3 Things to Use as Air Compressor Oil Substitute

Sometimes when you cannot find air compressor oil to run your compressor, you need other lubricants that you can use instead.

I know the struggle to find a replacement for compressor oil. I did some digging in that area and found 3 types of lubricant that you can use as an air compressor oil substitute. These are Hydraulic Oil, Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF), and Synthetic Oil.

Please note, these substitutes can help you run the air compressor in an emergency case, but the performance will not be the same that you can get using the best air compressor oil.

Let’s check out the details about them below.

Substitute for Air Compressor Oil

Hydraulic Oil

Hydraulic oils have certain characteristics that make them suitable for use in air compressors. Such as –

They have low viscosity at low temperature. Viscosity indicates how fluently fluid flows without resistance. Low-viscosity fluids have less density and they can flow more fluently.

If you are from a place where it’s cold, then using hydraulic oil as a substitute for compressor oil can help you. Because of having lower viscosity, they flow more fluently than other oils of higher viscosity, even in a low-temperature area.

You can use hydraulic oils in your compressor in case you have a simple crank-case type pump in the compressor. In winter, 10W hydraulic oils are suitable to use. Because more than this weight can make the oil get jammed. In summer you can use 30W hydraulic oils.

Hydraulic oils can be used as a good quality lubricator in your compressor. Hydraulic oils are immune to oxidation. So, they can also protect your compressor from rusts.

Finally, air compressors are made with sealant materials. Hydraulic oils are compatible with such materials. So using hydraulic oils have a plus point in this case as well.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

Automatic transmission fluids or ATFs can perform a wide range of tasks in your machine. They are usually used in car transmissions because they can perform such tasks. These tasks include

  • Working as a hydraulic medium.
  • Keeping the parts free from deposits.
  • Cooling the parts.
  • Resisting breakdowns when the machine is under stress.
  • Reducing wear and friction.

Although these are required in a car transmission, air compressors also need these because of having the same stresses. For example, air compressors also require cooling of parts, and they also need less friction and wear, etc.

To perform the above-given tasks most of the ATFs are formulated with enhanced additive packages and robust base oils. They contain antioxidants, anti-wear agents, demulsifiers, and detergents.

Automatic Transmission Fluid by Autopar
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Here are a few benefits you get from the ATFs –

  • Your air compressor will definitely produce heat while running. So, you have to use a fluid that can resist breakdowns when the heat is present. ATFs have the ability to do that. This is why you can use ATFs as another substitute for air compressor oil.
  • While resisting the breakdowns, ATFs will produce deposits in the areas that have high heat. To reduce these deposits, ATFs contain detergents. This makes the internal parts cleaner and free of deposits.
  • ATFs contain antioxidants that are also necessary for the compressor. When the gas of the compressor is compressed, it causes oxidation. This leads to premature oil failure. The antioxidants in ATFs can resist such degradation.

So far it looks like ATFs are really good as a substitution, right? But there are some drawbacks that you need to consider. For example –

  • Most ATFs can be incompatible with your air compressor. If this happens, then you should not use that ATF in your compressor.
  • The detergents that ATFs contain can make the motor of your compressor get damaged quicker than you expect.
  • Usually, the compressor manufacturer recommends a particular oil for you to use in the compressor during the warranty period. If you use ATFs and fail, then the warranty may not help you to recover the damage.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oils are made with a synthetically created base or artificially made chemical compounds. Synthetic oils are more refined as they go through a lot of processing so that they can be used for a specific case only.

As a substitute for compressor oil, synthetic oils are one of the best options. Synthetic oils enable your compressor to work in both low and high temperature. So they can protect your compressor from overheating.

Ce 700 Synthetic Oil
Credit: Pixabay

On top of that, synthetic oils can reduce noise. Thus your compressor will perform more quietly and smoothly if you use synthetic oils. 30W oils are recommended to use in a warm environment. For a cold environment, it is recommended that you use 20W oils.

There is only one drawback of using synthetic oils. I have already said that synthetic oils are made for particular cases. So, you have to make sure that the synthetic oil you have is for air compressors. Otherwise, your compressor may get damaged.


A Fact to Keep in Mind

Many people think that OEM (original equipment manufacturer) lubricants are better than Non-OEM lubricants. This is not completely true.

OEM lubricants are usually recommended by the manufacturers so that you do not go for other substitutes. If you purchase OEM lubricants than the manufacturers get the benefit. But the Non-OEM lubricants can be just as good as the OEM lubricants.

There is only one thing you should be aware of. While choosing a Non-OEM lubricant, keep in mind that the properties of that lubricant should be compatible with your compressor.


When to Use Air Compressor Oil Substitute

Using a substitute rather than the recommended oil brings harm to your compressor. Therefore you should only use these oil substitutes in the air compressor when the recommended oil isn’t available.  Say your air compressor leaked all the oil and you need to run it immediately, in such emergency, you can use substitute oil.

What can be used as compressor oil?

Compressor oil some certain properties. If you find a lubricant or oil that has these properties, you can use it for your compressor. These properties are –

  1. Viscosity

Viscosity can be referred to as the weight of oil. The higher the viscosity the higher will the density. So a high viscosity oil will be thicker than an oil with a low viscosity.

In an air compressor, 20W or 30W are generally used based on the viscosity. So, if you find a lubricator that has this weight as viscosity, you can use this oil for your compressor.

  1. Additives

The additives that are used in oil can be both helpful and harmful. For example, detergent is an additive used in some oil. It can make the interior of a machine cleaner by reducing deposits.

Detergents of motor oil create foam in the pump of your air compressor can reduce the lifespan of the motor too. So, it is up to you to choose either you want a cleaner interior of your compressor or a longer lifespan of the motor.

  1. Change of Temperature

The viscosity of oils can change due to the change in temperature. This is due to the molecular cohesive force in the oil. So, you have to match your environment temperature and the viscosity while choosing an oil for your compressor.

For example, if you are in a colder area, lower weight of viscosity like 10W or 20W is better to use. On the other hand in a warmer environment 30W is better.

Any oil that has the characteristics above will get the job done for you.

Is air compressor oil the same as hydraulic oil?

Though hydraulic oil is a good air compressor oil substitute, they are not the same. Hydraulic oil has more additives than air compressor oil. For example, hydraulic oil has the AW (anti-wear) additive which air compressor oil doesn’t have.

3 thoughts on “3 Things to Use as Air Compressor Oil Substitute”

  1. Question, referring to the hydraulic jack fluid and the compressor fluid similarity, will the anti wear factor clog the ports?


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