This guide will tell you about TOP-5 best portable air compressors, what these devices consist of and how they work. Different models can be classified in accordance with the type of lubrication they use, whether they come with one or two cylinders, as well as how many times the air gets compressed before it is used. In this guide, you will learn how to distinguish various types and choose the best option for you. A chart containing a comparative analysis of the most popular products will help you make the right choice.
You probably have either never heard of an air compressor or, at the very least, thought that they were not something that you might need. I thought the same thing until I learned that many people use smaller, portable ones for things like filling a flat tire. However, not all of them are the same and if you think you might need one, read below and find out.
What You Will Learn From This Guide:
- How does a portable air compressor work?
- What are the types of portable air compressors?
- What to look for when buying a portable air compressor
- TOP-5 best portable air compressors
How Does a Air Compressor Work?
Most air compressors are made of five simple parts: the cylinder, crankshaft, connecting rod, piston and a valve head. The layout can vary between different models, but here is a rough idea of how these parts work to make the device work
At one end of the cylinder are a pair of valves, the inlet and discharge valves. The inlet valve sucks in all of the air which is then compressed by the piston. Then, the compressed air can be sent to the storage tank until it is needed. When it is needed and used, the air travels through the discharge valve to whatever tool that it is connected to. Some common tools are impact wrenches, paint guns, drills, nail guns, car tools, and more.
Almost all air compressors are powered by gas or electric motors, and it is the same for portable options, too.
What Are The Types of Small Air Compressors and Their Differences?
There are three traits that can differentiate these devices: they are either oil-flooded or oil-free, one-cylinder or two-cylinder and single-stage or two-stage.
Oil-Flooded Vs Oil-Free
Knowing the difference between these two is important if you aren't willing or able to maintain the compressor on a regular basis, which for many people is a very daunting and messy task. This whole area of the device is referring to how the lubrication works and how it needs to be maintained given the type of lubrication it uses.
The models that use oil-flooded, also known as oil-lubricated, pumps use oil which coats the walls and bearings inside of the cylinder. This process is called an oil bath and can require more cleanup than oil-free pumps because the oil tends to seep and splatter. On the opposite side, however, if you're using power tools that need lubrication, the seeping oil can be helpful to them.
Oil-free pumps need lubrication to operate properly too, but they use an oil-free type that is meant to last longer. They usually require less clean up and maintenance, but can be a bit noisier and put more pressure on the motor over time.
In terms of quality, air compressors that use oil-flooded pumps are generally the more durable and reliable. If you don't want to have as more of a cleanup, according to Quincy Compressor, using oil separators and air-line filters can help to prevent the oil from entering the air tank.
One-Cylinder Vs Two-cylinder
One-cylinder options are generally smaller, less expensive, and less powerful than those with two-cylinders unless they are two-stage models, but more on that below. Both can be of high quality, depending on the product.
One Stage Cylinders Vs Two-Stage Cylinders
A little more complicated than the cylinders, a compressor's stage is simply how many times the air gets compressed before it is used. A single-stage model gets compressed once while, you guessed it, a two-stage, also called a “dual-stage”, option gets compressed twice.
The amount of stages is also linked to how many pounds per square inch (PSI) the device can produce, usually. Single-stage models commonly have around 120 PSI while two-stage ones have around 175 PSI.
Many people confuse the number of cylinders with the number of stages the device has. While many compressors that have one cylinder are single stage, there are still some that are two-stage as well and vice versa.
What to Look for When Buying a Product
One of the first things you should do is determine what tools you will be using the air compressor for. The four most common uses for them are woodworking, metal work, car maintenance and assembly, and painting, which is usually for cars but can be used for other applications. The tools you have will usually say the requirements they need like the pounds per square inch (PSI) and the cubic feet per minute (CFM).
TOP-5 Best Portable Air Compressors
Below, you will find a review of the most popular products within the price range from $30 to $70. Basically, they differ in terms of PSI, which is a unit of pressure, and CFM, which measures the speed at which air flows into or out of an item. These models have a varying length of hoses and power cords, with the longest ones reaching up to 31 inches.
Portable Air Compressor for Up To 33-Inch Tires | Viair 00088 88P
- PSI: 120
- CFM: 1.47
- Power cord length: 10 feet
- Hose length: 16 feet
This air compressor kind of looks like a mini leaf blower, minus the long nozzle. What really makes this stand out, though is the fact that it is powered by connection jumper cables that are hooked up to a car battery and the air pressure gauge is conveniently located on the top for easier readings.
This can make it especially convenient for having a spare air compressor in the trunk when you have a flat tire, but not so much for other uses.
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Recommended or not? For those who want the extra reassurance that they can fill up a flat, yes, but for everyone else who needs an air compressor for other uses, no.
Viair: Check the current price
Portable Air Compressor with Auto Shut Off | TireTek TT-303 RX-i
- PSI: 150
- CFM: N/A
- Power cord length: 9 feet
- Hose length: 18 feet with an 11.5-foot extension
With a simple, thin box design, this model is a little more modern with its LCD screen, LED safety light, 2 USB charging ports, and built-in hose that is fed from the top of the unit.
It also comes with several additional pieces, an extension hose, and a protective case for everything.
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Recommended or not? Yes, this is one of the best deals for a compressor of this quality. With everything that it comes with, the value, and the extra features, it is hard for many to deny that this is a great find.
TireTek: Check the current price
Portable Air Compressor with Long Cable for Car | Helteko 150PSI
- PSI: 150
- CFM: N/A
- Power cord length: N/A
- Hose length: 11.5 feet
Shaped kind of like a waffle maker, this is another more modern design, having an LCD screen and even a brightness control for it too. It doesn't come with as many accessories as the last one, only coming with a case and 3 tips, but it also has an LED work light attached to it which faces the ground while it lays face up.
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Recommended or not? If you don't mind the noise and vibrations, then sure. However, if you do get it and cannot stand the noise, there is an 18-month warranty.
Helteko: Check the current price
Portable Air Compressor with Analog Pressure Gauge | Kensun
- PSI: 120
- CFM: N/A
- Power cord length: 10.83 feet
- Hose length: 31.4 inches
One of the more simple designs, this item is reminiscent of a purse or a briefcase. Since it can be powered by AC or DC, there are two buttons right above the pressure gauge, one for both power type.
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Recommended or not? Yes, for the convenience of being able to run off of AC or DC current, but no if you want a product that is higher quality that will have a longer lifespan.
Kensun: Check the current price
Traditional Small Air Compressor | Tcisa
- PSI: 120
- CFM: 1.23
- Power cord length: 10 feet
- Hose length: 25.6 inches
With the traditional style, this model has 2 switches, one to turn it on and off and one for the LED flashlight, and an LCD screen pressure gauge on the top right below the handle.
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Recommended or not? Since the cons outweigh the pros, making it less convenient, no.
Tcisa: Check the current price
Comparative Chart of Portable Air Compressor Effectiveness
Viair 00088 88P
Which portable air compressors are the best?
This is a more subjective question since everyone's needs are different.
Which ones are the quietest?
This can vary based on the size and quality of the device. A majority of the large models are commonly the loudest, but there are always exceptions to this rule.
How can I reduce the noise?
There are simple and cheap fixes that can reduce some of the noise and there are complicated and expensive alternatives that may need you to take apart the unit. Some of the more popular choices are to put it over a rubber mat that can absorb the vibrations or even changing the ground stands.
What are air compressors used for?
They can be used for simple tasks like filling an air mattress or complicated ones like car maintenance. Since different uses need different amounts of PSI and CFM.
How long does it take to inflate a tire?
This can vary based on how deflated the tire is and how powerful the unit is. For example, the Tcisa model above can fill a tire with 30 psi in about 2 to 3 minutes while the Helteko model can fill large tires, but it can only be run at 10-minute intervals.
Pros & Cons of Using Portable Air Compressors
One of the largest pros for them is their mobility and ability to be used in places where it is inconvenient to transport the standard-sized units.
While there are more cons, the pro almost always outweighs these cons:
- Sometimes more expensive
- Tend to need more filtering and lubrication maintenance
- Lower CFMs and PSI than standard sizes
- Rare to find a gas-powered portable model
The article above also lists the advantages and disadvantages of every aspect of most if not all of the different types of compressors, not just portable ones.
Those are all the differences with air compressors, portable and not, and the TOP 5 best portable ones that are on the market right now. While all of them were electric-powered, we may see some more with built-in batteries.