Can You Lay an Air Compressor on Its Side? Types & Transporting Air Compressors

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Sometimes you have to move a compressor from place to place. They can be unwieldy if left upright. Can I lay my compressor down to move it is a question many people have about moving an air compressor from location to location? This article will provide you with all the relevant information for that question!

Table of Contents

Can You Lay an Air Compressor on Its Side?

Whether you can lay an air compressor on its side depends on whether it’s brand new or used, and whether it’s an oiled or oilless air compressor. As you may imagine, an “oiled” air compressor has oil to be considered when reorienting or laying down your air compressor. Compressors that have been used will have moisture build-up inside the tank, yet another fluid to consider when laying your compressor down!

Laying Down a New Compressor on Its side

If it is a new air compressor being transported home from the store for the first time, it typically can be laid down with no problem.

That same compressor, after being in use for some, may create maintenance problems if the compressor is laid down. Here’s why.

Can I Lay My Compressor Down Air Compressors
Oil lubed on the left – lubrication-free on the right Photo: Home Depot / Husky

If it is transporting a new air compressor that is what is being attempted, often, you can lay them down. The reason is that new air compressors rarely have lubricating compressor oil in them in the store. Instructions will often state that you add the air compressor oil before you start it up.

The new air compressor has been run little or not at all. No condensate will have built up in the tank, to slosh around and deposit ‘tank gunk’ in places it is not supposed to be, so if a new compressor is laid down, there should be no issues, providing it’s secure in the mode of transport not to slide and bounce around and break off a part or two.

Laying Down an Older Air Compressor on Its Side

After it’s been in use for some time, any air compressor will start to build up gunk in the bottom of the compressor tank. This gunk is made up of dirt particles that have bypassed or slipped through the air intake filter and have been driven into the tank along with the compressed air and the water that compressing air always generates.

Even if the tank is drained religiously (and really, do you actually drain the tank after every use like it is supposed to?!), some moisture remains in the compressor tank. This moisture mixes with the ingested dirt, creating a sludge.

If the compressor is laid down, the drain and accompanying sludge will migrate around inside the tank. If that sludge gets to your tank check valve – which is commonly located where the airline from the pump enters the compressor tank – it will foul it.

Symptoms of this happening can be a continuous air leak from the compressor unloader valve, or a buildup of back pressure that increases the load on the motor as the tank check valve itself becomes mired in this crud. If the compressor is left for some time, that crud will dry on the flapper or ball in the tank check valve, preventing it from moving and doing its job.

The increase in back pressure may overload the motor, and the motor may hum, overheat, turn off on thermal overload due to the air compressor reset switch… or the compressor may not start at all.

That same sludge can roll over the compressor tank drain too, possibly plugging it so that no air or water can escape the next time the tank is drained.

Laying Down an Oil-Lubricated Air Compressor on Its side

Portable air compressors can be purchased in an oil-lubricated or oil-free configuration.

In the oil lubed model of air compressor usually (but NOT always so check!) the compressor needs to have oil added to a sump when it has arrived at its destination. When the compressor is running that oil in the sump splashes up onto the crank and piston from underneath, lubricating the parts with oil as the compressor is running.

As an aside why is the oil used in most compressors specified to be detergent-free?

The reason is since there is no oil filter on the splash lubed air compressor, any debris in the oil must be allowed to sink to the bottom of the sump when the compressor stop. That crud is far enough down in the sump that it should not splash up onto the compressor parts while the compressor is running, and yet, can be drained away when the oil is changed.

Just like you normally would not turn the car engine upside down and allow dirty oil to flow into areas it was not supposed to go in the motor, laying an oil-lubricated compressor down with oil in the sump could allow the lubricating oil, and any crud that had settled, to flow into areas in the compressor it is not supposed to go, contaminating those areas with grit, etc.

If the compressor is oil lubed, and it is acquired new with no oil in the sump, you should be good with laying it down to transport it as long as it is well secured.

Laying Down an Oil-Free Air Compressor on Its side

If the compressor is an oil-free model, the compressor has “lube for life” from the factory, and it is not required to add oil and no splash lubrication of the compressor pump occurs while the compressor is running.

As long as there is NO water in the tank, and the compressor is well secured, then you can lay that compressor down.

Can I lay my compressor down to move it? Sure you can, just as long as you understand the ramifications and maintenance issues that may occur as a result.

For me, no way will I lay one down, regardless of being new, oil lubed, lube-free, or whatever. I don’t want to take the risk… I’ll tie it securely upright, for sure, even if I have to borrow a bigger truck.

Do you have a small air compressor? No way you should need to lay it down. Tie it upright and don’t worry.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can you lay a vertical air compressor on its side?

In reality, the orientation of the air tank on the air compressor doesn’t have any bearing on whether the compressor can be allowed to rest on its side. Whether it’s a vertical air tank or a more conventional horizontal air compressor tank – the more important question to answer is whether the compressor is an “Oiled” air compressor or an “Oilless” air compressor.


If you have any questions regarding laying down an air compressor, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

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Amazing write-up! I also think that you can lay down your compressor but only depend types of compressor.

I don’t understand the point to this article. It says you can lay an oil free compressor on its side to transport it, then he says no way would he do that. Um… Thanks?

It’s best to not tempt fate….

Thank you for this useful information. I have bought this Hyundai HY5508 low noise compressor with a small 8 litre tank.

It states that it is oil free.

But since it is a low noise variety, I wanted to know whether you thought this could be operated on its side. It doesn’t appear to be based on a refrigeration compressor but I am loathe to test it and damage it in the process. Of course, the drain will need to be at the lowest point. Thank you for any suggestions…

Corrected link to: Hyundai HY5508 low noise compressor.

Why? Regardless, You’re right about the drain. You’d probably have to set it upright to drain it.

It’s also possible the motor bearings wouldn’t be happy that way, unless you mean on its side with the motor on axis, which would probably be OK.
I’d use the question box on the site…

My new oil free upright 15 gall 1.5hp (maximum make) does not stand perfectly vertical, as seen by the naked eye, I think it’s just not to good a weld, should this make any difference to the operation? Thxz in advance for your reply.

Probably depends on how “off” it is. Also on what you mean by a “weld” being bad.

Why not attach a pic in a comment to this thread so we can all see? Thanks.

Ok, what’s the best way to send a picture? I’m kinda challenged as far as technology goes! Thxz B.

Click on reply to the thread. Look for the camera icon bottom right. Click it and select the photos. Hit enter and they should upload.

These are the pictures bill

I can see nothing in these photos to make me think that the compressor could not be used. It would appear to me as though the compressor had been dropped, possibly during shipment, and the wheel base has been bent.

Monitor use after breaking it in to be sure there are not leaks. If none, press on, as far as I’m concerned.

Hi Bill, thank you so much for your advice, the dealer called me back and said they have ordered another compressor as this one is just out the box, should arrive in a week to 10 days, I’ll let you know if it arrives in better shape, this is my first compressor (recently retired) I’m looking forward to working in the garage with it, I’ll be a regular reader of your column for advice & tips, love the column already! Bill.

For an oil-free, it really doesn’t make much difference if it’s vertical or not. With an oiled unit, it’s important.
But as Bill points out, it could be an indication of other problems.

Have fun…

Thxz Doug for your reply, the supplier is sending me a new one, I’ll see if it arrives with no lean! If it has a lean I’ll use it as suggested by Bill & you! Bill C.