The Right Oil For Your Compressor


In my opinion one of the most important things about your compressor is to use the right oil and change it periodically – that will ensure a long life for the compressor. Especially if you built it yourselves following my article about Homemade Compressor. If you have bought a professional one you will find the relevant information in the manual.

Talking about the homemade compressor we don’t have to speculate that much as nobody’s compressor has broken by the choice of oil yet it might cause issues with overheating and therefore impact the amount of time you spent airbrushing. So the question is “Which oil to use?”. Here’s what I’m going to recommend.

My point of view…

Factory that makes those compressors fills them up with mineral oil and freon (cfc – chlorofluorocarbon) or some people call it compressor oil. Doesn’t matter how we’re going to call it, to be exact it is an mineral oil. This means that this oil does not have any additional chemical ingredients except freon as gas which will evaporate as soon as you open the compressor.

That is ok as far as it is used in closed environment (no air) so there is no external factors that might impact it’s characteristic. But we’re going to use it for our purpose – airbrush, where the situation is significantly different. The environment is not closed anymore – it is opened, full of oxygen, dust, humidity … etc.

Update from wikipedia

CFCs and HCFCs are colourless, volatile, toxic liquids and gases with a faintly sweet ethereal odour. Overexposure at concentrations of 11% or more may cause dizziness, loss of concentration, central nervous system depression and/or cardiac arrhythmia. Vapors displace air and can cause asphyxiation in confined spaces. Although non-flammable, their combustion products include hydrofluoric acid, and related compounds.

Mineral oil in these conditions is loosing its properties really fast. That causes compressor to overheat, raises noise level, and causes damage up to point where the compressor is broken … even with the right amount of oil. Not mentioning that air that we use for airbrush will be full of oil vapours :(

Motor oil compared to mineral oil is solving these issues as it has bunch of additional ingredients that will compensate or even remove all factors that affect the quality and life of the oil. Motor oil is made to be used in more aggressive environment as in airbrush compressor so it can last much longer. Good motor oil has more classifications, for example I use semi-synthetic 10W40 as I have some left after I changed oil in my car. You can use mineral or semi-synthetic oil with different indexes but I wouldn’t recommend to use synthetic oil (it is more expensive and it is thin -> short life)

I think that’s enough of facts. Now I would like to see your opinion.

  • Mike

    Way not use compressor oil.That is what I us in my big compressor when I change the oil.
    It is the piston type.

    • Hey Mike, Thanks for your question.

      Compressor oil is mineral oil. As I described, mineral oil is best while
      used in closed environment (in case of airbrushing it’s opened – full
      of oxygen, dust, humidity …). I’m not telling that compressor oil is not
      good to use for air compressor, but I would use semi-synthetic anyway because it is more
      resistant to this factors and it should last longer and perform better

  • Ray.

    I wondered how much oil would you add? 

    • For pancake type of compressor you will need about 250 – 350 ml of oil.
      If you pour to much oil, you will risk something called hydraulic hit.

      When into space above the piston comes more fluid that it
      can compress (fluids are almost not compress-able) it will destroy
      the whole piston system.

  • Peter


    Your statement that cfc – chlorofluorocarbon is equal to mineral oil is just wrong. Look up CFC on Wikipedia and you’ll see. In the pipe system of a fridge you will find freon (cfc) and oil. When you crack the pipe open the volatile CFC gas will evaporate into the atmosphere and do its harm. The oil will remain and is what you will see when you drain the system.

    The idea of using a fridge compressor is great. Just make sure that you get a compressor that has been professionally drained from environmentally harmful gasses.

    • Thanks Peter for bringing some lights into this topic. I’m not a chemist so I’m probably not the one to explain in details. I looked up for it on Wikipedia and added an update to this article.

      Thanks again

      • antish

        Hello sergej voronko, congratulation for your wonderful experiment. By the way i have a question for you; How should contain the CFC or the R 134a after cutting up in the compressor? in the article above says that it can cause a lot problems…etc Can you help me?

        • Hi Antish,
          I am not sure if I got your question right but here is my answer:
          CFC is poison for human… you can still use it but I just warned everyone to be careful with it. I would not use it for airbrushing anyway.

          • antish

            Yes of course, me too i will not use this! I’m sorry i’ve not been cleared so far, Well my question is; WHEN removing the CFC from the compressor, what are the precautions should i take? i know when cutting it with a pliers as you mentioned, the gas will evaporate in the atmosphere, but what should i do to prevent it from doing so! i would be grateful if you can help for that…thanks

          • Hi Antish, sorry for later response. Precautions… Well I used gloves and respirator just to be sure… You see, many airbrushists are not using respirator but they should! It is up to you how much you value your helth.
            Do it in open and good ventilated area. The other thing is not to dispose it into nature. Use some bottle with a lid to purr it into and close it. We have collection point for such things…

          • antish

            Can you further explain waht do you mean by: COLLECTION POINT please. Well thanks for you advice. Well i am doing my Final year project on this Compressor, can we communicate on skype, you can help when you are free! my skype: antish.nundun

          • Sorry Antish for later response but I am really busy. Collection Point is a place in your country where you can bring used (not needed) oil to get rid of it. If you don’t know where you have it I would ask in some car services which are taking care of oil change. they should be able to point you out where to go.. I don’t know if I find some time but if I do I will contact you via skype… if you can please write me a message via my contact page with all the details you need. If I get some minute I’ll try to answer all possible …..

          • Antish

            Hi Mr.Voronko, i need some answers regarding Fridge compressor! What is the output volume of pressure from a fridge compressor? and Where is it certified?? i mean what is the required operating pressure of a fridge compressor?

          • Hello Antish,

            It depends What kind of fridge compressor. Typical they are 100 – 300 watts and delivers around 0.7 – 1 CFM of air. About the pressure I’m not sure as I am not using that pressure directly but trough the tank as directly it is pulsing and that’s bad for airbrushing.

          • Hello Antish,

            It depends What kind of fridge compressor. Typical they are 100 – 300 watts and delivers around 0.7 – 1 CFM of air. About the pressure I’m not sure as I am not using that pressure directly but trough the tank as directly it is pulsing and that’s bad for airbrushing.