What do you need to know about Air Compressors?
In writing this article we wanted to achieve two goals. Firstly, to help someone who is looking to purchase an air compressor by identifying some of the best models available. Secondly, to arm you with all the information you could possibly need to make that decision.
We don’t like being told what is best for us, how does someone else know us or our needs well enough to make that decision? With this air compressor buyers guide we will hopefully answer all of your questions regarding air compressors so that you can make that decision for yourself.
Only got 5 minutes to spare?
We appreciate time is valuable and important and you may not have the time nor inclination to read the whole of this buyers guide. If you only have 5 minutes this section will hit the high points of what you need to know, couple this with our comparison table below and you should have just enough of the basics to help you make a buying decision.
Full size vs portable air compressor
Depending on what you decide to use your air compressor for will determine which way you decide to proceed. A portable air compressor is great for inflating tyres, footballs, air beds, etc. They come in a variety of 12v power and battery powered models and some include digital gauges showing current pressure and allowing you to set the desired PSI to inflate to.
Full size air compressors allow you to perform tasks such as running air power tools, paint spraying and cleaning. There are several key considerations when choosing your full size air compressor which are listed below.
Key considerations for an air compressor
- Are you planning on using it for spray painting? If so you will need to look for something that supports a low amount of pressure and a high flow rate, usually measured in CFM.
- Do you plan on keeping the compressor in one place such as a garage, or are you planning on moving it around your home?
- What is your budget? Depending on what you plan on using the air compressor for will dicate whether or not a suitable compressor in your budget.
If any of the points above trigger a consideration that you hadn’t initially thought about, I would suggest you find the relevant section in this buyers guide to find out a little more before investing in an air compressor.
Our Best Pick
Our Best Budget
Our Best Pick Air Compressor
As you read on you will see what we have used to decide which models should feature in our best pick and best budget models. But we set a clear brief that the models must adhere to in order to feature.
This Wolf Dakota air compressor made the cut as we felt it ticked the most boxes. For the average user at home, the requirements include the ability to run power tools, spray paint and inflate tyres. This air compressor from Wolf allows you to all of these things to a high standard. It is fairly heavy at 80Kg but as far as home user air compressors go this is well worth the investment. We have reviewed this compressor more in depth further down the article.
- 1 What do you need to know about Air Compressors?
- 2 Only got 5 minutes to spare?
- 3 Our Best Pick Air Compressor
- 4 Why trust us?
- 5 Things you need to know about an air compressor
- 6 What to look for in a home garage compressor
- 7 What to look for in portable air compressors
- 8 Additional considerations with an air compressor
- 9 Our best pick air compressor, in more detail
- 10 Best Budget Air Compressor
- 11 The best of the rest
- 12 Portable Air Compressors
- 13 Frequently Asked Questions
- 14 Final thoughts on air compressors
Why trust us?
The internet is full of review sites that claim they have bought and rigorously tested every product so they can give you the best buying advice. Tripadvisor has some fake reviews, so who can you trust?
At ToolsReview, we pick individual products, ranges or whole categories of tools and spend hours pouring over technical information, manuals and forums to find out everything you could possibly want or need to know about the products.
We bundle all that information into a buyers guide so you can make an informed decision based on your needs without doing the legwork.
We pride ourselves on being independent and objective – if we don’t like a product we’ll tell it as it is.
Things you need to know about an air compressor
When choosing an air compressor there are two main considerations in my eyes, is it for domestic or commercial use. If you are looking for something for commercial use, you may consider something that costs several thousand pounds, weighs a few hundred kilograms and takes up a lot of room. This will be the bread and butter of your business if you are spraying cars or replacing tyres for a living. This article isn’t based around that sort of niche.
This article is looking more at the domestic air compressor market, what is the best air compressor for the home garage?
So, first we need to look at what a compressor is made up of and how it works, this will then give us a list of what are important factors when choosing the best air compressor for our needs.
How an air compressor works
When looking at how an air compressor works, it is quite a technical in depth topic, there is a video we came across on YouTube below that looks into it in depth. But for the purposes of this article, we want to take a high level overview and try to explain the basics.
On top of the main body or cylinder there is an air inlet valve. Inside the cylinder is a piston, the air inlet valve is initially open so that as the piston goes down air can fill the cylinder. As the piston reaches the bottom of the cylinder, the air inlet valve shuts and the air outlet valve opens. The piston then pushes the air out of the cylinder up and out of the air outlet valve into the air storage tank. The air outlet valve shuts as the piston reaches the top again, in turn the air inlet valve opens and the process starts again.
As the storage tank starts to fill up with compressed air a sensor in the tank monitors it so that it knows when it is at capacity or at the maximum amount of bar or PSI of pressure for the compressor. Once that happens the electric motor driving the piston up and down turns off. As air is used from the compressor by power tools, etc the motor will start up again to keep the storage tank full and under pressure.
There is an oil pan that the crankshaft (attached to the piston) sits in, keeping all of the moving parts lubricated and cooling the moving parts. Compressing air generates a lot of heat and so it is important to keep the oil levels correct. There is also a filter that removes moisture from the air, a moisture build up inside the compressor would start to rot the compressor and cause rust, equally you wouldn’t want moisture transferring to something you were spray painting or to your tools.
I appreciate that is a lot to digest and when performing research for this article I had to read various sources and it still took me a while to get my head around it. The video below also helps in explaining it and hopefully the image above will allow you to see the various components I was talking about.
Uses of an air compressor
When it comes to spray painting with an air compressor you are after two things, high volume and low pressure. Whilst some compressors are capable of kicking out upwards of 140psi, you are only looking for up to around 70 PSI for spray painting, what you need though is volume! Each spray gun requires a different specification air compressor so it is worth checking if you already have a spray gun or you are intending to purchase a spray gun and air compressor. An average would require around 12 CFM to run. You want to be looking at a compressor that provides more than this so that it isn’t constantly struggling. Our best pick the Wolf Dakota for example, has 14 CFM, this would suffice for a paint sprayer such as this Clarke Spray Gun.
The domestic industry for paint spraying has opened up in recent years and you not only have the option of traditional paint sprayers that are run through a separate compressor, but also HVLP mains electric powered spray guns. These allow a constant amount of pressure, and reduce risks such as water and oil getting into the paint sprayer. The Meterk paint sprayer below is a perfect example of this.
The majority of our website looks at power tools, battery powered, mains powered but very few air powered tools. This is something we may look to review more of in the future, but they aren’t as widely purchased, certainly in the domestic market as mains and battery powered tools.
Most people don’t have a compressor kicking about in their kitchen, when they need to do a spot of DIY and they aren’t exactly what you would call portable. So are they any use and why do they exist?
Well, air powered power tools are phenomenal pieces of kit for a few reasons;
- No motors, so less maintenance and risk of failure is reduced
- Unlike battery powered tools the power source is constant and doesn’t run out
- Much more powerful
- Usually cheaper to purchase due to no motors
If however you have a compressor for other tasks, then considering some air fed power tools really isn’t a bad idea at all. You can buy a kit like the one below that has a basic selection of power tools to get you started. Featuring an air impact driver, air chisel, an air drill and an air ratchet screwdriver. When you consider that price of the kit, one of these tools alone that was a decent make and battery powered would cost that!
What to look for in a home garage compressor
As I said earlier, whilst commercial and larger compressors are great, they aren’t really the focus of this article. So what things do we need to consider when purchasing a compressor for use at home? Primarily noise, weight and size. You don’t want something that is going to annoy the neighbours, or that makes enough noise that it could be damaging to its user. We would always recommend wearing ear defenders when operating a compressor anyway as even the small units can generate quite a bit of noise.
When looking to choose a compressor it is worth looking at the DBA rating that it comes with, this will show you roughly how loud it will be. But how are you supposed to know how loud 80 DBA is for example?
We have had the issue of when reading tool specifications and trying to imagine how loud something is based on a DBA rating for a while now, so we looked further. You can read more about this in depth HERE but in essence there is an app you can download for your iPhone which you can see a link to below. If you then use something in and around your house such as a hair dryer, you can put the app on and see how loud it is in DBA. You could also use the volume control on your TV to get you to the required sound level, we think it’s pretty simple and kind of cool.
Weight is also a big consideration if you are looking for an air compressor to use around the house. If this is something that you are going to set up in your garage and run from that location, I wouldn’t get too hung up on the weight of your air compressor. But if it is something that you think will be used around the house then weight is a huge consideration.
From paint spraying walls when decorating to using your new air power tools, if you are planning to use them around your house the weight of your air compressor is a consideration.
In the best of the rest section below we look at some of the smaller air compressors on offer which whilst might not have the air flow for paint spraying, can certainly copy with air power tools for use around your home.
Similar to the weight of the compressor, size comes into play when you are considering where it will be primarily stored. If you have plenty of room in a garage or shed to store it and operate it from, then the size of your air compressor doesn’t really matter all that much. If however this is something that you are going to move around or is going to be stored under the stairs then you will need to factor in the size of the unit.
What to look for in portable air compressors
When I say portable air compressors, i’m talking about the sort of thing that allows you to pump your car tyres up on the move. In the past few months I have bought one of these pieces of kit and also a portable jump pack, for jump starting a flat battery.
In the past devices like this whilst available, used the old style of batteries that couldn’t hold charge over time, battery quality degraded quickly and didn’t provide a constant supply of power. WIth the advent of Lithium-ION batteries these tools are amazing and well worth the investment.
There are also models that run off the 12v power supply in your car, whilst these are still a great option and you aren’t relying on battery power and the batteries being charged. It is important to have your engine running to avoid flattening your car battery. The issue with this is the risk of your vehicle being stolen while you are crouched down round the other side of it.
Some of the models in the table below have battery power and some 12v supply, some also feature a digital gauge where you can preset the amount of pressure you want to put in the tyres, this is a big advantage.
<How we picked – What are they key features we looked for, feedback rating, how we review this.> When it comes to choosing our best pick, best budget and best of the rest products for each review, we like to set some clear criteria. When it comes to the Air Compressor buyers guide we wanted the following from our selection;
- At least 1.5hp
- With the exception of small compressors a minimum 50L tank
- Capable of running on single phase 240v power
We also look at several other factors with our buyers guides, these are things that we feel are important across the board to our buyers. These include;
- At least 4 out of 5 stars when it comes to reviews
- 1 Year warranty or above
What we also try to highlight as we look at each of the products we have identified as part of our air compressor buyers guide are what the compressor would be useful for. We look at air compressors with large tanks, high flow rates, smaller units and portable air compressors. With each we try to identify the best use case for each, if your aim is to be able to do paint spraying there is no point in looking at something that has a flow rate of 5cfm.
Additional considerations with an air compressor
One thing that we feel is important to note with air compressors is power and heat.
Air compressors generate a lot of heat within the motor area and it is important to do several things;
- Keep them away from being in a tight enclosed space
- Keep flammable materials away from them
- Ensure that oil levels and moisture levels are regularly checked
The other thing that is important when it comes to air compressors is their power requirements. Whilst all of the compressors featured in this power guide are designed to run off single phase 240v power, with a 13amp plug, you need to be careful how they achieve this. Extension leads are a no go and if additional electric sockets have been added to your home or garage it is important to ensure they comply with regulations. If not you could find you start popping circuit breakers due to the power requirements of an air compressor.
Our best pick air compressor, in more detail
Our best pick air compressor goes to the Wolf Dakota 90L air compressor. This compressor, being from one of the best-known names in the industry, features 14CFM air flow, 150 PSI of pressure, a 90-litre tank and a 3HP motor.
Weighing in at just short of 70Kg it is worth noting that this is an air compressor that is better suited to a fixed location in your garage or workshop. This impressive model would be perfectly adequate for running paint sprayers, air power tools and many more tools and accessories.
This is a great all-round air compressor that should be considered as long as you can accommodate its size and weight.
Best Budget Air Compressor
When it comes to our budget air compressor choice, we decided on something that would get basic tasks completed. It can happily inflate tyres, clean with air and run a basic range of air powered tools. This compressor wouldn’t be any use for paint spraying due to its lower flow rate.
This Stanley air compressor is however very light weight and ideal for someone who wants something that can be easily carried around the house and beyond. It is even small and light enough to put in the boot of your car to take with you to a friends house, should you require.
If you are paint spraying or planning on regularly doing lots of work with air power tools, this might not be the compressor for you, but for occasional
The best of the rest
The SGS 100L air compressor is one that we wanted to mention. Whilst this model didn’t get our best pick it is the highest specification of air compressor that we mention in this buyers guide. It has a 100 litre tank, can shift 14.6 CFM of air and has a 3HP motor on tap. It is very well specified and isn’t significantly heavier than some of the competition at just over 70Kg.
This unit will cope with paint spraying, powering air power tools and much more. It didn’t quite get the best pick due to the fact that the Wolf name means so much! It has a reputation built up that gives people the confidence to know what to expect.
The Wolf Sioux is a great little air compressor. Whilst it doesn’t have the flow rate or pressure of some of the bigger units such as the Wolf Dakota. This unit is great if you are looking for something more portable and that takes up less room in your home.
The air storage tank on the Wolf Sioux is 50 litres, which is plenty big enough to power the twin air outlets that it features. This is more useful for having two airlines hooked up at once with two different power tools attached. Whilst they can be used simultaneously, due to the power of the unit I would suggest using for convenience.
The Orazio 241184 whilst not being the most powerful air compressor on our list is still a great addition depending on your needs. If you are looking for a unit that is fairly mobile, can be used around the home for cleaning, inflating tyres, etc. The power of this unit isn’t suitable for running most air power tools and it certainly isn’t powerful enough for paint spraying. It does however run at 65 decibels, which for an air compressor is very quiet indeed!
Portable Air Compressors
The Air Hawk Pro is one of the most popular models of portable air compressors available. It makes use of a Lithium-ION battery, meaning that it shouldn’t lose charge in between being used. It will fit most if not all different valve types, allowing you to inflate anything from a tyre to an air bed.
The Air Hawk Pro like some of the other portable air compressors features a digital gauge. As you attach it to a tyre it will give you a readout of the current pressure, you can then set your desired pressure and turn it on. It can sit there with hands -free operation inflating your tyre. It does suggest that before and after using the air hawk pro you use a separate gauge to ensure the accuracy of the amount of air in the tyre.
One thing I would point out with this and some of the other portable air compressors is they take time to inflate, bearing in mind they are battery powered and don’t have an air storage tank, I think they can be forgiven! The convenience they bring outweighs the wait time in my opinion.
The Audew portable air compressor is a little different from the other two we have mentioned in that it runs from the 12v supply in your car. There are positives and negatives to this, you don’t have to hope that you remembered to charge it last time you used it, but equally, you need to be careful not to flatten your car’s battery. I would recommend leaving your engine running where possible, but obviously, be aware of the security risks involved with that.
One thing that I like with the Audew portable compressor is the lights on it, it means that you don’t need to use a separate torch at night to see what you are doing attaching it to your tyre. It also features a warning flashing light that allows other motorists to see you are working at the roadside. It is always recommended to wear high visibility clothing, use your hazard lights and stay safe but the light helps.
Again the Audew features a digital gauge which is great for getting a reading before you start along with setting your required PSI level and it automatically shutting off once it reaches that level.
The Oasser portable air compressor is a compact air compressor with a decent battery on it. This is slightly faster than the air hawk pro at inflating tyres and is in my opinion, a nicer looking unit. The product images are a little deceiving as it looks like it comes with two batteries, it in fact only comes with the one.
The oasser also features a digital pressure gauge, showing the current reading and allowing you to select your required pressure level. The Oasser also comes with a 2-year warranty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are air compressor hoses universal?
Yes, to a degree. Whilst commercial air hoses may be a different size, in the main domestic air hoses are universal and can be used with any air compressor. There may be a need for different adapters and couplers depending on your compressor.
Can air compressors explode?
Yes, the excess build up of heat and pressure inside an air compressor can cause an explosion. That is why it is important to store it somewhere that it won’t get knocked or near flammable products.
My air compressor will not start!
There are several things that could be causing this, the first things to check for would be, is the compressor plugged into a socket directly and not an extension lead, is the fuse good, does the compressor have oil in it. After this, it is worth consulting the manual for more troubleshooting steps.
Why use an air compressor for tools?
Air power tools offer much more power than mains or battery powered equivalents, they are usually much cheaper and have less parts to wear.
Can air compressors overheat?
Yes, it is advised you keep your air compressor from being covered and ensure you check the oil levels in your compressor before each time you use it.
Final thoughts on air compressors
Hopefully, this buyers guide has provided you with enough information for you to make a decision on what sort of air compressor you need and whether you need one at all. We have looked at traditional air compressors and portable air compressors, both with completely different uses. We have looked at different use cases for air compressors, including power tools, cleaning and paint spraying.
If you have any comments or would like to see something added to this buyers guide please let us know in the comments.
Last update on 2019-03-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API