What to Look For When Buying an Air Compressor

In the past, construction workers relied on central power sources as the main power source for their tools. However, this had a few downsides as it was often moved around to suit the needs of different workstations.

Over the years, construction sites have shifted to air compressors to power their equipment and power tools. An air compressor is much more convenient and can power small tools such as spray guns to larger equipment used in commercial or industrial settings. Therefore, what do you need to know before buying an air compressor?

When buying an air compressor, there’s a lot to consider, such as size, price, and intended use. We go over all of the qualities in this helpful guide!

Classification of Air Compressors

It’s important to understand the different types of air compressors before choosing the one that best suits your needs. Below are three important classifications of an air compressor.

Personal Use Air Compressor

Personal use compressors are typically smaller, compact units whose main focus is portability. If you’re looking for a personal use air compressor, you want it to be lightweight for easy portability.

Features to look for in a personal air compressor include:

  • Noise levels: If you are planning to use it indoors, choose a compressor that has low noise levels.
  • Oil-free motors: Require very little maintenance.
  • Single tank: Choose an air compressor with a single tank if you don’t plan to use it frequently.
  • Portability: Easy to move around

You also want it to be powerful enough to run most of your power tools. The two common types of personal use air compressors are:

Personal Pancake Compressors

A pancake compressor is almost identical to a propane tank in that it has a round air tank. On top of the tank is a pump. This design makes it easy for you to move it around and set it anywhere. It can handle lightweight tasks such as powering airbrushes, inflating tires, powering nail guns, etc.

Pancake compressors typically have a six-gallon tank which should be enough to operate tools such as a brad nailer. They are affordable, portable and require very little maintenance.

Personal Hot Dog Compressors

They are also designed for low maintenance, ease of use and mobility. The name hot dog compressor is attributed to the rounded edges that look like those of a hot dog.

Hot dog compressors have larger capacities than pancake compressors and can hold up to 12-gallons. Due to their large capacity, hot dog compressors can run nailers, brad guns, etc. Hot dog compressors are ideal for users looking for the perfect balance between power and portability.

Professional Air Compressors

Professional air compressors are larger and more powerful than personal use compressors. They offer significantly more running time and are suitable for continuous use of air tools.

For example, if you are using a brad gun or a larger airbrush, you’ll need a compressor that can handle the steady drain. This is where a professional air compressor comes in.

They are typically heavier and can weigh as much as 80 pounds or more. They have a wide array of uses, especially in small and medium-sized businesses. These uses include roof installation, cleaning machinery, in auto repair shops for car jacks, tires, etc.

Industrial Air Compressors

They are most the powerful air compressors available. They are commonly used in factories and large-scale garages. Industrial air compressors require very minimal servicing and are designed either as part of a larger machine or as a standalone. They are used to power running centralized air conditioners, ventilation systems, assembly lines, power pneumatic machines, etc.

General Qualities to Look for When Buying Air Compressors

Air compressors come in a wide range of shapes, design and power sources which will make it hard for you to choose if you don’t know what you are looking for. Your choice should be guided by your needs.

Do you want an air compressor for home use or commercial use? Are you looking for a large industrial size air compressor or a small air compressor? What is your budget?

Do you want a portable air compressor or not? How often do you plan to use your air compressor? This will help narrow down your choice to just a few air compressors.


Your choice of air compressors will be guided on the specific uses. Do you require a compressor for personal, professional or industrial use?

Commercial and industrial air compressors are typically bigger than professional and personal compressors. You want a compressor that is big enough to sustain the tasks you intend to complete.

Power Source

There are two main power sources; your compressor can either be gas-powered or electric. Electrically powered compressors are free of emissions, quieter and cheaper than gas-powered.

A big percentage of electric compressors are corded except for newer models that are battery operated. The smaller version of the electric compressor is ideal for home use.

Alternatively, gas-powered compressors are ideal for worksites with no access to electricity. They are typically heavier and have more power than the electric compressor. They are noisier and require frequent maintenance.


The capacity of an air compressor will determine the operating time you will get. An air compressor with a large capacity will last longer than a smaller one handling the same task. The best air compressor should last long enough before it necessitates the need to increase the pressure levels again.

A 4-6 gallon compressor should have enough in its tank to inflate balloons or tires. However, if you intend to use your compressor with a sander and airbrush, you might want to go for a 60-gallon tank or larger.

Motor Power

This is simply the power rating of your gas or electric motor. Smaller units will have the power rating in terms of horsepower. Large industrial units will have the motor rated in terms of kilowatts. Cordless electric motors will be rated in terms of volts.

If you’re buying an air compressor for professional use, choose one with 1.5- 2.0 HP. This power should be sufficient enough to run most tools.


The air pressure produced by your air compressor will be determined by the kind of tasks you intend to carry out. For example, operating lifts will need at least 200 PSI while inflating car tires will require 30-35 PSI. Air compressor with high PSI requires tough tanks and powerful motors.


You want an air compressor that you can carry from one location to the other with ease., choose a portable one. By portable, it means something you can pick up with your hands or has wheels. For example, a 100-pound air compressor is not exactly portable unless it has wheels.

Look for a compressor that comes with a carrying handle. If possible, find out more about its weight distribution.

You don’t want an air compressor that feels heavier than actually are due to poor weight distribution. A portable air compressor should either be lightweight or have supporting features such as wheels and handles.

Industrial use compressor will barely require any to and fro movement thus portability isn’t necessary. However, be sure to choose one that has rubber feet to reduce vibrations and protect your floors from scratches.

Thermal Overload Protection

Continuous friction between the mechanical components of an air compressor can generate enough heat to damage the entire unit, especially if the limit is exceeded. As a precautionary measure, some compressors are equipped with thermal overload protection mechanisms. It cuts off power to the motor every time the compressor begins to overheat.

Air Filters

Air filters are commonly found in air purifiers but they are also important components of air compressors. They are designed to reduce contamination in the air. They are installed at the intake to capture all contaminant particles.

A small concentration of these particles is harmful but as the concentration increases, they can easily damage the compressor. With this in mind, choose an air compressor that has an air filter.

Roll Cage

The purpose of a roll cage is to protect the vital parts of the air compressor. It is a common feature on small compressors as it prevents the controls from getting damaged.

This should be a priority feature if you’re looking for a portable air compressor. It should have a low COG such that it doesn’t tip over easily.


Since the compressor will either run on electricity or gas, you want it to be efficient. Electricity accounts for most of the total lifetime cost of the average electric-powered air compressor.

When shopping, choose a compressor that is super-efficient. Always request for a CAGI compressor data sheet and compare the package input power of different compressors at zero flow.

What’s the Best Air Compressor?

There is no definite answer since your choice will be determined by the intended use. For example, the best air compressor for personal use isn’t suitable for professional or industrial use. Also, your choice will be dependent on so many features and personal preferences, which is why definitively claiming that a specific air compressor is the best is almost impossible.

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