Using the best portable air compressor can make your trip safer and more enjoyable. Air compressors work by converting energy into a stream of compressed air. The air can be used for a wide range of applications, usually defined as domestic or industrial. A portable air compressor offers the convenience of compressed air, while you’re out on the road. Compressors are commonly used in auto mechanics and construction but they can also be used in a number of domestic situations.
Keep in mind that a portable air compressor won’t be as powerful as a traditional, larger model, the difference being the amount of air this type of compressor can supply. Before you decide to buy, you should do a little research to determine which model has enough power and versatility to meet your traveling needs. Fortunately, we’ve done this for you and have handpicked five of the best models on the market right now. Let’s check them out.
Top Five Portable Air Compressors Comparison Chart
Our Top Portable Air Compressor Models
Porter Cable C2002
Porter Cable have been around for a while now and by now they have established themselves as perhaps the most reputable brand out there. Their C2002 model is by far the best in their line of compressors and it simply does all the things right. It is lightweight, has a decent storage tank, require little to no maintenance, and is relatively cheaper than its competition. Having everything needed for a full package cements its place on top of the air compressors pyramid and is well-deserving of our five out of five star rating.
As an honorable competitor to the C2002, the DeWalt DWFP55126 tries to compete in all aspects but by doing so comes short in some of them and this is why is ranked behind the Porter Cable model. It has a decent tank capacity for a portable air compressor, as well as good looks and an amazing lifespan but in terms of CFM output, it tends to be on the weaker side. It will do wonders for your tool shed pneumatics but anything bigger will tire it out. Still, in this price range few are the compressors that come to this level of quality and reliability.
California Air Tools 5510SE
This air compressor made by California Air Tools can be considered the universal soldier of air compressors. It is perfect for people who travel a lot and need a constant supply of pressurized air with them. It is made out of durable materials and has some of the longest service lives out there, all of which reflects on its price, putting it on top of our list price-wise. If you are willing to pay a little extra to get a good-quality compressor, this is the right model.
People might wonder why this Makita model comes at such a high price. Well, the simple explanation is that it is one of the sturdiest air compressors on the market. Sure, this comprises some of its portability but it makes it virtually indestructible. This, combined with a great CFM air output and low operating noises make it a favorite compressor of a lot of technicians who work in harsh environments.
This portable air compressor by Senco is the definition of the word “portable”. By weighing at around 20 pounds it can go anywhere with you, especially since it has a super comfortable handle on top. The air tank volume is what had to be sacrificed for that convenience, though, so if you are willing to ignore that, you will love everything about the PC1010. It is made of the highest quality materials and has a potent motor. It also has one of the lowest operating noises on the market. For this price, there is no better solution for your home DIY projects.
Your Guide To The Right Portable Air Compressor
When you’re shopping around try not to get too hung up on the adapters or universal tips that don’t come with a particular unit. The average model will come with three tips. However, lower priced models might only come with one. Even if your air compressor comes with tips they probably won’t be the best quality so you’ll eventually end up purchasing additional few anyway.
Of course pressure and flow are also something you should consider. Portable models are usually eight, thirteen or fifteen bars. The max airflow that a model can deliver is something else. It will depend on the number of tools you use, not to mention the amount of air they require. This is calculated by the number of liters per minute or second.
Besides airflow and pressure, there are many other features to consider. It will all depend on what you plan on using your compressor for. If you’re looking for a model to run your tools such as paint sprayers, wrenches, or pneumatic sanders a portable model just doesn’t have the airflow or capacity to provide that kind of power that those tools require in order to be fully functional. Instead, for power tools you’ll need to invest in a high CFM large capacity air compressor which is not exactly portable.
Either way, let’s check which are the types of air compressors out there now.
The Main Types Of Air Compressors
There are three main types on today’s market. They are divided by their output air pressure:
- LPACs – low-pressure air compressors
- MPACs – medium-pressure air compressors
- HPACs – high-pressure air compressors
The models we reviewed here (which are the only ones portable-enough) are LPACs and deliver a pressure around 150 psi.
Compressors can be divided according to their inner lubrication as well. Some use oil to lubricate the motor and all its components and some don’t. Oil-lubed air compressors are quiet, last for long, and are generally cheap. Oil-less models last less time as their parts tend to break more due to the lack of lubrication. On the other hand, they have a much better air quality. They require more inspections but there is overall less maintenance involved with them. Oil-less compressors have a smaller carbon footprint which makes them a great choice for indoor use.
So these are the types of air compressors but what are they used for? Let’s find out.
What Portable Air Compressors Are Mainly Used For
Some of the most common uses of air compressors are:
- Pneumatic tools
- High-pressurized air for gas cylinders
- Surface-supplied divers (oil-less pumps)
- Filling up tires
- Hospital gas supply
There are countless more applications of compressors as they’ve become an integral part of the technical world. The models which are lightweight enough to be portable are the ones with lower output pressure (up to around 150-160 psi). They all have air tanks from around 1 lbs to 6-7 lbs. Those specific models aren’t good for any industrial work but they haven’t been built for such either. They are engineered to deliver enough pressure to power pneumatic tools as well as most paint sprayers. Another limitation of the LPACs is their running time. Most will get you through a normal day but you might have to plug them back in. On the bright side, their refill times are minimal which allows for quick refills.
Now it’s time to get you familiar with some of the terms used in the air compressors world and show you how much exactly should they matter when you’re making your choice.
Why You Need a Portable Air Compressor for Your Next Trip
A portable air compressor offers the same functionality as a traditional air compressor. The advantages of owning a portable model are obvious. You can take an air compressor on your next family trip and use it to air up inner tubes, swimming pool toys, air mattresses, and your car tires.
Portable models also have wheels for easier transport and are often more lightweight compared to industrial compressors. A large stationary compressor is fine for working in your workshop or garage but if you’re planning a trip or need to lend your compressor to a friend, then you’ll definitely encounter some problems.
How To Use Your Brand New Air Compressor
Having an air compressor can make your everyday life easier. The key to utilizing a compressor to the fullest is knowing how to operate it. This is why we’ve created this little segment for you. The whole magic of these things happens inside them, where electric energy is converted into kinetic and that kinetic energy is then used to power all your tools and help you finish your DIY projects.
Before you take any action, always make sure you are properly equipped for the specific job and that your safety gear is at place. Safety glasses are the most important piece of gear you need to be on the safe side but nothing extra will hurt you. Now, let’s get started…
You should assemble your air compressor exactly as it is instructed by the manufacturer. Inside all manuals, there are specific step-by-step guides on the whole process (some even have pictures). Do that and continue with calibrating your tool. Never go above the specified pressure written in the manual. If your compressor can go up to 160 PSI but the manual says its recommendable to not exceed 130, just stick to 130 max PSI.
- Connecting the hose and checking oil levels
This step consists of connecting the hose to the compressor’s valve. Once done with that and if your compressor is oil-lubed check the oil levels. If they are too low, proceed with adding oil. Most manufacturers usually deliver the unit ready to be used, meaning it has more than enough oil for you not to worry about that for at least a year. Oil-less compressors are excluded from this step.
- Plugging in your compressor to an outlet
Plug the air compressor to an outlet and check if the relief valve works properly. Ensuring the release valve works properly eliminates the risk of future malfunctions or potential injuries. The function of that valve consists of being able to automatically open when the compressor is under more pressure than it can take.
- Checking gauges
Check all your gauges (for the oil, air-pressure, and others if present). Also, once more check all the valves and all the assembly junctions. Double-checking should become your second nature when working with pressurized air.
- Test it out
Take your favorite tools and test them out one by one to see if the air pressure is enough for all of them. If not, you can adjust it. You can even lower it if it’s more than enough for your needs. That way you will save energy and time for refilling. If you are new to air compressors, be extra careful with nail guns.
After you are done using the air compressor make sure you turn it off properly. That should be done by first pressing the “Off” button on the unit and then unplugging the outlet. Most people just unplug the outlet and think that this is good enough. It isn’t.
Pro Tip: As time passes, humidity builds up in your air compressor due to the fact that the intake air is humid. Since water cannot escape the compressor, it builds up inside. That will eventually lower your air tank capacity. It is crucial to drain that water from time to time. Usually, there is a release valve for that.
Taking Care Of Your Air Compressor
Since this is a guide made to lead you to the best possible compressor, it will be unfair not to give you a few tips and tricks about maintaining your unit. First of all, oil-lubed compressors require a bit more attention, as with any other machine that runs on oil. First and foremost, you will have to inspect the oil levels regularly and top off what’s inside to the right levels.
The oil is located in the motor of the compressor. Before draining it, let the compressor run for a few minutes. This will make the oil run down easily. Put a container below the motor to gather the leaking oil. While doing that, remove the top cap so that air can go inside the system. Once done with this, put the drain plug back and pour oil from the top. It is important to use an oil recommended by your specific manufacturer. This is the hardest part of owning an air compressor. Everything else is even easier!
Another thing you have to maintain in your compressor is its filters (both oil and air). They are sometimes screwed directly to the body of the machine but sometimes they are just placed loosely, which makes them super easy to remove. Locate the filter, take it out, clean it and put it back in. You can opt for buying new filters every time if you want to.
Sometimes the compressor’s belt can go bad. In these cases, you need to replace it. It might sound like some mechanical work but it really isn’t. Just find the compressor’s pulleys and remove the belt. Place a new one and test if the motor is running smoothly. Some models have their belt exposed but the more expensive ones keep it in a plastic/metal housing, for protective purposes.
Another thing is draining the water which has built up inside your air tank, as we pointed out earlier. All units have water valves for this exact reason so just find yours and drain it. Do this more often if you live/work in a humid area.
Keep an eye on all those aspects of your air compressor and it should serve you for years to come.
Air Compressor Tips
Finally, it’s time to summarize all this information into a few useful tips and tricks you can follow through the life of your air compressor, which will ultimately increase the said life and will make your work more efficient.
Following these four major tips will bring you energy efficiency of up to fifty percent. It will also save you money from the operating costs of owning a compressor.
The first and most important tip, as we have pointed out countless times by now, is to keep your compressor well-maintained. This includes regular checkups and if something needs changing, change it. Don’t wait for a part to fail, as it can bring the whole thing down with it, not to mention it could be potentially dangerous.
Another great advice is to select the right air compressor for your specific needs. This is why we’ve created this top 5 list of some of the most selling portable air compressors out there. Each one of them has a specific niche in which it works best but almost all of them (except the Senco PC1010) are kind of universal when it comes to low-powered tools. Either way, select the right compressor for your needs and when you start working with it, always select the right air pressure for the job. Most (if not all) instruments which work with air have instructions on them about the optimal PSI they need. Look for that and then adjust it on your compressor.
Some tips which will potentially save you money are to always turn off your compressor when not using it, use the minimum required air pressure for the job, and learn how to identify air waste and leaks.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t really use your air compressor for drying or cleaning a lot. Let’s say you just need to cut down on any unnecessary use of your unit.
As the name suggests, the biggest and most important advantage for these types of air compressors is their portability. These compressors can be used for a number of applications on your vacation, camping or hiking trips, or even around the home. Because they’re highly portable they can be moved from one location to another without much effort. Thanks to their lightweight design these compressors are very easy to work with and are also highly efficient.
These portable models are available in a wide range of sizes. Generally, they’re much smaller in size when compared with stationary models, which is what makes portable compressors more flexible. Compact and small, these portable models can be easily stored in your trunk or the back of your RV.
Unlike stationary models, a portable air compressor will also produce significantly less noise. Because stationary models produce such high levels of noise, they can’t be used for indoor applications. On the other hand, portable compressors are described as quiet running and can be used both outdoors and indoors.
The best portable air compressor will offer a number of benefits that will make your next trip that much easier. It can also make traveling cross country safer, in the event you need to air up your tires on a deserted highway.