How to Choose the Right Oil for Your Air Compressor

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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 vs Motor Oil

Navigating the world of engine oils can feel a bit overwhelming, right? Trust me, I’ve been there. Picking the wrong one can spell trouble for your machine. That’s precisely why I put together this guide – to give you a clear understanding of the two major oil types. Let’s ensure your engine gets the best.

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 bicycle tires a small-scale inflating, 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, I 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.

Motor Oil vs Air Compressor Oil
Base ComponentBoth are made using mineral oil base stocks (a purified version of “crude oil”).
FunctionThey both act as lubrication factors in moving parts of a system.
ProtectionBoth prevent the wear and tear of parts.
AdditivesBoth contain antioxidant additives that improve the oxidative stability of the oil.
Primary UseAir compressor oil is designed for compressors, while motor oils are for automobiles and engines.
DetergentsMotor oil contains detergents for cleaning, whereas compressor oils do not.
Carbon LevelsMotor oils have higher carbon levels than air compressor oil, which is crafted to minimize carbon.
Operating EnvironmentMotor oils operate in cooler temperatures and larger volumes, while compressor oils work well in high temperatures.
Physical CharacteristicsThey differ significantly in weight and viscosity.
PriceMotor oil is generally pricier than air compressor oil.
Which To Use
Motor oil has chemical detergents to avoid engine residue, while air compressor oil does not. These detergents can harm compressors and affect airflow.


There are some foundational similarities between different oils. For starters, both the oils we’re discussing here are crafted from mineral oil base stocks. Think of this as a refined and purified version of crude oil – the very essence of what we pump out of the Earth.

Now, onto their core job – lubrication. Regardless of the specific type or brand, these oils play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth operation of various systems by acting as the lubrication factor.

This lubrication is crucial. Without it, the moving parts within a system would quickly deteriorate due to friction. But thanks to these oils, wear and tear are significantly reduced, ensuring longevity and efficiency.

And let’s not forget about those antioxidant additives. They’re the unsung heroes, really. These additives bolster the oil’s oxidative stability, ensuring that the oil doesn’t break down easily over time.

  • 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.

So, while the world of oils might seem complex, understanding these foundational aspects can help navigate it with more confidence.


Air compressor oil is specially crafted for compressors, while motor oils cater to automobiles and engines.

Motor oils have the added responsibility of cleaning, thanks to the detergents they contain; compressor oils don’t. They prioritize keeping carbon levels low to ensure smooth compressor operations.

While motor oils are typically formulated for cooler environments and can be a bit pricier, compressor oils shine in hotter conditions and are generally lighter on the pocket.

  • 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.

So, when picking between the two, it’s essential to know their distinct roles and characteristics.

Major Distinguishing Factor

Motor oil has chemical detergents to avoid engine residue, while air compressor oil does not. Those chemical detergents can harm the air compressor and mess with the airflow.

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 extraordinarily high temperatures in running motor engines.