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Best Small Air Compressors of 2023

Small air compressors are versatile and pack a punch.

Sometimes you need an air compressor to take care of the day-to-day things like blowing up tires and inflatables at the beach.

But you don’t always need to drag around a cumbersome compressor, weighing you down.

We delve deeper to bring you the best small air compressor that money can buy.

Our Top Picks

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Product Comparison Table

Product Image of the CRAFTSMAN Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free with 13 Piece Accessory Kit (CMEC6150K)
Best Small Oil-Free Air Compressor
Craftsman Oil-Free Air Compressor
  • High satisfaction score
  • 150 psi
  • 13-piece accessory set
Product Image of the Makita MAC700 2.0 HP* Big Bore™ Air Compressor
Best for Impact Wrenches
Makita Big Bore Air Compressor
  • High-powered 2 hp motor
  • Super-durable construction
  • High 3.3 CFM operation
Product Image of the PORTER-CABLE Air Compressor, 6-Gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free (C2002)
Best Small Pancake Air Compressor
Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor
  • Oil-free pump
  • 6-gallon tank
  • Built-in auto thermal overload protection
Product Image of the DEWALT Pancake Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, 165 PSI (DWFP55126)
Best Small Air Compressor for Garage
DeWALT Pancake Compressor
  • Quiet 75 dB
  • Maximum 165 psi
  • Has high-flow regulators & couplers
Product Image of the California Air Tools CAT-4610AC Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free 1.0 hp 4.6 gallon Aluminum Twin Tank Electric Portable Air Compressor, Silver
Best Quiet Small Air Compressor
California Air Tools Compressor
  • Twin 4.6 gallon tanks
  • Ultra-quiet 60 dB
  • Oil-free
Product Image of the EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump, Digital Tire Inflator
Best for Car Tires
EPAuto Portable Air Compressor
  • Only weighs 1 lb
  • Easy to read display
  • Has a handy flashlight
Product Image of the Senco PC1010 1/2- Horsepower 1-Gallon Matte Finish and Trim Portable Hot Dog Air Compressor, Gray/Red
Best for Nail Guns
Senco PC1010 Air Compressor
  • Maximum 120 PSI
  • Has 1-gallon holding tank
  • Lubeless pump
Product Image of the VacLife Air Compressor Tire Inflator, DC 12V Portable Air Compressor for Car Tires, Auto Tire Pump with LED Light, Digital Air Pump for Car Tires, Bicycles and Other Inflatables
Best Small Budget Air Compressor
VacLife DC 12V Air Compressor
  • Auto-shutoff
  • Lightweight & portable
  • Has an LED light
Product Image of the Master Airbrush Multi-purpose Gravity Feed Dual-action Airbrush Kit with 6 Foot Hose and a Powerful 1/5hp Single Piston Quiet Air Compressor
Best Small Air Compressor for Painting
Master Airbrush Compressor
  • Complete airbrush set
  • On-demand system
  • 1.5 horsepower motor
Product Image of the Amazon Basics Portable Air Compressor, Dual Battery Clamps with Carrying Case
Best Small Portable Air Compressor
AmazonBasics Portable Compressor
  • Maximum 120 PSI
  • Auto shut-off
  • Long 16.4 ft coiled hose

Product Reviews

Small air compressors come in all sizes and shapes and are useful in many different applications. We sifted through hundreds of compact air compressors to bring you the very best on offer.

1. Craftsman 6-Gallon Oil-Free Air Compressor

Best Small Oil-Free Air Compressor

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.

This model has a 6-gallon capacity and a maximum PSI of 150, so it is no slouch when it comes to potency. It also has an oil-free pump, meaning that maintenance should be a breeze, and there are fewer running costs than an oil-lubricated model.

It comes with a 13-piece accessory set that includes a PVC air compressor 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

High Satisfaction Score

You cannot escape the fact that this compressor is extremely popular, both in sales numbers and the satisfaction rating. It tops our list for this very reason. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to gauge the truth about a product.

150 PSI

While this may be the perfect small air compressor to keep around the house for everyday tasks, make no mistake, it packs a punch. You can connect nail guns, air wrenches, and just about any other air tool you want and it will cope.

13-Piece Accessory Set

It even comes with 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

Many have reported issues with the quality of the build. Tanks leak, attachments snap, and some have even struggled to get it to work after a few weeks. This is only a small minority, but one dissatisfied customer is one too many.

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

2. Makita MAC700 Big Bore Air Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor for Impact Wrenches

This small air compressor is hard-core. It has a cast iron pump with a big bore cylinder and piston, which, combined with a greater bore and stroke, delivers a higher performance level. The pump runs at 1,720 RPM, enabling a more significant displacement at a lower RPM.

Makita also claims this compressor is substantially quieter than the competition. At 80 decibels, it would have to go a long way to better the California Air Tools model. What you do get is a compressor built to last.

The induction motor produces 2 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful to make the review, making it the ideal air compressor for using an air wrench. When you need extra power, this machine delivers.

It is also big on performance, with 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI, so you know the airflow is substantial enough for your power tool. This is an oil-lubricated compressor, so while it is less convenient and has increased running costs, you get a more powerful machine.

What We Like


The induction motor generates 2 horsepower, more than enough to tackle the toughest tasks. Whether you are using an air wrench or a nail gun, Makita has built a compressor with an engine powerful enough to cope.


With a cast iron pump, a big bore cylinder, and piston and lever handle ball valves, this is one of the most rugged compressors you can buy. It takes whatever you can throw at it and still asks for more.

High CFM

A strong airflow is king when it comes to compressors. This model produces 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI, making it more efficient than the competition.

What We Don't Like

High Price Tag

All that superior build quality comes at a price. This compressor is more expensive than the Craftsmen, and it doesn’t have an accessory set. Is it better value for money? You decide.

Very Heavy

Thanks to the cast iron pump and cylinder, this compressor is heavier. It weighs over 20 pounds more than the Craftsman, so maneuverability might be an issue.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 59.6
Dimensions (inches) 18 x 22 x 10
Max PSI 130
CFM 3.3 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 2.6
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil
Price $$$
Warranty 1-year

3. Porter-Cable C2002 Pancake Air Compressor

Best Small Pancake Air Compressor

This pancake compressor from Porter-Cable generates an impressive 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 and 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. 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.

What We Like

Oil-Free Pump

If you want the convenience of a small air compressor without the hassle of maintenance, this is the type to get. Oil-free pumps are easy to maintain, last longer, and are better for the environment because you never have to dispose of old oil.

6-Gallon Tank

6-gallons is about the maximum a small compressor could hold. Any more and it wouldn’t be so compact. The capacity gives you the freedom to tackle larger jobs, and the CFM rate means there is a faster recharge when it empties.

Affordable Price

For such a powerful and popular machine, you’d think it would cost the earth. Porter-Cable has managed to produce a powerful and affordable compact compressor. Compared to some on the list, this is positively cheap.

What We Don't Like

No Accessories

Unlike the Craftsman model, if you want the extra kit, you have to buy it. Hose attachments and nozzles aren’t cheap, so it 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. 82 decibels is 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)

4. DeWALT 6-Gallon Pancake Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor for Garage

This is the best portable air compressor for the garage because it caters to almost every task and tool, thanks to a maximum of 165 PSI. It has a high-efficiency start-up motor that runs in extreme cold weather.

It’s also a quiet compressor, generating just 75 decibels. Compare that to the 82 dB created by the Porter-Cable model, and you can see the difference. It has high-flow regulators and couplers for increased tool performance, and it has an airflow of 2.6 CFM at a PSI of 90.

This DeWALT model weighs just 30 pounds, has a console cover to protect the controls, and a large carry handle for easy maneuverability. Couple that with the ball drain valve for removing moisture from the tank and the rubber feet, and you have a compact and powerful compressor to tackle every garage job.

What We Like

Low Noise

While compressors are loud, this one is quieter than most. When working in the confines of a garage, noise gets amplified, so you will be grateful for the reduced decibel levels that this DeWALT brings.

165 PSI Maximum

Working in the garage means you need the flexibility to cover most tasks. This model backs you up, thanks to the 165 PSI. It is powerful enough to run an air hammer or wrench and versatile enough when you want to change projects.

DeWALT Quality

Big, bright, yellow and popular, this DeWALT compressor benefits from the name’s pedigree. DeWALT is a global brand and renowned for excellence and quality.

What We Don't Like

Slow Recharge Rate

Some buyers have complained that while the DeWALT is powerful and more than capable of running their tools, it has a slow recharge rate, which means waiting and delays. If time is money, this slows your work rate.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 32.1
Dimensions (inches) 17.2 x 16.6 x 20.1
Max PSI 165
CFM 2.6 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 6
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$
Warranty 1-year limited

5. California Air Tools CAT-4610AC Ultra-Quiet Compressor

Best Quiet Small Air Compressor

If you are looking for an ultra-quiet small air compressor, this California Air Tools model is the perfect choice. It operates at 60 decibels, a full 20 dB less than the competition. That’s about the volume of normal conversation.

The other thing we liked was the twin tanks, so you never have to wait while it recharges. It keeps you working for longer and speeds up your work rate. Time is money after all.

It has a 1 HP motor, producing an airflow of 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI. So, it isn’t the most powerful compressor in the world, but it still has enough punch to power all your tools. It has a maximum PSI of 120 and a capacity of 9.2 gallons when you add the twin tanks together.

The pump is oil-free for easy maintenance, and the compressor weighs a little over 45 pounds, making it a touch heavy compared to some in the review.

What We Like

Twin Tanks

Twin tanks are an excellent idea. It gives you 4.6 gallons per tank, which is plenty for most small to medium projects. However, it also means you don’t have to wait while the empty tank recharges because you will always have a back-up tank.


Imagine a compressor that makes as much noise as a normal conversation or background music. This California Air model is widely considered to be among the quietest air compressors on the market.


Oil-free compressors are easier to maintain and last longer. They are also better for the environment because there is no need to dispose of old oil. Plus, they are cheaper to run.

What We Don't Like

Incredibly Expensive

If you want twin tanks and peace and quiet, you will have to pay for it. This compressor costs 3 times as much as the Porter-Cable model.

Very Heavy

If you want a compressor that ticks the portability box, think again. Sure, it has a handle, but it weighs 45.5 pounds, making it a real heavyweight compared to some in its class. Plus, the shape of this compressor is a bit awkward, especially as it has twin tanks.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 45.5
Dimensions (inches) 48.5 x 42.4 x 50
Max PSI 120
CFM 2.2 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 9.2
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$$
Warranty 1-year

6. EPAuto 12V DC Portable Tire Air Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor for Car Tires

It’s small, light, and highly portable, which is why it is the best choice for inflating car tires. This EPAuto hand-held compressor fits into the trunk of your car, safely stored away for emergencies.

It plugs directly into your 12-volt socket in the car and produces a maximum of 70 PSI. It inflates all car tires but will not work with truck tires because it lacks 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 is, by far, the most popular model, notching up sales exceeding 15,000 units. It had to be our choice for the best tire inflator for cars.

What We Like

Portable and Light

Why lug a heavy compressor around in the trunk of your car when this lightweight and portable model exists. 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 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.

Handy Flashlight

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.

What We Don't Like

Limited Use

Unless you are inflating a tire, 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. If you were to scale this compressor up on a like for like basis, it would be one of the most expensive to make the review.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 1
Dimensions (inches) 13.5 x 8.1 x 5.6
Max PSI 70
CFM 1.06
Capacity (gallons) N/A
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free N/A
Price $
Warranty No warranty

7. Senco PC1010 Air Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor for Nail Guns

If you like using a nail gun but hate heavy compressors that make it difficult to maneuver, this SENCO model could be the answer. It has a 1 horsepower motor, so it should have enough power to get the task done, plus an oil-free operation. This improves the longevity of the compressor and reduces the day to day running costs.

It’s also better for the environment because you never need to dispose of old oil. This compressor produces a maximum of 120 PSI and has a CFM value of 1.4 at 90 PSI. It is also ultra-quiet and light, weighing just 20 pounds.

It has a large carry handle and a 1-gallon holding tank. This compressor also delivers 20 to 44 drives per minute, making it ideal for nailers and pinners.

What We Like

Lightweight and Portable

It weighs 20 pounds, a fraction of the weight of some compressors featured. And thanks to the large handle and wide feet, it has increased stability.

Quiet Operation

Most small compressors are loud, creating 80 and 90 decibels, but this model is ultra-quiet at 73. Okay, it doesn’t rival the California Air model, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Lubeless Pump

Having an oil-free operation means you don’t have to keep topping up the air compressor with lube. It increases the device’s lifespan and decreases the damage you do to the environment by disposing of all that old oil.

What We Don't Like

Limited Power

It isn’t the most powerful air compressor we’ve reviewed. It produces 1 horsepower, but only at peak. During normal operation, it drops by half.

Small Capacity Tank

A 1-gallon tank will limit the kinds of projects you can tackle. It’s fine if you only need to nail a couple of boards, but consider getting a bigger capacity if you tackle large-scale tasks like decking or flooring.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 20
Dimensions (inches) 14 x 13 x 10
Max PSI 120
CFM 1.4 at 90 PSI
Capacity (gallons) 1
Accessories N/A
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$
Warranty 1-year

8. VacLife DC 12V Air Compressor

Best Small Budget Air Compressor

Like the EPAuto model, this VacLife is primarily a car tire and inflatable-friendly air compressor. It isn’t going to power air tools like nail guns and wrenches. However, it will inflate swimming pools and air beds.

It comes with a set and forget feature that allows you to set the required pressure, and when reached, it shuts off. It has an LED light, a clear digital display, and a 12V power source that plugs into your car cigarette lighter.

It’s lightweight, portable, easy to store away in the trunk of your car, and easy to use. What more could you possibly want? Oh, spare nozzles? Okay, you can have 3 of them too.

It has a maximum of 50 PSI, so it will struggle with anything larger than a midsize vehicle.

What We Like

Great for Emergencies

If you get a flat tire or arrive at the beach with a deflated inflatable, you want this compressor by your side. It stores in the trunk until you need it in an emergency.

Lightweight and Portable

This is a hand-held device that’s lightweight and portable. It only weighs 2.31 pounds, a fraction of the more cumbersome small air compressors.

Set and Forget

Setting the required limits on the compressor means you can get on with other things while inflating your car tires. It shuts off once it reaches that limit. This stops your tires from over-inflating and reduces wear and tear on the compressor’s motor.

What We Don't Like

Limited Applications

If all you want is to inflate tires, pools and beds, go ahead and get one. They are great in an emergency, but that’s about it. Just be aware of the compressor’s limitations.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 2.31
Dimensions (inches) 9.8 x 6.5 x 3.7
Max PSI 50
CFM Not stated
Capacity (gallons) N/A
Accessories Spare nozzles
Oil/Oil-free N/A
Price $
Warranty 2-year money-back guarantee

9. Master Airbrush Multi-Purpose Airbrush Compressor

Best Small Air Compressor for Painting

This small air compressor comes complete with everything you need to get you started on that painting job. Whether you are a hobbyist, artist, or professional, this dedicated airbrush compressor will see you through.

It comes with a 6 ft hose attachment and an airbrush set. It creates a maximum of 57 PSI and has a CFM value of 0.7. You can’t use this compressor for any other air tools other than an airbrush.

This model is portable, lightweight, and stores away easily. It has a 1.5 horsepower motor and a single-piston and oil-free pump. It even has thermal protection to stop it from overheating. It is the perfect tool to use in a studio or garage.

What We Like

Complete Set

This set is complete, meaning you can get started straight out of the box. It also saves you money buying attachments and hoses at great expense.

On-Demand System

It has a unique on-demand system that shuts off when not in use. It saves energy and costs. It also gives you peak capacity air on demand, increasing the motor’s life as it reduces wear and tear.

Lightweight and Portable

It only weighs 9.7 pounds, making it one of the lightest compressors available. It has a large carry handle and 4 wide padded feet for increased stability.

What We Don't Like

Specialized Tool

If you love airbrushes and painting, this is the perfect combination, but for anyone else, look elsewhere for your compressor as this one only has one use. It won’t power your nail gun and air wrench.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 9.7
Dimensions (inches) 14.8 x 12.5 x 6.8
Max PSI 57
CFM 0.7
Capacity (gallons) Not stated
Accessories Airbrush and hose
Oil/Oil-free Oil-free
Price $$
Warranty 2-year money-back guarantee

10. AmazonBasics Portable Air Compressor

Best Small Portable Air Compressor

This AmazonBasics portable compressor is super-lightweight and portable. Unlike the other driver-influenced compressors we have featured, this one uses your car battery to get its power.

It comes with 2 battery clamps and a 16.4 ft coiled hose. It also includes a carrying case and replacement adaptors. And unlike the other tire compressors, this one packs enough punch to inflate truck tires, thanks to its maximum of 120 PSI.

It has a digital gauge and an auto shut-off feature when the correct pressure limit is reached, and it is backed by a 1-year warranty.

What We Like

Increased Power

It’s like a car tire inflator, but on steroids. It packs a maximum of 120 PSI, so if you own an SUV or a truck, this can handle the load with ease. It also comes with a handy storage case to make storage more manageable.

Auto Shut-Off

If you get a flat tire, attach the battery clamps to your car battery under the hood and set the desired tire pressure. When it reaches the preset limit, it shuts off to stop the tire from over-inflating.

Long Coiled Hose

This model has a 16.4 ft coiled hose, so it can reach a very long way. It also means it can stretch to other vehicles, should you be called upon to lend assistance.

What We Don't Like

Limited Uses

You would only buy this compressor if you were looking to inflate a tire or a swimming pool. It is convenient and powerful in its own way, but outside of the motoring world, it has limited uses.

Product Specs

Weight (pounds) 7.26
Dimensions (inches) 11.8 x 8.8 x 8.5
Max PSI 120
CFM 2.12 at 0 PSI
Capacity (gallons) N/A
Accessories Additional nozzles
Oil/Oil-free N/A
Price $$
Warranty 1-year limited

Product Comparison Chart

Product Best Weight Dimensions Max PSI CFM Capacity Oil/Oil-free Warranty
Craftsman Oil-Free Air Compressor Oil-Free 33 lbs 16.5 x 16.5 x 17.88″ 150 2.6 at 90 PSI 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
Makita Big Bore Air Compressor Impact Wrenches 60 lbs 18 x 22 x 10″ 130 3.3 at 90 PSI 2.6 gal Oil 1-year
Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor Pancake Compressor 30 lbs 19 x 19 x 18″ 150 2.6 at 90 PSI 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
DeWALT Pancake Compressor Garage 32 lbs 17.2 x 16.6 x 20.1″ 165 2.6 at 90 PSI 6 gal Oil-free 1-year limited
California Air Tools Ultra-Quiet Quiet 45.5 lbs 48.5 x 42.4 x 50″ 120 2.2 at 90 PSI 9.2 gal Oil-free 1-year
EPAuto Portable Tire Air Compressor Car Tires 1 lb 13.5 x 8.1 x 5.6″ 70 1.06 N/A N/A None
Senco Air Compressor Nail Guns 20 lbs 14 x 13 x 10″ 120 1.4 at 90 PSI 1 gal Oil-free 1-year
VacLife Air Compressor Budget Pick 2.31 lbs 9.8 x 6.5 x 3.7″ 50 N/A N/A N/A 2-year
Master Airbrush Multi-Purpose Painting 9.7 lbs 14.8 x 12.5 x 6.8″ 57 0.7 N/A Oil-free 2-year
AmazonBasics Portable Compressor Portable 7.26 lbs 11.8 x 8.8 x 8.5″ 120 2.12 at 0 PSI N/A N/A 1-year limited

What Are Small Air Compressors Used For?

Small air compressors have several functions and are an ideal tool to keep around the home. In the summer, inflating a swimming pool can be a chore. With a small compressor, the task gets done super-quick, and you have happy kids.

You might want to do some car repairs using an air hammer or air impact wrench. A small air compressor makes this possible. Using them to power tools is the most obvious way to use an air compressor, to be honest. They work with anything pneumatic, as long as the PSI is compatible.

A small air compressor is perfect if you have a flat tire and need it pumped up. These compressors are lightweight and portable, making them ideal for storing in the car’s trunk for emergencies. Some even plug into your cigarette lighter.

Benefits of a Small Air Compressor

The most obvious benefit is its size. Small air compressors are easy to carry, compact for storage, and a lot handier than larger, more cumbersome models that require brute strength to maneuver.

A small air compressor is the type of device you might store in a car or truck for flat tire emergencies. You might also need one to make on the spot repairs to your vehicle, and when you are using an air tool like a wrench, a small air compressor provides you with instant power.

They are also lightweight, which follows on from the theme of maneuverability. There’s a reason why 20-gallon compressors have wheels. They weigh upwards of 100 to 150 pounds! Unless you are in training for the Olympic weightlifting team, buy a small air compressor.

Small air compressors also store away easily, taking up minimal room in your workshop or garage. When you need pneumatic power, it will always be there, ready to lend a hand.

Craftspeople benefit from small air compressors because they are quieter and take up less room in the studio, but they still deliver the goods to operate power tools.

Things to Consider (Buying Guide)

What is important when choosing the best small air compressor? While the shopping list may vary between different people, some fundamental things remain. How you intend to use the air compressor and store it is key to making the right decision.

Let’s find out what to look out for.

Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)

You hear about CFM a lot in the world of pneumatic tools. Air compressors are judged by their PSI rating and the CFM they produce. Cubic feet per minute is another way of describing the strength of the airflow. When it comes to pneumatic tools, this is important because it directly relates to the compressor’s suitability for any given task.

Matching the compressor to the tool is crucial because a low CFM may result in a lack of power and a slower work rate.

CFM is especially important in small air compressors because they are compact and therefore weaker than larger models.

Remember, the higher the CFM, the more tools will be compatible with the compressor, increasing your versatility and speeding up the job. It also saves you money in the long run because you won’t have to upgrade to a more powerful air compressor.

Oil or Oil-Free?

Some small compressors require oil to maintain a smooth operation and preserve their longevity. Oil keeps vital mechanical parts working smoothly. Air compressors requiring oil need more maintenance because you have to regularly check the oil levels. This is less convenient and increases your running costs.

Oil-lubricated compressors are more robust and can handle greater load capacities. And they are sometimes cheaper, which is better for the budget.



  • Generally cheaper.
  • Oil ensures smooth operation.
  • Bigger task capacity.
  • More durable if maintained.
  • More powerful.


  • Increased running costs.
  • Requires higher maintenance.
  • Worse for the environment.

Oil-free models are easier to maintain because no oil is needed. Oil-free is fast becoming the preferred option in small air compressors. Power is less of a concern to makers of small air compressors because those seeking a higher performance are looking for larger compressors.

Small compressors are the home and hobbyist’s best friend and less likely to be placed under extreme strain. It’s why oil-free is such a popular choice. It speaks to beginners and craftspeople because of its convenience.



  • Low maintenance.
  • Lower running costs.
  • Better for the environment.
  • Less noise.
  • Less mess.


  • Less powerful.
  • More expensive.
  • Limited uses.

How Loud?

The noise factor has some bearing on the compressor you buy. Oil-free models make less noise but may be less powerful as a trade-off. In truth, compressors are not quiet devices by any stretch, but some are quieter than others.

You should expect your compressor to run at about 70 to 80 decibels, which is the average volume of a car traveling at 60 MPH with the windows open. If you are working in an enclosed space like a home studio, our advice is to get the quietest compressor you can but still wear ear defenders.

Portability and Weight

Small air compressors are supposed to be lightweight and portable. Some are lighter and more maneuverable than others, but in the main, it is one of the key features of these models. You should expect them to weigh between 30 and 50 pounds as a rule of thumb.

Look for features like large handles if you want to increase the portability factor.

Price Is King

Whichever way you dress it up, the price is one of the main factors determining the make and model you buy. If we had the money, we’d all be driving luxury cars, but we don’t, so like everything, we are constrained by our budgets.

Try and get a compressor that is mid-priced. That way, you get the best quality and performance for your dollars, and you still get an effective compressor that will last the distance.

Small but Beautiful

Small air compressors are useful in so many ways. They are less cumbersome than their larger, heavier cousins, and they are easier to keep in the house or garage. Hobbyists love them, artists love them and home DIY’ers love them.

If you have a small-scale project coming up and you want to get into air tools, consider a small air compressor as your next purchase.

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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.