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Best Air Compressors of 2023

We've found and reviewed all of the the best air compressors currently on the market.

Before you start searching for the best air compressor, you should consider what you want the air compressor to do. Some compressors suit heavy-duty tasks, while others have a more specific role.

If you want to know more about the best air compressors, read on. After thorough research, we have selected our top 10 favorites to help you decide.

Our Top Picks

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Product Comparison Table

Product Image of the VIAIR 400P - 40045, Automatic Function Portable Compressor Kit, Tire Pump, Truck/SUV Tire Inflator, Silver, For up to 35 Inch Tires
Best 12V Air Compressor
Viair Portable Air Compressor
  • Portable & lightweight
  • Max pressure of 150 PSI
  • Includes 25 ft extension cable
Product Image of the NorthStar Portable Gas Powered Air Compressor - Honda GX390 OHV Engine, 30-Gallon Horizontal Tank, 24.4 CFM at 90 PSI
Best Gas Powered Air Compressor
NorthStar 30-Gallon Air Compressor
  • 12 horsepower motor
  • Robust cast iron construction
  • 244 CFM airflow
Product Image of the CRAFTSMAN Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free with 13 Piece Accessory Kit (CMEC6150K)
Best Small Air Compressor
Craftsman Oil-Free Air Compressor
  • High customer satisfaction rating
  • Easy maintenance
  • Comes with 13 accessory kit
Product Image of the Makita MAC2400 2.5 HP* Big Bore™ Air Compressor
Best Portable Air Compressor
Makita Big BoreAir Compressor
  • 2.5 HP 4-pole motor
  • Cast iron pump
  • Impressive 4.2 CFM airflow
Product Image of the BOSTITCH Pancake Air Compressor, Oil-Free, 6 Gallon, 150 PSI (BTFP02012)
Best Shop Air Compressor
Bostitch Oil-Free Air Compressor
  • Lightweight 31-lb design
  • Cold start motor
  • High-flow pressure regulator
Product Image of the Metabo HPT Air Compressor | THE TANK™ | 200 PSI | 6 Gallon | Pancake | EC914S
Best Pancake Air Compressor
Metabo HPT Air Compressor
  • 22% lighter
  • Oil-free pump
  • More air flow
Product Image of the PORTER-CABLE Air Compressor, 6-Gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free (C2002)
Best for Painting
Porter-Cable Air Compressor
  • 120-volt motor
  • Max 150 PSI
  • Auto thermal overload protection
Product Image of the Ingersoll Rand P1.5IU-A9 2hp 20 gal Single-Stage Compressor (115/1)
Best for Home Garages
Ingersoll Rand Single Stage Compressor
  • 2,000 hour runtime
  • Low noise at 80 dB
  • 2 horsepower motor
Product Image of the VIAIR 88P - 00088 Portable Compressor Kit with Alligator Clamps, Tire Inflator, Tire Air Pump, 12V, 120 PSI, for Up to 33 Inch Tires
Best Air Compressor for Tires
VIAIR Portable Air Compressor
  • Inflates large tires
  • Connects to a battery
  • Comes with 16 ft air hose
Product Image of the California Air Tools 8010 Steel Tank Air Compressor | Ultra Quiet, Oil-Free, 1.0 hp, 8 gal
Best Quiet Air Compressor
California Air Tools Air Compressor
  • Runs at 60 dB
  • Quick recharging
  • 3,000 hour life cycle

Product Reviews

As this is a rundown of all the different air compressors, there was quite an extensive list of products to trawl through. Here is our take on the 10 best air compressors.

1. Viair 40045 400P Portable Compressor

Best 12V Air Compressor

Viair air compressors feature twice in this review. They are excellent products and hugely popular. This 400P model has a maximum working pressure of 150 PSI, and it creates a CFM of 2.3 at zero PSI.

It inflates all sizes of tires up to 35 inches, so it is ideal for maintaining ATV, SUV, and larger vehicles. It has a duty cycle of 33 percent at 100 PSI, meaning you can run it for just over 3 minutes out of every 10 minutes between rests.

It comes with a carry bag, a 25 ft extension cable, and an 8 ft power cord. It even has an anti-vibration sand tray.

What We Like

Portable and Lightweight

12V air compressors are designed for use on the road. Plug it into the 12V lighter socket, and you have all the power you need.

Ideal for the Farm

This is the perfect air compressor to throw into the back of the truck and take into the fields. When you need emergency air in remote places, this Viair is the one to choose.

25 Ft Extension Cable

The cable allows you to reach all four wheels with ease. It also has an 8 ft power cord, which extends the reach even further.

What We Don't Like

Limited Uses

If you want an air compressor to inflate tires and small beach toys, this is great, but it does limit you to lighter duties. It won’t power air tools and spray guns.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 8.5
Dimensions (inches) 11 x 4 x 7
Max PSI 150
Max CFM 2.3
Duty cycle (percent) 33
Power source Battery clamps
Price $$$$
Warranty 1-year limited

2. NorthStar Gas Powered 30-Gallon Air Compressor

Best Gas Powered Air Compressor

This gas-powered NorthStar model is the perfect choice if you want extra power and the ability to work anywhere. It gets its power from a Honda GX390 OHV engine that produces 12 horsepower and a maximum PSI of 175.

It also has an impressive 24.4 CFM at 90 PSI, making it one of the most powerful air compressors available.

It has a one-piece cast iron crankcase with bearings on both ends for superior support and a cast iron pump for longer life, plus a V-style cylinder to improve cooling and Swedish floating-style valves for a longer valve life.

The pump runs at 1,300 RPM, the flywheel is oversized for cooler operation, and the tank is wet-weather resistant and powder coated.

What We Like

12 Horsepower Motor

If you want a compressor with impressive strength, the 12 horsepower motor puts this device at the top of the power charts. It produces enough PSI and CFM to tackle any heavy-duty industrial tasks.

Robust Construction

A cast-iron pump and crank casing gives this air compressor superior durability. Nothing has been spared. For the price-tag, you would expect this compressor to be built like a tank.

24.4 CFM Airflow

The airflow on this compressor takes some beating. 24.4 CFM at 90 PSI is impressive, especially when you compare it to the competition.


Gas power allows you to take this compressor anywhere without the need to plug it in. It is a truly portable device, making it a great choice for construction sites and off-grid places.

What We Don't Like

Portability Issues

For a go-anywhere compressor, it has limitations. It lacks wheels, making it harder to transport. The best way to carry this device is in the back of a flat-bed truck and drive straight onto the worksite.

Hefty Price

This compressor costs almost 5 times the price of the budget model. We get that it is a quality compressor, but the price-tag is only likely to appeal to professionals and not hobbyists or amateurs.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 492
Dimensions (inches) 41 x 19 x 40
Max PSI 175
CFM 24.4 at 90 PSI
Horsepower 12
Oil/Oil-free Oil
Price $$$$
Warranty 4-year limited (2-year commercial)

3. Craftsman 6-Gallon Oil-Free Air Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor

This model has a 6-gallon capacity and a maximum PSI of 150, so it is no slouch for making an impact. It also has an oil-free pump, so maintenance should be easy, and there are fewer running costs than an oil-lubricated model.

The first thing you notice about this Craftsman pancake-style air compressor is the volume of sales it has notched up. And then you see the satisfaction rating, which is exceptionally high.

It even comes with a 13-piece accessory set that includes a PVC air hose, coupler, plug assembly, tire chuck, blow gun with an OSHA safety nozzle, and 3 inflator adapters. It also has 2.6 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) at 90 PSI, which allows for a quick compressor recovery time.

The voltage is 120, it has a large carry handle, and it weighs just over 32 pounds, making it pretty lightweight.

What We Like

Customers Love It

This compressor is extremely popular, both in sales numbers and the satisfaction rating. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to gauge the truth about a product.

Decent Pressure Rating

While this may be the perfect small air compressor to keep around the house, it is still a powerful tool. You can connect nail guns, air wrenches, and just about any other air tool you want, and it will cope.

13 Accessory Kit

You get 13 accessories to get you started straight out of the box. Whether you want to paint or inflate, this pancake compressor has the adaptor or attachment to do it.

What We Don't Like

Quality Control Issues

Sometimes, you get what you pay for, which bears truth when you look at customer reviews. Tanks leak, attachments snap, and some have even struggled to get it to work after a few weeks.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 32.5
Dimensions (inches) 16.5 x 16.5 x 17.88
Max PSI 150
CFM 2.6 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 6
Accessories 13-piece set
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$
Warranty 1-year limited

4. Makita MAC2400 Big BoreAir Compressor

Best Portable Air Compressor

This Makita Big Bore is the compressor to consider when you need greater power to drive your air tools. It generates 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI, which is impressive for such a small device.

It also has a 2.5 HP 4-pole motor, which increases productivity and reduces the compressor’s running volume. That said, it isn’t the quietest to feature, but 79 dB is still pretty good.

Thanks to the twin stacked tanks with a capacity of 4.2 gallons, it generates a maximum operating PSI of 130 to handle most air tools. It has a robust design, making it job-site ready, and the cast iron pump with its big bore cylinder and piston provides a faster recharge time when the tank empties.

This is not a cheap option, but it is a compact compressor that delivers.

What We Like

Cast Iron Pump

The cast iron pump benefits from a big bore cylinder and piston, which is long-lasting and increases the compressor’s efficiency to improve refill times. It all adds up to less time wasted.

Strong Airflow

You can have all the horsepower and PSI, but the compressor can’t power your tools if the airflow is weak. When it comes to compressors, airflow is king. It should be the number one consideration when you shop for a compressor.

Built To Last

This Makita is encased in a roll cage, making it super-tough. It can withstand the rigors and punishment of the construction site or commercial environment, and yet, it is portable.

What We Don't Like

Weighs 80 Pounds

This compressor has no wheels and a large carry handle, but it weighs 80 pounds. That’s a lot of weight to lift when you want to take it on the road.

Not Cheap

Compact air compressors cater to the budget-conscious, but this Makita bucks that trend. It costs double the amount of other compact models. Makita is famed for its quality, but it comes at a cost.


Oil-lubricated compressors produce more power, but they also increase harmful waste with old engine oil. Disposing of it is bad for the environment.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 80.8
Dimensions (inches) 20 x 18 x 18.75
Max PSI 130
CFM 4.2 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 4.2
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil
Price $$$$
Warranty 1-year parts and labor

5. Bostitch Oil-Free 6-Gallon Air Compressor

Best Shop Air Compressor

This is a lightweight and oil-free pancake compressor with a 6-gallon tank, producing a maximum pressure of 150 PSI and airflow values that reach 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI. Bostitch’s high-efficiency motor even ensures an easy start on cold days.

This Bostitch compressor runs at 78.5 decibels, so it is as noisy as a typical office environment. It comes with a high-flow pressure regulator and coupler to maximize your air tools performance.

What We Like

Lightweight 31-Pound Design

This Bostitch may lack wheels and the maneuverability of some compressors, but it only weighs 31 pounds. It all adds up to an air compressor that is portable and powerful.

Cold Start Motor

Motors can struggle on the coldest mornings, but with this model, you get an easy-start feature to get going no matter what the temperature. This is a great feature, especially in cold and drafty auto shops.

Oil-Free Pump

Oil-free pumps are better for the environment and your wallet. They create zero waste and reduce the running costs of operating the compressor. They also produce cleaner air, improving the lifespan of the compressor.

Very Affordable

What a great option if you are a beginner and are looking for a manageable compressor. This is a cheap device, which limits its capacity and power, but it scores big when it comes to price.

What We Don't Like

Limited Capacity

These compact compressors are great for inflating tires, but they have limited uses if you are looking for longer projects and heavy-duty tasks.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 31
Dimensions (inches) 17 x 17 x 19.25
Max PSI 150
CFM 2.6 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 6
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
HP 0.9
Price $
Warranty 1-year limited

6. Metabo HPT EC914S Air Compressor

Best Pancake Air Compressor

This compressor creates a maximum of 200 PSI, as well as a CFM of 4. With that being said, there is an increased airflow of around 30 percent. The pump is oil-free and has a 6-gallon capacity.

You can rely on the brand as it has been awarded by the Builder & Developer magazine for five years. However, it doesn’t come with other accessories so you might need to purchase them separately to finish all the delicate projects inside your home.

What We Like

22% Lighter

At 41 pounds, this item is almost 30 percent lighter in comparison to the traditional twin-stack compressors.

More Air Flow

When it comes to airflow, it’s better to get a model with a known CFM rating rather than a SCFM rating. This model has a CFM score, which is more accurate.

Oil-Free Pump

Oil-free pumps are better for the environment because you have zero waste products to dispose of. It also reduces the running costs of the compressor, thanks to no oil and reduced maintenance.

What We Don't Like

No Accessories

This machine is straightforward to use without any accessories. In any instance, you may need to purchase a separate accessory.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 41
Dimensions (inches) 18.5 x 16 x 16
Max PSI 200
CFM 4 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 6
Accessories None
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$
Warranty 1-year

7. Porter-cable C2002 6-Gallon Air Compressor

Best Air Compressor for Painting

This pancake compressor generates a maximum PSI of 150, with 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI. The 6-gallon tank stores more air for increased tool running time, and the low-amp, 120-volt motor starts quickly in cold conditions, even with an extension cord.

Porter-Cable has ensured that this compressor is stable with the addition of rubber feet, and the drain valve lets you clean moisture out of the tank to prevent corrosion.

It also has a shroud to protect vital components from damage and weather, and the large carry handle enables you to lift this 30-pound device, making it portable. And for safety, it has built-in automatic thermal overload protection.

What We Like

Oil-Free Pump

Oil-free pumps are easy to maintain, last longer, and are better for the environment because you never have to dispose of old oil. If you want less maintenance and more convenience, go oil-free.

6-Gallon Tank

The 6-gallon tank gives you the freedom to tackle medium to large jobs. Add to that the CFM rate, and you get a faster recharge when it empties.

Great Price

Porter-Cable has managed to produce an affordable air compressor. When you compare it to the competition, the price-tag is very desirable. It also makes this compressor a candidate for beginners.

What We Don't Like

No Accessories

If you want the extra kit, you have to buy it. Hose attachments and nozzles aren’t cheap, so they could increase your spend considerably.

82-Decibel Operation

This compressor produces 82 dB, which puts it at the top of the noise charts, and it is far louder than most of the competition. That’s noisier than a domestic vacuum cleaner.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 30
Dimensions (inches) 19 x 19 x 18
Max PSI 150
CFM 2.6 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 6
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $
Warranty 1-year limited (compressor parts only)

8. Ingersoll Rand 20-Gallon Single Stage Air Compressor

Best Air Compressor for Home Garages

This compressor uses a synthetic lubricant instead of oil-based alternatives. Synthetic oils are more efficient and give you a longer run time between changes. According to Ingersoll Rand, you get 2,000 hours, which is 4 times longer than traditional lubricants provide.

We included this Ingersoll Rand model because it is a trusted name in air tools and compressors. It has a low decibel level of 80, which is quieter than some vacuum cleaners, and it has an ergonomic handle and semi-pneumatic tires to make it easy to cart around.

It has a protective belt guard and a manual overload motor for smooth running and increased lifespan. It also has a 2 horsepower motor, delivering a maximum of 135 PSI. So, it is ideal for commercial and home garage duties.

What We Like

Trusted Brand

Ingersoll Rand makes excellent products that are loved by professionals and hobbyists alike across the globe. This model is undoubtedly popular given the high rating.

Very Quiet

This compressor is among the quietest to feature. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the California Air model, but it comes close. Running a compressor for long periods can damage your ears, so it is recommended you use ear defenders to silence the noise.

135 PSI

135 PSI is more than enough pressure to handle all your air tools. You can connect nail guns, air hammers, spray guns, and just about anything else to this compressor.

What We Don't Like

Not Cheap

Ingersoll Rand provides high-quality products, and you have to dig deep to buy them. This is not a budget model, by any stretch. However, there are more expensive air compressors to choose from.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 200
Dimensions (inches) 22 x 23 x 43
Max PSI 115
CFM 135
Capacity (gallons) 20
Oil/Oil-free Synthetic lubricant
HP 2
Price $$$$
Warranty 1-year

9. VIAIR 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor

Best Air Compressor for Tires

This VIAIR model is pretty hard to beat. It is small, lightweight, cheap, and stores easily in your trunk, ready for emergencies. Plus, it scores big for sheer customer satisfaction and sales numbers.

It clamps directly to your car battery and generates a maximum PSI of 120 and 1.47 CFM at freeflow. Because it is a 12-volt compressor, it uses almost no power, and yet it is powerful enough to inflate the tires of ATVs, SUVs, and trucks with a tire size of 33 inches.

This VIAIR comes with a 16 ft air compressor hose, a 10 ft power cord, and a 3-piece inflator tip kit. It has an easy-to-read gauge, adapters for different valves, and color-coded clamps, so you know which one is positive and negative.

What We Like

Lightweight and Portable

Small and powerful air compressors are extremely useful. When you are on the road and need to inflate a tire in an emergency, look no further than this Viair model.

Inflates Large Tires

You can inflate SUV and small truck tires with this air compressor. It can handle tires up to 33 inches, and it generates a maximum PSI of 120.

Connects To Your Battery

Forget 12V sockets; this air compressor clamps directly to your car battery. It means you can reach every tire on the vehicle and offer assistance to others should they need it.

What We Don't Like

Limited Uses

Once you have inflated your tires and the kid’s swimming pool, you have reached the limits of what this device can do. Unless you specifically need it for the car, try another compressor.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 4.5
Dimensions (inches) 6.75 x 6.25 x 10.75
Max PSI 120
CFM 1.47 at 0 PSI
Capacity (gallons) N/A
Oil/Oil-free N/A
Price $$$
Warranty 1-year limited

10. California Air Tools 8010 8-Gallon Air Compressor

Best Quiet Air Compressor

Few air compressors achieve the low decibel levels of this California Air Tools model. It runs at 60 dB! By anyone’s standard, that’s impressive. It’s the equivalent of the volume of a normal conversation. Some come very close, while others get nowhere near.

It has a maximum pressure of 120 PSI, so there are more potent examples in this review, but it has a dual-piston pump with a life cycle of plus 3,000 hours.

This compressor uses an oil-free pump, so you won’t have to fork out for new compressor oil or dispose of the old oil in the landfill. It also has an airflow of 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI and 3.1 CFM at 40 PSI.

So, it’s low maintenance, produces cleaner air, and starts on cold mornings with the minimum of fuss.

What We Like

Quieter Than the Competition

This compressor will make life better, especially if you work in an environment where noise is a problem. Thanks to the 60-decibel running volume, it makes a difference of 20 decibels compared to some models.

Quick Recharging

This compressor recharges from empty to full in just over 2 minutes. It means you can spend more time making money and less time standing around.


Oil-free pumps require almost zero maintenance and produce cleaner air because there is no oil residue to contaminate. Also, they are cheaper to run thanks to not needing fresh compressor oil.

What We Don't Like

Weak 1 Horsepower Motor

It only has a 1 horsepower motor and produces 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI. That is low compared to some of the other compressors to feature. You might want to save this compressor for lighter duties in the shop.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 48
Dimensions (inches) 26 x 14 x 23
Max PSI 120
CFM 2.2 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 8
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
HP 1
Price $$
Warranty 1-year limited
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Product Comparison Chart

Product Best Weight Dimensions Max PSI Capacity Oil/Oil-free Warranty
Viair Portable Air Compressor 12V 9 lbs 11 x 4 x 7″ 150 N/A N/A 1-year limited
NorthStar Air Compressor Gas Powered 492 lbs 41 x 19 x 40″ 175 N/A Oil 4-year limited
Craftsman Oil-Free Air Compressor Small 32.5 lbs 16.5 x 16.5 x 17.88″ 150 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
Makita Big BoreAir Compressor Portable 80.8 lbs 20 x 18 x 18.75″ 130 4 gal Oil 1-year
Bostitch Oil-Free Air Compressor Shop Air 31 lbs 17 x 17 x 19.25″ 150 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
Metabo HPT Air Compressor Pancake 41 lbs 18.5 x 16 x 16″ 200 6 gal Oil-free 1-year
Porter-Cable Air Compressor Painting 30 lbs 19 x 19 x 18″ 150 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
Ingersoll Rand Air Compressor Home Garages 200 lbs 22 x 23 x 43″ 115 20 gal Synthetic lubricant 1-year
VIAIR Portable Air Compressor Tires 4.5 lbs 6.75 x 6.25 x 10.75″ 120 N/A N/A 1-year limited
California Air Tools Air Compressor Quiet 48 lbs 26 x 14 x 23″ 120 8 gal Oil-free 1-year limited

How Does an Air Compressor Work?

An air compressor works by pushing air into a tank. Air is compressed as more air is forced into the tank. The tank stores the air until it is ready to use.

Air gets forced through an outlet in the tank, attached to a hose, which links to an air tool. When you press the trigger on the device, the air escapes from the tank and channels down the hose, gathering pressure as it moves.

When it reaches the device, the pressure creates energy, which drives the tool.

Types of Air Compressors

As we hinted in the introduction, the type of air compressors available vary according to size, style, and uses. Here is a breakdown of the different kinds you can get.

Different Types of Air Compressors Explained


Pancake air compressors are named after their shape. They have a squashed circular body with large feet and handles. This makes them portable and the ideal compressor for home, shop, and hobby use.

The tank capacity typically holds 6 gallons of air, although smaller ones are available, and they are extremely popular.

You would struggle to undertake heavy-duty tasks, but they are excellent multi-use compressors for air tools, auto repairs and tire shops.

Hot Dog

Hot dog air compressors have long, barrel-shaped bodies that resemble a hot dog. They are extremely popular because they have wheels and large handles to maneuver them easily.

Capacities vary with hot dog compressors. They range from 8 gallons to 30 gallons plus. This gives them the advantage of versatility because you can work on large or small projects.

Twin Stack

Twin stack air compressors look like double hot dog compressors. They have one tank stacked on top of another. The advantage is that you get more capacity without the need for a second air compressor.

They come with wheels and long handles to make them portable. Twin stack air compressors are a common site in auto repair shops and tire shops. They power a variety of air tools and can handle medium size tasks.


Continuing with the visual theme, you can guess why wheelbarrow air compressors get their name. The tanks run either side of a central wheel, with the handle at the rear. It means you maneuver the compressor just like a wheelbarrow.

Wheelbarrow compressors range in capacity from 10 gallons upwards, and typically, they are gas powered, making them extremely powerful.


Vertical air compressors are the beasts of the bunch. They range in capacity from 20 gallons to 80 gallons plus. The larger models are stationary compressors without wheels and handles. Once in position, they stay put.

As you’ve guessed, their name comes from the fact that they stand upright. It means they take up less space in the workshop. Smaller versions have wheels and a handle to improve maneuverability.

What to Look For (Buying Guide)

Deciding which air compressor is right for you depends on so many factors. But some elements are more important than others. Let’s run through the basics of what you should be looking for.

Type of Compressor

Choose the compressor based on the tasks at hand. If you want to tackle heavy-duty tasks, go for a larger capacity with strong HP and airflow. For smaller jobs, pancake compressors are a better choice.

And if you need to inflate your tires, try a 12V compressor. They are lightweight, compact, and portable.

Electric Vs. Gas

Electric compressors are far more common than gas models. Almost 90 percent of all air compressors are the electric variety. The advantage of electric air compressors is they are easy to operate and don’t need gas to power them.

They are also cheaper to buy, making them ideal for all sorts of settings. Also, electric air compressors have a wider capacity and power range, so if you are a hobbyist or a professional, there will be a model to suit.

Gas-powered air compressors offer a higher PSI and airflow, making them heavy-duty devices. They can also go anywhere, which is a distinct advantage over electric models because they don’t need an electrical socket.

The disadvantage is they are expensive, heavy, less widely available, noisy, and are not suited to home and hobby use.

Cubic Feet per Minute

Cubic feet per minute (CFM) is the measure of the airflow. The strength is determined by the volume of air the compressor moves during operation. This is crucial because it affects the types of tasks you can undertake and the tools you can use.

CFM varies with each model, but other factors can affect the airflow volume. Temperature changes and humidity can impede performance, so be careful where you locate your compressor.

You often see SCFM, or standard cubic feet per minute, as a value when talking about compressor airflow. The difference between the two is CFM is a lower rate because it measures the flow under pressure without standardized conditions.

SCFM measures the rate of flow under standardized conditions, so the numbers tend to be higher. Think of it like a car’s average miles per gallon (MPG). Manufacturers like to quote MPG under almost perfect conditions, whereas in the real world, there is no such thing.

Oil-Free Operation

Oil-free compressors are commonplace today. Their advantage is they need less maintenance and zero motor oil. It means they are better for the environment because they eliminate the need to dispose of old motor oil.

You also remove the chances of oil leaks, keeping your work environment clean.

Oil compressors need maintenance, increasing the owner’s financial burden, and the impact on the planet because you have to dispose of the old oil.

Tank Capacity

Tank capacity is judged by the amount of compressed air it stores. Increasing the tank capacity means that you can use multiple lines simultaneously and work on longer projects.

Remember that compressors with larger tanks are expensive compared to other models. If you are tackling smaller tasks, you don’t need extra capacity, and you should opt for reduced tank size.

Motor Horsepower

Horsepower (HP) determines the speed at which the tank fills. Buying a compressor with a huge tank and a low HP means you will be waiting for the tank to refill. Look for the best HP, especially when you opt for the larger models.

Maximum PSI

Pounds per square inch (PSI) is the pressure the compressor produces during operation. Air compressors need a minimum of 90 PSI to be effective at operating most air tools. You should choose a PSI level that’s at least 20 percent greater than your device.

This helps the compressor and the tool work in harmony, without struggling to maintain the correct PSI. To be on the safe side, try and avoid compressors with less than 100 PSI.

Most professionals using air tools choose a maximum of 125 PSI to cover all their needs.

Air Compressor FAQs

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need?

The size of the air compressor you need is determined by how you intend to use it. Take an audit of your air tools to see what PSI you need. Always size the compressor to your most potent tool.

The two most important factors are the PSI and the CFM when determining the size. If you are using the air compressor in a professional setting, maximizing the CFM and PSI is crucial as the tools you will be using are more demanding.

However, in the home or for hobby use, fewer PSI and CFM are acceptable because there is less demand placed on the compressor.

Is a Higher CFM Better for an Air Compressor?

Typically, a higher CFM rating delivers a more concentrated airflow. This is ideal for larger projects and heavy-duty tasks. If you are working on smaller jobs or using the compressor occasionally, CFM is less critical.

Which Is Better: Oil or Oil-Free Air Compressors?

It depends on what you prefer. Oil-free compressors are easier to maintain and kinder to the environment because they don’t produce waste oil. However, oil compressors are better suited to heavy tasks.

Also, oil compressors last longer because they are continually lubricated. The downside with oil-based compressors is the upkeep and the cost of fresh oil.

Compress To Impress

Compressors are multi-use tools that come in all shapes and sizes. If you are a hobbyist user, small and compact compressors will suit you best, but you will need something with more punch for professional and expert use.

The takeaway from all this is to think about the CFM and the PSI. Next, consider the tank capacity and the horsepower of the motor for faster refills.

One thing is certain, you will not regret getting an air compressor, no matter what model you choose.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.