Oil-Free vs Oil-Lubricated Air Compressor – Which One Should You Get?

California Air Tools CAT-6310

Compressors come in a wide variety of different types and sizes. But when it comes to lubrication systems, compressors can be divided into three types namely, splash and pressure and oilless. In splash lubricating systems, there is no no pumped circulation. Oil is delivered to internal parts entirely by splash. Pressure lubrication uses an oil pump. This system delivers superior lubrication. Oil free or oilless systems use permanent lubrication. The pump is pre-lubricated.

Like most things in life, both oil free and oil filled design have their own advantages disadvantages. Generally, oil lubricated air compressors are more durable than units with oil free design. Pressure lubrication is the system of choice for heavy duty applications. You will want to use a stationary oil-lubricated compressor when dealing with high consumption air tools. Bur for applications around the home like inflating car tires, operating a nail gun or blowing away wood debris, a lightweight, oil-free compressor is an appropriate choice.

If you use a lot of air tools, you should invest in an oil-lubed model. Oil-lubricated compressors are generally heavier than equivalent oil-free models however. Oil-free compressors, though they cannot handle the pressure capability of its oil counterparts, are lighter in weight. They are ideal for clean environment situations. There is no trace of oil in the air produced. Another advantage of oil less is it starts easily in cold weather. Furthermore, the design allows the pump to be operated on uneven surfaces like a rooftop.

With an oil-lubricated compressor, oil must be monitored and changed according to schedule. As oil free air compressing systems utilize a teflon sleeve or coating in the compression chamber, they do not require any lubrication. They are maintenance free as far as lubrication is concerned. You will still need to service the air filter on a regular basis however. Oil free compressors do not provide zero risk of contamination (atmospheric dirt, microorganisms, etc). It is also important to drain the water from the storage tank that builds up over time.

In terms of durability, oil free air compressors are not meant to last as long as oil-lubricated units. As mentioned before, they are permanently lubed. But the performance gradually degrades over time. After some time they lose their factory lubrication. Oil free compressors are usually powered by a universal motor. Generally, universal motors do not last as long as induction motors. There are however compressors that feature an induction motor and oil-free pump. The California Air Tools Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free air compressors fall in this category. They come with an oil-free dual piston pump system.

When it comes to noise level, oil-lubricated air compressors are less noisy than oil-free ones. Of course this is not always the case. The California Air Tools CAT-6310, for instance, has been advertised to generate only 60 decibels, which is no louder than a normal conversation. The 4 pole induction motor operates at only 1680 RPM. Lower RPM means less vibration and less noise. This also translates to longer motor life. The Rolair JC10 is another oil-free model which is considered quiet by many people. It is powered by a 1725 RPM motor.

Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free Air Compressor Pumps & Motors Features

Whether or not to use an oil-free compressor depends on several factors. Oiled compressors are last longer and less noisy whereas non oil compressors are lighter and easy to move around. Of course, this is just general conclusion. There are always exceptions to every generalization. The CAT-6310, for example, has a life cycle of 3000+ hours and generates only 60 decibels of sound.

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