Best Portable Air Compressors: Run Your Air-Powered Tools With Ease
These high-quality portable air compressors are lightweight and versatile options for all kinds of tasks.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON April 27, 2021
A portable air compressor is a handy tool to take with you on the go. Many people keep one in their vehicle as part of their emergency roadside assistance kit in case they come across a flat tire or do a lot of cycling and mountain biking which can require frequent tire fill-ups.
If you work in agriculture, construction, or mechanics of any kind, having a portable air compressor allows you to operate key machinery remotely. Power everything from your nail gun to your pneumatic drill and more at different job sites. There are also plenty of in-home uses that require a portable air compressor.
Whatever your reason for needing a portable air compressor, we are here to help you choose the perfect one. Our comprehensive product review and detailed buying guide will help you sort through the various options available on today’s market, so you know you’re getting a powerful and reliable product that will do just what you need it to do.
This 6-gallon pancake air compressor maximizes portability in a compact and relatively lightweight design that’s ready to go wherever you need it.
- Max 150 PSI output is suitable for a wide variety of applications
- Limited one-year warranty protects against manufacturer defects
- Features a durable oil-free, maintenance-free pump
- Includes 13-piece accessory kit for added versatility
- Noisier than some other models on the market.
- Warranty is relatively short.
An affordable and super compact air compressor that’s easily portable. It has a maximum PSI of 90, which is ideal for smaller items, including tires, sporting equipment, small painting appliances, nail guns, and more.
- Easy to transport and store thanks to its light weight
- Highly affordable
- Sturdy suction cups hold it securely to a working base
- Not for use with larger items or bigger car or truck tires
- No warranty
- Limited air capacity runs out quickly
This kit features a low amp draw from your 12V battery, to inflate tires faster using its maximum pressure of 120 PSI. It comes with a tire pressure monitoring gauge for safe and convenient inflating. Additionally, it comes with different valves for a variety of applications.
- Lightweight and comes with a deluxe storage bag for easy carrying.
- Comes with a one-year warranty covering factory defects and workmanship
- Features a 5-foot air hose
- Quiet, fast, and easy to use
- Cannot inflate tires of more than 31 inches
- You have to wait for it to cool for 40 minutes after every use
- Cannot be plugged in through your vehicle’s cigarette lighter
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Benefits of Portable Air Compressors
- Multifunctional. Portable air compressors are used for more than one purpose. Whether you want to use a nail gun, do some spray painting, or inflate your tires, a portable air compressor is the tool for the job.
- Portability. It’s right there in the name. Most air compressors are portable for ease of use. You can pack your compressor and use it whenever you want.
- Time-saving. An air compressor is fast and ensures you spend less time on a given task. Compressed air tools can perform tasks like nailing, spraying, sanding, and hammering in less than half the time required for manual work.
- Great results. A portable air compressor delivers great results. More powerful compressors are able to power more tools, ensuring they work smoothly. The net air yield is what determines a compressor’s power.
- Low maintenance. Portable air compressors are smaller than industrial air compressors. Their construction is also simpler. They only require a little maintenance to function optimally. From time to time, check for leaks, oil the compressor, and clean it.
Types of Portable Air Compressor
Rotary Screw Compressors
A rotary screw air compressor uses positive displacement to output large volumes of air pressure. Portable compressors in this category are quieter and can take the role of old school piston air compressors. They can be used to power heavy-duty devices.
These compressors are used for high output tasks due to their high airflow rate, low-maintenance requirements, and energy-efficiency. They work by sucking air from the inlet, passing the air through rotors, and creating a vacuum. This air ends up in a separator tank in stages. It then moves to service air valves ready for use.
Reciprocating Air Compressors
Most portable air compressors are reciprocating air compressors. They use a mechanism known as positive displacement. Air is sucked into a chamber where the reciprocating piston compresses it in a decreasing fashion. As more air is sucked into the chamber and compressed, the pressure increases.
When the tank is full, excess air is let out through the discharge valve while the pressurized air is stored, ready for use in various applications. These air compressors can either be powered by gas or electricity. Most portable air compressors use electricity as their power source.
Dewalt is an American subsidiary of Black & Decker. It was founded in 1924 in Pennsylvania. Currently, its headquarters are in Baltimore. The company is known as a leader in the manufacture of power tools and hand tools for different industries. Its commitment to quality has been the driving force behind products such as the DEWALT Air Compressor with Brad Nailer.
Founded in 1924, Husky has recently become known for being the house brand of Home Depot. The company specializes in manufacturing hand tools, pneumatic tools, and storage products. Its line of hand tools is particularly popular and includes such products as the Husky 144-Tooth Mechanics Tool Set.
California Air Tools
California Air Tools is located in California and assembles its products in San Diego. It takes a lot of pride in its quiet portable air compressors, the quietest on the market. Because of the advanced technology it uses, some of its products have a hefty price tag. However, you can still find great air compressors at reasonable rates, like the California Air Tools 8010 Air Compressor.
Founded in 1915, Makita is a well-known Japanese manufacturer of reliable and highly affordable power tools. The company has a global brand presence in more than 40 countries, with 10 manufacturing plants operating in eight countries. Two of its top-selling products are the Makita CT226RX 12V Max CXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Combo Kit and the Makita-UC4051A Chain Saw.
Bostitch’s previous name was Boston Wire Stitcher® Company. It was founded by Thomas Briggs in Arlington, Mass. in 1896. Briggs’ popular invention was a machine that stitched books using a coil of wire. As time went on, the company started designing fasteners, fastening tools, and other products. The BOSTITCH BTFP02012 Oil-Free Pancake Compressor is the company’s pride and joy.
Portable Air Compressor Pricing
- $20 to $50: For less than 50 bucks, you can get air compressors that perform basic functions like inflating car or bike tires. Some of the compressors may be cordless and small while some have quality displays and long cables. They’re usually 12-volt powered only. Air compressors in this price range aren’t usually powerful enough to run tools like nail guns or pneumatic drills.
- $50 to $100: In this price range, you’ll find oil-free pancake-style compressors made by reputable companies. As you move towards the $100 mark, you’ll find compressors that operate at 20 volts.
- $100 to $150: You have a wide range of options here from renowned brands such as Makita, SCFM, and Campbell Hausfeld. The air compressors have features such as LCD screens, extra nozzle attachments, and quiet operation. They are very well-built and are durable.
- $150 to $200: Most portable air compressors here are bigger and noise-free. They have LED displays, cigarette charger cords, oil-free mechanisms, and can handle bigger projects. Some of the compressors are made using cast iron and rust-resistant materials.
- $200 to $500: This price bracket features high-end compressors by big brands. The compressors may be bigger and have more capacity. Their power levels might reach 2 horsepower. These compressors work well in cold weather and hot environments.
This is one of the most important features to look for when getting a portable air compressor. The auto cutoff feature determines when the pressure is enough and shuts off the air compressor. When you’re inflating tires, it automatically disconnects the compressor once the desired pressure has been attained. This means you can perform most tasks hands-free without worrying about your machine.
The charging cord is an emergency feature that may come in handy when you least expect it. For this reason, get a portable air compressor with a cigarette lighter power extension cable. Ensure the charging cord is long and sturdy to withstand a lot of movement. Most manufacturers include a cable in the package.
A display screen shows the important details of any operation in air compressors. It shows the volume of air in the tank or the rate at which air is let out. Some manufacturers furnish their portable air compressors with large LED displays. The displays are backlit and bright, making your job easy whether you’re working during the day or at night.
Portable air compressors have a multitude of uses. Each function may require a different nozzle. Most companies are happy to include additional nozzles in your package—sometimes at an extra cost. Even if you have to pay more, additional nozzle attachments are features worth getting.
- Power. To know how powerful an air compressor is, look at the tank size, maximum air pressure, suction capacity, and net air yield. Compressors do not power all pneumatic tools. Less powerful ones can inflate tires while powerful compressors can spray paint. Spray painting requires a lot of power.
- Shape. This determines how easy the compressor is to carry. It also dictates how much air it can store. Compressors come in two shapes: pancake and cylinder. Cylinder compressors are also called hot dog air compressors. They are heavier and have slightly bigger air tanks. Pancake compressors have a 1-6 gallon tank.
Best Portable Air Compressors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- When inflating any gadget, make sure you set the required PSI. Many compressors have a cutoff when the set limit is reached. If yours does not have one, make sure to disconnect it when the set level is reached.
- Overinflating may damage a tire structure or even cause it to burst due to excessive pressure. On the other hand, underinflating a tire may cause a condition called “dry rot,” which destroys the tire. Therefore, ensure you inflate your tires to the correct PSI.
- Always inspect couplers and hoses that attach to your air compressor before each use. Minor damage in hoses can lead to injuries.
- Since an air compressor is an electrical device and mostly metallic, always keep it dry. Moisture may cause short-circuiting or rusting of some components, which can inhibit the air compressor’s performance.
Q: How much pressure do I need?
The pressure you need depends on how you intend to use your compressor. If you are planning to use your compressor for inflating tires, the pressure you need depends on the requirements of your tires (30 to 35 PSI for passenger vehicles). However, you may need much more pressure if you are planning on using air-powered tools (more than 100 PSI).
Q: Is a 6-gallon air compressor considered portable?
Yes, most 6-gallon air compressors are highly portable. If you notice in your Product Review section, the 6-gallon air compressors weigh between 30-40 pounds, making them one of the most versatile portable air compressors on the market.
Q: Can I add an extra tank to my compressor?
Yes, it is possible to add an extra tank to an already tanked compressor or even to a tankless compressor. Adding a tank prevents pressure loss, increases capacity, and adds consistency to airflow. However, you will need more time to fill the compressor.
Q: What is a duty cycle in a portable air compressor for cars?
A duty cycle refers to the amount of time that a compressor can be operated in a given time period at 100 PSI and a standard temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher the duty cycle, the better the compressor can handle heavy use.
If you’re looking for the best combination of performance, reliability, durability, and value, check out the CRAFTSMAN 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor. This super lightweight and compact compressor features a respectable 150 PSI output and comes with a 13-piece accessory kit for added versatility.
For a rugged and dependable portable air compressor that won’t hurt your bank account, we like the Quipall 2-.33 1/3 HP 2 Gallon Oil-Free Hotdog Air Compressor.