Portable air compressors give you options. You can transport them anywhere, and they are easy to store away. It makes them a favorite with homeowners and hobbyist users alike.
So, which is the right portable air compressor for you?
Let’s take a tour of the 7 best portable air compressors to find out.
- Maximum 150 psi
- 13-piece accessory set
- High satisfaction score
- Connects to battery
- Maximum 120 psi
- 3-piece interchangeable tip kit
- Cast iron pump
- Has a 2.5 HP 4-pole motor
- 4.2 gallon tanks
- Maximum PSI of 150
- 6-gallon tank
- Built-in auto thermal overload protection
- Fast recharging time
- Dual-piston pump
- 3,000 hour life cycle
- Handheld compressor
- Easy to read display
- Handy flashlight
- Quality Honda motor
- Low vibration technology
What Are Portable Air Compressors Used For?
Portable air compressors have many uses. Depending on the capacity and the airflow, they can inflate tires, swimming pools, air beds, and beach inflatables. They are also great if you are an artist and like using spray paint guns.
Sculptors use them to power air chisels, and mechanics use them to drive impact wrenches and ratchets. You can even find air compressors at children’s parties to inflate balloons.
Types of Portable Air Compressors
The market is rammed with so many makes and models; it can be difficult to choose one. Let’s take a more detailed look at the various types available.
Air inflators do precisely what their name suggests. They inflate tires, air beds, swimming pools, beach toys, footballs, bicycle tires, and pretty much anything that requires air. These models are typically smaller and easier to transport, making them the ideal choice to store away in a car trunk for emergencies.
Pancake Air Compressors
They get their name from their shape. They are compact and lightweight but provide slightly more power than air inflators. They typically come in 4 to 6-gallon tank capacities and have a PSI of 135.
The CFM values of a pancake compressor can vary, but you are doing okay if you are getting 2 to 4 cubic feet per minute. Pancake compressors best serve the domestic environment, but it is not unusual to see them in tire shops and garages.
Hotdog Air Compressors
Hotdog air compressors look like ballpark hotdogs, hence the name. They can range in size from 1 HP motors to 5 HP, and 6-gallon tanks up to 30 gallons. Compact hotdog compressors are a firm favorite with hobbyists and the occasional user at home, as well as professionals.
Twin-Stack Air Compressors
Twin stack air compressors have two tanks, stacked one on top of the other. The key advantage is it increases the capacity and also gives you a continuous supply of compressed air. They are lighter than hotdog compressors but heavier than pancake models.
Twin stack compressors are more likely to find use in the professional arena rather than the home market.
Portable Vertical/Horizontal Tank Air Compressors
Think of a hotdog compressor and add a large handle and two pneumatic wheels, and you have a portable horizontal compressor. The wheels and handle mean that you can scale up the capacity, even as much as 30 gallons, and still maneuver it with ease.
Vertical models have all the same attributes as their horizontal cousins, except they stand up. The advantage of this is they are easier to store, and they take up less room. If you work in a cramped environment, where space is a premium, a vertical compressor is the best choice.
Wheelbarrow Air Compressors
They are so named because they have twin tanks, one on either side for balance, and a large pneumatic wheel in the middle, just like a wheelbarrow. At the other end, there are two large wheelbarrow-style handles for better grip and maneuverability.
Most wheelbarrow air compressors are gas-powered, and they offer typical PSI and CFM values of 135 and 10 to 12, respectively. They are a go-anywhere tool, favored by the professional circuit and commercial settings.
What Size Air Compressor Do I Need?
The first thing to decide is the size of your project. Then you need to look at the air tool you’ll be using. From there, you can determine the size of the air compressor you will need. Most air tools operate at 5 cubic feet per minute (CFM), and you can find this out by consulting the owner’s manual.
The next key point is the air compressor’s CFM capacity. To work out if your tool is compatible, multiply the CFM rating of the tool by 1.5. So, if you are using a spray gun rated at 6.5, it means your air compressor must have a minimum of 9.75 CFM for the device to operate successfully.
Here’s a handy chart.
|Air Tool||CFM at 90 PSI||Average Operating PSI|
|Impact driver 0.50-inch||4||90-100|
|Impact driver 0.75-inch||7||60-100|
|Impact driver 1-inch||12||90-100|
|Impact wrench 0.375-inch||3||90-100|
|Impact wrench 0.50-inch||4||90-100|
|Impact wrench 1-inch||10||90-100|
|Paint spray gun||4-8||90-100|
The next consideration is the duty cycle. You can buy continuous cycle compressors that allow you to work without needing to stop as the motor cools. This is not important if you are using the compressor for lighter home tasks, but in the professional world, it is a significant factor. When you are against the clock, it could slow you down.
How To Choose the Best Portable Air Compressor
So, what are the key things to look for when selecting a new portable compressor? Is it weight, capacity, CFM, or all of them and more? Let’s take a look.
What Are You Using the Compressor For?
Some compressors work better for home and hobby use. They are smaller, lighter, and designed for infrequent operation. Inflating tires and air beds are a far cry from driving pneumatic tools. However, some are made of sterner stuff and like to be pushed to the max. They are the air compressors the professionals choose.
There is a distinct difference between the two, so choose one that best matches your requirements.
Your power tool’s CFM needs to be compatible with your compressor. It’s no good buying a compressor with a CFM value of 5 if your device has an operating range of 6.5 CFM.
You should always multiply the CFM rating by 1.5 to ensure the compressor is up to the task of delivering the correct airflow.
Knowing your power tool’s PSI rating is crucial to matching it with your air compressor. Most air tools work on about 70 to 90 PSI. You will need a 20 percent difference in the PSI of your device and the compressor.
If you are using an impact wrench with a PSI rating of 80, your air compressor needs to have a minimum operating PSI of 100 for the two to be compatible. If that differential does not exist, you will have an underpowered compressor and tool.
The tank capacity determines the length of the jobs you can do. Using a nail gun to fix a broken fence post will not tax your compressor unduly, but using it to erect an entire fence will. The tank’s capacity allows you to undertake larger projects and doesn’t slow you down between recharges.
Horsepower is not as vital as PSI and CFM because the pressure created and the airflow determine your compressor’s potency. However, horsepower still has a key role to play, in that once the tank empties, you want it to refill as quickly as possible, and the more powerful the motor, the faster the delivery.
How Loud Is It?
If you work in a built-up area, the noise your air compressor makes might disturb the neighbors. This is especially true when using the compressor at home. Most air compressors have a decibel rating between 70 and 90, which is akin to a vacuum cleaner at the lower end of the scale, and a car traveling at 60 MPH with all the windows open, at the other end of the spectrum.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, repeated exposure to volume levels above 85 dB can result in hearing loss (1). Buying the quietest air compressor you can has benefits for your health.
Pancake compressors have a large handle that makes them easy to lift. That said, they can still weigh 35 pounds or more. Bigger capacity compressors have wheels and a large handle, so while you may be scaling up the weight, you are increasing the device’s maneuverability.
Air inflators are the smallest and the lightest and are often found in car trunks for emergency flat tires.
The Best Portable Air Compressors of 2021
Here are the 7 best portable air compressors money can buy.
1. Craftsman Pancake Air Compressor
This Craftsman is a pancake compressor, so it is compact and light and still has a 6-gallon capacity. It generates an SCFM of 2.6 at 90 PSI, so it should power your impact wrench and air hammer.
It also generates a maximum PSI of 150, so it can inflate your car and truck tires effortlessly. What makes this the ideal home garage air compressor kit is the 13-piece accessory set. You can get to work straight out of the box. It comes with a PVC air compressor hose, a blowgun, a tire gauge, an OSHA-certified safety nozzle, and 3 inflator adaptors. So, getting the kids swimming pool ready will take no time at all.
The pump is oil-free, which increases the compressor’s running life and reduces the need for maintenance.
Why We Love It
If you want a maintenance-free compressor, choose one with an oil-free pump. It reduces the need for you to service it, and it is better for the environment because it requires no harmful lubricant.
Increasing the PSI value means you can inflate all manner of tires, from the SUV to your truck. Also, it is powerful enough to drive air tools, which increases your flexibility inside your garage.
13-Piece Accessory Set
Get started straight out of the box with the 13-piece accessory set. It comes with the hose, adaptors for different inflatables, and an OSHA-approved safety nozzle. You have everything you need at no extra cost.
High Satisfaction Score
This compressor is extremely popular, both in sales numbers and the satisfaction rating. It’s the reason why it tops our list. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to gauge the truth about a product.
Keep In Mind
Quality Control Issues
Some people have complained that parts were missing when the compressor was delivered, and others are frustrated because the compressor stopped working after a few uses. Low cost can mean low quality.
|Dimensions (inches)||16.5 x 16.5 x 17.88|
|CFM||2.6 at 90 PSI|
2. Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor
If all you want is a compressor for inflating tires, this Viair model is a great choice. It is small, lightweight, cheap, and stores easily in your trunk, ready for emergencies. It connects directly to your car battery via clamps and generates a maximum PSI of 120 and 1.47 CFM at freeflow.
It is a 12-volt compressor, so it uses almost zero power, and yet it is powerful enough to inflate the tires of ATVs, SUVs, and trucks with a tire size of 33 inches. It has a 16 ft air hose, a 10 ft power cord, and a 3-piece inflator tip kit.
It won’t match other compressors for versatility and power but it is all you need to inflate tires, air beds, swimming pools, and beach toys.
Why We Love It
Connects To Your Battery
Thanks to strong clamps, this compressor is powered directly from your battery. It means you have an extended reach, which is ideal if you are coming to the aid of other motorists in their hour of need.
It has enough punch to inflate SUV, truck, ATV, and sedan tires, as long as they do not exceed 33 inches. It is the ultimate emergency compressor.
3-Piece Tip Kit
Having interchangeable tips gives you the ability to inflate tires, balls, beach toys, and air beds. And in the height of summer, you can drag the swimming pool out to keep the kids entertained.
Keep In Mind
Other than inflating tires, you are limited in what this compressor can do. It is more of an emergency tool that sees the light of day once in a while to inflate flat tires.
For such a small compressor with limited uses, this model only costs a few dollars less than some larger and more powerful compressors with far wider uses.
|Dimensions (inches)||6.75 x 6.25 x 10.75|
|CFM||1.47 at 0 PSI|
3. Makita MAC2400 Big BoreAir Compressor
When you need an extra punch to power your air tools, this Makita Big Bore is the compressor to consider. It generates 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI, which is pretty impressive for such a small device. It also has a 2.5 HP 4-pole motor, which increases productivity and reduces the running noise of the compressor. While it isn’t the quietest to feature, 79 dB is pretty good.
This is an industrial compressor, so it will handle your air tools, thanks to the twin stacked tanks with a capacity of 4.2 gallons and generate a maximum operating PSI of 130. 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 powerful and yet compact compressor that delivers.
Why We Love It
Made of Tough Material
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 wasted and more productive time.
Airflow is the number one consideration when you shop for a compressor because it represents how powerful the compressor is. You can have all the horsepower and PSI, but if the airflow is weak, the compressor can’t power your tools.
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.
Keep In Mind
It may be portable, but this compressor weighs over 80 pounds, and without wheels, will be heavy to carry.
This compressor is not a budget model. It costs double the price of the Craftsman, making it an expensive purchase for a compact compressor.
Oil-lubricated compressors produce more power, but they also increase harmful waste with old engine oil. Disposing of it is bad for the environment.
|Dimensions (inches)||20 x 18 x 18.75|
|CFM||4.2 at 90 PSI|
|Warranty||1-year parts and labor|
4. Porter-Cable C2002 6-Gallon Air Compressor
For the price-conscious, check out this Porter-Cable model. This pancake compressor generates a maximum PSI of 150, with 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI. The 6-gallon tank stores more air for tool running time, and the low-amp, 120-volt motor starts quickly in cold conditions.
This compressor is stable, thanks to the addition of rubber feet, and the drain valve lets you clean moisture out of the tank to prevent corrosion. Unlike the Makita, this compressor has an oil-free pump for longer life and maintenance-free convenience.
It has a shroud to protect vital components from damage and the elements, and a large carry handle makes lifting this 30-pound device a breeze. And for safety, it has built-in automatic thermal overload protection.
Why We Love It
Oil-free pumps are easy to maintain, last longer, and are better for the environment because you never have to dispose of old oil.
The 6-gallon capacity gives you the freedom to tackle larger jobs, and the CFM rate means there is a faster recharge when it empties.
Porter-Cable has managed to produce a powerful and affordable compact compressor. Compared to some on the list, this is positively cheap.
Keep In Mind
Unlike the Craftsman model, 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.
This compressor is louder than the competition. It produces 82 dB, which puts it at the top of the noise charts as things stand. That is noisier than a domestic vacuum cleaner.
|Dimensions (inches)||19 x 19 x 18|
|CFM||2.6 at 90 PSI|
|Warranty||1-year limited (compressor parts only)|
5. California Air Tools 8010A Air Compressor
For those seeking a quieter life, getting an air compressor to better this California Air Tools model for decibels is pretty tricky. It runs at 60 dB! By anyone’s standard, that’s impressive. It’s the equivalent to the volume of a normal conversation.
It has a maximum pressure of 120 PSI, so it’s not the most powerful machine to make the review, but it does have 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.
So, it’s low maintenance, produces cleaner air, and starts on cold mornings with minimum fuss. It has an airflow of 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI and 3.1 CFM at 40 PSI.
Why We Love It
If you work in an environment where noise is a problem, this compressor will make things a little easier, thanks to the 60-decibel running volume. That’s a difference of 20 decibels compared to some models.
Fast Refill Time
When the tank runs low, you won’t have to wait long for it to refill. 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.
Keep In Mind
You might want to save this compressor for lighter duties. 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.
|Dimensions (inches)||26 x 14 x 23|
|CFM||2.2 at 90 PSI|
6. EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor
This EPAuto hand-held compressor fits into the trunk of your car, stored away for emergencies. It’s small, light, and highly portable, which is why it is the best choice for inflating car tires.
It plugs directly into your 12-volt socket in the car and produces a maximum of 70 PSI. It inflates all car tires except truck tires because it lacks the capacity. It has an easy to read digital display that shows kPa, bar, PSI, and kg/cm, and it also has an auto shut-off to prevent over-inflation.
This tire compressor has notched up sales exceeding 15,000 units. It had to be our choice for the best 12V compressor.
Why We Love It
Portable and Light
It only weighs 1 pound! Plus, it measures 13.5 inches x 8.1 inches x 5.6 inches, making it small enough to pack into the trunk of your car.
Easy To Read Display
This compressor has an easy to read display, making it simple to use and understand. You can also choose between bar, kPa, and PSI.
It even has a handy flashlight, should you get a flat tire in the dark. Seeing clearly makes a huge difference because you can work more quickly to get the tire inflated.
Keep In Mind
Unless you are inflating tires, there is little else this compressor can do. It might inflate small items for the beach like rings and floats, but that’s about it.
Small Compressor, Big Cost
For such a small compressor, it is surprisingly costly. It still costs less than every other model featured, but given its limitations and lack of power, the price tag makes it seem expensive.
|Dimensions (inches)||13.5 x 8.1 x 5.6|
7. NorthStar Portable Gas-Powered Air Compressor
This is the first gas-powered air compressor to feature, and it packs a punch. It is a go-anywhere tool, so it’s perfect for large construction sites where plugin power can be limited.
The pump head is constructed from FC35-grade cast iron, so you can bet it will last the distance. The motor is a Honda GX160 OHV, which has a low oil shutdown feature. The pump has superior cooling qualities, and the Swedish-style valves ensure a longer operating lifespan.
The CFM rate is 13.7 at 90 PSI, and the maximum PSI is 130. This is slightly less than the Porter-Cable model, but still plenty for most applications. The motor runs at a lower RPM to keep the efficiency and cooling qualities of the engine.
Why We Love It
Okay, we get that it weighs 196 pounds, but if you want complete portability, this gas-powered compressor can go anywhere. It works independently of an electrical supply, so it is ideal for the job-site.
Quality Honda Motor
The Honda GX160 OHV is a brilliant motor that delivers fuel-efficiency, better performance, and a longer lifespan. It also needs fewer services to keep it in working order.
Low Vibration Technology
Most of the noise generated by a compressor comes from vibrations. NorthStar has developed LVT (low vibration technology) to deliver a smoother operation when running the compressor. Less vibration preserves the integrity of the compressor and expands its lifespan.
Keep In Mind
If you want to spend 3 times as much as the Makita model, this gas-powered compressor will suit your budget. But for most, it is well beyond their reach.
Gas-powered air compressors are loud. The tell-tale sign is when the company fails to advertise the decibel levels for fear of putting you off. This model is a lot louder than electric models.
|Dimensions (inches)||40 x 21 x 33|
|Warranty||4-year domestic and 2-year commercial|
|Craftsman Pancake Air Compressor||Home Garages||33 lbs||16.5 x 16.5 x 17.88″||150||2.6 at 90 PSI||6 gal||Oil-free||1-year limited|
|Viair Portable Air Compressor||Tires||5 lbs||6.75 x 6.25 x 10.75″||120||1.47 at 0 PSI||N/A||N/A||1-year limited|
|Makita Big BoreAir Compressor||Air Tools||80.8 lbs||20 x 18 x 18.75″||130||4.2 at 90 PSI||4.2 gal||Oil||1-year parts & labor|
|Porter-Cable Air Compressor||Cheap||30 lbs||19 x 19 x 18″||150||2.6 at 90 PSI||6 gal||Oil-free||1-year limited|
|California Air Tools Compressor||Quiet||48 lbs||26 x 14 x 23″||120||2.2 at 90 PSI||8 gal||Oil-free||1-year limited|
|EPAuto 12V DC Air Compressor||12V||1 lb||13.5 x 8.1 x 5.6″||70||1.06||N/A||N/A||No warranty|
|NorthStar Portable Air Compressor||Construction||196 lbs||40 x 21 x 33″||130||Not stated||20 gal||Oil||4-year domestic; 2-year commercial|
Keep It Light
So, there you have our rundown of the best portable air compressors. It includes a twin stack, a gas-powered model, and a pancake-style compressor. Hopefully, you now have enough information to go out and get the right one.
Just remember to keep in mind it has to be portable, powerful enough, and affordable.