How To Find the Best Air Compressors

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PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free Pancake Compressor - best air compressorsAs an ASE Certified Master Tech, I’ve used many air compressors over the years for tires and operating power tools. In addition, I’ve had my share of home projects that went smoothly mainly because I spent the time to research the best air compressors available. Whether you need help to inflate your tires or complete a DIY project, it’s important you invest in one of the . This versatile tool allows for many applications and is a wise investment for any handy person to own.

Now, it’s time to share that knowledge with you so you can get your jobs done quickly.

Best Pancake Compressor –

What’s unique about this  is the accessory kit that comes with it. There’s a total of 13 pieces you get with the pancake compressor and one of those is a 25-foot nylon hose. In addition, there’s a blow gun, tire chuck, quick coupler, tire gauge and Teflon tape. These are accessories you’ll use; they aren’t just inflating the value of the kit.

Power & Performance

The  is no joke with its 150 max PSI and long running times. It also comes with a six-gallon tank and operates with a 120-volt motor. Many people agree that this unit is user-friendly and one of the best air compressors. Maybe it’s because of the air coupler and plug that’s all factory installed. That makes it easy for users on any level to feel comfortable with the operation.

While the induction motor offers superior power and long life, the unit itself remains compact enough to run on your regular household outlets. This unit also features replaceable brushes inside the motor. While many people don’t see the value in it, being able to replace the brushes will extend the life of your compressor even longer.

The SCFM rating on this compressor is 2.6 at 90 PSI. This is more than enough to handle your nail guns, airbrushes, staples and other standard tools. It’s also handy for cleaning off your garage floor.

Other Features

There’s also a water drain valve included on this option for the best air compressor. The company took a lot of time creating the oil-free pump, so you can expect it to last for many years. They’ve also protected the vital components of the air compressor with its unique design. This is helpful when working in harsh conditions.

PORTER-CABLE C2002 Oil-Free Pancake Compressor - carrying compressor

This  only weighs 34 pounds, so it’s simple to carry around. The small size also makes it easier to store in any small space. This is a noisy unit when compared with some other choices for the best air compressors. It operates at 84 dBA, so you’ll want to be sure you wear ear protection.


Best Twin-Tank Air Compressor –

Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor - job site

This  is considered a premium air compressor, so you can expect the price to jump a little. The cast iron pump combined with the big bore cylinder create a super-fast charge and high airflow to get your jobs done quickly. Not only does this mean that more air is compressed per cycle, but it also doesn’t need to operate at high RPMs because it relies on rotation.

It’s clear to see that this is one of the best air compressors for professional users. With that said, plenty of homeowners have invested in this high-quality option as well for the ability to complete everyday tasks quickly and efficiently.

Power & Performance

The  has a powerful 2.5-horsepower pole motor that produces 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI. This increases productivity while lowering noise levels. In fact, the pump runs a 1,730 RPM thereby resulting in a lower 79 dB rating and improving the durability of the pump over the long-term.

The heavy-duty crankshaft is the reason why this unit runs for hours at a time without a break. Despite the fact that it runs 40-50% more output when compared to similar air compressors, it’s still more compact than most. In addition, the low AMP draw reduces the chances of a tripped breaker at start-up.

Other Features

4.2 Gal. 2.5 HP Portable Electrical 2-Stack Air Compressor - roll cageThe roll-cage construction offers complete protection that holds up to even the most extreme environments. You will be hard-pressed to find another compressor for this price that provides a heavy-duty crankshaft, cast-iron compressor pump, durable cast iron cylinder and copper finned discharge tubing. In fact, it’s estimated that you can run the  for a decade with proper care.

Speaking of care, maintaining this Makita is simple. The pump is oil-lubricated when it comes to you already so that you can expect cooler temperatures and reduced wear. There’s also a large, automotive style air filter for higher efficiency and increased air intake. The oil sight glass allows for smooth, efficient and fast maintenance when needed.

There’s even a built-in thermal overload in this compressor for motor protection. To complete the accolades of this best air compressor, the company offers not just a one-year warranty, but also a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t like, they’ll take it back. Those  are just some of the reasons this is one of the best air compressors around.

Best Portable Air Compressor –

Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor - front viewThe  seems like it doesn’t fit the list at first, but that’s only because it’s meant as a portable tire inflator. That’s why it comes with a 12V electric induction motor and cord that attaches to your car’s battery with alligator clips.

Don’t let that stop you from investing in this well-loved compressor. It’s also useful for a variety of vehicles from small ATVs all the way up to trucks with 33-inch tires. The only thing you’ll need to remember to do is to keep your engine running while in use.

Power & Performance

Viair 00088 88P Air Compressor - pressure gauge

The 12-volt air compressor provides 120 PSI of maximum working pressure when your engine is running. It also has a free-flow air discharge rate of 1.47 CFM at 0 PSI. If you work at 30 PSI, it will discharge 1.25 CFM. Increase that to 90 PSI and expect your CFM to go down to 0.64. Finally, at the max 120 PSI, the discharge rate is 0.35 CFM.

With the , you have a max amp draw of 20 amps plus the duty cycle is 25 minutes running at 30 PSI. This motor is quite powerful considering the small size. It also features a permanent magnet-based induction motor.

Other Features

This small, compact unit comes complete with an LED power indicator, 10-foot power cord and 16-foot air hose. In addition, there’s a three-piece inflation tip kit included to work with most any tire type. If you want to work with larger tire sizes, you’ll want to use the included solid brass twist-on tire chuck.

What most people love about the  is how compact it is. At just 9.8” x 3.2” x 5.6” and 4.75 pounds, you can take this air compressor with you anywhere. It might even fit inside your glove box. Surprisingly, it also comes with a one-year warranty for parts and labor, which is just another reason it’s one of the best air compressors on the market.

Buying the Best Air Compressors – Complete Guide

When you set out to purchase one of the best air compressors, there are several terms and features you’ll want to understand. Here are some things to watch for.


This stands for pounds per square inch and is the most critical factor when looking for a high-quality air compressor. The higher your PSI is, the more guarantee you have that you can complete your heavy-duty jobs with ease.

For example, if you need to use the air compressor to fill up a trailer tire, you’ll want a compressor that exceeds the total PSI for all four of the tires.

Keep in mind that air compressors usually are electric, so the larger the PSI when you’re away from an electrical outlet, the more life you’ll have. PSI is an important factor, but it isn’t the only thing to consider when looking for the best air compressors.

Tank Size

The tank size works together with the PSI to determine if it’s the best air compressor for your needs. Tanks are measured in gallons with higher numbers meaning that it will hold more compressed air at high pressures. The most desirable option in a perfect world is a large tank with a high PSI, but many people shift to smaller, portable units for versatility.

If you need a dependable workhorse, you’re looking for a large tank with dual outlets. Watch out for the tanks that have a significant capacity but low PSI. This is a marketing scheme to trick you into thinking you are getting a high-powered air compressor when you aren’t.

Purchasing a high PSI compressor with a small tank leaves you often recharging while attempting to work. Granted, it will fill fast, but you won’t be able to accomplish a little task without the need to recharge. This isn’t just frustrating but also wastes your time.

The worst option is an air compressor with a low PSI paired with a large tank. This provides the longest operating time, but also the longest time to wait while recharging. You’ll barely get halfway done with something and you’ll have to stand and wait for it to refill.

Small units with a high PSI are compact and easy to carry. They are units for away from home. Even though the tank is small in size, the higher PSI allows for a quick recharge. They pack a punch ideal for small jobs away from home.

This is why you need to always shop PSI and tank size together as an equation. You can’t look at one without the other.

PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC Pancake Compressor with 13-Piece Accessory Kit - multiple outlets

Multiple Outlets

When you have large projects to accomplish, it’s helpful to have multiple outlets. These aren’t generally found on a small tank, so you’ll want to watch for that as well.


The loudness of your unit isn’t just a concern for the hobbyist, but also to professional contractors. Sometimes, big units are just as quiet as a small unit. Pay attention to both the dBA and how the compressor is built.

A compressor with low dBA that’s built poorly is often just as loud as the 80 dBA unit that’s well constructed. If you are a contractor working on a family’s home, the lower your dBA, the happier your clients will be.

A quiet unit might be so soft; it’s possible not to hear it from the next room. There are two ways to get what you want. First, look at the box and aim to get the lowest dBA with other features you want. Your next step is to read reviews such as these to determine just how loud they actually are.

Air compressors are not ultra-quiet, no matter how they are made. If a brand tries to tell you they are, run the other way.


How much does an air compressor weigh? It all depends on what type you choose. No one wants to tote around a 90-pound air compressor, even if it does have wheels. Larger compressors have more features, but is the weight worth it to you?

The large, heavy units are best used by someone that won’t be moving the compressor. If it’s staying put inside your shop, then you can go ahead and purchase the biggest, most massive air compressor you can find without an issue. If the machine has wheels, consider what you’ll do if those break down the road.

When you need to travel with one of the best air compressors, especially upstairs, then a larger unit isn’t going to work. Small air compressors are great for home use and tend to be less noisy as well, but they don’t usually have a lot of power or tank space.

Some of the newer, lightweight air compressors have just as many features as the larger ones. Be prepared to pay a little more for this versatility. Weight needs to be a significant consideration, but your PSI and tank size are paramount when picking the best air compressor.


13 piece accessory kit - gaugeWhen shopping the best air compressors, you’ll notice that some come with manuals and lots of accessories. On the other hand, you’ll find models that come with nothing but the unit. Keep in mind the cost you’ll have to buy all the accessories you want later.

Keep in mind that some companies will throw lots of additional accessories in the mix to make you think you are getting a deal. The reality is that you’ll probably never use those items, and you’ve overpaid for a product. The best thing you could do is determine ahead of time which accessories you need. Then, you’ll be able to either find a set that comes with those items or plan to purchase them separately.


You want to research the warranty of the best air compressors before purchasing. A lengthy and comprehensive warranty covers you if something breaks. If you buy a kit with accessories, it’s important to note that many of the warranties don’t include those accessories for the same time period.

Which Air Compressor Should You Buy?

With the variety of air compressors on the market, it might be difficult deciding which is right for you. If you are a home user, normally a low dBA is the main priority. In addition, most of the larger powerhouses are beyond your price range.

Smaller motors with a large tank allow you to tackle a variety of projects. If you need to store the unit in a tight spot, you’ll want a smaller tank instead. You’ll also probably want something portable, so keep that in mind.

If you have a large home, or you’ll be storing the compressor in a detached garage, then dBA might not be an issue for you. At that point, you could opt for a more powerful air compressor without a problem. No matter what you choose to use for your home, pay close attention to how long the power cord is. Just an extra foot can make a world of difference when trying to accomplish a job. If all else fails, you can also purchase an additional extension cord.

As a contractor or professional, your air compressor needs will be completely different. Depending on how often you use it, you might be able to get away with a small, portable unit. These are also helpful in specific fields like roofing.

If you need to work on a larger scale, you might even want to consider purchasing multiple units. A work-based air compressor is going to be entirely different from a home air compressor. That’s why home users won’t want to buy a unit based on what a professional uses.

Special Considerations for the Best Portable Air Compressor

You need to think about more than portability and lightweight when looking for the best portable air compressor. This line is in high demand with users, so they tend to innovate these machines faster. That’s why PSI is rarely an issue anymore with portable air compressors.

The best way to pick a portable compressor is to look at the efficiency. Portable units are set up to give you a lengthy work session without a recharge. All this is done with minimal weight so it’s the perfect balance for most users.

There are many sizes to consider with a portable compressor. They can easily be carried up and down the stairs, but there are even small enough units to put in your glove box. Keep in mind that the lower in size you go, the fewer features you’ll likely see.

New on the market are tankless air compressors. While they are lightweight and convenient, the power is often not so hot. They aren’t meant for everyday use, but rather for emergency needs. It makes sense for everyone to own a portable unit for emergency tire inflation. The cost is low on these machines and having one is better than being stranded on the side of the road.

How to Use an Air Compressor Safely

When using any tool, it’s important to follow safety precautions to protect yourself. Here are some of the tips you’ll want to follow when using one of the best air compressors.

  • Protect your ears from the noise, even with the quietest machines.
  • Wear a face mask to protect against debris.
  • Safety goggles should be worn to protect your eyes.
  • Watch your unit carefully. If repairs need to be made, lock-out and un-power the machine first. Don’t forget to bleed the tank’s pressure.
  • Always use your compressor in a clean, dry area.
  • If you must use the compressor in a moist area, empty your tank before turning it off.
  • Inspect for loose fittings before using the air compressor.
  • Clean your air filter regularly to stop dust accumulation.
  • Don’t expose yourself to the intake air.
  • Give the unit extra time between refilling.
  • Plug the compressor into the right outlet.
  • Don’t ever point tools toward someone else while the compressor is running.

Common Uses for the Best Air Compressor

While you might be purchasing the best air compressor for a specific need, it’s important to note how versatile these machines truly are. You might find yourself using it for more than one purpose.

Here are some common reasons people use an air compressor:

  • Inflating tires
  • For nail or staple guns
  • Performing sandblasting
  • Operating an air blow gun
  • Completing DIY projects
  • Making snow
  • Cleaning out electronics
  • Spray painting
  • Clearing out the driveway
  • Inflating pool floats or toys

Power beyond Measure

porter-cable c2002 - gauges

After looking at all the options, I hope you see why I chose the as one of the best air compressors on the market. It’s easy to transport, but still offers power like a regular compressor. With that in mind, it’s a great all-around option for household use and light commercial use.

Once you’ve purchased one of the best air compressors, you are ready to use your best air impact wrench with ease!

Q & A

Q: What kind of air compressor do I need?

A: if you are using a single tool with your compressor, you need something that handles the minimum of CFM and PSI of that tool. If you plan to use multiple tools, you’ll want to add the CFM’s together to determine your need.

Q: Can you use an air compressor to fill a tire?

A: It is safe to fill your tires with an air compressor without removing the wheels. Just make sure you fill them to the required pressure level as directed by the automaker.

Q: What are the different appearances about with air compressors?

A: Pancake compressors are small but pack a solid punch like the larger counterparts. Hot dog compressors normally have one tank instead of multiple reservoirs. Twin stack compressors are ideal for heavy-duty purposes because they have two air tanks. Wheelbarrow compressors have wheels, handles are most often, twin tanks. Tire inflators are small, portable and usually powered by a 12-volt motor.

Q: What’s the difference between a belt-drive system and direct-drive system?

A: Direct drive compressors feature a motor that’s connected to the crankshaft. They run at lower temperatures plus have a high-energy efficiency, but are more expensive, noisier and hard to maintain. A belt-drive compressor features a belt connecting the motor and the pump together with pulleys. This allows for more flexibility over the air pressure and is a lower priced option. They are easy to install or maintain, but they aren’t made for harsh conditions.

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