Air Compressor Buying Guide – What You Need to Know

An air compressor is a machine that uses an electric motor or gas engine to compress air. It’s used for providing compressed air for industrial or commercial purposes. 

Using an air compressor can be quite handy around the house and in your workspace, but to make sure you get the most out of this tool, you need to make sure you’re buying the right one for your needs. From high-end industrial models to standard household models, there are many different kinds of air compressors on the market. 

However, as with any other purchase, you should do some research before spending your money on something that may not live up to your expectations. In this air compressor buying guide, we show you what you need to consider for this investment. 

How to Choose an air compressor

How does an air compressor work? What makes a good air compressor? What should you look for when shopping for an air compressor? 

In this article, we answer all of these questions and more to help you get the most from your purchase. We provide the information you need to get started with your research, and then we take you through the process of narrowing down your options to just one brand and model so that you can be sure you’re getting the best product possible, saving yourself time and money in the process. Let’s get started!

Why you need an air compressor

It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, an air compressor can be invaluable when it comes to getting jobs done. Because compressed air is your best friend in so many situations, it’s important to pick out a good one for your needs. 

We created an air compressor buying guide so you know exactly what features are important when it comes time to pick out an air compressor for your garage or shop. Check out our tips below.

Things To Consider When Shopping For An Air Compressor

Power source

The first thing you should know is that there are two types of air compressors: those with electric motors and those powered by a direct or belt-driven connection to a combustion engine. 

Electric models tend to be smaller and run cooler, though they’re also typically more expensive. The other benefit of an electric air compressor is that it will always produce a consistent level of pressure even as your tank empties—in contrast, an engine-powered compressor will see a drop in its pressure output as its tank approaches empty. 

This means that if you need steady pressure for heavy jobs like running pneumatic tools, an engine-powered air compressor can keep up; but for most household tasks like inflating tires and sports equipment, we find that a corded model does just fine. (A caveat: some older homes may not have enough electrical capacity to power an air compressor.) 

Once you decide on what type of air compressor you want, we recommend narrowing down your options based on how much pressure you’ll need and whether portability is important to you. 

A single stage air compressor produces about 80 pounds per square inch (psi) while a two stage air compressor gets up to 160 psi.

Types Of Air Compressors

In a very general sense, there are two types of air compressors: high-volume air compressors and low-volume air compressors. 

  • High volume air compressors

High-volume air compressors have a large cylinder for holding compressed air, which means they can fill more of a tank or pressure vessel in a shorter amount of time. These work best if you have a large tool that needs a lot of air but doesn’t run constantly. 

  • Low volume air compressors

Low-volume air compressors are made for smaller air tools, like paint sprayers or nail guns; these are used when you need a steady stream of air instead of quick bursts. 

The terms high volume and low volume refer to how much air is displaced per minute (how many cubic feet per minute), not what type of system it runs on.


How Important Is Safety On An Air Compressor? Safety should be your number one concern when purchasing an air compressor. The last thing you want is for someone in your home to get hurt by something you purchased, so make sure it’s safe before you bring it into your house. 

It should be UL certified and come with a limited lifetime warranty on both parts and labor. If there are no guarantees, move on. Also, make sure to read user reviews before buying anything; if it seems like other people have experienced problems, don’t take any chances either. Remember: safety first!

Air Compressor Specifications

Here are five things you need to know about air compressor specifications. 

  1. The first number of an air compressor specification indicates its horsepower rating, which is used by manufacturers as a benchmark for how much work it can do. For example, if an air compressor has a 2-horsepower (HP) rating, it should be able to produce 2 HP worth of air per minute at 100 psi. 
  2. The second number in an air compressor specification denotes its cubic feet per minute (CFM) capacity—the amount of air flowing through it in one minute at 100 psi. But what does CFM actually mean? This metric represents how quickly your air compressor will get up to working pressure, so larger numbers denote better performance. An air compressor with a 3/4-inch hose diameter will have far more CFM than one with 1/2-inch tubing, so keep in mind your intended use when making your selection. 
  3. The third number in an air compressor specification gives you information on starting current draw. When thinking about purchasing an air compressor, make sure it can handle starting current without tripping breakers or blowing fuses. 
  4. The fourth number of air compressor specifications refers to maximum operating pressure—the maximum safe operating pressure of your new appliance under ideal conditions. Always check to see whether your air compressor model complies with industry safety standards like CSA and ANSI. 

Finally, air compressors usually come equipped with either oil-lubricated pumps or dry lubrication systems; some models also offer automatic shut-off in case of overloads. 

Which type is best for you? There are pros and cons to each system; all in all, it depends on your specific application. If your air compressor will only be delivering air for short bursts during normal operation (e.g., running tools), then consider choosing an oil-free air compressor.

Size and space

Air compressors come in a range of sizes. If you’re looking for a small compressor to run some air tools around your house or a large compressor that 

can fill up a portable air tank in seconds, there are plenty of options available. 

When it comes time to buy an air compressor, make sure you do your research and think about what kind of work you’ll be doing with it. For example, if you only plan on using it once every few months to inflate tires, go with a smaller model so you don’t have to worry about running out of air while working on other projects. 

It’s also important to consider where you will put your air compressor when not in use; if space is limited, keep its size in mind before purchasing.

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Final thoughts: Air Compressor Buying Guide

Buying your first air compressor can be tricky. Like any other major purchase, it’s important that you understand all of your options and how they work together. I’ll try to keep things as simple as possible in today’s air compressor buying guide, but if there are any terms or concepts you don’t understand, just let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to go into more detail!

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