Guide To Buying Portable Air Compressors

Portable air compressors are the fundamental equipment for many household and professional works.

In its essence, air compressors supply a huge amount of compressed air to do all sorts of jobs. Compressed air can be used to inflate tires, clean electronics, and power all kinds of air tools.

Best Air Compressors

In this buying guide, we will discuss all the ins and outs of portable air compressors, as well as our product recommendations.

Without further ado, let us begin by discussing the different types of air compressors.

Different Types of Air Compressor

We can generally divide portable air compressors into four major types. An important thing to note is that the different types won’t necessarily mean differences in performance. Instead, it will mostly affect practicality, portability, and tank capacity.

Pancake Air CompressorsHot Dog Air CompressorsWheelbarrow Air CompressorsTwin Stack Air Compressor

As the name suggests, pancake compressors are identified with the low-profile, pancake-shaped tank. They are typically small in size and lightweight with 1 to 6 gallons of volume.

Besides its small stature and overall portability, another unique value of pancake compressors is that they require very little to no maintenance. They don’t feature any belts, and the pump is oil-free. However, they lack the air capacity to run large air tools.

Again, the name ‘hot dog’ was derived from the cylindrical, hot-dog shaped air tank.

Hot dog compressors are very popular because they give you the balance between portability and air capacity: they are powerful enough to power small to medium air tools but still retains portability.

They are slightly heavier than pancake air compressors and noisier. If you are planning to purchase a hot dog air compressor, make sure to choose the ones with carrying handle for easier mobility.

Wheelbarrow air compressors have two tanks, which are positioned along the length of the compressor. Sometimes, the tanks are positioned along the width, and we call this type ‘pontoon’ air compressors.

With two tanks, obviously, they are heavier than the two types discussed above and have more air capacity. They can still be defined as portable, although the weight can exceed 70 pounds.

In many ways similar to wheelbarrow and pontoon air compressors, with the main difference being the position of the two tanks. With the twin stack type, the tanks are stacked beside the compressor unit.

Important Features To Consider In An Air Compressor

There are several important features you should consider before buying an air compressor. Depending on your needs, you can determine which product to get by examining these features.

Tank Size VS Portability

In an ideal product, you would want to have an air compressor that is as portable as it can get, and as powerful as possible.

However, that certainly is not possible, as the bigger the tank size is, the heavier the air compressor will be.

So, the important thing here is to figure out your needs. What do you need the air compressor for? If you need it to power medium to heavy-duty air tools, you will need bigger tanks. How much portability do you need? Consider the balance between those two according to your needs.

Noise Level

Generally, the bigger the air tank is, the noisier the air compressor will be, although that is not always the case.

Also, an air compressor with a low-noise technology in any forms will usually be more expensive. So, consider whether you need your compressor to be low-noise.

Oil-Free Pump

If the pump is oil-free, the air compressor will be easier to maintain. Also, compressors without any belts are easier to maintain. If you are planning to use the compressor for household usage, consider easy maintenance as your top priority.

Thermal Overload Protection

Thermal overload is the most common failure with compressors and any other HVAC (heat, ventilation, and air conditioning) appliances. Thermal overheating can cause the circuits inside the air compressor to fail, as well as fire damage in some cases. So, some form of protection is necessary.

Usually, thermal overload protection system works by opening the electrical circuit while overheating occurs. This way, electrical failure can be avoided.

Included Accessories

Different products offer different included accessories in the package. Some offer carrying handles for easier mobility, some offer spare parts, etc.  Before purchasing your air compressor, make sure to look at what’s included in the package.

Other Specifications

There are other features you might want consider. For example, the overall power of the air compressor is described on its horsepower rating. Operating pressure (PSI) will be useful if you are using the air compressor to power some air tools, as the tools will have PSI requirements.

CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) rating determines how much air the compressor can put out in one minute, which will be related to its pressure (PSI).  When the CFM goes up, generally the PSI goes down.

Consider these specifications and other features based on your needs, which air tools will you use, and how often will you use the compressor. Also, the balance between price tag and its overall value is important.

Product Recommendations: Top 7 Best Portable Air Compressors

The Makita MAC700 is a hot dog type air compressor which is oil-lubricated. Although oil-lubricated compressors are generally avoided by DIY users and hobbyists, the Makita MAC700 is actually quite popular among homeowners and hobbyist, thanks to its versatility.

Makita itself is a reputable brand for quality tools, and their air compressor products are especially renowned for durability and reliability. As a relatively powerful air compressor able to deliver 3.3 CFM of air at 90 PSI, the Makita MAC700 is very quiet and draws a low ampere.

Let us take a look at the key features of the Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0.

Key Features

2.0 Horsepower, 1,720 RPM Pump

The 2 HP motor of the MAC700 features a large bore-engineered piston/cylinder design that is extremely quiet. With the Big Bore design, a larger volume of air is compressed with every cycle, increasing the compression capacity while allowing faster pressure recovery.

So, the MAC700 doesn’t work as hard as other models with similar power, making it very quiet and durable for long-term usage.

Oil-Lubricated

As we have discussed, oil-lubricated tanks are generally harder to maintain and not preferred for household usage. However, oil-lubricated pumps generate less heat and are more durable in the long run.

The oil lubrication system of the Makita MAC700 is especially effective at minimizing wear and tear, making the air compressor very reliable long-term.

Thermal Overload Protection

The MAC700 eliminates the overheating concern for many air compressors with its built-in thermal overload protection. When the motor starts overheating, it will automatically shut off thanks to the overload protection.

2.6 Gallon Air Tank With Air Filter

The hot dog air tank has a 2.6-gallon capacity and comes with a large, automotive-style air filter to filter dust and debris out of the cylinders.

Advantages

  • Very quiet with only 80 dB noise level
  • Low-amp draw (12.4 A)
  • Very versatile with a nice balance of size, weight and power output
  • Very durable and reliable
  • Easy to use drain valve

Disadvantages

  • Relatively heavy (52 lbs)

The Makita MAC700 is a powerful hot dog style air compressor offering 2 HP motor with 3.3 CFM. It is very quiet, and very versatile thanks to its portability.

Although it is relatively heavy with 52 lbs of weight, it is still relatively easy to move around thanks to the built-in handle.

The Viair 400P RV is a portable air compressor specially designed to pump RV tires. RV tires come with built-in extra protection, and not every air compressor can provide adequate pressure and air capacity.

The Viair 400P RV with its 150 PSI pressure can easily pump RV tires in 7 minutes. However, it is also quite versatile, and you can use it on other types of tires as well as air tools with adequate requirements.

Let us take a look at some of the key features.

Key Features

Rich Package

With the purchase of Viair 400P, you also get all the necessary tools and equipment including:

  • Inflation gun
  • 30-foot hose with another 30-foot extension
  • Dual-adjusted battery clamps
  • 8-foot power cable
  • Fuse holder
  • Sandy tray
  • Pressure extent gauge
  • Carrying bag

150 PSI, 2.3 CFM

The 150 PSI pressure is adequate to inflate most, if not all RV tires, which is the main purpose of the Viair 400P RV. The 2.3 CFM air capacity is also enough to inflate an RV tire in only 7 minutes.

Inline Gauge

Viair 400P RV offers a built-in inline gauge that will calculate the air pressure flawlessly. So, you can always get an accurate reading of the current air pumping rate. This is, again, extremely useful for tire inflation purpose.

Advantages

  • Fast and reliable tire inflation
  • Supportive trigger and inline gauge to measure air pressure
  • Portable with only 18-pounds of weight
  • Good value in the package with 30-foot x 2 hose coils among other bonuses
  • Automatic switching system
  • Oil-free design, easy maintenance

Disadvantages

  • Relatively low air capacity at only 2.3 CFM
  • Took a relatively considerable time to cool off

The Viair 400P RV is a portable air compressor that is specially designed to inflate RV tires. It is excellent at doing that purpose, but also very versatile on other small to medium tasks.

Running on a 12V battery with only 18 lbs of weight, the Viair 400P RV is among the most portable air compressors around, with reasonable power and air capacity.

The Porter-Cable PCFP02003 is a relatively affordable pancake compressor, making it an ideal choice for homeowners and hobbyist.

Being only 18.1 x 17.2 x 18.5 inches in dimension and weighing only 26 lbs, it has a great portability but packs a serious punch with 3.5-gallon air capacity and up to 135 PSI of pressure.

So, let us take a look at the key features of the Porter-Cable 3.5-GAL Pancake Compressor

Key Features

Up To 135 PSI, Short Startup Time

The compressor only takes 64 seconds to get to 100 PSI, with a maximum pressure of 135 PSI. So, you don’t have to wait forever for the unit to kick on.

With most air tools running around 90-100 PSI, there is a handy switch to automatically stop the motor when the pressure reaches 105 PSI.

Oil-Free Pump

The Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor features an oil-free pump, making the maintenance significantly easier. However, you shouldn’t worry about its durability, since it was designed for less friction.

Low-Amp Motor

The Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor operates at 120-V with low-amp draw. So, you can easily start it up even during cold weather and with an extension cord when necessary.

Portability

At just 26 lbs and 18.1 x 17.2 x 18.5 inches in size, the Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor is extremely portable. Also, there’s a robust carrying handle included with the compressor.

With the compact size and lightweight design, you can easily store this unit anywhere and move it around when necessary.

Advantages

  • Big, 3.5-gallon tank
  • Oil-free design for easier maintenance
  • 2.9 CFM at 90 PSI with a maximum pressure of 135 PSI
  • Moisture-drain valve
  • Factory-installed coupler
  • Very affordable

Disadvantages

  • Not the quietest compressor with 82 dB noise level
  • You need to drain the compressed air after each use

There are two key highlights of the Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor: affordability and portability. It is very compact in size and only weighs 26 lbs. Yet, for its price, it offers a rich set of features.

If you are looking for a portable air compressor that is affordable, the Porter-Cable Pancake Compressor is worth considering.

Another one by Makita, and as the name suggests, the MAC2400 is the bigger, more powerful brother of the MAC700 discussed above.

It features a twin-stack design with two tanks, which also features Makita’s big bore design. So, it is half horsepower more powerful than the MAC700 with 2.5 HP.

Makita MAC700

With the same core designs, there are many similar features between the MAC700 and MAC2400. However, there are also some features unique to the MAC2400.

Let us take a look at the key features of the MAC2400.

Key Features

Twin Stack, 2.5 HP Big-Bore Tank

The Makita MAC2400 features two tanks in a twin-stack configuration. It features a 2.5 HP motor that can produce an impressive 4.2 CFM air capacity at 90 PSI.

While 4.2 CFM might not be a significant number for industrial usage, it is enough to power even the most demanding household power tools.

Running at just 1730 RPM, it is also very quiet with just 79 dB of noise level. As with the MAC700, the big bore cylinders can compress more air in every piston cycle, improving the durability of the Makita MAC2400.

Low-Amp Draw

Being a powerful air compressor, the MAC2400 features a low-amp draw with better resistance to voltage drop. Meaning, you wouldn’t need to worry about tripped breakers when starting it up.

Two Hose Outlets

There are two standard 1/4-inch quick connect outlets on the MAC2400. So, you can easily run two low-CFM tools together when necessary. This is a convenience for some purposes.

Oil-Lubricated Engine

The MAC2400 is oil-lubricated, so you can expect smoother operation and longer durability. There is an oil indicator window that is easy to read, so you can easily check the oil level and replace it when necessary.

Versatility

The Makita MAC2400 weighs 80 lbs, which is reasonable considering the twin-stack design and powerful output. It is still relatively portable and is versatile enough for both DIYers and professionals with its high air capacity, two available hoses, and relatively easy maintenance.

Advantages

  • Quiet operation with only 79 dB noise level
  • Oil-lubricated motor and big-bore design for better durability
  • High CFM rating suitable for most power tools
  • Excellent construction and material with metal roll cage
  • Two hose outlets giving more versatility

Disadvantages

  • Relatively heavy at 80 lbs
  • Low tank capacity for its CFM (only 4.2 Gallon)

If you are looking for a high-CFM air compressor, the Makita MAC2400 is one of the most portable and affordable options available on the market.

The 4.2 CFM rating is enough to power most if not all air tools available, making it a versatile choice for both professional and DIY usage.

The most interesting thing from the California Air Tools CAT-10020 is the huge 10-gallon tank capacity. Also, it is extremely quiet with only 70 dB of sound level.

Running at just 1680 RPM, the CAT-10020 runs at 2 Horsepower, so it is a nice mix of capacity, power, and quiet operation. So, at first glance, the California Air Tools CAT-10020 has all the right things to be an excellent portable air compressor.

Let us take a look at its key features.

Key Features

Huge Tank Size and CFM Rating

As mentioned, the key highlight of the California Air Tools CAT-10020 is the huge 10-gallon air capacity.  It is paired with a powerful 5.3 CFM compressed air at 90 PSI, with a maximum pressure of 125 PSI.

The tank takes only 130 seconds to go from empty to the full 125 PSI rating thanks to the powerful 2 HP motor, which is impressive. Nevertheless, the tank quality and capacity are designed for professional use, and it really shows with its performance.

Easy Maintenance

The California Air Tools CAT-10020 is totally oil-free, which is a nice touch considering its performance. So, it is very easy to maintain.

The only thing you will need to do is regularly emptying the tank after each use.

Portability

Although the CAT-10020 is relatively heavy at 88 lbs, we can consider it semi-portable thanks to the carrying handle on top. Also, although it is heavy with its 10-gallon tank, it is only 32-inch tall. So, you can easily store it just about anywhere.

2-Hose Connections

The 2-hose connectors give you more versatility when you need to operate two power tools simultaneously.

Thermal Overload Protection

With the thermal overload protector feature, you wouldn’t need to worry when you run the CAT-10020 for an extended time period. When overheating occurs, the thermal overload protection will automatically shut down the compressor to avoid electrical failure.

Advantages

  • 10-gallon capacity with oil-free design, very versatile for both professional and home use
  • Dual piston pump for quick refill
  • Easy maintenance
  • Easy to store anywhere, being only 32″ tall
  • Very quiet
  • 2 hose connectors
  • Fast recovery times
  • Easy to read gauges and easy control interfaces

Disadvantages

  • Relatively heavy at 88 lbs
  • Poor-quality wheelset
  • Made in China (questionable durability)

The California Air Tools CAT-10020 is aimed for professional use with its 10-gallon tank and 5.3 CFM rating. However, it is also portable and versatile enough for hobbyists and homeowners.

If you are looking for a relatively affordable yet powerful air compressor with a huge tank capacity, the CAT-10020 is an excellent choice.

The twin-stack Senco PC1131 is relatively light at just 60 lbs. It features a 4.3-gallon tank size with 2.5 HP motor, offering 4.4 CFM at 90 PSI.

With all those excellent features, the Senco PC1131 is also relatively affordable at below $300, and is quite versatile especially for household usage.

Let us take a look at its key features.

Key Features

Portability

With 20.5 x 16.5 x 14.5 inches dimension and 60 lbs of weight, the Senco PC1131 is relatively portable considering its twin-stack configuration and 4.3-gallon tank size.

The handle placement is well-balanced, making it easy enough to move around. However, it would do better if it is mounted on wheels.

Low-Amp, Powerful Performance

The Senco PC1131 utilizes a direct-drive pump drawing only 14 amperes each operation. So, it should not trip your circuit breaker even at home. Also, there is a thermal overload protection to prevent overheating.

With all those conveniences, the Senco PC11311 generates 4.4 CFM at 90 PSI. It has a quick recycle time with a max pressure of 125 PSI. Very versatile and powerful.

Efficient Direct Drive Pump

The direct drive pump is equipped with an induction motor, giving it a more efficient operation. The cast iron cylinder helps the pump to last longer, at the cost of making it heavier than competitors of its size.

Low Noise Level

With only 77 dB of noise level, it is one of the quieter pumps available, especially with the amount of compressed air it provides.

Advantages

  • Excellent recovery time for prolonged usage
  • High PSI output at 125 PSI
  • Washable air intake filter for easier maintenance
  • Excellent durability with cast-iron casing
  • Continuous-duty pump

Disadvantages

  • Relatively heavy for its size
  • With a twin-stack design, relatively difficult to store

The Senco PC1131 is the air compressor for extensive, continuous usage. For example, if you are remodeling a house that requires a prolonged usage of power tools, this is an excellent choice.

Yet, it is also quite versatile, portable, and affordable enough for homeowners and DIY hobbyists. An excellent and versatile choice for any operations.

The Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV is a very portable air compressor with only 20 lbs of weight and 15.7 x 7.9 x 19.6 inches dimensions.

So, portability is definitely its key value. Thanks to its size, it only offers a 3-gallon tank with a maximum PSI of 110. So, at first glance, the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV is relatively modest regarding its features.

How then, will it fare among others on this list? Let us take a look at its key features.

Key Features

Oil-Less Design

With the oil-less design, the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV requires very little to no maintenance. The only regular maintenance you will need to do is emptying the air after each use.

Electric-Powered

Normally, a compact air compressor of its size is battery-powered. However, the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV is electric-powered. This can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your needs and applications.

Performance

The Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV features a 3-gallon tank with a maximum pressure of 110 PSI. However, it can only offer 0.39 CFM at 90 PSI, which is very modest compared to others on this list.

So, while you can’t expect the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV to run heavy-duty air tools that typically require 3-4 CFM, it is enough to power up household nail gun or stapler.

Included Accessory Kit

The package includes accessories including inflation needles, inflation adapter, male plugs, and tapered inflation. Also, a carrying handle is included for easier mobility.

Advantages

  • Very affordable
  • One of the most portable air compressors available
  • Included accessory kit for added value
  • Easy to use with user-friendly design
  • Ideal choice for household usage

Disadvantages

  • Modest capacity and power, not suitable for heavy-duty and continuous usage

If you are looking for a portable air compressor that is very compact and affordable, the Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV is an excellent choice, as long as the light-duty power rating is not an issue.

Overall, it is ideal for household usage and powering light-duty power tools. Very affordable, easy to store and move anywhere, and can power decent amount of light-duty tools.

Conclusion

Portable air compressors are an essential equipment for a wide variety of work. Household users can use it to inflate tires and power light to medium-duty power tools like staplers or nail guns. For these users, a portable air compressor with light to medium CFM is adequate, as budget and portability will be the main concern

For professionals using heavy-duty or continuous air tools, a more powerful air compressor with higher CFM rating is necessary. However, these heavy-duty air compressors are often heavier and less portable.

So, the most important thing to consider before buying a portable air compressor is understanding your needs. The key consideration is to find the most affordable air compressor that can fit your needs regarding power requirement, air capacity, portability, and durability.