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Air Compressor Maintenance: Why It Matters

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Air compressor maintenance is important whether you’re using a convenient and portable oil free unit, or even a larger high CFM oil lubricated air compressor.

Maintenance will ensure that your compressor is able to last, and also that it performs to your expectations. Simple maintenance can be carried out, even if you have little or no prior experience.

If you’ve just purchased a new air compressor, or if you’re still choosing the best one to buy, knowing all about maintenance will make sure you get the most out of any unit.

Consider all of the elements that make up your air compressor. If one were to fail, it could reduce the performance of your air compressor, cause a failure, or even make your air compressor unsafe.

Air compressor preventative maintenance will mean that you can discover issues before they become expensive problems, while also prolonging the life of all components on your unit.

Let’s start with these air compressor maintenance tips…

Your Basic Air Compressor Maintenance Checklist

From air filters to drain valves, this is your basic checklist for your air compressor maintenance plan.

  • Air Filter – The air you compress comes from all around you. Ensuring your air filter is clean means that the motor (and oil in some compressors) stays clean and efficient. Most air filters are washable, otherwise insist on factory replacement parts.
  • Oil Levels – Regularly change your air compressor oil when it becomes dirty or is running low. Oil is essential for sealing the motor, lubricating it, and cooling the compressed air. (View our full article on oil based air compressors.)
  • Check for Leaks – Leaking can indicate parts failures or bad seals. Check for leaks by mixing dish detergent with water, and lightly applying it to all seals and connections. While running the compressor, watch for bubbles being formed, which will indicate leaks.
  • Drain Valves/Air Tank – As air is compressed, it is rapidly heated and cooled. This can cause condensation to build in the air tank. Make sure you drain your compressor regularly, and clear the drain valve of any debris buildup.
  • Keep Your Compressor Clean – Dust is the enemy of any electronic or mechanical device. Your air compressor is no different. You can easily clean the compressor from an air gun. Ensure there is no dust build up on any of the components, and cover the compressor when not in use.

Here’s a short video that will help you start on the right foot about what checks should regularly make

The Most Common Air Compressor Maintenance Procedures

Air Compressor Break-In

Before using a compressor for the first time, be sure to break it in.

  1. Open the drain valve, plug the compressor into a power source, and turn it on.
  2. Run the compressor for 25 minutes. Pressure will not build in the tank.
  3. Close the drain valve, allowing pressure to build to maximum, following which the motor will shut off.
  4. The compressor is now broken in. Start using it right away, or drain the tank and store it for later use.

Draining an Air Tank

Draining the tank after use will prevent corrosion inside the tank, and will protect seals from damage. Never keep a compressor stored with air in the tank.

  1. It is a good idea to wear work gloves while draining your compressor.
  2. Locate the drain valve at the bottom of the compressor tank. Turn it counter clockwise to open the valve. Make sure it is completely open.
  3. You will hear air escaping from the tank, gripping the compressor handle safely, tilt the compressor towards the drain valve.
  4. Along with the air you will notice water and possibly oil debris exiting the tank.
  5. Wait until the water has stopped, and the tank gauge reads empty.
  6. Close the valve and store the compressor for later use.

Changing Air Compressor Oil

Changing the oil is simple and will only take a few minutes. These instructions may vary depending on your unit, so always consult your owner’s manual first.

  1. Ensure you have the correct oil for your climate, as specified by the manufacturer. (See our article here on air compressor oil).
  2. Check the oil sight gauge or dipstick to confirm that the oil is depleted or discolored.
  3. Locate the oil drain valve. Place a collection pan under the compressor and open the valve. Leave it open until oil stops dripping, and then close the valve.
  4. Take your air compressor oil and fill the tank up to the line on the oil sight gauge, or measure out the oil to the manufacturer’s specification. Many air compressor oils come with a nozzle attachment on the bottle. If yours does not, use a small funnel to prevent spillage.
  5. Confirm oil levels by checking the sight gauge, or using your oil dip stick. Top up the oil again if necessary.
  6. After closing the oil fill cap, make sure that there is no residue on the compressor.

How Often Should Maintenance Be Performed?

Your air compressor maintenance schedule depends on how often you use the compressor, so it is a good idea to keep a logbook, or simply schedule your maintenance to be every 3 – 4 weeks if you’re using your compressor regularly.

Cleaning your compressor is something you will need to do after every use, as is draining the tank. When it comes to checking for leaks and cleaning the air filter, these steps could be spaced out longer.

Oil should be changed between 500 – 1000 working hours, but a better way to monitor your oil levels and quality is to use the sight indicator or dipstick on your compressor.

The important thing is that you adhere to a regular maintenance plan with your compressor. All maintenance is preventative maintenance, and this means that any maintenance work you put in will help to make sure you can use your air compressor in the years to come.

Remember to always read your owner’s manual for specific information and maintenance guidelines.

If you are looking for a new air compressor to buy, make sure your check out our comprehensive air compressor reviews with our top recommendations.

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