20-Gallon Air Compressors: Portable and Versatile Pressurized Air
Power your favorite pneumatic tools with these powerful and compact 20 gallon air compressors.
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON September 6, 2021
When it comes to powering pneumatic tools in your workshop, garage, or job site, you have plenty of options. For those times when a portable pancake compressor isn’t strong enough to run what you need, but you need something more portable and space-saving than a larger, permanently installed air compressor, a 20-gallon air compressor can be the ideal solution.
While 20-gallon air compressors aren’t strong enough to power most industrial-grade pneumatic tools, they’re great for running air brushes, brad nailers, frame nailers, pneumatic drills and sanders, and much more. They’re a versatile and practical addition to almost any DIY workshop or construction site, improving your job efficiency.
If you’re in the market for a new 20-gallon air compressor, take a quick read through our top product review and buying guide. It will enable you to confidently choose the best 20-gallon air compressor to suit your needs and get you up and running in no time.
This is a space-saving vertical air compressor that is capable of reaching 175 PSI, with an airflow rate of 4.0 CFM at 90 PSI and 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI.
- Equipped with two quick couplers for simultaneous use of two tools
- Slim, vertical design is very space-saving
- Backed by a one-year warranty
- Functions noisier than some other models
- Warranty is not as long or comprehensive as some similar options
This vertical air compressor is capable of reaching 135 PSI, giving you airflow rates of 3.8 CFM at 90 PSI and 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI.
- Very affordable
- Automatic shut-off guarantees safer operation than some other models
- Backed by a two-year warranty
- Oil-lubricated pump is not as low-maintenance as some other models
- Single coupler system doesn’t allow for use of more than one tool at a time
A single-stage horizontal air compressor with an impressive 200 PSI capacity that produces airflow rates of 6.2 CFM at 90 PSI and 7.7 CFM at 40 PSI.
- Offers the power of a dual-stage compressor in a single-stage set-u
- Capable of providing up to 53 percent more run-time than many other models
- Can power a wider variety of tools and equipment than most other options of comparable size
- Pricier than many other models
- Oil-lubricated belt driven pump is not maintenance-free
- Heavier and bulkier than some other models
Best 20-Gallon Air Compressors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of 20-Gallon Air Compressors
- Portability. Twenty-gallon air compressors are an ideal option if you need a portable unit to move from room to room on a construction site, or if your workshop is limited on space and you can’t accommodate a larger option.
- Versatility. Most 20-gallon air compressors are powerful enough for most hobbyist needs, but they can also easily meet the needs of many garage and light industrial jobs, making them a great all-around option for a wide variety of tasks. You can also use them to inflate sporting equipment and car and truck tires.
- Low maintenance. Most 20-gallon air compressors come almost fully assembled and ready to use. Many of them are equipped with oil-free pumps that require little to no maintenance.
- Economical. Twenty-gallon air compressors are a much less expensive option compared to their larger, permanently installed counterparts. There’s no need to invest thousands of dollars if a more budget-friendly compressor can do the job.
Types of 20-Gallon Air Compressors
Single-stage air compressors are also known as piston compressors. In a single-stage air compressor, the air is compressed only once before it is stored or used to power tools and equipment. Air is initially sucked into a cylinder and compressed to a pressure of around 120 PSI. That compressed air is then moved into a storage tank until it's needed.
Dual-stage air compressors are also referred to as two-stage air compressors. In these, air is compressed twice to give you double the pressure, usually 175 PSI or more. These are excellent options for larger tools or continuous operations that have a higher demand for power.
DeWALT got its start back in 1922, when founder Raymond DeWalt invented the first woodworking machine. Today, the company is a globally known behemoth in the industry, manufacturing innovative and durable products like the DeWALT 20V Max XR Brushless 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill/Driver Kit.
California Air Tools
California Air Tools is located in San Diego, Calif., and was founded in 2002. Even though it’s a relatively newer manufacturer of air compressors, the company produces some of the quietest air compressors on the market, including its 2.0 HP professional-grade air compressor, the California Air Tools 4620AC Air Compressor.
Another long-time industry leader, the Craftsman Tool Company has been around since 1927. It was the first manufacturer of vanadium steel wrenches, which were 50 percent thinner and 200 percent stronger than previous models. It continues to produce top-quality products such as the Craftsman 3,300-watt Portable Inverter Generator.
Porter-Cable was founded in 1906 and now is a subsidiary of the Stanley Black+Decker family. The Tennessee-based power tools and equipment manufacturing company prides itself on setting high standards for performance, quality, and reliability. Some of its popular products include the Porter-Cable 15-amp Corded Circular Saw and the Porter-Cable 6-Inch Variable-Speed Random Orbit Sander Kit.
20-Gallon Air Compressor Pricing
- Under $200: This is the price range in which you’ll find the most budget-friendly 20-gallon air compressors. Most will be capable of producing up to 135 PSI and are suitable for light-duty applications only. They may or may not come with a manufacturer’s warranty. While there are several high-quality options in this price range, pickings are much slimmer than at the higher price points.
- $200-$500: This is the price range in which you will see the majority of light- to medium-duty 20-gallon air compressors. Many can produce around 150-175 PSI, making them a more powerful option for running a wider variety of tools and equipment. Most air compressors in this range will come with a solid warranty.
- $500 and up: This price range will get you the more heavy-duty single- and dual-stage 20-gallon air compressors. The more power you need, the bigger the price tag will be. Compressors in this range are more suited to garage, industrial, and agricultural applications versus personal hobby and light-duty work.
Maximum Pressure Rating
In air compressors, the amount of pressure they can produce is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Knowing the max PSI rating for your air compressor is vital to ensuring you purchase one that’s powerful enough to run your chosen tools or equipment. For most hobby and general applications, you’ll need an air compressor that offers at least 100 PSI. For more industrial applications and larger tools or equipment, look for a PSI of 200.
Air Flow Rate
The airflow rate of an air compressor is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) and is directly related to the compressor’s maximum PSI capacity. Pneumatic tools and equipment have specific CFM requirements in order to have them function properly. For example, a typical brad nailer needs air to move through it at a rate of 0.3 CFM at 90 PSI. Most orbital sanders require 6-9 CFM at 90 PSI. Be sure to check your equipment requirements prior to purchasing an air compressor to ensure you’re getting one that’s strong enough.
Twenty-gallon air compressors offer two different types of pumps. One is an oil-lubricated pump that is typically more powerful and durable. However, it also requires more maintenance. Oil-free pumps are usually less expensive and more user- and environmentally-friendly, but they may not be as powerful.
- Couplers. Most 20-gallon air compressors come equipped with a single coupling system that is capable of powering one tool or piece of equipment at a time. Some, however, offer a dual coupling system that allows you to simultaneously power two items, giving you more job versatility, which is great if you share a compressor with someone.
- Noise Level. This is a consideration for anyone who uses their air compressor often, for prolonged periods, or at their home workshop during late hours. Consider getting the quietest functioning compressor you can find so you won’t risk damaging your hearing during prolonged or frequent use, or waking up other members of your household if you like to work well into the night.
- Warranty. It’s always a good idea to seek out an air compressor that comes backed by a solid warranty. Some of the best companies offer a two- to three-year warranty. We don’t recommend getting an air compressor that doesn’t at least have a one-year warranty.
- Twenty-gallon air compressors can be loud, especially if they run for prolonged or frequent periods, so consider protecting your hearing with appropriate ear plugs or ear muffs.
- Be sure to check valves and hoses on your air compressor routinely and replace them at the first sign of wear. Inspect the tank for signs of damage or corrosion before each use.
- Never leave a pressurized air compressor unattended. Be sure the compressor comes to a complete stop when switched to off before leaving the area.
- Keep your air compressor away from curious young children to avoid any accidental injuries.
- Be sure to check your owner’s manual for any “break-in” period that might be necessary before operating your compressor at peak power.
Q: Is a 20-gallon air compressor big enough?
Check your power tool and equipment requirements prior to purchase. A 20-gallon air compressor is usually sufficient to run any tool with an airflow requirement of 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI or less. This includes most pneumatic nail guns, hobby painters, staplers, wrenches, and bolters that are intended as light- to medium-duty tools and equipment.
Q: How many amps does a 20-gallon air compressor draw?
A 20-gallon air compressor usually draws around 15 amps, making it suitable for most 110-volt AC outlets.
Q: What size compressor is best for home use?
This greatly depends on what you plan to use the compressor for. If all you want to do is inflate the occasional bike or car tire, you can get away with a very inexpensive and compact 12-volt air compressor. However, if you like to do a lot of your own home projects, woodworking, or automotive repairs, you should consider a compressor in the 8-30 gallon range.
Q: Should I drain my compressor after every use?
Yes, definitely be sure to drain your compressor each and every time you’re done using it. Leaving air or fluid in the tank can lead to damage in the tank and make for dangerous working conditions. Compressed air has a high explosive risk, so never leave air in the compressor unattended.
Now that you’re practically an expert on the topic of 20-gallon air compressors, you can probably see why we chose the CRAFTSMAN 20 Gallon Air Compressor as our top pick. It’s strong enough to power most light- and medium-duty pneumatic tools, has a slim, space-saving design, and a dual coupling system for running two tools at once. And, it comes at a decent price point.
If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, definitely check out the WEN 20 Gal. Portable Vertical Air Compressor. It’s a dependable and powerful compressor that doesn’t sacrifice performance for price.