Oil Versus Oil-Free Air Compressors Guide

Oil Versus Oil-Free Air Compressors Guide

Air compressors are essential for powering tools and machinery in our industries. As such, you must make an informed decision when selecting your next air compressor. There is a key factor to consider: do you go for an oil-lubricated air compressor or an oil-free one?

Each option has advantages and disadvantages so, as industry experts, we are dedicating this blog to help you make that decision. We will take a detailed look at each one allowing you to decide which is best suited to your business – saving you time and money in the long run.

Understanding Oil Air Compressors

Let us start with oil-lubricated air compressors. As the name suggests, these air compressors use oil to lubricate moving parts in the compression chamber. This helps to reduce wear while simultaneously cooling the system – so you end up with an air compressor that runs smoothly, without the risk of overheating.

Advantages of oil-lubricated air compressors 

  • The main benefit of oil-lubricated compressors is that they are likely to have a long lifespan as the oil keeps the internal moving parts in good order. For your business, this means that you will save money on replacing your compressors in the future.
  • If anything does go wrong with an oil-lubricated compressor, it will probably require less work to fix the problem – the issues tend to be simpler and easier to rectify.
  • Oil-lubricated air compressors are ideal for heavy-duty work, especially in industrial settings.
  • Finally, the oil used in this compressor type means that they produce less heat and are much quieter when they are in operation.

Disadvantages of oil-lubricated air compressors

Oil-lubricated air compressors will require routine maintenance, more so than is required with oil-free air compressors. You will need to check the levels of oil, and oil changes will be required. Each model will be different, so be sure to consult the manufacturer’s guide to establish how regular the oil changes need to be.

Best suited for

Oil-lubricated air compressors are generally used in industries that require heavy-duty use and where air purity is less critical. The automotive, construction, and manufacturing industries are perfect for oiled air compressors – they can run for long periods and have a greater air capacity so can be used to power larger tools. They are not advised for medical or food processing industries or any other industry where any air contamination could be harmful as the compressed air may have traces of oil.

Exploring Oil-Free Air Compressors

Now let us look at oil-free air compressors. Every type of air compressor will require some kind of lubrication, but oil-free compressors will either have pre-lubricated cylinders or utilise self-lubricating materials, which negate the necessity for oil. It is important to note that these compressors will contain some oil, they are not technically oil-free, but the crucial factor is that this oil will not come into contact with the compressor.

Advantages of Oil-Free Air Compressors

  • One of the biggest advantages of having an oil-free air compressor is that it will require less maintenance as there is no need for regular oil changes.
  • Oil-free air compressors also deliver air without any oil contamination risks – in many industries, this is of huge importance as any contamination could destroy the product.
  • As a general rule, oil-free air compressors will be smaller, lighter, and therefore more portable than their oil-based counterparts. This is ideal if they are to be used at multiple sites.

Disadvantages of Oil-Free Air Compressors

  • Oil-free compressors are likely to be more expensive up front, largely because the internal workings are more complex to avoid using oil.
  • They also have a potentially shorter lifespan due to the lack of lubrication in heavy-use scenarios.
  • An oil-free compressor tends to make a lot more noise than oil-lubricated compressors. You may need to consider whether this is going to be disruptive to other parts of the business.

Best suited for

Oil-free air compressors are best suited for use in industries where air purity is paramount. The medical, pharmaceutical, food processing, and electronics industries, which are sensitive to air contamination, are perfect for an oil-free air compressor (but they may not be the best choice for heavy-duty industrial use).

Oil Versus Oil-Free Air Compressors Guide
Oil Versus Oil-Free Air Compressors Guide

Comparing Oil and Oil-Free Air Compressors

There are a few factors that represent the key differences between oil and oil-free air compressors, so let us break them down and consider them one at a time.

  • Maintenance: Oil compressors will require more frequent maintenance, such as oil changes, while oil-free models require less maintenance.
  • Cost: Oil-free compressors can be more expensive to buy, but you may end up saving some money on maintenance in the long run.
  • Application suitability: Oil compressors are better for heavy-duty industrial applications, whereas oil-free compressors are better suited where air quality is crucial.
  • Environmental impact: Oil-free compressors are more environmentally friendly due to less risk of oil spillage and contamination. They also tend to use less energy when in operation, as oil compressors need to move the oil through the compression chamber when in use.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Air Compressor

There are a few key questions that you need to ask when choosing an air compressor.

  • Application: How important is air purity for your operations? Will your new compressor be used for heavy-duty use?
  • Maintenance capabilities: Does your business have the resources for the regular maintenance that oil compressors require?
  • Budget: Can you afford the higher initial cost of an oil-free compressor? Is it justifiable for your operation?
  • Environmental policies: Does an oil-free compressor align better with your company’s environmental commitments? Oil-lubricated compressors will also use more energy, which will have environmental consequences.

Maintenance Tips for Longevity

Whichever air compressor type you go for, you can do various things to increase your compressor’s longevity and avoid unnecessary maintenance costs. By following the guidelines below, you can keep your air compressor in the best possible condition and lengthen its life span.

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. There will be clear instructions about how often you need to perform various checks – make sure you put plans in place to ensure these checks happen. We offer Air Compressor Servicing which can save you a lot of hassle. 
  • If you have an oil-lubricated air compressor, make sure that you are regularly checking and changing the oil and filters. The frequency that you will need to change and check will depend on many different factors including the type of compressor you have and how often you use it. Make sure that you find out the best practices for your specific air compressor.
  • If you have an oil-free compressor, remember to monitor for wear and tear on pre-lubricated parts. You may need to clean the air intake filters and conduct regular inspections of the hoses, power cables, seals, and fittings.
  • Most air compressors will need to be stored in a clean, dry, location with a stable temperature. Find out what conditions your air compressor requires – this will help it to last longer without any impact on performance.


When it comes to oil vs oil-free air compressors, only you will know what is best for your business. Both types of air compressors have valuable industrial applications – there is not one type that is better than the other, but there will be one that is more suited to your needs. Our job is to help you make the best decision.

Many businesses will make a quick decision and opt for the cheapest option if this saves them some money in the short term. They will probably end up with an air compressor with a shorter life span, and spend more on repairing and maintaining it. Do not make this mistake.

Use the information above to help you make a decision that will benefit your business in the long run. Consider the application, maintenance, and environmental needs.

As one of the largest compressor distributors in the UK, Control Gear can offer a complete range of oil-free and oil-lubricated compressors, as well as full maintenance and servicing packages to take the hassle away from you. Let us help you find the perfect air compressor for your company, and then ensure that it runs at full capacity for years to come.

Do not take unnecessary risks – speak to our highly experienced technical team today.