Lubricating air and airsoft pistols

Lubrication is an essential part of maintenance if you want to keep your airsoft or air pistol reliable and accurate.  What to lubricate is pretty simple – if you follow the old engineering maxim of “if it rotates, oil it, if it slides, grease it” you won’t go far wrong.  The question of which oils and greases to use is more of a problem.  Some lubricants can actually damage air and airsoft pistols.  The purpose of this article is to answer common questions about which oils and greases you can safely use.  The advice provided here applies equally to both air and airsoft pistols.

Can I use firearm oils and greases on my air pistol?

Generally, no.  Petroleum based oils and greases (and that includes most proprietary oil and grease) degrade rubber and nitrile components.  Most firearm oil and grease is petroleum based, which isn’t an issue because real firearms don’t have any rubber or nitrile parts.  But air pistols include lots of seals and O rings which may be damaged if you use firearm lubricants on them.

Should I use silicone spray?

Yes, but mainly as a lubricant on seals and O rings.  Silicone based oils, usually in spray form, are widely available from airgun and airsoft suppliers.  Silicone based oil will not degrade O rings or seals and can be safely used on air pistols.  However, silicone oils don’t provide effective lubrication for moving metal or plastic parts.  This type of oil is best used for spraying on seals and O rings – it will lubricate and soften these components and improve sealing.

Which oil should I use?

Non-silicone lubricants such as WD-40 or 3 in 1 oil are petroleum based and shouldn’t be used on air pistols.

There are a number of proprietary oils in spray and liquid form produced specifically for use on air pistols.  The best known is probably Pellgunoil by Crosman.  This liquid oil is claimed to be safe for use on air pistols, but it’s fiendishly expensive and can be difficult to find.

crosman_pellgunoil

As an alternative, I have always used Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) to oil my air pistols.  ATF is formulated to be safe for use in automotive transmission systems, which include many O rings and seals.  I have never experienced any problems using ATF in air pistols, and it’s a good lubricant for rotating metal or plastic parts.

8140016_cst_079191001431_pri_larg

Oddly, ATF looks very similar to Pellgunoil, though it is much cheaper and can be bought at any car maintenance outlet.  Some people have even claimed that Pellgunoil is simply re-packaged ATF!  I find that decanting a little ATF into a small eyedropper bottle provides a useful source of pistol lubricant.  I have also found that soaking elderly seals and O rings overnight in a small pot of ATF has improved sealing greatly. Any brand of ATF can be used, as they are all forulated to be safe for use with rubber and nitrile parts.

Which grease should I use?

Silicone based grease can be safely used to lubricate sliding parts of an air pistol (such as a moving slide).  Avoid silicone greases sold for use in plumbing – these are often so thick that they can cause binding.  Any specialist air gun silicone grease should be suitable.

gun-greaseLithium and Teflon based greases are also safe for use on air pistols.  Though it’s worth noting that lithium grease is hygroscopic, i.e., it absorbs water.  Over time, this can cause lithium grease to thicken to the point where it can actually cause binding.  Worth considering if you use your pistol regularly outdoors or in a damp area.

Airgun and airsoft suppliers can provide lithium, Teflon and silicone based greases which are safe for use on air pistols.

Almost all greases that can be purchased at automotive stores will be petroleum based and are therefore not suitable for air pistols.

Even good old Vaseline (which I have seen used as an air pistol lubricant) is petroleum based and may degrade seals and O rings and should not be used.

Should I use power boosting oil?

POWER-L

Some oils, principally in spray form, are sold on the basis that they will improve the power of air pistols.  I have tried a couple of these on several different air and airsoft pistols.  Direct before and after shooting tests through my Chrony did not show a discernible improvement in fps in any case.  Who knows, these oils may work for you, and they certainly won’t harm your pistol.  But they didn’t make any measurable difference to my pistols and I suspect that there are more effective ways to spend your money if you want to improve power.

Summary

  • Use silicone spray to lubricate O rings and seals.
  • Use an oil designed for airgun use (or ATF) to lubricate rotating parts.
  • Use a silicone, lithium or Teflon based grease on parts such as moving slides.
  • Don’t use any petroleum based oil or grease on an air or airsoft pistol.

6 thoughts on “Lubricating air and airsoft pistols

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  3. Steve,
    I had come to the same conclusion regarding the similarities between Pellgun Oil and ATF. I believe Power Steering Fluid is a closer retated ‘lubricant’ to Pellgun Oil because ATF contains stabilizers that activate at high temperature to which automobile automatic transmissions are subjected to during operation. May not make any difference in the end…but I have opted for the Power Steering Fluid which is totally designed to maintain rubber or nitrile O rings and Seals found in the rack and pinion steering mechanism in almost all modern cars.
    You have done a great job in your reviews and I have enjoyed reading and learning from then prior to purchasing the Umarex airguns you have discussed,
    Thank you.

    • Thanks Richard,
      Interesting point about Power Steering Fluid. I haven’t tried it, but you’re right about it being designed to work with rubber and nitrile components, so it certainly won’t do any harm.
      Glad you’re enjoying the reviews.
      Steve

      • Hi Steve,
        thank you so much for your response. Wasn’t really expecting a reply so promptly.
        Anyway,,,yeah !, Power Steering Fluid is also red in color and pretty much the same viscosity as Pellgun Oil or ATF at 70 degrees Farenheit. I suspect that as temperatures rise above that point and beyond, ATF will actually thicken to ensure smooth operation. As it is today, I have taken to putting the Power Steering Fluid in the Pellgun Oil tube for practicality. Works for me.
        thanks again for your reviews and keep up the good work. It is much appreciated.
        Cheers!
        Richard

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