Can You Leave an Air Compressor On Its Side?

If you’re like us here at Renovation Dojo, you’ll likely want to transport your air compressor from place to place. And why not? Providing you look after it carefully, it’s likely to be one of the most useful tools in your garage. But can you leave an air compressor on its side – safely?

Yes – you can leave an air compressor on its side, but it needs to be empty – not just of water, but oil, too! In fact, we generally advise you stand and store your compressor as the manufacturer intends.

Given that air compressors can be sensitive pieces of equipment, it’s an excellent idea to learn more about how to store them correctly. There are a few scenarios where side-storing, for example, is perfectly fine. However, in others, it could do your unit some serious damage. Keep reading, and we’ll show you why – and how you can transport your compressor safely for the years to come.


What happens if I leave an air compressor on its side?

The problem lies with oil. Many air compressors build up oil at the bottom of their tanks through regular use. This is more the case when you are running a compressor that’s oil-lubricated.

If you leave your air compressor on its side for too long, and it is built to be stood-up, you run the risk of oil, grit, and other debris tipping and spilling into the inner workings of the unit.

For example, if that oil build-up is left to spill over into the check valve, you are at risk of the compressor breaking down in the long term. Once the oil dries, the valve will crust up.

Many people choose to buy oil-free air compressors for this very reason – however, there are pros and cons for oil-free and oil-lubricated systems.

Ultimately, you can avoid this problem altogether with your current compressor simply by storing it the right way up!

Laying a new compressor on its side

If you are taking an air compressor home for the first time, there will likely be no problems in you placing it on its side. The problems start arising when liquid and detritus builds in the bottom of the tank, and where there is a risk of that build-up spilling into the innards of the compressor.

When you first set up a new air compressor, we highly recommend setting it the right way up. Unless you have spatial issues in your workshop or garage, there should not be many reasons why you can’t follow the manual!

We highly recommend you follow what the manufacturer advises when you purchase an air compressor for the first time. This way, you can ensure that you are looking after it properly for years to come, ensuring greater longevity. You’re unlikely to risk storing other expensive items the wrong way around – why should your air compressor be any different?

Laying an oil-based air compressor on its side

Oil-lubricated air compressors pose some of the biggest hazards when it comes to storing the wrong way up. As mentioned above, the main concern is that oil in your sump will spill into other parts of the compressor, carrying grit and dirt with it.

Not only that, but dried oil will cause problems for the functionality of your compressor in the long term – so follow the manual at all costs!

If you absolutely have to store your air compressor on its side for a long time, make sure to empty it first. Even if you don’t intend to use it for some months, the last thing you will want is to come back to a machine that simply doesn’t do its job!

Laying older air compressors on the side

Laying older air compressors on the side is an even bigger problem – as these systems are likely to have built up all manner of gunk and detritus over the years, regardless of how often you use them.

Older air compressors, too, are more likely to malfunction and break down if stored improperly or not cared to as per your manufacturer’s instructions. Crucially, if you store your older compressor improperly, you’re on the highway towards having to buy a new replacement sooner rather than later.

Again, if you absolutely have to lay down an older air compressor – clean it out and make sure it’s empty! You may never know when you need it again.

Can you stand up a horizontal air compressor?

No – as with traditional vertical air compressors, you should avoid standing these units improperly. These compressors are largely no different to their vertical cousins, but they are just as sensitive when it comes to standing up the correct way.

Advice from experts suggests that storing horizontal air compressors vertically will, predictably, cause technical issues for time to come. Given that an air compressor is a large investment for many people, it’s important to make the most of your money.

Air compressor maintenance and why it’s important

While air compressors are invaluable for their sheer power and longevity, they do still require regular care. Whether that means standing them up the correct way, or making sure you empty your air compressor regularly, it’s crucial to keep in line with what your manufacturer recommends.

Maintenance of your air compressor doesn’t even have to be arduous or time-consuming. Much of the important TLC takes a few minutes here and there. However, it’s important that you take care of your compressor regularly – and that you offer it a gentle hand!

Here are a few key factors in air compressor maintenance beyond storing your units the right way up!

Keep your filters clean

Cleaner air filters mean less chance of your air compressor overheating. The longer you leave cleaning your air filters, the more chance your machine will have of overcooking itself and therefore breaking down. Make sure to blast some compressed air into your filters every few months for best practice. 

Vent cleaning, too, is also important. Of course, filter and vent setups will vary from system to system, so be sure to keep that manual handy.

If you’re using your compressor frequently, you may wish to increase the cleaning frequency, too. Here’s that golden rule again – check what your manufacturer has to advise!

Drain your tank

Draining your air compressor tank regularly means there’s less chance for moisture to build up. Moisture can cause serious problems for your compressor and any motors or tools you use alongside, so make sure to drain a couple of times a week. Pressure release is just as important.

Draining your tank means you will likely be safer to store your compressor on its side if you need to. However, as mentioned, we probably wouldn’t recommend it in the first place!

Keep checking over your compressor

Once you’ve got your air compressor upright, there are a few other regular checks you can perform to make sure it withstands the years you expect from it.

For example, always consider changing your oil, no matter how you store your unit. You should also be sure to tighten up the inner workings wherever possible. Ultimately, a good, regular maintenance schedule will ensure you get many years of air compression to come.


Can you leave an air compressor on its side? Probably – but we wouldn’t recommend it. That’s especially the case if you use an oil-based compressor, or an older unit. If your air compressor is completely empty, then there’s less risk of storage choices causing it any harm.

However, listen to your manufacturer! If you want a full, functional life for your air compressor, give it the care and attention it deserves. That goes for storing it correctly – rule number one!