Air Compressor Oil vs Motor Oil

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Air compressors and motor oils are quite different from each other, and the production process of each is unique. When you have air compressor oil vs motor oil which option would be best for your air compressor? Can you use them interchangeably?

Air Compressor Oil vs Motor Oil General Overview

A thorough understanding of these two types of oils will help you make the best selection when purchasing the most appropriate one for your engine. We understand that using the wrong oil for your machine can trigger engine trouble. We care, so we have created an article to help you comprehensively understand both oils.

Castrol and Shell motor oil

Air Compressor Oil

Air compressor oil is a standard or synthetic oil. It does not contain detergents and typically has lower amounts of carbon, sulfur, and other impurities that can cause build-up. There aren’t many additives used to clean, maintain, and preserve an engine’s interior.

Air compressor oil is explicitly developed for use in air compressor pumps. Different air compressors can be used on a small scale inflating, like bicycle tires, or on a big scale, such as providing a power source for your machines and machine shop. This is why air compressor oil is manufactured, meeting its standard requirements.

Air compressor oils can be classified further into:

  • Mineral oil
  • Synthetic oil

Both are very suitable for your air compressor, depending on the type of work you intend to do with it.

Synthetic blends may be a better option if you use your air compressor frequently in an industrial setting. Synthetic oil can withstand a wider variety of temperatures and provide more protection. When you don’t use your air compressor regularly, mineral oil is a better option and is less expensive.

Purpose of Air Compressor Oil

  • Lubricates the moving parts.
  • To trap air, it creates a seal between the rotors.
  • It prevents parts from wearing out prematurely.
  • During compression, it assists in the cooling of the air.
  • Air compressor oil delays the oxidation process and acid formation.
  • Enhances water separation, protecting the compressor against oil emulsions.

Motor Oil

Motor oil is made from base oils and other additives, such as antiwear additives, detergents, and dispersants. It is one of the most crucial components of your engine. Your engine wouldn’t survive without the lubrication provided by motor oil.

Motor oil is used in internal combustion engines, which power vehicles, motorbikes, lawnmowers, generators, and various other machinery. Motor oil prevents friction between the moving parts of your machine. This friction would otherwise waste valuable kinetic energy by converting it to heat.

Using motor oil in your air compressor may serve. However, we wouldn’t recommend using this multi-viscosity oil in a compressor because it will cause foaming issues.

Motor oil displayed on a shelf

Purposes of Motor Oils

  • Lubricates engine parts to prevent friction and wear.
  • Motor oil prevents metal to metal contact.
  • Cooling the engine.
  • Absorbs and dissipates heat away from hot components.

Air Compressor Oil vs Motor Oil

Let’s discuss the similarities and differences between the two types of oils.


  • Both are made using mineral oil base stocks (a purified version of what’s called “crude oil”).
  • They both act as lubrication factors in moving parts of a system.
  • Both prevent the wear and tear of parts.
  • Both contain antioxidant additives that improve the oxidative stability of the oil.


  • Air compressor oil is designed to be used in air compressors. In contrast, motor oils are used in automobiles and other motor engines.
  • Motor oil contains detergents that act as cleaning agents, while air compressor oils do not include detergents.
  • Motor oils contain higher levels of carbon as compared to air compressor oil. Compressor oil is manufactured to minimize the amount of carbon in the compressor.
  • Motor oils are usually designed to operate in lower temperatures and more significant volumes. In contrast, compressor oils are effective even in high-temperature environments.
  • They have a vast difference in aspects like weight and viscosity.
  • Motor oil is relatively more expensive than air compressor oil.

Major Distinguishing Factor

The primary aspect that differs between these two is the presence or absence of detergents. This detergent cleans the engine parts as the oil runs through the engine. Motor oils contain the detergent, while air compressor oils lack the additive.

When to Use Air Compressor Oil

While detergents can assist clean an engine, they can also carry metal shards into the oil and the cylinder wall of your air compressor.

In general, using specially designed air compressor oil will improve the performance of your compressor. It differs significantly from motor oil because it has less sulfur and carbon, making it ideal for air compressors.

A man pouring motor oil

When to Use Motor Oil

For engine parts, motor oil is a valuable resource. It improves performance, detergency, and corrosion resistance. Motor oil is beneficial when lubricating internal combustion engines like cars and motorcycles.

The oil that lubricates your engine also has other purposes. By lowering respirometry from the moving parts or improving seal integrity, motor oils can be employed as a dispersion to cool an overheated engine.

Which Is Better

Depending on your operating equipment, what you will use as your oil will vary. Refer to the operator’s manual for further clarifications.

Your manufacturer recommendations will advise you to go for synthetic blends for an air compressor pump. Using compressor oil in your system is an excellent idea. Air compressor oil boosts your air compressor’s working capability.

Motor oil is designed to be used in internal combustion engines. The engines usually operate at lower temperatures making it relevant to use motor oils. The detergent in motor oils is very useful in these engines as they aid in cleaning.

Final Verdict

Regular engine/motor oil can be used in certain air compressor units. However, it is not advised in most circumstances. Furthermore, air compressor oil should also not be used in motor vehicles.

It is not engineered to withstand the extraordinarily high temperatures in running motor engines.