Maximize Air Compressor Performance With Air Tool Maintenance

January 16, 2024

Air compressors power many commercial and DIY tasks, helping workers finish jobs quickly and efficiently. However, many overlook air tool maintenance, which is crucial to the compressor’s longevity and lifespan. Read on to find out why maintaining your air tools is a great practice that is essential for optimal air compressor performance.

Air Tool Impact On Compressor Performance

Air compressors operate at their best with consistent airflow and pressure. Dirty or damaged air tools put additional strain on air compressors, leading to inefficiencies and potential breakdowns. The air compressor has to work harder, demanding more from the engine and other components, and still might fail to produce enough air for the task.

Keep in mind that many broken tools take time to deteriorate. Instead of breaking instantly, air tools can wear down over time until they eventually reach a point of failure. In the meantime, the tools become less efficient and can leak air, requiring more air than a functioning tool to complete the same task.

Fortunately, regular preventative maintenance of air tools can help keep the tools and air compressor in prime condition.

Water Vapor & Air Tool Degradation

One of the biggest threats to air tools is moisture from water vapor. You likely know this water vapor as humidity, which is always present in the air around us. When air is compressed, the moisture in that air concentrates with each cubic foot drawn in.

Meanwhile, compressed air is extremely hot, allowing this concentrated moisture to remain in vapor form—until it cools. The air starts to rapidly cool just after it leaves the compressor and drops significantly in temperature by the time it reaches the air tool. During this cooling process, the moisture condenses into liquid water.

Water is the number one cause of deterioration and failure in commercial and contractor air tools and related equipment. Some air compressor systems include equipment to minimize moisture. However, even compressor systems with after-treatment solutions cannot entirely eliminate water. Because water vapor is always present in compressed air, moisture control is always needed.

A Warning About Higher Inlet Temperatures

It is important to note that running air tools with higher air temperatures to avoid this buildup of liquid moisture is also detrimental to air tool operation. High-temperature air dries the lubricant in the tool, leading to surface-to-surface contact and deteriorating gaskets and o-rings. It also can have harmful effects on other components.

Maintenance Tips For Air Tools

Air tools are built with an intricate system of gears, rotors, pistons, o-rings, and so forth. While these tools are built to withstand working conditions, they still need regular maintenance and care.

During the air compression process, moisture is produced. This moisture mixes with the oil already in the tool and becomes an emulsion, a very poor lubricant. The emulsion can cause metal-to-metal impacts inside the tool and binding of pistons, which generates additional heat and results in premature wear and tear and loss of performance.

Meanwhile, residual moisture contained in an air tool left on a workbench at the end of the workday can result in rust forming on the internal metal components in as little time as overnight.

Fortunately, simple maintenance can help prevent these issues.

Regular Cleaning

It’s common for dust, debris, and oil to accumulate in air tools due to their demanding work environments. But these contaminants can cause clogs and performance issues, so it’s important to clean your air tools regularly. Wipe them down after every job and make time for a thorough servicing at least once per year.


Air tools need lubrication to operate properly, just like air compressors, as lubrication keeps tools running smoothly and reduces the risk of rust and wear. Make a habit of adding a couple of drops of pneumatic tool oil into the tools after every day of use to keep them in tip-top condition. Just be careful not to over-lubricate!


Regularly inspect your tools for signs of wear and tear, giving extra attention to hoses and seals. Replace these parts as soon as they start to break down to prevent air leaks, maintain optimal pressure, and minimize damage to the air tool and compressor.

Dry Storage

Finally, store your air tools in a clean, dry environment, like a waterproof compartment in your work truck. Proper storage is critical to prevent rust and corrosion, which can quickly damage an otherwise excellent tool.

Additional Tips To Increase Air Tool Lifespan

  1. Run air tools at their rated pressure. The recommended air pressure for most air tools is 90 to 100 psi. Running air tools higher than the recommended air pressure can cause deterioration of the internal components and, in some applications, lead to dangerous accidents to the operator. Ruptured air hoses or couplings can injure the operator or others nearby.
  1. Filter/Regulator/Lubricators (FRL)are very important for each tool. The filter prevents dirt and dust from getting into the tool. The regulator maintains the operating air pressure within the recommended psi rating, and the lubricator keeps the tool lubricated, helping it last longer. Only use lubricants recommended by the manufacturer. Excessive hose lengths between the FRL and the tool will result in the lubricant, delivered in an aerosol form at the discharge of the FRL, entering the tool as a liquid, and this liquid oil can damage the air tool. The air tool supplier should specify the maximum hose length between the FRL and the tool.
  1. Only use an air hose that is rated for compressed air use. Underrated hoses can crack, break and whip around, resulting in injuries or other damage.
  1. Consult your compressor supplier for recommendations on after-treatment equipment.

Air tool maintenance isn’t just about the tools themselves; it also protects the air compressor and operator. A small commitment to proper tool maintenance will improve energy efficiency, extend the lifespan of your tools and compressor, ensure consistent air output, and improve safety. By investing time in regular tool maintenance, you are ensuring the quality of your work and protecting your investment in the entire air system.