The Best Portable Air Compressor For Home Garage

The Best Portable Air Compressor For Home Garage

Looking for the best portable air compressor for your home garage? Our expert team has tested and reviewed the top models on the market to help you find the perfect one. Read on for our top picks and buying guide.

Having a portable compressor in your home garage allows you to use all the power tools that help you work on your important projects. Plus, you will have a handy tire inflator when you need it to increase the tire pressure of your car and truck tires.

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Why Do You Need A Portable Air Compressor In Your Home Garage

person using a spray gun to paint a door

If you don’t already own one of these devices, you might be wondering why you need one. Let me explain. A portable air compressor is useful for operating pneumatic hand tools that require compressed air to function efficiently.

These units are commonly used on building sites to power tools such as pneumatic nail guns. But, powering your pneumatic tools is not the only thing these units are good for.

You can use a portable air compressor to inflate the tires on your car and other vehicles. This is ideal if you happen to get a flat tire at home. Additionally, it can be used to fill many other types of inflatables such as air mattresses and inflatable canoes and kayaks.

Sounds pretty useful, right? But, there are so many different types of portable air compressors available on the market, that it can be difficult to choose the right one now that you’ve decided that you definitely want one.

So, what are the most important factors to consider when deciding on the right air compressor for your needs?

Let’s have a look at the factors that are the most crucial when selecting the best air compressor for your home garage.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Portable Air Compressor

Close-up of a pancake style air compressor

Primarily, the most important factors will include the size and weight of the unit, the performance of the air compressor, the size of the tank that holds the compressed air and the noise level.

Here’s a rundown of each one and why it’s important.

Size And Weight

For the ultimate in portability, you want a unit that isn’t excessively heavy. Most of the units that we’ve recommended come in at around 30 pounds. Which isn’t too bad for a well-constructed unit that has the capacity to power all your pneumatic tools and pump up your tires.

Performance Or Maximum Pressure Rating

The maximum pressure rating of any air compressor is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). This is ultimately the measure of how much pressure the unit is able to generate. 

As you would imagine, the higher the PSI rating of the air compressor, the more powerful it’s going to be. You’ll find that many quality pneumatic tools such as nail guns and impact wrenches will need a minimum PSI of around 135 to operate efficiently. 

The Tank Size

Portable air compressors come in a range of different tank sizes. The size of the tank determines how much compressed air it can hold. This, of course, determines how long the compressor can power your tools.

You’ll find that air compressors that are light enough to be portable will have a tank in the range of 1 to 6 gallons. Generally, anything larger would be too cumbersome to lift and move around your garage.

This is definitely something to consider when deciding which unit is best. Obviously, air compressors with smaller tanks will not run for as long as those with large tanks. Once the air in the tank has been used up, you have to stop work so that the compressor can rebuild the air pressure in the tank.

While this is not of concern if you only need it for short tasks, it can be important if you’re thinking of doing something like spray painting which will require a decent amount of pressure over a reasonable period of time.

Air Flow Rate Or CFM

The airflow rate of a portable air compressor is measured as SCFM (standard cubic feet per minute under ideal conditions). More commonly, this rate is measured as CFM (cubic feet per minute) as this measure relies on the actual airflow no matter what the conditions are.

The higher the CFM or SCFM rating of the air compressor, the more air it can deliver to your power tools.

Interestingly, many manufacturers use CFM as a rating for air compressors and SCFM as a rating for air tools. It’s important to note that the SCFM rating will always be larger than the CFM rating. 

So, you always need to match the CFM rating of the air compressor to the tool that you intend to use it with. A good way to determine this is to make sure that the air compressor has a CFM that is around 1.5 times higher than that required by a tool that is using a SCFM rating.

For example, if you’ve just purchased an impact wrench that has a rating of 5.8 SCFM, you want to ensure that your air compressor is able to produce at least 8.7 CFM

Pump Type

Generally, all air compressors come with one of two types of pumps. There are compressors with oil lube pumps that will require regular refilling and maintenance.

Then, there are those compressors that have oil-free pumps. These require no refilling and also no maintenance.

Another advantage of an air compressor with an oil-free pump is that it can be transported easily without any worries about oil spilling out.

The Noise Level

While you expect something like an air compressor not to be silent when it’s running in your garage, you also want to be conscious of the noise level that the unit will produce.

The noise level is measured in decibels or dB. If you’re out on a farm or have an acreage property where your garage is far from the house, noise level isn’t all that important. Especially, if you’re able to wear ear protection.

However, in an urban or suburban setting, you do need to be more conscious when you have neighbors living right next door. Essentially, you want to select a portable air compressor that runs at below 80 decibels in this type of setting.

Now that you know what to consider when selecting a portable air compressor for your home garage, let’s take a look at the models that our team has chosen as the best.

Ease Of Use

If you’ve never used an air compressor before you want to ensure that the one you choose is easy to use. 

5 Best Portable Air Compressors For Your Home Garage

Here’s a comprehensive guide to the portable air compressors that the team has deemed as being the absolute best of the ones that they tested. These are in no particular order as each one has its own merits.

#1 – Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor (DWFP55126)

Dewalt Pancake Air Compressor

Main Features:

  • Weight – 30 pounds
  • Capacity – 6 gallons
  • Voltage – 120 volts
  • Maximum PSI – 165 PSI + 90 pump PSI
  • CFM or SCFM – 2.6 SCFM
  • Pump type – Oil-free
  • Noise Level – 75.5 dBA
  • Powered by – Electricity

This is a pancake compressor with a 6-gallon tank. It’s powered by an electric cord and features a high-flow regulator and couplers to maximize the performance of your air tools.

The air compressor only weighs 30 pounds which makes it portable enough to move around easily in your garage. The compressor is also relatively low maintenance as it features an oil-free pump.

The console has a protective cover to protect the controls from moisture, dust and humidity if you’re working outside. There’s also the convenience of 2 universal couplers which means that you can operate two tools at the same time.

The tank has a ball drain valve so you can drain it quickly and easily for storage of the air compressor. Most manufacturers recommend that you drain the tank after every use.

Lightweight and easy to carrySome users report that the connections leak a little air but this can be fixed with some Teflon sealing tape
Good capacity tank
Runs fairly quietly
Pressure builds up quickly

#2 – California Air Tools Portable Air Compressor (CAT-1P1060S)

California Air Tools Portable Air Compressor

Main Features:

  • Weight – 29 pounds
  • Capacity – 1 gallon
  • Voltage – 110 volts
  • Maximum PSI – 120 PSI
  • CFM or SCFM – 1.20 CFM
  • Pump types – Oil-free
  • Noise Level – 56 dB
  • Powered by – Electricity

This functional portable air compressor runs super quietly at only 56 decibels. It’s a hot dog-style air compressor with a 1-gallon tank. The attached carry handle makes it easy to move around your garage or anywhere else you might want to use it.

Another excellent feature is the oil-free pump which means that this unit is low-maintenance. 

When completely empty, the compressor will fill the tank entirely in only 50 seconds which means that, even though the tank is small, you won’t have to spend too much time waiting for it to be filled again.

The unit is also quite economical to run as it only draws around 4.5 amps from your power supply. 

While this is not a super powerful air compressor, it’s a good choice for home use, small projects and excellent for crafters or computer techs.

Here’s a great video that shows you just how compact and quiet this air compressor is:

Compact & lightweightNot super powerful but great for small jobs
Builds up pressure quickly
Easy to store when not in use
​Quiet air compressor

#3 – Bostitch Pancake Portable Air Compressor (BTFP02012)

 Bostitch Pancake Portable Air Compressor

Main Features:

  • Weight – 29 pounds
  • Capacity – 6 gallon
  • Voltage – 230 volts
  • Maximum PSI – 150 PSI
  • CFM or SCFM – 2.6 SCFM
  • Pump type – Oil-free
  • Noise Level – 78.5 dB
  • Powered by – electricity

Featuring an oil-free, maintenance-free air pump, this portable air compressor only weighs 29 pounds which makes it lightweight enough to easily move around your home and garage.

The highly efficient motor allows an easy start, even in cold weather. The unit has two universal couplers which means that it can run two different tools simultaneously. It also has a 6-gallon tank which means that it can run for longer before it needs to pressurize the tank again.

This air compressor is also relatively quiet at only 78.5 decibels. The unit holds the tank pressure consistently even when turned off for a day. 

Take note that there is no hose included with this air compressor so you have to purchase one separately if you don’t already have one. 

On the other hand, if you’ve never used an air compressor before, make sure you close the drain valve before powering it up. For safety reasons, new air compressors ship with the drain valve open.

Lightweight and compactNo hose included
Relatively quietThe drain valve will be open when you receive the unit
Starts easily in cold weather
Repressurizes quickly

#4 – Senco Portable Hot Dog Air Compressor (PC1010)

Senco Portable Hot Dog Air Compressor

Main Features:

  • Weight – 21 pounds
  • Capacity – 1 gallon
  • Voltage – 115 volts
  • Maximum PSI – 135 PSI
  • CFM or SCFM – 1.4 CFM
  • Pump type – Oil-free
  • Noise Level – 68 dB
  • Powered by – electricity

This portable air compressor is excellent value if you just want a portable unit in your garage for filling tires and doing small jobs. It only has a 1-gallon tank but is also one of the quieter ones on the market with a noise level rating of only 68 decibels.

However, even though the tank is quite small compared to some of the others on our list, this can still give around 1 hour run time before the tank needs to refill. Plus, the recovery time is only around 32 seconds before the tank will be full again.

The unit has a nice comfortable carry handle and is easy to move around your garage or home. Plus, the pump is oil-free which means that no maintenance is required on a regular basis.

As it’s on the smaller side, don’t expect this air compressor to keep up with a heavy workload. It’s just not designed for that.

It’s primarily a useful tool for hobbyists, crafters and electronic enthusiasts to blow dust from computers and electronic items. It’s quiet and lightweight which is ideal for these purposes.

Here’s a comprehensive video that talks about all the air compressors that Senco makes. The part about this portable Senco air compressor starts at the 2:41 mark.

Small & lightweightOnly has one coupler
Hold pressure well
Takes very little time to repressurize
Great for small jobs around the home

#5 – Porter-Cable Portable Air Compressor (C2002-ECOM)

Porter-Cable Portable Air Compressor

Main Features:

  • Weight – 31.3 pounds
  • Capacity – 6 gallons
  • Voltage – 120 volts
  • Maximum PSI – 150 PSI
  • CFM or SCFM – 2.6 SCFM
  • Pump type – Oil-free
  • Noise Level – 82 dBA
  • Powered by – Electricity

This is a sturdy portable air compressor from Porter-Cable. However, it’s the heaviest on our list, weighing in at 31.3 pounds. 

Like all the other air compressors on our list, it features an oil-free pump, making it completely maintenance-free. There are also two regulated couplers so that two pneumatic tools can be used at the same time.

The 6-gallon tank can store plenty of compressed air, giving you a run time of around 3 hours. The unit also has a sturdy carry handle and a cord-wrap feature. Plus, there are rubber feet on the base to offer good stability, even when the compressor is running.

Be aware that this unit doesn’t come with a hose, so you’ll have to purchase one separately. You also have to ensure that you break the pump in before using it. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Sturdy constructionHeavier than other units
Good storage capacityDoes not come with a hose
Recovery is fastIt’s louder than the other units

Quick Comparison Of All 5 Portable Air Compressors

Here’s a quick comparison table that shows you the main features of all the portable air compressors in our review. Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to decide which one will suit you the best.

comparison table showing all the features of the portable air compressors in our reviews

How To Use A Portable Air Compressor

If you’ve never used a portable air compressor before, you might want to learn some best practices for using these units. 

Safety Tips When Using A Portable Air Compressor

man wearing gloves and holding a pair of safety glasses

First and foremost, you want to learn how to use your new portable air compressor safely. Here are some tips and guidelines to ensure your complete safety when using this unit.

  • Remember to depressurize your hoses and your tools before you disconnect them.
  • Empty the storage tank often. This stops it from rusting and possibly exploding.
  • Wear protective gear when you use your air compressor such as gloves and safety goggles. You might also want to wear ear protection if you’re working in a confined space.
  • Check your unit for air leaks every time you use it. Even small leaks can cause the hose to blow off because there is a change in pressure.
  • Ensure that the tools that you plan to use match the maximum output pressure of your portable air compressor.
  • Make sure that you only connect your portable air compressor to an electrical outlet that is correctly grounded. 
  • Before turning on your compressor with a tool attached, ensure that the tool or hose is secured so that it can’t fly around when the compressor is turned on.

Pre-checks You Should Conduct Before Using Your Portable Air Compressor

Before you use your portable air compressor, there are some essential pre-checks that you should make to ensure that your unit will work the way it should and that it is safe for purpose. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure all connections are tight and secure
  • Ensure that your air compressor is sitting on a solid surface to provide stability
  • Make sure that the drain valve is closed otherwise your unit won’t be able to pressure up
  • Always make sure that you’ve read the operation manual before using a new air compressor that you haven’t used before. Some units will require breaking in, while others may not. 

Step-By-Step Guide On How To Use A Portable Air Compressor

If this is your first time using a portable air compressor, here is a step-by-step guide on what to do. 

Step 1 – Get Your Air Compressor Ready For Use

Place your air compressor on a stable surface and plug the cord into a grounded electrical outlet. 

(If you end up purchasing a unit that doesn’t have an oil-free pump, you might have to add or check the oil level on your machine.)

Step 2 – Make Sure The Drain Valve Is Closed

As many new air compressors are shipped with the drain valve open, make sure that the drain valve on your unit is fully closed. 

Step 3 – Attach The Air Hose

Attach the air hose or any other attachment that you might be using securely to the outlet of the compressor.

Step 4 – Set The Pressure

Adjust the regulator on your air compressor so that it matches your intended use. If you’re unsure what pressure level you should be using, take a look at the operation manual that came with your machine and use that as a guide.

Step 5 – Turn On Your Portable Air Compressor

Now it’s time to turn on your compressor and allow it to build up the pressure in the tank. Make sure you check the operation manual first to find out whether your model needs to be run-in before use.

Step 6 – Get To Work

When your portable air compressor has reached the desired pressure, you can connect your pneumatic tool or whatever you’re using and start using it.

Make sure that you keep an eye on the pressure gauge while you’re working and adjust the pressure when needed.

What To Do Once You Finish Working With Your Portable Air Compressor

To keep your portable air compressor in pristine condition and ensure that it will last for many years, there are certain things you should do after you finish working with it.

  • Turn off the compressor
  • Drain any remaining compressed air from the tank by opening the drain valve
  • Disconnect any tools or other attachments
  • Unplug your portable air compressor from the electrical outlet and store it in a clean, safe location

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a portable air compressor useful for inflating tires?

Yes, one of the primary reasons that many people purchase a portable air compressor is because it lets them inflate all types of tires such as car tires and bicycle tires at home.

Can you use a portable air compressor for painting?

Absolutely, painting is one of the more common uses of a portable air compressor in the home and garage. Just make sure that you match the performance of the air compressor you choose to the tool requirements.

What should you not do with a portable air compressor?

While it’s perfectly acceptable to use your portable air compressor to blow dust out of electronic items, you should never use it to blow dust off clothing or pets. This could cause serious damage to both people and animals.

​In Summary

A portable air compressor is a useful tool to have in your garage. Our selection includes both pancake air compressors and hot dog air compressors. The compressors the team has selected are all compact and lightweight enough to move around easily. The fact that they’re fairly compact also means that they’re easy to store out of the way in your garage. 

All of the models on our list feature an electric motor and they are all oil-free compressors. This makes them extremely low-maintenance.

To select the right one for you, consider firstly what you’re going to use it for and then match the output with what you need. Our comparison chart should probably make this fairly easy. We’ve also only selected good brand-name compressors to ensure that they’re fairly durable and will last you a reasonably long time, depending on how much work you put the compressor through.