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Best Air Compressor Buying Guide

Best Air Compressors - A Buyer's Guide

When it comes to choosing the best air compressor, there are a lot of choices but it all comes down to what is the best for the job at hand and the budget you have to work with. For example the best shop air compressor is not going to be the best portable air compressor, and while a budget air compressor may be appealing it isn't necessarily going to be the best air compressor to use if you're a contractor or professional.

We have very carefully chosen the air compressor brands that we carry to only provide you with the best of the best and top of the line brands. We hope this helps eliminate confusion and makes choosing an air compressor a little easier. To start, you MUST buy a from a reputable brand, this is why we only carry compressors from best in industry names such as Ingersoll Rand, Rolair, Jenny, and Eagle.

This air compressor buying guide will give you all the information you need to know to choose the best air compressor for your needs. Here's a quick chart that allows you to visualize the main factors to consider.

Best Air Compressors Chart


Let's start with some helpful definitions.

Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) - pounds per square inch is a measurement of air pressure that is delivered by an air compressor. The higher the number the higher the volume of air that can be compressed into a tank.

Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) - Cubic feet per minute is the volume of air delivered in one minute of an air compressor running at it's optimal conditions. There are several different CFM ratings out there but make sure you are looking at the delivered CFM as that is the actual volume of air that will reach the end of your hose and your tools.

What grade of air compressor do you need?

Air compressors fall into 3 general categories or grades.

Consumer level air compressors which are small units and are useful for inflating tires, sports balls, and running air tools with low volume and PSI requirements. Typically consumer grade air compressors have a maximum PSI of 135 and 7 CFM or below. They are usually fairly light-weight, portable, and small in size, not taking up a lot of room.

Professional or Contractor grade air compressors can power air tools with greater PSI & CFM requirements and even multiple air tools at the same time. They come in a wide range of styles, ranges of portability, and ability to deliver different volumes of air. These are typically used by contractors, auto shops, and other tradesmen. These machines are more durable and can take more wear and tear.

Industrial air compressors are the highest grade of machines out there. They have advanced features and can deliver the highest needed air flow for extended periods of time.

Is a portable or stationary air compressor best?

Make sure to consider whether a stationary or portable unit is going to be the best air compressor for your needs long term, not just what you need the machine for today. Considering the portability of your air compressor is a very important factor to think about as the range and ease of portability of air compressors varies greatly between machines. Stationary units aren't made to be transported at all - but instead should sit in your garage or shop. Hand carry units on the other hand are extremely portable and light, well for an air compressor that is. They are made to be carried from job sites or work locations and easily stowed away or stored. Finally, wheeled air compressors are somewhere in the middle. While not as light as hand carry units they are much more portable than a stationary air compressor. They can be wheeled from here to there and can be lifted into and out of a truck, though you may need two guys depending on the unit you choose. As you might imagine the more portable the machine, typically the less power and air flow it's going to push. With that said, there are some very powerful portable machines that may work for you. Shop our selection of portable air compressors.

How much air flow or CFM do I need?


CFM or cubic feet per minute is the most important factor to consider when buying an air compressor. It tells you how much air the compressor can deliver and if it will in fact power the tools you need it to. You want to make sure you are reading the delivered CFM and not any other number or the displaced CFM. Delivered CFM is what actually makes it to your tools and the only reliable number to consider. Here at Air Compressors USA we always provide the delivered CFM so there is no guess work on your part.

To determine your CFM needs examine the tools you plan to use. Find the tool with the largest CFM needs and multiply by 1.5. This will give you a nice buffer to ensure you have plenty of air power and may even allow you to power large tools in the future.

If you are going to be running more than one air tool off of your compressor at the same time you need to consider the air needs of all the tools you may operate simultaneously. To do this, add up all the CFM needs of all the tools you plan to operate at the same time. Most lower grade or consumer models are made to only operate a single tool at a time but commercial or contractor grade machines can power multiple tools.


What size of tank do you need?

Tank size really comes down to what you are going to be using your compressor for. If you are simply inflating balls and tires then 1 gallon will generally be sufficient but I always like to have at least 3 gallons on hand as that is still a pretty small compressor. If you are going to be operating a nail gun you'll want something around 8-10 gallons and if you're operating multiple nail guns you should really have a 15-20 gallon tank. For typical auto repair tools, air ratchets and such you'll want to have anywhere from 11-25 gallons. For painting, cutting, grinding, etc you'll really want something with 60 gallons or more. 

To recap, we discussed the main definitions and acronyms to know when researching air compressors. It's important to be know what you're looking at and understand the terminology. We discussed the different grades of machines out there, we discussed the pros and cons of stationary vs portable units, reviewed how to determine CFM needs, and finally reviewed tank size.