Oil vs Oilless Air Compressor: Which one to Pick

Air compressors come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and usefulness. Each type of air compressor is engineered to produce a certain amount of CFM and PSI, so depending on what tools you plan on using for your next project, you need to ensure that you have the right air compressor to run it properly. Air compressors can be split into several categories based on their style and capacities, but today, we’d like to give compare them by whether they are oil or oilless.

Both oil and oil-free air compressors draw air into the tank with the help of a piston. However, whether it requires oil or not actually plays a role in the tool’s capacity, the frequency of maintenance issues, and price (both short- and long-term). So which of them would benefit you more? Let’s find out.


What are Oil Air Compressors?

Between oil and oilless, oil air compressors are much more popular among both DIY-ers and pro workers. Oil air compressors provide considerably more force and air volume than their oil-free counterparts, making them the only option to get if you run a construction business.

Oil air compressors compact air before storing it in the tank. This is more demanding than it may seem, especially on the pistons. In order to keep the pistons running effectively and efficiently, they need to be properly lubricated at all times. This is where oil comes into play: in keeping the pistons lubricated, cool, and running optimally.

Oil Pros

There are a ton of reasons why you should consider investing in an oil air compressor. First of all, all air compressors that provide enough force and air volume to run heavy-duty pneumatic tools are oil air compressors.

If you’re in need of an air compressor that won’t wake up your neighbors, then an oil air compressor is for you. This is mainly due to the lubricant’s sound-proofing properties in keeping the pistons running smoothly and without a hitch.

Thirdly, the durability of oil air compressors is beyond that of oil-free models. Without proper lubrication, the tool’s pistons will produce heat, leading to a premature death. Since the user controls how much oil to give the air compressor, as long as they stick to a regular schedule, their oil air compressor will remain loyal for many years.

Oil Cons

Despite the various benefits you get from oil air compressors, they’re not without their disadvantages. One thing that any future oil air compressor should realize is that these tools require constant monitoring and frequent maintenance. You need to be aware of how much oil is left in the tool in order to keep it running well. Otherwise, it will overheat and die on during work.

Oil-lubricated air compressors aren’t exactly portable tools. It’s possible to load them onto a truck and take it with you to various jobsites, but lifting them with one hand is not possible. These are large machines that require a bit of manpower to lift. It’s best to leave it in your workshop and have an oilless, portable air compressor for on-site jobs.

Another major downside of oil air compressors is that their lubricant can actually contaminate the quality of compressed air passed through the hose and into your tool. For the most part, this isn’t going to be a huge problem, but if you work with certain materials or in certain environments, even a minuscule amount of contaminant can ruin your entire project.

What are Oilless Air Compressors?

Now that we know what oil air compressors are let’s take a look at what the oil-free variety has to offer. As the name suggests, this type of air compressor doesn’t require oil. The lubricant that keeps the pistons running smoothly is Teflon. This material is coated in the cylinders, keeping the pistons pumping without producing a bunch of friction.

Oilless Pros

The main benefit you get from going oilless is fewer maintenance problems. Since this tool doesn’t require a liquid lubricant, you won’t need to worry about whether the cylinders are properly lubricated or not. It’s basically a worry-free air compressor that won’t fail on you, even when used for long periods at a time.

Another great thing about oilless air compressors is that they’re always smaller than their oil-lubricated counterparts. This means taking one with you on the road is as simple as loading it onto your truck or in your trunk before traveling.

Furthermore, oil-free air compressors come with more affordable price tags. This is mainly because they’re not designed to handle heavy-duty jobs at the industrial scale. Instead, they’ll run a few light-duty air-powered tools like air brushes and brad nailers.

Finally, unlike their oil counterparts, oil-free air compressors don’t release contaminants through the hose and into your work material. These are super-clean tools that produce high-quality compressed air.

Oilless Cons

However, just because oilless air compressors are cleaner and experience fewer maintenance issues doesn’t mean they’re for everybody. The first thing potential buyers need to realize is that this type of air compressor comes with a small tank – usually up to 10 gallons max – and poor reload time. It’ll take quite a bit of time for the motor to produce more compressed air, leaving you twiddling your thumbs in the meantime.

Oil-free air compressors are also quite loud compared to oil-lubricated models. This is an important consideration if you plan on working from home but don’t want to bother your neighbors or snoozing child.

Finally, oilless air compressors are simply too weak to handle most projects. You can run light- and medium-duty pneumatic tools like air brushes, brad nailers, staple guns, and even impact drivers, but impact wrenches and disc grinders will be out of this air compressor’s capacity.

Oil vs. Oilless – Which should I get?

So after looking at the pros and cons of both oil and oilless air compressors, how do we decide which one we need? Simple. By taking a look at the tools or jobs, you’re doing. Most DIY-ers or hobbyist woodworkers/construction workers may never need anything as heavy-duty as an oil-lubricated air compressor. After all, you don’t want to end up spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on idle capacity.