Is my air compressor lubricated for life?

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How do you know if my air compressor is lubricated for life? And, what does that mean, anyway. Lubricated for life of the compressor, for a certain period of time, forever… what?

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Lubricated for life. Really?

What this means is that when the compressor was manufactured, the components used in the pump either require no lubrication at all, or components were lubricated at the factory with a long lasting grease / lubricant or the parts are coated with a lubricant formula that lasts, and that reduces friction between moving parts long-term, helping to reduce wear, and to eliminate the need for the compressor user to check the level for, or add lubricating oil.

This page refers to smaller, home or small workshop type air compressors, not those used for industrial applications. Those favor the big suppliers, like Gardner Dever, Ingersoll Rand, Atlast Copco to name just a very few of the many. It was a lubricant specialist of ARO that said in an article that “lubrication is the life blood of the air compressor”. In other words, the big industrial compressors all use lubrication to help develop long life and reliability.

As it relates to the smaller air compressors we’re talking about. lubricated for life means the service life of the compressor, provided the compressor is operated according to the duty cycle recommended for that compressor. Over use a compressor, and all bets about “lifetime lube” go out the window.

Does my air compressor require lubrication added?

Look for an oil fill port, a sump, a sight glass on the side of the compressor, or a cap on a tube beside the pump. That cap is likely removeable, and is where the oil would be added for that compressor.

What’s a sight glass? This is:

Sight glass for compressor oil
Sight glass for compressor oil
Sight glass for compressor oil
Sight glass for compressor oil

For a double check, have you the compressor manual? It will certainly show whether or not that model of compressor needs oil to be added and monitored.

Compressors that require oil to be added when new, or oil to be added by the operator over time, and not considered “lubed for life”.

Compressors with sub-fractional electric motors or small pumps.

It’s a pretty good bet that if the compressor has a pump like the shown following, it’s what is considered factory lubed, and the owner will not need to monitor or add oil.

Lube-free air compressor pump
Small compressor, lube-free air compressor pump

You can see, the compressor motor and pump just above has no oil sump, no place to add oil, and if used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, will provide reasonably long life with no additional lubrication to be added.

By Ashley Pearce

As a passionate manufacturing and mechanical engineer, I've had my fair share of run ins with air compressors and compressed air systems. With over a decade of experience in the industry, I have both a fresh perspective and time-served hands and mind to help you with your compressor problems (along with our able community!)

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