Best Portable Air Compressors

Learn about Portable Air Compressors and How to Choose One

Buying a portable air compressor can seem like an overwhelming process due to the shear amount of different types available. However, when you ask yourself a few basic questions, you’ll be able to narrow down your selection significantly. Knowing exactly what your air compressor will be used for, how often you will need to use it and how much power you will need are the perfect starting points.

Portable air compressors can make large jobs or simple tasks easier. That’s why you see them used by the average homeowner, professionals, manufacturers and many other people. When you’ve got a good understanding of what you’ll be using your portable air compressor for, then you can focus more on details like tank capacity, CFM output, weight, size, horsepower and available accessories. We’ve researched and tested dozens of different types of portable air compressors to help make your buying process easier.

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Best Portable Air Compressors for Lawns and Garden

Portable Air Compressors

Discover the best portable air compressors for your home, worksite, or car from the Better Lawns & Garden team.

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What to Look for When Evaluating Portable Air Compressors

If you’re going to invest in a portable air compressor, you need to make sure it at least solves your basic needs. For example, if you only want to keep a portable air compressor in your shop at home for airing up tires, balls and other similar items, then a small tank capacity of around 3 gallons should get the job done. But if you’re a DIY expert and often tackle various projects around the house requiring nail guns or other air-powered tools, then a tank capacity of 5-10 gallons is ideal. A tank capacity of around 6 gallons will usually handle any household project with ease, so it’s the most common size purchased for the average homeowner.

Many people focus solely on the pounds per square inch (PSI) when evaluating portable air compressors, rather than the cubic feet per minute (CFM). The higher the PSI, the more air volume can be compressed into the air tank. But the CFM is measured by the volume of air actually delivered in a one-minute timespan of the portable air compressor operating. So when evaluating the power of a particular air compressor, the CFM output should be one of the specifications you place the most emphasis on.

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Shopping Guide for Portable Air Compressors

Updated July 5, 2019

The best way to select the perfect portable air compressor is to look at the specifications of the tools you’ll be using, and see if the air compressor you’re interested in buying can support it. A finish nailer may operate at a lower CFM than a framing nailer, and those specifications should be listed on the package or instructions. The idea is if your finish nailer needs to operate at 0.5 CFM at 90 PSI, then your portable air compressor should have at least that amount output.

Due to the variances in size, weight and power of portable air compressors, some people actually have a couple different ones to serve multiple purposes. It may be challenging to load and unload an air compressor weighing 80+ pounds on a daily basis, especially if you may not even need to use it every day. So keeping a heavier and more powerful air compressor in your shop or at home, and taking a lighter one on the road, is ideal for many people.

Another thing to consider is whether you want an oil-lubricated air compressor or an oil-free one. An oil-free air compressor requires less maintenance, since you don’t have to worry about changing out oil at all. It’s ideal for people who don’t necessarily use their air compressor much, since oil can get gummy and cause problems if it doesn’t get used much. An oil-lubricated air compressor often operates more smoothly and is often quieter as well. It will also operate at cooler temperatures and the wear and tear will be reduced compare to oil-free options.

Why a Portable Air Compressor

Portable air compressors can be a useful tool for blowing up car tires or providing a portable way to run a nail gun or similar tools.

What Are the Benefits of a Portable Air Compressor?

Having compressed air when you need it can prove to be extremely useful. When you always have a portable air compressor in the back of your truck or the trunk of your car, you can quickly and easily air up a flat tire if you ever need to. You may never have to use it, but it is extremely convenient to have when you do need it most. Getting out of difficult situations like this makes the investment well worth it after just a single use.

Portable air compressors are also valuable for the DIY expert and professionals alike, since they can power various tools from basic nail guns all the way up to paint sprayers. You can even use it to blow off dust or debris from your work surface, shop, truck or anything else. Having a portable air compressor handy can ensure you have the right equipment to get the job done when you need it.

There may not be a one-size-fits-all portable air compressor available, but there is an air compressor available to fit everyone’s needs. People who do various jobs will often invest in two or more portable air compressors if it makes sense. Some air compressors are labeled as portable, but are still heavy, bulky and inconvenient to move. Those are usually best suited for staying in a shop. Comparable models can be found that are lighter in weight to make transporting them easier.

If you are looking for other tools for your home projects, check our our other recommendations.