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Oil free vs. Oil compressors – which is better?

There are some environments where air purity is critical, and any oil contamination within the air can cause the final product to spoil or can damage the production equipment in use. Usually specified with safety in mind, oil free compressors offer a safe solution for either manufacturing personnel or the end user where air purity is critical. We take a look at oil free vs oil compressors to see how they each stack up.

What is an oil free compressor?

Oil free compressors have been developed for use in applications where oil within the compressed air would be unacceptable. An oil free compressor is not completely free of oil, rather there is no oil in the compression chamber and the components that require oil for lubrication such as bearings and gears are isolated from the compression chamber itself, keeping the resultant compressed air 100% free of oil contaminants.

Whereas an oil-lubricated compressor would usually use oil for cooling purposes, in a rotary screw oil free compressor there is usually an air cooler after each stage of the process. Some oil free compressors use injected water to remove the heat created by the compression process.

Why not always opt for an oil-free compressor?

As with all things, there is not one solution to fit every scenario perfectly. Oil free compressors have distinct advantages in some environments, but are not necessarily the best solution for every business and every application. We’ve set out the advantages below of both oil free compressors and oil lubricated compressors:

Advantages of oil free compressors:

  • Non-contaminated air. Given that this is the key reason for their existence, this must be included. Industries such as food processing, electronics and pharmaceuticals are common users of the oil free compressor. Filters can be used as a solution to creating oil free air, but most processing businesses that need oil free compressed air choose to go with oil free compressors.
  • Low-cost. Simpler in design than oil lubricated compressors and with fewer parts, this generally makes oil free compressors less expensive to produce.
  • Lower maintenance demand. As there are fewer moving parts and less oil to change, there is a lower chance of problems arising and needing to be fixed as well as less time to be dedicated to servicing and maintenance.

Advantages of oil lubricated compressors:

  • Longer life span. Oil lubricated compressors are more durable and are well suited to industrial environments and long working hours. Whereas many oil free compressors can only cope with low usage levels and will need to be replaced more often.
  • Lower noise levels. The lubrication in oil compressors means that they produce far less noise, which is often a point of concern in industrial manufacturing environments.
  • Less heat production. The oil helps to remove heat from the process of compression in oil lubricated compressors, meaning that they produce less heat during operation, helping to maintain a more consistent processing environment.

It is clear, then, that when it comes to the question of oil free compressor vs oil compressor, there is not a straightforward answer that suits every situation. The application is the most critical factor in terms of safety and hygiene for those who opt for an oil free compressor solution, but where life span and operating conditions are paramount, it may be that the oil lubricated compressor makes more economic sense overall and is more suited to the industrial application in question. If you would like to find out more about Glaston’s oil free compressors, call us now on 01695 51010 or email us on

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