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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.