Air Compressor Oil Substitutes

Do I have to use air Compressor oil? Are there any air compressor oil substitutes?

These are common questions we get all the time, so we figured we’d do up a quick article on the topic to get you straightened out once and for all.

When you buy an air compressor and read through your owner’s manual you’ll see that most air compressor brands explicitly state to use “Air Compressor Oil ONLY”


You’ll even come across certain brands that state if oil other than theirs is used you’ll void your warranty.

We’re going to shed some light on this controversial topic and put it to rest once and for all.



Air Compressor Oil


Air Compressor companies have everyone in their grip with their marketed branding of “Air Compressor Oil”

Oil is used in virtually all air compressors, from small mobile air compressors to large 60-gallon air compressors and everything in between unless specifically designed to run oil-less.

So exactly what is “Air Compressor Oil”

Basically, it’s just a plain “old” oil.

What we mean by that is the oil that’s used nowadays for air compressors is similar to the oil that was used in older internal combustion vehicles that don’t utilize inline oil filters.

Broken down to the basics, most air compressors oils have the same properties, they’re commonly a 30-weight, non-detergent, single velocity oil that come in either synthetic or non-synthetic.

One of the largest characteristics of air compressor oil is that it’s “Non-Detergent” oil.


The difference between non-detergent oil and oil-containing detergents is how the sediment (metal particles) are dealt with.

New vehicles and Internal combustion engines use inline oil filters. They work by containing any sediment such as metal flakes in the oil and filtering it through the oil filter, therefore, removing the contaminants.

The detergent in the oil allows the particles and sediment to stay suspended in the oil until it flows through the filter then removing the particles.

Older motors and air compressors that are electric do not contain any oil filters. They work by utilizing non-detergent oil that allows sediments to settle to the bottom and create a sludge-like consistency.

Because air compressors don’t contain oil filters you don’t want the sediment to stay suspended in the oil which will then run through all the components causing damage.


When it comes time to perform an oil change on your air compressor you’re going to want to look for a few things in the oil you purchase, if you’re deciding to opt out of the expensive “Air Compressor Oil” companies are peddling.

First and foremost you want to purchase an oil that states on the front that it’s a non-detergent oil and single velocity, then you’ll need to consider the viscosity.



10W-30 Is a good substitute

In the winter and colder months you want a lower starting viscosity such as a 5W type oil and in the summer depending on the temperature you’ll opt for a 10W or even 15W.

A 10W-30 oil simply means it’s has a starting viscosity of 10 and once at the optimal running temperature, it acts as a viscosity of 30.

Winter Months = Lower starting viscosity (Thinner)

Summer Months = Higher starting viscosity (Thicker)


The viscosity of oil you use is dependant on the temperature of the conditions where you plan to operate your air compressor.

The cut and dry definition of viscosity is an oil’s resistance to flow and shear.

Viscosity is a measurement of the resistance of a fluid to flow. Water has a low viscosity and syrup has a high viscosity.

In winter months or colder weather, you require an oil with a lower viscosity as the cold weather naturally increases oil viscosity and makes it thicker.

When you’re looking for oil the most commonly referred to oil is 10W-30, but what does the “W” stand for?

More times than none people mistake the “W” for what it actually means and assume it stands for “weight” and that’s incorrect. In all basics, it actually stands for winter.

The number before the W is the viscosity or weight that the oil operates when not in use and the proceeding number after the W is the viscosity at optimal running temperature.


In the end, the decision on what type of oil you use is going to be up to you. But if you’ve read into your owner’s manual or warranty you might notice that some manufacturers of air compressors state that your warranty will be void if you use any other type of oil than that of their oil “air compressor oil”.

You should not be pigeonholed into having to continually purchase oil from a manufacturer at an increased price.

We did some digging and came across the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975.

It simply states – “Warrantors cannot require that only branded parts be used with the product in order to retain the warranty”

Basically, manufacturers continue to pursue a method of trying to retain business but using this method is unethical and simply not allowed.

So, in the end, the decision is yours, we opt for using regular oil and pass on the special air compressor oil simply because it’s more expensive and not needed.

The choice is yours!