5 BEST Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitutes: Vegetable Oil, Motor Oil, Hydraulic Fluid…

| | , , ,

What is the best bar and chain oil substitute?

No doubt you’ve heard about people using alternative bar oils like canola or motor oil, but are they good for your chainsaw? What are the long-term consequences of using them?

While I personally only use a regular bar and chain oil, I’ve thoroughly researched the topic and want to share both sides of the argument. Vegetable oil, motor oil, or hydraulic oil can be used, and they make great alternatives if you need one, but there are a few things to consider before you get started.

Alternative Chainsaw Bar Oils

best bar oil alternatives
I use regular oil in my Stihl 011 AV

If you are caught short without any bar and chain oil, any of the oils listed here are suitable as a temporary alternative. It is better to use one of these lubrication substitutes than to use a chainsaw without any at all.

What can I use for chainsaw bar oil?

  • Vegetable oil – canola is best
  • Motor oil – unused is best
  • Hydraulic oil – unused is best

Thousands of people use these alternative oils for the entire life of their chainsaws and only have positive things to say about them. It’s unlikely to harm your chainsaw and these oils will get you through the day.

They can be used in gas chainsaws, battery chainsaws, and electric chainsaws – that doesn’t change anything.

There are reports that if you use a substitute oil all the time, your bars and chains will need to be replaced more frequently, but using one temporarily won’t cause this.

The following 5 oils are the most common substitutes for regular bar and chain oil.

While I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, please make sure you do your own research. A lot of this information is anecdotal and comes from chainsaw forums and Facebook groups.

In my experience, the most useful info comes from these groups, but it doesn’t always line up with chainsaw manufacturer guidance!

1. Canola Oil

It doesn't matter if you have a battery or gas saw - they use the same oils

Canola oil is a vegetable oil and it’s one of the most popular alternative chainsaw bar oils. For interest’s sake, it’s made from the seed of the rapeseed plant – a yellow flowering member of the cabbage family.

The reason it’s one of the most used bar oil substitutes is that it’s on hand in most households and it’s cheap all over the world. In some locations, it is more than 75% cheaper than real chain oil.

Canola oil is slightly thinner than regular chain and bar oil and some people swear by it for use in freezing temperatures.

Reiner said in a FB comment thread:

We used it steady all winter in Canada for a fall and burn contract lots of bucking in -20 to -40 never a problem pours well even at very low temps. We would add bar oil to it for the tackifiers but it really didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Didnt blow any more tips or wear bars more than normal.

Raymon said:

I used a gallon last week through my Stihl 461 with 28″ Sugihara light bar and it worked perfect even at well below freezing temperatures.

Josh said:

I use it all the time on an 044 while working on docks over water. Works great!!

And Craig said:

Needed to run canola oil for an environmental area at work next to some wetlands and its cheaper than Stihl Enviromental Grade oil.

Canola oil pros (from those who use it):

  • It keeps the bar and chain cleaner
  • They can find it cheaper than regular oil
  • Friendly on the environment – better for plants and animals
  • Doesn’t smell as bad and flows more easily
  • Has a lower freezing point and pours well at low temperatures
  • The chain stretches less as a result of using canola oil
  • It doesn’t contaminate clothing as badly as other oils

Canola oil cons:

  • Oil is not as tacky you will use a greater volume
  • Can’t leave it sitting in the tank without use as long
  • It’s possible to void your warranty
  • Vegetables can attract rodents
  • Canola oil can go bad/spoil

And while it might be a suitable alternative for homeowner-level chainsaws, it’s much less so for professional or logging chainsaws.

Also, if you are going to leave your chainsaw without use for a longer period, it is recommended to run one or two loads of “real” chain bar oil through it beforehand. This will stop the canola oil from going bad in the tubing.

Do not leave canola oil sitting in the tank if the saw is going to go unused for some time.

2. Vegetable Oil

can uses fake bar oils damage your chainsaw
Stick to real bar and chain oil in your pro saws for warranty purposes

Other vegetable oils besides canola can also be substituted for bar and chain oil.

The pros and cons of using alternative vegetable oils are the same as with canola, so I won’t rehash them here. However, keep in mind that every oil has a different viscosity and so will act slightly differently in your chainsaw.

Other vegetable oils most commonly used in chainsaws:

  • Soybean oil – thicker than canola
  • Olive oil – thicker than canola but not good at low temperatures
  • Sunflower oil – thinner than regular chain oil

Those who use these oils have little concern about wear, tear, or damage to their saws and are happy to use them full-time. There are even some applications where it could be better than real bar oil. Chainsaw carvers, for example, sometimes prefer vegetable oil because it doesn’t make as much mess.

One commenter on the topic said:

I’ve been using vegetable oil on my short bars for 8 years and have no complaints. I started because the gloopy chain oil was making a mess of my chainsaw carvings, but the veg oil didn’t show up.

I also use a lot of wood offcuts and shaving for smoking meat and fish and don’t want them tasting of bar and chain oil. So vegetable oil is the best option for me sometimes.

And someone else said:

I recycle my turkey fryer oil (after running it through a sos pad filter) and use it in the winter months when temps dip below 10 degrees, seems to work just fine!

Some say that bars and chains don’t last as long, but one extra bar and chain for a decade’s chainsaw use isn’t a huge deal.

The other instance where people will use vegetable oil as a substitute is when carving up an animal like a moose or stag. Motor oil or regular oil would not be suitable in this case.

Here are some of those comments:

  • Canola oil when splitting deer/cow/elk halves. I also have a dedicated electric chainsaw for that use only as well.
  • Works well for ripping beef or elk.
  • I use peanut oil in my MS180 when working on animals

Some also use chainsaws to divide up hay bales and other animal feed products. It’s always better to use biodegradable and edible oil for these tasks.

Finally, some use used-canola oil! Perhaps they live next to a restaurant with a fryer?

This type of oil would need to be highly filtered first. It might be one way to get free bar and chain oil, but it’s not recommended!

3. Motor Oil

different things to use for bar oil
Most alternative bar oils are runnier than the real thing

After vegetable oils, motor oil is the next most commonly used chain and bar oil substitute.

This chain and bar oil substitute causes a little more controversy in the forums and Facebook Groups.

Some have been using it forever and wouldn’t change it for anything, and those who think it’s the most ridiculous idea out there. That’s before getting into the debate of whether or not to use used motor oil as chain and bar oil (link to the full article on the topic)!

What type of motor oil is commonly used?

  • SAE30
  • SAE20
  • SAE10

The main pros of using motor oil are that it is cheaper and may keep your saw blade cleaner. The cons are that it isn’t as tacky, will likely void your warranty, and may cause faster bar and chain wear.

Here is a response to a guy who said he uses engine oil for his bar and chain

Grant said:

It will cause premature pup failure along with bar and chain drive link wear. It’s harder than bar oil and wears everything out.

The next is about using used motor oil which comes with plenty of passion. This guy said:

OMG: We change engine oil because it’s contaminated by the hydrocarbons that blow past the rings, NOT because it’s worn out. Oil doesn’t “wear out”.

If you want to pour the same contaminants in your chainsaw chain lubricating system, which damages your automotive engines oil pump, lifters, timing gears, and chainsaws, that you just removed from your precious automotive engine, then by all means knock yourself out.

It is the refining process that you pay for when you buy any kind of lubricating products. Unless you own a mini refinery, don’t use used oil. DUH!

Lastly, some anecdotal evidence is that using motor oil as an alternative can cause faster bar and chain wear.

A commenter said:

We were required to use motor oil as the boss said it was cheaper. We burned up bars and chains constantly. Bar oil is formulated to stick to the chain and bar and stay thick while motor oil gets thinner. 

Premium Stihl bar oil breaks down in the environment after 2 or 3 months unlike motor oil that stays for an extended time.

Used motor oil contains tiny bits of metal that will certainly cause bars and chains to wear out faster. However, the question is always how much faster?

When spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a chainsaw, do you want to risk it for a few dollars?

4. Hydraulic Fluid

cheap bar and chain oil substitutes
Authentic bar and chain oil can be very cheap

Hydraulic fluid is another alternative but it doesn’t get the same number of mentions in the chainsaw community.

It’s common for those who have farm equipment to use used-hydraulic fluid that has been filtered. It’s worth testing out if you have an abundance of it around your home or farm.

As with motor and vegetable oils, it doesn’t contain a tackifier so less of it will make it around the bar and chain. This is what can cause the bar tips and chain to wear out faster.

As usual, some would not take the risk of damaging their chainsaws. One guy said:

Hydraulic fluid is not oil, it’s a fluid and doesn’t have the same lubrication properties as oil. I wouldn’t use it in any of my saws.

In high temperatures, it will become very sticky and hard to clean off. Bar and chain oil is so cheap why take chances?

I wouldn’t hesitate to use clean or filtered hydraulic fluid as a substitute in a bind but would avoid using it as a permanent bar and chain oil solution.

5. Transmission Fluid

Bar oils spills
Some bar oils (or alternatives) might be easier to clean up!

Transmission fluid, or ATF, is another product that can be used as an alternative bar and chain oil for chainsaws.

It’s nowhere near as tacky as the real stuff – it’s much runnier, so it’s not a good solution full-time.

It can be mixed with regular chain oil which can help it last a bit longer, but as it is, you could be filling up your chain oil each time you fill up the gas. Usually, you’d fill up the bar oil every 2 tanks of gas.

One of the other downsides of transmission fluid and some other substitute oils is that it’s not great for the environment or your lungs.

Your saw will throw off large volumes of this oil which will inevitably end up all over the place – best to only use it if you need to get rid of it or you’ve run out of regular.

Here are some comments from those who use it:

  • New ATF for 20 years with no problems. Heavy homeowner use.
  • I use it on and off. It smells exactly the same as bar oil and has the same consistency.
  • I’ve used everything from canola oil to used car oil. Currently running contaminated transmission oil, gave up buying it 20 years ago and never looked back.

And Tony said:

I use whatever I have left over. Lately I been using used Hydro oil from my Kubota that still looks new. I have used motor oil, ATF etc. I mean it is a total loss oil system, it is not like it needs to have special properties. Lighter oils will sling off but once in the wood any oil will get sucked up by the saw dust. Most oiling issues are from not enough oil.

Biodegradable Chain And Bar Oil

chainsaw bar oil alternatives


The final bar oil substitute I have to share with you is the purpose-made biodegradable oil for chainsaws.

This is a bit more legit than some of the other options – at least, it’s designed for use in chainsaw lubricating systems.

This alternative to conventional bar oil is:

  • High-quality, filtered, and refined
  • Tacky, but flows well
  • Usually vegetable-based

These oils are easy to pour, work well in a range of temperatures, and are less likely to negatively affect your bar, chain, and oil pump. Many chainsaw and lubricant manufacturers supply these types of oil.

Some of the most popular brands include:

  • Stahls Bio Plus Chain Lubricant
  • Husqvarna X-Guard Biodegradable Bar & Chain Oil
  • Renewable Lubricants Bio-Pro Chainsaw Oil

Check out the best-selling environmentally-friendly bar and chain oils on Amazon here.

Oregon takes the number one spot for those who want to keep it traditional and not use alternative oils. It’s available in 1-quart or 1-gallon containers and is designed for use with all brands of chainsaws. It has a premium oil base that is fortified with high-performance additives.

If you were wanting to avoid putting more oil out in the environment, one of the best alternatives is a biodegradable bar and chain oil. These products break down quickly and cause less harm in the outside world.

Why Use A Substitute Bar And Chain Oil?

bar oil for mini chainsaws
Even some mini chainsaws have little bar oil tanks

Heavy users of chainsaws, from professional arborists and tree fellers to those with a firewood side gig, are split on whether or not to use alternative bar oils.

Those who do, swear by it, and those who don’t can have a visceral reaction to the very idea of using something out of the ordinary.

There are two main reasons why people choose to use alternative bar oils:

  1. They are usually cheaper
  2. They may be better for the environment

The price factor will depend on where in the world you live.

In some countries or states, chain bar oil is not expensive at all. It’s comparable in price to alternative oils. If this is the case where you live, it makes better sense to simply use real chain bar oil.

However, in other parts of the world, there is the opportunity to make significant savings. In this case, you would need to weigh up the other pros and cons of using substitute chain and bar oils.

The environmental factor is important to many.

All of the oil you put into the bar and chain chamber goes out into the environment.

Small particles are spread through the air, in the sawdust, on the wood, and expelled in whatever direction your saw is pointed.

Regular bar and chain oil isn’t biodegradable and contaminates the environment. It’s not great to breathe in or get on your skin either.

There are biodegradable bar oils designed for chainsaws, and these are an alternative that I’m listing below. They are very good alternative to petroleum-based chainsaw oils.

Vegetable oil is also far better for the environment compared to motor oil or hydraulic oil. However, it’s usually not tacky enough and you’ll end up running through a lot more in volume compared to regular oil.

Bar Oil Alternatives May Void Warranty


Repairs made necessary by normal wear, improper maintenance, improper lubrication, improper storage, dirt, abrasives, impact, moisture, water, water mineral deposits, rain, snow, freezing, rust, corrosion, varnish, stale fuel, gasoline additives, fuel deposits, carbon deposits, oil deposits or other similar conditions.

Repairs made necessary due to improper oil mix ratios or the use of oils and other lubricants not specified in the product’s instruction manual.

Any failure caused by lubricants not supplied or recommended by STIHL

It is important to state that using anything other than the manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil may void any warranties or service claims.

For example, the Stihl warranty policy (pictured above) does not cover:

  • Repairs made necessary by improper maintenance, lubrication, or oil deposits
  • Any failure caused by lubricants not supplied or recommended by Stihl
  • Repairs made necessary due to improper oil mix rations or the use of oils and other lubricants not specified in the product’s instruction manual

You can see the limited warranty typical to all their saws here.

It’s more than likely that other chainsaw brands, like Husqvarna, EGO, or Makita, for example, have similar warranty exclusions.

While it is unlikely anyone would know if you have used an alternative oil once or twice when you’ve run short, regular use will be obvious to those who know what to look for.

Chainsaw Bar Oil Alternative

bar and chain oil substitute
STIHL has a range of biodegradable bar oils

In a pinch, the best bar and chain oil substitute is a suitable vegetable or motor oil.

Whether or not you choose to use alternative oils all of the time is up to you. A lot of people do so you will certainly not be alone. If you have a cheap source of substitute oils, it might make the most sense in your case.

The reasons I choose to use regular chainsaw bar oil in my machines are:

  • It’s not much more expensive in my location
  • I want to use my chainsaw according to the manufacturer’s specifications
  • I want to use the best possible products to prolong the life and effectiveness of my chainsaw
  • For peace of mind

The environmental factor is something I’m mindful of, especially when working around my property where we have a lot of grazing animals that are likely to consume the oil.

Biodegradable chain bar oil is something I’m going to test out and likely end up using all the time.

Finally, here are some types of oil you should not use as a chain and bar oil substitute:

  • Blood, sweat, and tears
  • KY Jelly
  • Diesel or gas

And nor would I do what the following mad lad suggests:

bar and chain oil substitutes

What have your experiences been with alternative chain and bar oils?

Let us know in the comments below!

I’ve been testing out quite a few mini chainsaws, like this Denqir Mini Chainsaw, which require less chain oil – they’re a lot of fun too!


10 BEST Chainsaws For Women: Small, Lightweight, Quiet Chainsaw Ideas

Husqvarna 359 Chainsaw Review: Should You Buy It Second Hand?


11 thoughts on “5 BEST Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitutes: Vegetable Oil, Motor Oil, Hydraulic Fluid…”

  1. My old boss got us to use used engine oil. Seemed to run alright but he’s the one who was looking after maintenence on the saws. Not sure if we went through more than usual bars or chains.

    • People who track and compare the use of regular oil with substitute oils say they use an extra bar over the course of the life of the chainsaw, and maybe a few more chains. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference though.

  2. The real stuff is so cheap already, why mess around with less-than-ideal substitutes? I get mine from Tractor Supply and it’s great.

  3. Interesting! I’ll stick with regular oils rather than these substitutes, but it’s good to know if I’m ever in a bind. Would probably go with canola oil as that’s usually on hand. Is it all good to switch between regular and an alternative?

    • It’s best to stick with one type of bar and chain oil, but nothing wrong with testing a few alternatives out (if you’re ok about possibly voiding the warranty)!

  4. I run four older husqvarna saws from a 51 to a 3290 and the oldest Is 26 years old, run real bar oil unless near a water source then the new bio stuff works ok. If you going to drop 500 to 1500 on a saw spend the 15 on a gallon of real bar oil, nobody is trying to sell you on a gas substitute because there isn’t one, just as there shouldn’t be a bar oil substitute. Thanks

  5. Thanks for the report. I have a Dolmar 7910 and have used both canola and vegetable (soybean) oils. Can’t say which I used more. But after my saw sat for a few months I went to go use it to discover the chain brake was completely seized up with rubber-like residue from the oils. I recently had a closer look around the clutch and thick earwax looking deposits were everywhere. It was horrible. I don’t know if all saws introduce chain oil around the clutch and chain brake like mine. I had a guy tell me he ran canola for years in Stihl saws with no issues so maybe soybean was a mistake. I’m switching to only canola and will see what happens. Worst case I will go with a vegetable based bar and chain.


Leave a Comment