Portable Air compressor- The Ultimate Guide

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As the name implies, a portable air compressor is a machine that you can take wherever you need to do your job. This blog post aims to help you understand what a portable air compressor is, what you have to consider when you want to purchase one, what the best machines for your situation are, and how they can be used.

Portable Air compressor

There are two main types of portable air compressors, air inflators, and air compressors that can power an air tool. Air inflators are small, relatively cheap, and have a small air tank. They are mainly used to inflate various types of tires or inflatable products. Air compressors that can power air tools have a much bigger tank and can reach a higher pressure. They are used to power tools like a paint sprayer, nail guns, or air-powered drills.

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A portable air compressor’s significant advantage is that they can be moved to the location where they are needed. If you have to winterize your irrigation system, you can take the air compressor to where the pipes are reachable. Or move it to your driveway to work on your car.

Types of Portable Air Compressors

Portable air compressors can be grouped into four different types. These include air inflators, pancake air compressors, hot dog air compressors, and twin stack air compressors. Each type has other specifications and is best suited to cartain kinds of jobs. The table below will show you how to differentiate between the different types:

Portable compressor type
Air Flow (CFM)
Maximum pressure (PSI)
Motor Power (HP)
Power Source
Air Inflators
Only suited to inflate various types of tires and inflatable products
60 – 230
Very small
12V and mains supply
Pancake air compressors
Can be used for an airbrush as well as inflate tires and inflatable products
0 – 4
90 – 135
1 – 3
Hot Dog Air Compressors
The bigger tank makes it well suited for various air tools
0 – 5
110 – 225
Gas or electric
Twin Stack Air compressors
This is a more professional air compressor used for larger jobs like carpentry/contractor jobs
Gas or electric

– Air Inflators

As the name implies, air inflators are used to fill something with air to make it swell. This type of portable air compressor is mostly used to inflate vehicle tires. Most tire inflators have the option to use a 12V cigarette lighter plug for usage close to your car, and with a mains adapter for other locations. Some air inflators have rechargeable batteries that do not need a power cord. Compared to other portable air compressors, air inflators are lighter, smaller, and perfect for small jobs and emergency purposes. Some of them that have a rechargeable battery can even be used to jump-start a car battery. They usually come in an easy-to-carry case to ensure that all the parts are kept nice and tidy. Below is a list of some of the best portable air inflators and their unique features.

● Oasser Portable Electric Inflator

The Oasser portable electric inflator can rapidly inflate tires of cars, bikes, motorbikes, balls, inflatable toys. Its features include a big 2200 mAh lithium battery, a 12V power base, a storage bag, two air hoses measuring at 13.78 inches and 4.7 inches. It also comes with tool gloves, LED light, power display, and three-unit values- PSI, BAR & KG/CM2. The power display allows you to pre-set the tire pressure the way you want it.

You can check the price for the Oasser Portable Electric Inflator here.

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● DBPOWER Compact Air Compressor

 The DBPOWER compact air compressor has a simple design, is very portable, and an easy-to-use & fast tool for any household. It can also be used for cars, bikes, and sports balls. It can inflate a medium-sized car tire from 0-35 PSI in 10 minutes. Its features include a 12v lighter plug to enable you to use it on the road without a wall plug, a PSI scale monitor to help keep track of the pressure, and a long power cord at 6 inches. Due to its small size, it can easily be stored without taking up so much space.

You can check the price of the DBPOWER Compact Air compressor here.

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● Audew Auto Digital Tire Inflator

This can be easily operated by plugging it into the cigarette socket of a vehicle. Its 3 meters cable helps to inflate all four tires quickly. For convenience, the Audew Auto digital tire inflator has a one-touch switch for starting and stopping. When the correct tire pressure is reached, the Inflate Right Technology feature gives room for automatic shutoff.  It is good for inflating bikes, motorbikes, RVs, SUVs, ATVs, trucks, cars, and sports equipment. There are adaptors included for use with inflatables.

You can check the price of the Audew Auto Digital Tire Inflator here.

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● Tcisa Digital Tire Inflator

The Tcisa 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump has a pre-set option that will turn off when the desired pressure level is reached, preventing over-inflation. It is easy to plug the Tcisa digital tire inflator into the cigarette lighter in any car and be used anywhere. It has a high resolution, and its large LCD is easy to read. It has a bright LED flashlight, which helps you to operate in darkness when needed, especially in emergencies. Tires of vehicles such as cars, bikes, sedans, SUVs, and motorbikes can be inflated with this device. It comes in a convenient travel bag to make it easy to carry.

You can check the price for the Tcisa Digital Tire Inflator here.

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– Pancake Air Compressors

Pancake air compressors are relatively lightweight and small and are easy to store. They do not have belts and are oil-free, so basically, no maintenance is required. Pancake air compressors can be used to power air tools that do not need a lot of air like an airbrush. They are also ok to fill sports balls, bicycle tires. Depending on the type, they have a small to a medium tank that is fine for pressures up to 150-PSI. The downside is that some can be noisy.

● Dewalt cordless pancake air compressor, DCC2560T1

The significant advantage of the Dewalt air compressor is its rechargeable battery. You can take this machine into the field even when there is no mains supply. The battery is powerful enough to fill the tank 4 to 5 times and is swappable. You can use it for small air tools like a nail gun. The machine’s weight is around 5 pounds, can deliver a pressure of up to 135psi, and has a CFM of 1.2 SCFM at 90 PSI.

You can find the price for the Dewalt cordless pancake air compressor here.

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● BOSTITCH pancake air compressor, BTFP02012

The Bostitch brand is known for being consistent and reliable. Its high-efficiency motor ensures that, even in cold weather, the device can start quickly. Portability is undoubtedly one of the appealing features of this 16-pound product. Not a lot of effort is required to move it from one place to another, and it has an ergonomic handle and rubber stands.

You can find the price for the BOSTITCH pancake air compressor here.

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● Dewalt pancake air compressor, DWFP55126

This powerful Dewalt air compressor is well suited for powering a wide variety of power tools but will inflate your tire quickly as well. It can deliver a pressure of up to 165psi. It weighs just over 32 pounds making it less portable than some of its competitors. But it can provide a CFM of 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI.

You can find the price for the Dewalt pancake air compressor here.

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– Hot Dog Air Compressors

For professionals and hobbyists, hot dog air compressors are often used because they have sufficient power to operate small air tools like airbrushes and staplers. They are much heavier, and their air tanks are slightly bigger than pancake air compressors. A gas engine powers some models, others use a mains supply. For more comfortable transportation, hot dog compressors are fitted with handles. Most Hot dog air compressors are oil-less, do not have belts, require little or no maintenance, but are quite noisy. When searching for the perfect hot dog air compressor, its tank size, carrying handle, and rubber feet are factors to consider.

● California Air Tools 8010

The California Air Tools compressor is a bigger model, but its wheels and carry handle makes it still convenient to move around. The tank can hold 8 gallons of compressed air, and it can deliver an air pressure of up to 125 PSI and 2.20 CFM. It has a silent engine that can fill the tank in around 160 seconds. It has a pressure gauge to monitor the pressure and a high flow regulator switch. The machine is more than adequate to power various air tools, inflating car tires, or using an airbrush.

You can check the California Air Tools price here.

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● Campbell Hausfeld FP209499AV

A reliable, easy to use, and compact air compressor from Campbell Hausfeld. The maximum air pressure is 110 PSI, and the tank can hold 3 gallons of compressed air. It is oil-free and uses a high capacity induction motor, and is relatively low noise. It has two coupler valves and a high flow regulator switch, and the control panel has two gauges that show you the air pressure. The machine is sufficient for powering air tools, inflating car tires, or using an airbrush.

You can check the Campbell Hausfeld price here.

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● Senco PC1010 Air Compressor

The smaller portable Senco air compressor weighs around 20 pounds and can deliver an air pressure of up to 120 PSI. It is very portable due to its small size and the convenient handle no the top of the machine. It uses a silent induction motor, is oil-free, and has a tank that can hold 1 gallon of air. The machine is sufficient for powering air tools, inflating car tires, or using an airbrush.

You can check the Senco Air Compressor price here.

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– Twin-stack Air Compressors

Twin-stack air compressors contain two air tanks, doubling the air supply. This means that it can be used for tools that require a lot of air or are used for a longer time. A twin-stack air compressor is an excellent option for construction workers, auto shops, or other power users. The air compressor has enough power to be used with a great variety of air tools like nailers, impact wrenches, spray painters, and brad guns. One of the best twin-stack air compressors is the Ingersoll Rand Twin-Stack air compressor.

● Ingersoll Rand Twin-Stack air compressor

The Ingersoll Rand oil-lubricated Twin-Stack reciprocating air compressor is built to provide power, durability, and portability on the job site. It is one of the lightest and most portable twin stack air compressors in the market. The twin-stack will be more than adequate to do a complete job of decking, roofing, interior trimming, and finishing.  The compressor is made to last and features a robust cast-iron cylinder designed for the most challenging continuous heavy-duty applications.

You can find the price for the Ingersoll Rand Twin-Stack air compressor here.

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Why use a Portable Air Compressor

The benefits of transportable air compressors include:

  • Less noise: Most portable compressors produce less noise compared to non-portable air compressors.
  • Space: They are lightweight and compact, causing them to save space when used and when stored.
  • Versatility: The portable air compressors are designed to suit a wide range of industrial purposes.

Portable Air Compressor Buying guide

It is imperative to know how it works, its types, and other crucial factors involved in choosing the best portable air compressor. These factors include:

1.   Air Flow

    In general, the airflow is measured in terms of cubic feet per minute (CFM), which helps you understand how much air the compressor can provide to power your tires or tools. To calculate the required CFM of a tool, multiply the tool’s provided CF by 1.5. The CFM for some commonly used power tools are:

  • Angle grinder: 5 to 8 CFM
  • Brad nailer: 3 CFM
  • Pneumatic drill: 3 to 6 CFM
  • HVLP spray gun: 12 CFM

2.   Duty Cycle

The duty cycle refers to the length of time the device can run before it takes a break to cool down. It also refers to how long it needs to cool, and it measures in percentage. Some of the high-performance models have a thermal protection feature that automatically shuts off the machine when it reaches a specific temperature. An air compressor’s duty cycle is the time it can operate at 100 PSI and a temperature of 72 degrees before it needs to be turned off to cool down.  If the air compressor is working during extreme temperature changes, the amount of cooling time required will vary. Duty cycles can be stated in the following percentages:

  • 10% duty cycle – 1 minute on and 9 mins off
  • 20% duty cycle – should run for 2 minutes on and 8 minutes off
  • 30% duty cycle – 3 minutes on and 7 minutes off
  • 50% duty cycle – 5 minutes on and 5 minutes off
  • 100% duty cycle – can run on nonstop duty

What is best for you depends on your use case. The higher the duty cycle, the more expensive the air compressor will be.

3.   Power Source

Portable air compressors are powered by gas or electricity. Except for the smaller air inflators, electric air compressors use a mains supply. The advantage is that they don’t produce smoke, need less maintenance, and are the best choice for indoor applications. Gas-powered air compressors can be used in locations where there is no mains supply. They can also be high performance and comfortable to use, but should be used outside or in a well-ventilated area. As with each gas engine, good maintenance is essential to make the machine last longer.

4.   Cord length

For easy use, your air compressor should have a long power cord. Some portable air compressors have a 10 feet long power cord while others have a 15 feet long power cord. Choosing the one with a longer power cord (15 feet) is more practical without the need for an extension cord.

5.   Tank Size

Many portable air compressors come with a tank capacity of up to 6 gallons. Before buying, it is essential to check that the air compressor tank size and capacity suit the project you plan to do. For domestic compressors, a small tank of approximately 0 to 3-gallon tank capacity works best. Using a small tank with medium or large projects will result in a waste of energy. It takes longer to fill the tank and will have more wear and tear. A larger tank with at least 5 to 6 gallons of tank size would better accommodate heavy applications/more extensive projects.

6.   Maximum pressure

Before buying an air compressor to power your air tool or inflate your tires, remember to check the maximum pressure limit. In terms of Pound per square inch (PSI), air pressure is measured.  Please note that a higher PSI means a smaller tank will be able to hold more air. A safe purchasing bet would be getting a smaller device with a higher PSI to ensure effective performance. 

7.   Power Draw

For air compressors powered by a gas engine or the mains supply, the importance of the efficieny will depend significantly on your use case. If you only use your machine sparsely, the energy cost will not be very high. But when you use your air compressor all the time, the energy cost can add up. Choosing a more efficient model can save you a lot of energy cost.

In the case of a portable air compressor powered from your car battery (12V models), power usage can be crucial. You do not want to have an empty car battery after your job is done. So check how much your machine is using.

8.   Price

You can find air compressor models in a wide range of budgets. Depending on the type of air compressor, there will be cheaper brands and more expensive brands. Define upfront the features you need and the size of your budget. Don’t forget to include maintenance costs, particularly when you want to choose a gas-powered machine.

9.    Other features of an air compressor

To make your work more comfortable, portable air compressors have a range of options that you should check before making purchases. Some of these are:

  • Belt drive: It enables you to change the airflow and pressure according to your requirements flexibly. They are less costly and easy to mount and maintain, but they are not ideal for high temperatures or harsh environments.
  • Horizontal/vertical tanks: The Vertical tank would take up less space, while the horizontal tank is more portable.
  • Cast Iron components: The air compressor design is mainly available in standards cylinders, except for a few piston types. Cast iron crankcase, crankshaft, flywheel, or valve seats are available in these piston style versions, which add versatility to the air compressor.
  •  ASME parts: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has set codes and standards that an air compressor’s parts or components should meet.
  • Low oil protection: When the oil levels are low, the part will shut off the compressor, thus avoiding downtime and costly repairs, which can be caused by low levels of fluid or oil.
  • Continuous speed: By changing the airflow according to specifications, the constant speed feature will make the engine run continuously.
  • Auto start or stop: This feature automatically helps you turn on the device whenever air is required and turns it off when the tank is full.
  • Dual Control: This allows you to set your air compressor run either in a continuous mode or an auto start/stop mode.

From the list of features, it is clear that there are many things to consider when looking for a portable air compressor. It might seem like a lot, but the truth is, if you want to have a smooth operation of your air compressor, it is best to put all these factors into consideration.

Maintaining an Air Compressor

Like any other mechanical device, it is essential to perform routine maintenance

● Pump oil level

If your compressor is oil-free, this part of the maintenance is not needed. But you must check the air compressor pump oil level for all other air compressors. When the level is low, it can destroy the pump.

  • Step 1: Turn the machine off. Remove the mains cable if applicable.
  • Step 2: Put the machine on a flat surface, and leave it there for 5 minutes.
  • Step 3: Remove the oil fill cap
  • Step 4: Check the oil level, and see how the oil looks. If it seems dirty, you should change the pump oil.
  • Step 5: If needed, fill with oil. Make sure you do not overfill.

You can find Air Compressor Pump Oil here.


● Change the pump oil

If the oil in your pump is looking nasty or dirty, it needs to be replaced.

  • Step 1: Turn the machine off. Remove the mains cable if applicable.
  • Step 2: Make sure the oil is cooled. If you just used your machine, you have to give the oil some time to cool down.
  • Step 3: Put the machine on a flat surface.
  • Step 4: Remove the oil fill cap.
  • Step 5: Put an oil container underneath the drain cap. You can also use an old bucket.
  • Step 6: Remove the drain plug and let the oil fully drain.
  • Step 7: Put the drain plug back. Make sure it is tightened sufficiently.
  • Step 8: Fill with new oil. Wait a few minutes and recheck the level. If needed, add a little bit again.

You can find Air Compressor Pump Oil here.

● Clean or change the air filter

The air filter cleans the air that the engine uses. Over time it can get dirty or even clog.

  • Step 1: Turn the machine off. Remove the mains cable if applicable.
  • Step 2: Make sure the air compressor is cooled down.
  • Step 3: Remove the filter cover. Normally there are a few screws that need to be unscrewed.
  • Step 4: Get the air filter out.
  • Step 5: Clean the air filter. You can use a vacuum if needed.
  • Step 6: If the air filter looks bad, you should replace it.
  • Step 7: Put the air filter back and reattach the cover.

You can find Air Compressor Air filter here.


● Other maintenance

To further prolong the air compressors lifespan, you should also check:

  • Fuel tank: Ensure the compressor fuel tank is clean
  • Shutoff system: Check the correct working of the air compressor shutoff system
  • Nuts: Check the different nuts and bolts and make sure that they are all tight. The shaking of the air compressor may loosen some of them.
  • Vibration: Check for more than usual vibrations or strange noises.
  • Leaks: Check for oil and air leaks
  • Safety release value: Check that the safety release valve is working correctly.
  • Belts: Check the belts for wear and tear
  • Pressure: Check the differential pressure in the compressed air filter
  • Hose: Inspect the hose for damage and wear and tear.
  • Temperature: Check and ensure that the operating temperature does not exceed a safe level
  • Condensation: Drain the condensation from the air compressor tank

● How often should you check and maintain your Air Compressor

How often you should do maintenance on your air compressor differs significantly from your usage. If you use it daily, you have to check things more often than if you only use your machine sparsly.

– Before using your Air compressor:

  • Drain the water from the air compressor tank
  • Check for oil and air leaks
  • Check for more than usual vibrations or strange noises
  • Check the level of the Pump oil

– Monthly

  • Check for loose bolts and nuts
  • Check the safety release valve
  • Check the air filter
  • Belt check
  • Check for air and oil leaks

– Yearly

  • Change the oil in the pump
  • If you have a gas air compressor, give the engine its yearly maintenance

Tools that can be used with a Portable Air Compressor

Portable Air compressors can be used for many different tasks with as many different air tools:

  • Nail guns: This is used to drive nails into wood, walls, or any other material.
  • Grinders: This is a tool used for grinding.
  • Sanders: It is used for the smoothness of rough surfaces.
  • Drills: It is a machine with a rotating cutting tip used to produce a hole in something.
  • Staple gun: These are used to push heavy-duty wire staples and other materials into the wood.
  • Spray guns: This is a device similar to a gun which, when under pressure, is used to spray liquid, for example, paint

You can find a lot of Air Compressor Air tools here.

Frequently Asked Questions

● What Size of Air Compressor is needed for Airing up Tires?

You will only need around 4 CFM to reliably run a tire inflator and get it to work with a wide range of tires. For passenger cars, the recommended PSI is 32 to 35, so you can quickly fill up most vehicles with your average 90 PSI compressor.

● How do I repair a 12Volt air compressor?

Some small problems you can fix yourself. Check on Google if somebody had a similar problem, and do not forget to check on Youtube. If you are not technical, it is advisable to get a professional to help fix it instead of fixing it yourself.

● Is it advisable to keep the pressurized air in a compressor?

The answer is NO. It is recommended that you drain the air after each use. This is to avoid water settling in the tank, which could end up causing rust and weakening of the equipment. Always release the air and open the drain valve to free out any condensation.

Final Remarks

A portable air compressor can be seen to be a perfect and great option, especially when you want to inflate your car tires on the go. This article has outlined the main types of portable air compressors, the top best portable air compressors of 2020, and its benefits. A detailed explanation has also been provided to guide you on what to look out for before purchasing a portable air compressor. One should also carry out regular maintenance of the air compressors. For the efficient running of the air compressor, daily inspection is required.

In all, depending on the type of portable air compressor you choose, you must take time to study and understand how exactly it works. You must also remember to get the exact portable air compressor that best suits your job need.