, it means that it doesn't operate using oil as lubrication. Most oil-free compressors use a material called Teflon, which acts as a replacement for standard oil.

Due to the lack of oil, this often makes these air compressors much lighter, making them a handy asset for tasks that require portability. Due to their oil-free design, this also means they can be used in fields where pure air quality is essential, such as a dentist's surgery. 

Pros and Cons an Oil-Free Air Compressor

These oil-free air compressors are common and can be useful in many scenarios. However, there are still some downsides. Below, we'll show you some pros and cons of oil-free air compressors. 

Pros

Little Need For Maintenance 

A great benefit of using an oil-free air compressor is that they don't need constant maintenance, such as oil changes.

If you were using an oiled air compressor regularly, then you'd be expected to change the oil once every three months, at least. This can soon become a dreaded chore and too much hassle for some busy households. 

Tend To Be Lighter 

The oil-free air compressors are often designed to be simpler and, therefore, lighter than their oiled counterparts. This benefits mainly those that require a lightweight and easily portable air compressor to move around regularly. 

No Mess Or Contamination 

As there isn't any oil used with these air compressors, there won't be any contamination between the compressed air and oil, which is inevitable when using an oiled compressor.

This is a key benefit, especially when you're using the compressor and require the compressed air quality to be as clean and pure as possible. The lack of oil also means that any maintenance on this compressor won't end up with oil everywhere. 

Cons 

Fairly Noisy 

Too much noise is a common problem with oil-free air compressors; this often turns some people off using them as the noise can be too much for quiet residential areas. Once the Teflon lubrication dries out eventually, which means there's no lubrication to muffle the sound. 

Overheat Regularly 

Oiled air compressors have that oil lubrication to cool the compressor down because it's changed regularly; this also helps keep the oil effective at cooling the device. However, as we know, oil-free compressors only have Teflon, which can quickly dry and crack, meaning that there's nothing to stop the air compressor overheating. 

When Would an Oil-Free Air Compressor Come in Handy? 

An oil-free air compressor is useful in various environments or projects. Below are some of the most common uses of an oil-free air compressor. 

Working On A Multi-Story Project

Oil-free air compressors are designed to be straightforward with fewer components and are, on average, a lot lighter than their oiled counterparts. The lightweight designs allow small framing crews to easily transport and even carry these air compressors up multi-story projects, which would be far harder with an oiled air compressor. 

Occasional Chores

The oil-free air compressor is also great for busy households that don't want a bulky oiled air compressor, which is harder to store. They'll carry out very minimal maintenance on their oil-free air compressor, making it a perfect fit for occasional chores such as cleaning gutters. 

DIY Project

This type of air compressor would also suit anyone that's working on DIY projects around the house; a standard example would be painting doors or renovating furniture for their home or to sell on.

The reason why an oil-free compressor is a great fit is the lack of oil contamination or mess it leaves, meaning you'll not have to worry about any oil stains on those newly painted doors, floors, or furniture.  

Hold up, are you interested in other topics related to air compressors? If so, these might be something to check out: 

What is an Oil Air Compressor? 

An oiled air compressor is simply an air compressor that utilizes an oil lubricant to operate internal components. These types of air compressors are common in construction and industrial environments. They're durable and last much longer than oil-free compressors. 

They've got more components built-in, resulting in them typically being bulkier and heavier. Another key feature is the cooling effect that the oil has on the compressor as they're not known to overheat with regular oil changes. 

Pros and Cons of an Oil Air Compressor

Just like the oil-free air compressor, the oiled counterpart has its pros and cons. We've detailed a few below. 

Pros

Robust And Long Lasting 

The larger oiled air compressors are created to include more features and space for the oil to be held. The regular oil changes are what keep this compressor lasting so long. This is because the oil is used to reduce the friction between the piston and the piston chamber. 

Fewer Noise Issues 

Another benefit is the low noise level of an oiled air compressor as the oil acts as a muffler effect. This would be an excellent tool for any business or household that operates in a quiet environment. Oil-free Teflon lubricant dries up and eventually leads to oil-free compressors being unnecessarily noisy. 

Overheating Is Uncommon 

Teflon; the lubricant of oil-free compressors often dries up quickly; the lubricant is the only thing that stops the compressor from overheating; without it, this problem becomes common.

This problem is non-existent in oiled compressors with regular oil changes as the oil acts as a cooling product. 

Cons

Heavy and Bulky 

The oiled air compressor design means that these types are far bulkier and heavy to accommodate the extra components.

Many experts recommend that when you purchase your air compressor that you should find a place that it can be stored and operated from without having to move it.  

Requires Regular Maintenance 

The oil changes can quickly become a hassle if you're running a busy household; regular operation of an oiled air compressor requires regular maintenance. It would be best if you were changing the oil at least once every three months. Not just oil changes, but safety checks are an essential part of caring for your oiled air compressor. 

When Would an Oil Air Compressor Come in Handy? 

Considering all that we've just learned with the various pro's and con's of oiled air compressors, below are a few environments where they would be best used in. 

Construction Work 

Construction sites will always be an environment where you'll find an air compressor. If you're carrying out a project, an oiled compressor will suit a specific area within the site.

Somewhere that doesn't require the compressor to be relocated regularly as the weight is a huge problem. 

Workshop Or Mechanics Garage

The weight is another reason why an oiled compressor is better suited to workshops. They're bulky and difficult to move. It's advised you find an area within the workshop it can be easily accessed from; this will limit the need for any relocation to carry out particular tasks. 

DIY Projects 

Like the oil-less air compressor, it's oiled counterpart can be just as useful working on DIY projects. If you operate from home, these compressors' quiet nature will be a great benefit to you.

The maintenance also won't be much of a problem as you'll eventually get used to oil changes as you'll be regularly operating the compressor. The only problem is the mess they can make and storing such a bulky piece of equipment at home. 

What is Better? - Oil vs Oilless Air Compressor

The most common type of air compressor would be the oiled air compressor. They last longer and are quieter.

On the other hand, oil-free air compressors don't require constant maintenance, aren't as messy, and are far lighter.

There isn't a straight answer; it all comes down to how you'll use the compressor and your individual needs. 

People Also Ask

We aim to provide information that helps you decide what type of air compressor suits your needs best. Below are a few common questions that we've answered to help you even more. 

How To Add Oil To An Air Compressor

Please follow the steps below: 

  1. Turn the compressor on for a few minutes; this will heat the oil and make it easier to drain
  2. Remove the fill cap to allow air to flow through the compressor
  3. Remove the drain plug and let the oil pour into a bucket; once empty, put the plug back on
  4. Refill the compressor with the recommended oil; take your time to ensure it's full
  5. Screw the cap back on; you've successfully changed the compressor oil. 

What Kind of Oil For An Air Compressor

There are two common types of oil; synthetic or standard oil. Synthetic is man-made from mixing various chemicals. Whereas standard is just crude oil, which is extracted from the ground.

Synthetic oils are better for the longevity of your air compressor. The manufacturer will generally specify which suits the individual compressor. 

What Weight Oil For An Air Compressor

As described above, the manufacturer should specify what the best oil and weight is for their compressor, but a standard 20 - 30 weight non-detergent oil should be sufficient to use.

Always try to stick to the manufacturer's recommendations as using alternatives to that recommendation could affect your warranty agreement.

Cody

My name is Cody and I've been a writer for Tool Tango for quite some time now. I've always had a knack for building things with my hands and creative writing, so being able to combine the two has been great. I love being able to give back to the DIY-community, while also learning a thing or two along the way. When I'm not writing, I enjoy watching Netflix with my girlfriend, fishing, and working in the shop.