Is an Oil-Free Compressor Really Better?

Oil-free air compressors have become more popular in a world where people want to reduce maintenance. Sure, oil-free compressors are low maintenance, but there is a lot more to them than that. So, who wins the oil-free compressor vs. oil debate?

Oil-injected compressors are more reliable when it comes to the oil-free compressor vs. oil compressor discussion. Compressors that lack oil can overheat quickly and they don’t have as reliable of an output in most cases. That said, oil-free air compressors require less maintenance, and they are often portable which makes them perfect for small business owners and hobbyists.

You don’t have to worry about oil contamination with oil-free air compressors since they lack lubrication. The limited output of oil-free air compressors can be annoying, so you may want to upgrade to an oil-injected compressor if you want to grow your business. Follow along as we compare oil-free air compressors to oil compressors and see what the best option is for you.

What is the Difference Between Oil-Free and Oil-Injected Air Compressors?

Oil-injected air compressors rely on oil whereas oil-free compressors don’t need any lubrication. That makes it easy to take care of oil-free compressors, but it also limits their abilities. The lubrication of oil-injected air compressors makes them run smoothly if you keep up with oil changes.

Oil changes are unnecessary for oil-free air compressors, and that saves you plenty of time and money each year. Another key difference is that you don’t typically find oil-free air compressors at big businesses. They are better for small businesses and people who need them for painting and cleaning.

Oil-injected air compressors are the industry standard in the auto body world as well as countless major businesses. Bottling plants have many oil-injected air compressors on hand.

What are the Benefits of an Oil-Free Air Compressor?

Between the weight, ease of use, and low maintenance, there are many benefits of oil-free air compressors. So, are they better, and if so, why?

Oil-Free Air Compressors Are Small

Oil-free air compressors are typically slightly smaller compared to oil air compressors. Air compressors that run on oil often weigh at least 500 pounds, but they can exceed 8,000 pounds. Conversely, you can find oil-free air compressors that weigh as little as 105 pounds.

Granted, smaller air compressors aren’t quite as powerful as big compressors, but they are still quite useful. This comes in handy in small auto body shops and they are perfect for hobbyists as well.

They Require Less Maintenance

Maintenance is a big part of the oil-free compressor vs. oil debate. Oil-free compressors win this part of the debate as it’s much easier to take care of them than air compressors that require oil. You must check compressors with oil daily to make sure there are no clogs or impurities.

Traditional compressors with oil also require regular oil changes, like cars, but it can be sooner depending on how often you use them. In some cases, you may even need to change the oil on an air compressor after only 200 hours, and that’s a big hassle. Air compressors that require oil break quickly if you don’t check and replace the oil as needed, but that’s not a problem with oil-free air compressors.

You also won’t have to spend any money on oil with an oil-free air compressor. Many business owners spend up to 10% of the value of an air compressor on oil and maintenance per year. You must still maintain an oil-free air compressor, but it’s not as annoying as changing oil.

Oil-Free Compressors Are Ideal for Cold Weather

Do you run an air compressor in a cold climate? Temperature is a big part of the oil-free compressor vs. oil debate if you live in a cold climate. Nothing is more frustrating than when it’s cold outside and the oil in your air compressor turns into thick, useless sludge.

Luckily, that’s not something to worry about if you have an oil-free compressor. There is no oil within them that can freeze and thicken. The metal parts of your air compressor are still susceptible to moisture throughout fall and winter, but you won’t have to worry about shutting down your operation with an oil-free compressor.

Less Risk

Contamination is a big problem when it comes to oil-injected air compressors. Dust, moisture, and pollutants can contaminate the oil within them, and this can cause major problems. Rust and corrosion can form, and that can cause your air compressor to break down and even explode in some cases.

Contaminated oil can also limit the airflow within your air compressor, and this will slow your output. That’s less of a risk with oil-free air compressors. Sure, they can still break and explode due to excessive pressure, but there are fewer risk factors for too much pressure to form.

What is the Disadvantage of an Oil-Free Air Compressor?

Whether it be the loud operation or frequent overheating, there are several disadvantages of oil-free air compressors. Let’s look at the main downsides of oil-free air units in the oil-free compressor vs. oil compressor debate.

They Don’t Last as Long as Traditional Air Compressors

Oil-free air compressors don’t last nearly as long as compressors that use oil. Standard oil-injected air compressors, such as centrifugal compressors can last up to 250,000 hours or more. Conversely, oil-free air compressors rarely last longer than 2,000 hours.

The lubrication aspect of oil-injected air compressors helps protect the components. While oil-free air compressors don’t last as long, you can extend their lifespan if you take great care of them. You can expect a small oil-free air compressor to last 5 years, whereas a big oil-injected air compressor can easily last over 25 years.

Oil-Free Air Compressors Are Loud

The lack of lubricant means that oil-free air compressors are loud. There is no lubrication to soften the blow between the components within your air compressor. This is not only irritating, but it can also damage your eardrums over time if you don’t protect your ears.

Business owners must make sure to enforce ear protection when working with air compressors, especially if they are oil-free. Not only will this protect their hearing, but it will also boost morale at the workplace.

Limited Output

Oil-free air compressors aren’t nearly as big or powerful as oil-injected compressors. They are great for hobbyists and small business owners, but oil-free air compressors aren’t ideal for big businesses. While oil-free air compressors are more portable, they cannot keep up with the high output of oil-injected air compressors.

Oil-injected air compressors don’t overheat easily, and they can run consistently unless the filter is clogged. Compressors that run without oil require frequent breaks and cannot keep up with the workload of a busy day for a big business in most cases.

They Get Quite Hot

Oil-free air compressors get hot quickly. That’s because there is no lubricant to cushion the blow of the components. Not only can this be uncomfortable for the operator, but the heat can also slow you down.

You can’t count on an oil-free air compressor to run smoothly for a long time without overheating. This is bad for the air compressor, and it’s also bad for business. Time is money, and you will ultimately lose money if you must slow down to let your oil-free air compressor cool down several times per hour.

Who Should Use an Oil-Free Air Compressor?

Hobbyists and small business owners should use an oil-free air compressor. They are often light and portable which means you can use them almost anywhere with power. Oil-free air compressors also require less knowledge to operate than an oil-injected air compressor.

Because of that, you don’t need to be a professional in the auto body industry to understand how to work an oil-free air compressor. Big businesses should avoid oil-free air compressors in most cases. Sure, they are cheap and easy to use, but you can’t use an oil-free air compressor all day without having to stop to let it cool down.

Oil-Free Compressor Vs. Oil

Oil compressors win the oil-free compressor vs. oil debate in most ways. Compressors that run on oil can operate all day without overheating unless they become clogged in many cases. Oil-free compressors overheat quickly and can’t keep up with the demands of major businesses.

That said, you don’t have to worry about contamination as much with oil-free compressors. The oil in a standard air compressor can become contaminated with dust and pollutants. Luckily, oil-free air compressors are quite light compared to standard air compressors, and they are perfect for hobbyists and small businesses.

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