Portable air compressors are the answer to that problem. They are less powerful, but far more portable versions of these machines and they also produce much less noise. You can use them to fill your car tires on the road, to power a nail gun that you might use somewhere in the yard and so much more.
We tested a ton of different products and here we will present the three best portable air compressors that we discovered. We will also discuss all the benefits these tools give you and how to approach the task of choosing one for yourself.
Why Buying a Portable Air Compressor?
Air compressors are rather simple machines at their core. They work by pulling air from the atmosphere into a pressure chamber where they compress it by using the power of their motor. You can then expel that air through a hole to power a pneumatic tool with it, or inflate a tire or whatever else you may need. The pressure is generated either by a piston or a rotating impeller. The air can be used straight away or stored, depending on the compressor (see more about how the air compressor works). Portable air compressors usually can’t store much air, or store it at all, due to their small stature.
There are a ton of different air compressors out there, some using gas-powered engines while others use electrical ones. Some use oil and others don’t. However, they all differ from larger compressors in one key area – you can carry and use them almost anywhere.
This makes them useful for plenty of tasks that normal, larger air compressors can’t be used for. You can wheel them around your property, especially if you have a large one, to do work with a nail gun or a framing gun. You can use them to inflate the tires of your tractors and similar machines out in the field. If you have a particularly small compressor, you can bring it with you on a car trip if you need to re-inflate a tire.
Having one of these around the house, even if you already have a larger air compressor, can be incredibly helpful and you will quickly find a ton of different uses for it.
You should be careful when buying portable air compressors though, as some can be downright useless. Not all products out there are up to snuff, and you might end up with a useless tool that you spent a lot of money on. To help you avoid such pitfalls, we tested dozens of different products that we could find and wrote this article. Here, we will review the three best portable air compressors we found as well as offer our opinions on what you should value the most when buying one of these machines. So, let’s get going.
Meet the Best Portable Air Compressors
The Good: This is a compressor that performs well and comes with plenty of attachments.
The Bad: It produces tons of noise and vibrations and some of the attachments are of poor quality.
The Bottom Line: This unit provides top performance for an air compressor of this size, and it also comes with a ton of attachments, making it one of the most versatile products out there. It does produce a lot of noise and vibrations, but if you can handle that it’s worth buying.
The Good: Operates quietly, doesn’t weigh a lot and can power two tools at once.
The Bad: Due to design flaws, it leaks air, and it can’t reach the stated pressure rating.
The Bottom Line: Overall, this is a quality unit but it has one major flaw that is difficult to overlook, and that is the fact that it leaks air. It’s not easily fixable, and it impedes your work a lot. It’s still worth considering due to its high performance.
The Good: It’s rather quiet, doesn’t require any oil and it builds up pressure in record time.
The Bad: It weighs a tone and is prone to malfunctioning due to poor construction.
The Bottom Line: On the surface, this seems like a decent air compressor, but it has a ton of problems with durability and won’t do a lot of work before breaking down. It’s also incredibly heavy, so it lacks portability. All of that makes it a tough sell at this price.
The Good: Supremely portable, quiet and easy to use.
The Bad: Underpowered and only fit for small tasks.
The Bottom Line: If you need a small and portable compressor for cleaning PC’s or inflating tires, this will work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not good for much more than that, so it’s difficult to recommend.
This is a useful shorthand, but you should also check out our full opinions and reviews in the article below.
All of the Factors Considered
Portable air compressors are not that different from regular ones, at least on the surface. However, the things they are used for are significantly different, so buying them is a lot different than buying full-sized air compressors. If you apply the same logic, you might get burned, and that’s what happens to a lot of people. To help you choose a good portable air processor, we compiled a list of the most important things to consider when buying one of these tools.
This is probably the most important aspect of any air compressor, whether it is portable or not. The airflow is measured in standard cubic feet per minute – or SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet per Minute). It is crucial because some tools just won’t work with a compressor that doesn’t have a strong enough air flow, there won’t be enough power to drive them.
Airflow doesn’t have a lot of importance if you just want to inflate tires with your compressor – it will just affect how fast it does the job. However, if you want to use it with a nail gun, an impact wrench or other pneumatic tools, it is the first thing you should look at before you buy. You can check the SCFM rating on all your air-powered tools and compare them to the SCFM of the air compressor.
In this case, too much is never bad since you can always decrease the airflow of a stronger compressor, but you can’t increase the airflow of a weak one.
Be careful when picking through – the SCFM number by itself can be misleading. The standard SCFM is measured at 90 PSI, but SCFM measured at other levels of pressure might be misleading. Always be sure to check that so you don’t get tricked into buying an under-powered compressor which skewed the numbers to look more powerful.
Another important feature is the air pressure, measured in PSI (Pound/Pressure per Square Inch). What this refers to is how compressed the air in the machine’s tank is. The higher the PSI, the more air a tank can contain and the longer the compressor can run before needing to refill with air.
For example, a compressor that has a three-gallon tank of air and a PSI of 150 has around 30% more air in it than a compressor with a tank of equal size and a PSI of 100.
In this case, more is almost always better, and a compressor with higher PSI will be able to run for longer and contain more air inside it while taking up less space.
The importance of this feature depends on what you want to use your compressor for. Some compressors don’t even have a tank and push the air straight through the hose without storing it.
Having a tank has its benefits, though – for example, you could turn on the air compressor to fill it before you start the work you want to do. That way the motor will be off while you work and you can enjoy some peace and quiet. Some compressors even have two tanks, allowing you to use two tools at the same time without worrying.
Broadly speaking, the larger the tank capacity, the longer it will take for it to empty and the longer you can work without the motor needing to turn on and refill the compressor. So it’s usually good to have a larger tank, but you should still be mindful of the weight and size of them since you want your compressor to be portable.
If you get a machine like this, you probably intend to use it for a variety of tasks and not just one singular purpose. The more uses an air compressor has, the better it is.
Having a lot of adjustments is one way to achieve versatility. Having a ton of different settings for pressure and air flow is never a bad thing, and it can help you use your air compressor more efficiently.
Attachments are another useful thing to have, and some air compressors come with them, while in other cases you have to buy them. This could afford them a ton of different uses, including use on bicycle tires, using them as a cleaning apparatus and much more.
The weight of a portable air compressor is important because it is one of the things that affect its portability the most. If you get a machine that is too heavy and too big, it won’t be of much use on the go. You should always look for a lighter tool – but you still shouldn’t compromise on durability to get that.
After all, that, look at how the top three products we picked rank in these areas.
In-depth Reviews of 4 Best Portable Air Compressors
PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Pancake Compressor
This compressor can achieve 2.6 SCFM at 90 psi, and it can reach a maximum pressure of 150 psi. With that much power, it can do almost anything you would need out of a portable compressor like this. It is incredibly noisy though, and it vibrates too much.
It comes with a 6-gallon tank, and it can fill it up quite quickly, meaning that you won’t have to wait around long, or at all, for it to fill up and you can start working straight away.
Probably the most noticeable thing about this compressor is how versatile it is. It comes with a total of 13 accessories which allow it to do a ton of different things. It has a blow gun, a tire gauge, a tire chuck, a quick coupler and so much more.
This unit doesn’t weigh too much, but it is also not on the lighter side. It packs a whole 34 pounds in total and a bit more if the tank is full. It is not too difficult to transport, but there are lighter units out there, for sure.
Who Should Buy this Product
This is the ideal product for people who want a supremely versatile portable air compressor that can also deliver on the performance side. It comes with a total of thirteen different accessories that grant it the ability to perform a lot of different jobs, while it also has the power necessary to do so. It’s oil-free as well, so you get no mess when using and maintaining it.
What to Watch Out For
The largest problem with this compressor is the noise it makes. You might need some ear protection if you intend on using it for longer periods of time, it is that bad. It also vibrates a lot when working, so be careful when it comes to where you’re placing it. Some of the accessories it comes with are of poor quality as well, but that’s not a huge issue.
Overall, this is quite a good portable air compressor with great performance and a lot of different attachments that give it the ability to do various jobs without a problem. It has its issues, mostly the fact that it is annoyingly noisy. But if you can deal with that, it is more than worth buying.
DEWALT DWFP55126 Pancake Air Compressor
Good & Quiet Performance
This unit boasts 2.6 SCFM of air flow at 90 psi and a maximum pressure of 165 psi. While it can only reach 145 psi in practice, that’s still more than fine, but it gets minus points for false advertising. It’s also less noisy when compared to similar products. It can also power two different tools at once, which is a great bonus.
Decent Tank Capacity & Mired by Leakage
It packs a 6-gallon tank on it, which is more than enough for most types of work. The problem is that it leaks air due to a major design flaw, which can’t be remedied that easily.
Not Too Versatile
It has all the options and settings you would expect out of a standard air compressor, but nothing besides that. Due to its power, it can be used for a variety of tasks though, so there is that.
Doesn’t Weight Too Much
With a weight of 32 pounds, this air compressor is slightly below average. It’s not too light, but it is reasonably easy to carry around if you need to do it.
Who Should Buy this Product
In case you’re looking for a portable air compressor that you can use to power two pneumatic tools at once, this is the one to get. It has the air flow and pressure needed to do that, and it runs rather quietly. You can also transport it wherever you like without putting in much effort.
What to Watch Out For
The largest issue with this compressor is that it leaks air and that is not easily fixed. It’s a design flaw with the ball bearings which causes this. Another issue is that it can’t reach the maximum PSI listed in the product info – it falls 20 PSI short of that, which is a real shame.
There’s a ton to like about this portable air compressor, and it has great performance despite that fact that the PSI listed on the label is untrue, and it can power two tools at once. However, the issue with the air leaking is major and might put some people off it. You should certainly think twice before putting your money down on it.
California Air Compressor
Decent Specs but Poor Construction
In theory, this is a decent air compressor. It can output 4 CFM of airflow, and it can reach a pressure of 125 PSI. It also runs without oil, meaning it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, and it doesn’t produce a lot of noise. It will perform well at first, but not for long due to shoddy craftsmanship, and you will soon see a lot of malfunctions and a marked drop in performance.
Large Enough Tank
The tank of this unit can hold 6.0 gallons of air, which is decent enough when compared to other, similar products. That amount is smaller than it first seems, though, due to the maximum pressure of this unit being so low.
Lack of Versatility
This unit can be used for a decent variety of tasks, but not too many. It has a lot of settings you would need, but it doesn’t have enough power for some of the more common tools used with machines like this.
It weighs a total of 54 pounds – much more than any other similar air compressor out there. Even though it has good-quality wheels, it is still too heavy for comfort, and it doesn’t have the performance to justify that much weight.
Who Should Buy this Product
The best thing about this product is that it doesn’t need any oil to run and you won’t have to worry about that at all. If you want a mess-free experience with using and maintaining your air compressor, this is the one you ought to get. It also offers decent performance to boot.
What to Watch Out For
This compressor works well, sure, but only for some time. It isn’t durable, and it will malfunction sooner, rather than later, leading to problems with leakage, stink, the motor or the pump not working properly, and so on. That is just not an acceptable thing when you consider the price point it is sold at. It also weighs a ton, far more than it should.
In the end, this portable air compressor does have some good qualities to it, but they are not enough to justify putting up with all its downsides, especially not when you can probably get better products for this price. It just weighs too much and breaks down too fast to be of any significant use. If you decide to get it, keep that in mind.
Senco PC1010 Compressor
In almost all areas, this compressor woefully under-performs. It can output airflow of only 1.4 SCFM, and it can only run at 125 psi at most. Sure, it runs quietly and doesn’t require oil, but that’s of little importance when it can’t do much of anything.
Extremely Small Tank
The tank of this unit can’t hold more than 1 gallon of air, which doesn’t provide you with enough air for even the smallest of jobs. It also takes a long time to fill up, meaning that you can’t even attach a supplementary tank to remedy this issue.
Not Fit for Most Jobs
Due to how poor it is regarding performance this air compressor can’t be used for a lot of things. You can use it to clean out some stuff or blow tires, but not much more than that. Powering pneumatic tools with it is just not possible.
Incredibly Low Weight
When compared to other products out there, this is by far the lightest one you will find. It weighs only 20 pounds, meaning that you can carry it in one hand with ease and take it with you wherever you please. Nothing else comes close to it.
Who Should Buy this Product
If you want a lightweight and supremely portable unit, this is the one to get as it is less than half the weight of most other portable air compressors and you will be able to carry it around anywhere. It also produces next to no noise so you won’t bother anyone no matter where you use it.
What to Watch Out For
The main problem with this compressor is that it’s just massively underpowered and can’t be used for anything other than incredibly light work. It’s terribly limited in its application due to the lack of capacity, air flow, and air pressure. It also takes a long time to fill up, so using it with a larger tank just compounds upon its issues instead of fixing them.
When you get down to it, this unit doesn’t have a lot of upsides to justify how poorly it performs. Yes, it is quieter than most, and it’s incredibly portable due to the low weight, but you can barely use it for anything. It just lacks the airflow necessary to perform most tasks. In case you want something light that you need to use for things like blowing tires, this will do fine, but otherwise, it is not worth purchasing.
The Best Portable Air Compressor – PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK
While it was difficult to pick just one of these products as the best, we have managed to do it. Not everyone will agree with our pick, we are aware of that, but we still stand by our opinions. There are a lot of different products out there with plenty of features people will like or dislike. However, for us, the best one out there, offering the best set of features with minimal downsides, is the PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Pancake Compressor portable air compressor.
This product offers great performance while having almost no significant downsides to it. The noise it makes is annoying, there’s no doubt about it, but that is a small price to pay for a product that performs well and without a hitch. Because of that, it is our best pick for today.
Here we are, at the end of our article and we are at the end of our rope. After all the information we presented here, you should be able to pick the best portable air compressor for your need. It doesn’t have to be our best pick or one of the other products in this article, even though they’re all good – you should pick what’s right for you. Our only hope is that we were able to help you with that. If we have, share this article with others, they might need help as well. Until we see you again, have a good day.