Best Air Compressors For Home Garage (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022
Find out which air compressors you’ll want to keep in your shop or garage.
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON November 16, 2021
Has the air compressor seen its day? Electric tools, both corded and cordless, have become powerful enough to rival, if not surpass, many of their pneumatic counterparts. That's great news for DIYers that want as little dependency on compressed air as possible but it doesn't mean the air compressor has been phased out entirely just yet. Even if you're only getting your feet wet in some minor maintenance, you'll want to keep one around the shop. One size doesn't fit all, though, and the person who just maybe needs to fill a tire here and there or run a nail gun for quick projects, doesn't need the same compressor as a full-fledged gearhead or bodyline master will. That's why we want to talk a little about how you know what air compressor to choose and make some recommendations along the way.
The name you know and love in a compressor that'll serve you well. This 20-gallon unit sits at a reasonable price and is ready to handle the average home garage use.
- Competitive pricing
- More than capable for average projects
- Features two air hose ports
- Easy to move around
- Relatively high running noise
- Easily damaged in shipping
Why go broke on something you don't need? This package features a pancake compressor that's great for filling tires and includes tools for miscellaneous projects around the house.
- Affordable price point
- Includes hose, nailers, and stapler
- Easy to transport
- Quality control issues are common
- Included nailers have relatively short lifespan
There's always room for a premium product. This Campbell Hausfeld unit is sure to deliver performance, stand the test of time, and the quiet, compact layout is great for limited space.
- Superior quality
- Low running noise
- Two hose ports
- Long lifespan
- Relatively high price
- Issues with faulty units are relatively common
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.
Though we have officially tested plenty of air compressors here at The Drive, few fit the mould of what you'd want to depend on in the shop. Therefore, we had to lean heavily on personal experiences and preferences to come up with a list of compressors we think best suit the average home garage.
That isn't exactly enough to tell us what brands or features are hot right now. So, we did plenty of second-hand research during our quest to build a definitive list. Of course, aside from checking out what suppliers and competitors have to say, we spent plenty of time cruising the internet for consumer reviews. At the end of the day, we feel you've come to the right place for air compressor suggestions.
Best Air Compressor For Home Garage Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Air Compressors For Home Garage
The Craftsman 20-Gallon Air Compressor may not be the biggest, most impressive model on the market, but we still think it to be the best choice for the average home garage. Then again, the Bostitch Air Compressor Combo Kit may be perfect for someone on a tight budget. What's your take? We'd love to know what compressor you suggest for the kind of work DIYers tackle!
What to Consider When Buying an Air Compressor For Home Garage
Picking an air compressor isn't as simple as buying one with a bigger or smaller tank. It is heavily dependent on the type of work you intend to do. If you're just here to inflate tires and maybe use a compressor to dust the shelf off, you can pretty much go with whatever tank you want. If, however, you have any kind of specialty work in mind that requires pneumatic tools, a little bit of homework is in order. Don't worry—this buying guide is here to help you kickstart your research.
Types of Air Compressors For Home Garage
What we're deeming a portable air compressor is any model that's specifically designed for regular transportation. Generally speaking, these models have a 1-gallon tank or so, and smaller, less capable motors than your other options. This is just a general rule and there is room for some exceptions. We say that because there are portable models that are intended for more serious use than others.
On the lower end of the spectrum, these are the kind of compressors you keep around for inflating tires and maybe some sports equipment. On the other end, you can find portable compressors that are intended to run small air tools—such as nail guns—for quick projects. In either case, they're small and compact enough so that you can feasibly carry them around from tire to tire or project to project.
Pancake and Hot Dog Compressors
Pancake and hot dog compressors aren't one and the same. We're only lumping them together because they both serve similar purposes. Both models do have transportation in mind. However, they are larger than what we’re calling portable compressors, and are better suited to sit in the middle of a room with a long hose rather than being carried directly to whatever you’re working on. Also, these are designed specifically for use with pneumatic tools, such as nailers and some impact tools.
Which to choose does depend on the area you’ll work in. Hot dog compressors feature a long and narrow body, while pancakes are flat and round. Either of which offers unique space-saving advantages. For the most part, pancake compressors are the go-to for many DIYers and professionals because they are the more capable units better-suited to longer projects.
If you intend to rely on pneumatic tools, a full-size compressor will likely be your best choice. We say that because these are usually built with larger tanks—20 gallons and up is typical. They are also generally attached to more powerful motors that help them to build pressure more efficiently than some smaller models.
Full-size compressors also come in various shapes and sizes. While all will feature a 20-gallon tank or larger, some are intended to be moved around and others are to be bolted to the floor. As a rule of thumb, the more serious you are about using pneumatic tools, the bigger the compressor should be. Don't just look to the tank, though, as motor performance and air supply are equally as important.
Air Compressor For Home Garage Key Features
PSI and CFM Ratings
Every air compressor is going to give you some specs surrounding CFM and PSI. For example, the Craftsman 20-Gallon Air Compressor can supply 5.0 SCFM at 40 PSI or 4.0 SCFM at 90 PSI. These are the first details to look at if you're running pneumatic tools because they tell you if the compressor is capable of supplying them with the air that they need.
This is also the detail that immediately stops a lot of potential consumers in their tracks as it's hard to gauge what tools you'll anticipate using. For now, we'll say that it's not a bad idea to go a little bigger than you think to give yourself some cushion during tool selection.
The air tank is your storage system and the bigger the tank is, the less frequently you need to stop and let the system recharge. That means less wear and tear on your compressor, and you can spend more time working and not waiting around.
In any case, you want the biggest tank you can feasibly fit into your environment. However, bigger tanks cost more money, and they are harder to move around. Therefore, you can expect to balance demands against reality and make the right compromises to ensure you get the compressor you can work with.
At its core, an air compressor uses a piston-driven reciprocating system to move air, much like the engine in your car does. There are some variations between designs to be aware of, though. For starters, you can go with an oil or oil-free engine.
The separation in performance characteristics is narrowing as technology advances. However, professionals or serious DIYers are usually better off with an oil compressor that can move higher volumes of air and reach higher PSI ratings. Oil-less motors have the obvious advantage of requiring less maintenance, however, they usually are best suited for smaller, less demanding situations. This is just a general guideline though, as there are plenty of heavy hitters that feature oilless motors.
What about single-stage and two-stage compressors? To keep it simple, a single-stage is the way to go in a smaller shop where budgets are tighter, while a two-stage is essential to high-demand situations where continuous operation is regular.
Air Compressor For Home Garage No Buy Options
Think of the Tools You’ll Use
You need to pick the right air compressor for your pneumatic tools or those you plan to buy. It really is that simple. That doesn't mean you need to buy and try a bunch of different combinations. You can actually nail down the compressor you need by looking at your pneumatic tool selection and what CFM and PSI requirements are attached to each tool you use—a quick google search can usually get you in the right ballpark.
Once you have the specs of the tools all figured out, you need to compare them to compressor options. At the very least, match it to the most demanding tool in your lineup and always give yourself a little breathing room by considering models that can do a little more than you need them to.
Talk to Like-Minded Wrenchers
You're not the only person in the world using the exact selection of pneumatic tools for the kind of work you're doing. You can really get a great idea of what to look for by talking to other people that do the same kind of work you're interested in. Ask them what tools they run and how the compressor they have performs.
Be sure to ask what they don't like about it as well and ask for specific details about the specs of the model. That way, you can avoid the future expense of upgrading your compressor down the line by buying something a little more capable now.
Watch the Pros
Professionals in every industry use air compressors. A good way to get a feel for what to look for is to watch your favorite programs or read tech articles with air compressors. You're more than guaranteed to find out what brands to keep an eye out for and what characteristics the pros in that field deem important in their compressors.
This isn't to say you need to buy whatever it is they tell you to. Remember, there are obligations to push certain products in every partnership agreement. Still, you can pay attention to what they say makes a product so great to find the details you should be reading into.
Air Compressor For Home Garage Pricing
You can spend a lot of money on a compressor you don't need or too much for a compressor that simply won't cut it. For less than $100, you can expect to find portable compressors best suited for very small projects or simply inflating tires. Many pancake and hot dog compressors begin to appear in the $100-$200 range. For $200 to $300 you can expect to find some decent full-sized units but $500 is about average. In any case, with any compressor type, don't be surprised to find that the premium models tend to draw in two-three times the average asking price.
Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and air compressors. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Bigger Isn’t Always Better. If you just need a compressor for the odd job here and there, don't go nuts. A small pancake or hot dog compressor will serve you well.
- Bigger is Always Better. Go nuts if you run sanders, grinders, drills, or impact tools that use a lot of air. The bigger the model, the better it'll work for your line of work.
- Set It, Don’t Forget It. Most air compressors come with regulators that allow you to control airflow. Take the time to match your settings to each tool for the best experience.
- Use the Right Hoses and Fittings. Don't forget the link between the tools. You want to ensure the fitting and hose diameter support the airflow the tools need.
- Drain Your Tank. Compressing air produces condensation, which builds up in your tank. Be sure to drain the tank after each use to keep water from contaminating the air supply.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: What size air compressor do I need for my home garage?
What size compressor you need really depends on your intended use. Remember that the tools and work type really should drive your decision. A 5-10 gallon compressor is enough for those who will primarily use it for filling tires and some tools. 10-20 gallon tanks are better choices for those with moderate use in mind, while 30 gallons and up is recommended for those who regularly depend on pneumatic tools.
Q: What do I need to know when buying an air compressor?
You need to know what type of tools you'll run, how much PSI and CFM they require, how much you intend to use them, and how much money you're willing to spend. Also, know that it's worth going bigger than you may think you need, as it can positively boost your working experience.
Q: Can a 6-gallon air compressor run an impact wrench?
So long as it can push air at the right CFM and PSI, you can run a 6-gallon compressor with an impact wrench. The compressor will need to refill the tank every few minutes, though. This is why it's better to go with a larger tank if you intend to rely on pneumatic tools regularly.