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The Difference Between Oil and Oil-Free Air Compressors

By OTC Insights Team on December 23, 2022

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OTC Insights Team

Established in 1963, OTC Industrial Technologies is one of the largest industrial distributors & service providers in the United States. We're committed to seeing industrial operations advance through expert technical solutions & unmatched support using our years of experience.

While the difference between oil and oil-free air compressors might seem obvious, the truth is there are many myths about both types. Moreover, with technology constantly evolving, even if you worked with oil or oil-free compressors in the past, the systems available today may be very different.   

If you are finding it difficult to decide between oil and oil-free compressors, here are some facts that will help you make the best decision for your business.  

Need a quick solution? Find out if oil or oil-free air compressors are best for your business.

What Is an Oil-Free Air Compressor? 

Whether the compressor is oiled or considered oil-free, all compressors need a method of lubrication to moderate heat, friction, and wear-down of the pump and critical components.  

Most air compressors are lubricated with oil. Oil-lubricated compressors use oil to lubricate parts within the compressor to ensure the system operates smoothly and to prevent air leakage.  

An oil-free compressor isn’t completely oil-free.  Oil is still used, just not in the compression chamber. Oilless compressors also use materials like water or a Teflon coating to keep the mechanism running smoothly. Some oil-free compressors have removed metal-to-metal contact within the compressor chamber, eliminating the need for oil-based and synthetic lubricants.  

Benefits of Oil-Lubricated Compressors  

There are situations where a compressor that uses oil provides a clear advantage. Consider the following benefits: 

  • Suitable for professional applications due to the power and reliability of the unit.
  • Higher revolutions per minute (RPMs) and higher pounds per square inch (PSI)/cubic feet per minute (CFM) ratings.
  • Cooler unit temperatures and therefore better suitability for hotter climates.  
  • Increased durability for a longer unit life span. 

Benefits of Oil-Free Compressors  

While you sacrifice some of the power and cooling capability with an oil-free air compressor, there are some significant advantages to them: 

  • Fewer contaminants in the air.  
  • Less maintenance. 
  • Less noise.   
  • Lighter weight.  
  • Lower cost.  
  • Simpler designs.  
  • Suitable for colder temperatures.  

How to Choose Between Oil Compressors and Oil–Free Compressors 

When deciding whether to purchase or rent an oil-free compressor or one that uses oil, think about how and where you will use it. Also, consider the needs and budget of the project.  

Will you be working on multiple projects at once? If so, an oil-free compressor may be a good option since it’s both portable and lighter in weight. Oil-free compressors are also good for homeowners who might use the air compressor sparingly and are looking for a cheaper option.  

Alternatively, if you’re a commercial business looking for a stationary compressor to power high PSI/CFM pneumatic tools, you may prefer an oiled compressor. Moreover, if you work in a hotter climate or are looking for an air compressor that will last for an extended time, an oiled compressor is probably a good option.  

Oil Compressors and Oil-Free Air Compressors at OTC 

If you’re still wondering what the difference between oil and oil-free air compressors is or whether an oil-free air compressor is right for your business, let us help. OTC’s team of air compressor experts can conduct an air audit, providing the data and information you need to make an informed decision about your air compressor needs and options.  

We’ll work with you step by step to ensure you have the best solution for your compressed air needs.