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What Is the Difference Between Air Compressor Oil & Motor Oil?

Updated February 21, 2017

An air compressor is a versatile tool that can be used for inflating tires or running pneumatic tools. Most kinds of compressors require oil, but there are key differences between air-compressor oil and motor oil.

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Air Compressor Oil

Air-compressor oil is usually a synthetic oil that does not contain detergents commonly found in motor oil. Air-compressor oil is manufactured specifically for use in lubricating the ball bearings inside a compressor and is generally the recommended choice by manufacturers of air compressors. A synthetic oil also helps reduce carbon deposits within the compressor.

Motor Oil

Motor oil comes in organic and synthetic varieties and is used in vehicle engines to provide lubrication between metal parts. Unlike air-compressor oil, motor oil often contains additives that help protect engines by preventing the oil from deteriorating under high operating temperatures.


While it's possible to use a motor oil in some air compressors, it is not generally recommended that air-compressor oil be used in motor vehicles. Refer to owners manuals for the recommended oil types for each application.

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About the Author

Heath Robert has been a professional writer since 2001. Covering news, politics and local communities, he has worked for daily newspapers across Colorado, including the "Columbine Courier" and the "Colorado Statesman." Robert holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in journalism and political science.

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