The Best Air Compressors for Your Home Garage: Portable and Versatile
Ramp up your home garage or workshop efficiency with these powerful air compressors.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON May 23, 2021
If you’re one of the many people who has transformed your garage or outbuilding into a workshop, versus just a place to park cars, chances are you’re pretty adept with tools and DIY projects. If so, adding a compact but powerful air compressor to your home garage set-up can really ramp up your efficiency and capabilities when it comes to most automotive or DIY projects that use pneumatic power tools.
Using pneumatic tools with a compressor is so much quicker and easier than using regular tools, or even many power tools. Not to mention the fact that an air compressor has other versatile uses that make it a smart buy. Inflate tires or sporting equipment quickly and with ease. There are plenty of affordable and durable air compressors on the market that are perfect for home garage use.
Take a quick browse through our favorite air compressors and learn what sets them apart from the competition in our informative buying guide. We’ll help you navigate all the ins and outs to ensure that you get the perfect air compressor to suit your home garage needs.
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Benefits of Air Compressors for Home Garage
- Powerful. Using an air compressor to power pneumatic tools like staplers, brad nailers, paint sprayers, and other tools greatly increases your efficiency and cuts down on the time it takes to complete a job.
- Versatile. An air compressor in your home garage can do a wide variety of tasks. Whether you’re an artist, hobbyist, DIY enthusiast, or automotive guru, you likely have a power tool or piece of equipment that could run better with the aid of an air compressor. You can also use it to quickly inflate tires, paddleboards, basketballs, and plenty of other outdoor gear in minutes.
- Portable. Most air compressors for home garages are sized to be space-saving and highly portable so that you can easily move them from one area of your garage to another, or even take them to a job site or friend’s workshop for use in different locations.
- Low-maintenance. Most of today’s air compressors that are sized and suited for home garage uses are low-maintenance and economical, saving you time and money over owning a larger capacity air compressor.
Types of Air Compressors for Home Garage
Single-stage air compressors are sometimes also called piston compressors. As the name implies, air is compressed only once before it is stored in a holding tank or used to power tools and equipment. Air is initially sucked into a cylinder and compressed to a pressure of around 120 to 135 PSI.
As you can probably imagine, dual-stage air compressors compress air twice to give you double the pressure, usually 175 PSI or more. They’re also commonly known as two-stage air compressors. These powerful compressors are good options for larger tools or continuous operations that have a higher demand for power, like in industrial or commercial pneumatic tools.
California Air Tools
California Air Tools was founded in 2002 and is located in San Diego, Calif. It’s a relatively newer manufacturer that prides itself on producing some of the quietest air compressors in the industry, including its 2.0 HP industrial-grade air compressor, the California Air Tools 20020Ultra Quiet, Oil-Free and Powerful Portable Air Compressor.
Bostitch was founded in Arlington, Mass., in 1896. The company produces tools, air compressors, fasteners, and tool accessories. Bostitch is one of the most trusted names in tools in America, thanks to its commitment to quality and innovation. The BOSTITCH Air Compressor Combo Kit with Brad Nailer is an impressive and affordable combo kit.
DeWALT got its start back in 1922, when founder Raymond DeWalt invented the first woodworking machine that revolutionized the speed and efficiency of cutting wood. Today, the company has a global brand presence, manufacturing innovative and durable products like the DeWALT 20V Max XR Brushless 1/2-Inch Cordless Drill/Driver Kit.
In 1872, the Rand & Waring Drill & Compressor Company launched. By 1890, the company had introduced the world's first direct-connected, electric motor-driven compressor. Ever since, the company has been expanding its influence across multiple industries. The Ingersoll Rand 212 Impact Wrench is one of the company’s top selling products.
Air Compressors for Home Garage Pricing
- Under $200: This price range will get you a smaller, very compact air compressor, usually under 120 PSI and with a capacity under 8 gallons. They’re very lightweight and easily portable, but may not be powerful enough to run all your pneumatic tools.
- $200-$500: In this price range, you’ll find a wide variety of 8- to 20-gallon air compressors that are made by some top manufacturers. Most will still be portable, although much less so than in the lesser price range, but they will be stronger and able to run longer, making them a better option for commercial-grade and serious DIY projects.
- $500 and up: This price range is where the strongest and heavier-duty home garage compressors can be found. Many will be in the 30-gallon capacity range and will offer significant PSI and CFM for powering large tools.
Maximum Pressure Rating
The amount of pressure that an air compressor can produce is measured in PSI, or pounds per square inch. The greater the PSI, the larger the tool the compressor can power. Most home garage equipment will need a minimum PSI rating of 100 to start and function reliably.
Cubic feet per minute (CFM) is the measure of a compressor’s air flow rate. This is usually directly related to the compressor’s maximum PSI capacity. Most home garage tools and equipment require air to flow through the tool at a minimum rate of anywhere between 0.5 to 5.0 CFM at 90 PSI to work properly. Be sure to check the requirements on all your pneumatic equipment to ensure you’re getting one that’s strong enough.
Tank capacity can vary greatly among suitable home garage air compressors. Some may only require a 2-gallon capacity, while other larger, more industrial projects do well with a 20- or 30-gallon tank. Logically, the larger the tank capacity, the more air it holds, and the longer it can run before needing to refill the tank. Conversely, the bigger the tank, the less compact and portable the compressor is, so take that into consideration when you think “the bigger the better.”
- Noise Level. Air compressors tend to be noisy. However, there are some that are being made recently to be much quieter than earlier models. If you’re planning on using your compressor for extended periods, consider getting one that’s rated to be quieter to help protect your hearing. Otherwise, wear ear protection while operating your air compressor.
- Compressor Pump. There are generally two types of compressor pumps in air compressors for home garage use. One is a maintenance-free, oil-free pump that is environmentally friendly and relatively inexpensive. The other is an oil-lubricated pump that is more durable and more powerful, but requires more work to maintain. It’s also heavier than the oil-free pump.
- Portability. If you want to be able to easily maneuver your air compressor to different areas in your garage or workshop, portability is a major consideration. Steer clear of the larger tank capacity and heavier weight compressors unless you really need that for the job.
- Warranty. We always recommend going with a manufacturer that backs up its product with a good, solid warranty. In fact, a company that doesn’t offer a warranty on a larger, more expensive piece of equipment like an air compressor should raise a red flag for you.
Best Air Compressors for Home Garage Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- The type of air compressor you need for your home garage may differ significantly from your neighbor. Assess all your pneumatic tools and their airflow requirements and get the compressor that will best run your specific tools.
- Read your air compressor owner’s manual to see if your model has a specific break-in period prior to using it at peak power. In fact, just read through the entire owner’s manual prior to use to fully familiarize yourself with operation and safety instructions.
- Vertical tank air compressors are a better choice for those who are concerned with overall space usage and portability.
- Regularly examine all compressor hoses, couplers, valves, and other components, and replace any removable parts at the earliest sign of wear.
- Do not leave pressurized air in the compressor tank when it’s not in use. This is a serious explosive hazard. Bleed air out fully at the end of every use.
Q: What should I look for in a garage air compressor?
The main things you should look for in a garage air compressor are maximum PSI, airflow rates that are strong enough to power your tools, tank storage capacity that suits your needs, and a decent manufacturer’s warranty.
Q: What size air compressor do I need for my home garage?
The ideal size air compressor will vary greatly depending on what you’re using it for. If you’re a serious DIYer who wants to power nail guns, staplers, and drills, you’ll need something in the 15- to 30-gallon range. If you have smaller tools and use them for shorter periods of time, you might find that a lightweight and portable 2- to 6-gallon compressor suits your needs just fine.
Q: What do I need to know when buying an air compressor?
A good rule of thumb when choosing the air compressor that’s best suited for you is to determine which tools have the largest CFM and PSI requirements. Add 50 percent to that required CFM as an extra margin for safety, and select a compressor that meets that need.
Q: Can a 6-gallon air compressor run an impact wrench?
Technically, yes. However, it’s barely strong enough, and you’ll only get a couple of minutes of use before the compressor needs to shut off to refill. You should use a 15- to 30-gallon compressor if you want to run an impact wrench without frustration.
When it comes to overall durability, functionality, and portability at a decent price point, it’s easy to see why the California Air Tools 15 Gal 2 HP Portable Air Compressor is our top pick. It’s a high-powered, single-phase, 110-volt air compressor that offers 5.3 CFM at 90 PSI and 6.4 CFM at 40 PSI. It also boasts a quick recovery time and quiet operation.
For a more budget-conscious option, we really like the Bostitch Air Compressor Combo Kit. It’s a compact, highly portable air compressor that comes with three separate tools and is a great option for smaller usage requirements.