When it comes to air compressors, everyone has something specific they’re after. For me, it’s got to be portable, and therefore small and compact.
There’s no point having a compressor with all the bells and whistles in the world attached if you can’t transport it easily or if takes up half of your garage.
Noise can also be a big issue when it comes to air compressors, which is why I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect quiet compressor.
Portable Air Compressor - Comparison Guide
Cord Length (Approx.)
Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
Value For Money
EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
Solid 12V Option
P.I. Auto Store - Premium Digital Tire Inflator
Great For Tires
California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free
LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor
Various Types of Compressors
There are three basic types of air compressors. They are reciprocating, rotary screw and rotary centrifugal.
Within these categories, compressor types can be broken down even further. You will notice variations with the number of compression stages, cooling method, drive method and the lubrication needed.
Reciprocating Air Compressors
These are positive displacement machines that increase the pressure by reducing volume. This means that volumes of air are confined within the closed space which elevates the air to a higher pressure. This is accomplished by a piston within the cylinder.
Single-stage compressors will range from 70-100 PSI while two-stage compressors can range from 100-250 PSI. These compressors can be air-cooled or water-cooled and come in either lubricated or non-lubricated configurations.
Rotary Screw Air Compressors
These are positive displacement compressors which are often found in a single stage helical or spiral lobe oil flooded compressor. They will contain two rotors within a casing and these rotors compress the air internally.
There are no valves present in this type of air compressor. They are oil-cooled and the oil seals the internal pieces. This type of compressor is a continuous duty package. They are easy to maintain as well as operate.
This is a dynamic compressor which depends on a transfer of energy from the rotating impeller to the air. It produces a high-pressure discharge which is accomplished by converting angular momentum from the rotating impeller.
These compressors will rotate at higher speeds than your other varieties. They allow for a higher capacity and continuous flow. The centrifugal air compressor is oil-free.
Quality Compressor Brands
While there are many brands on the market to choose from, two of them stand out as some of the best brands to watch for.
The VIAIR Corporation offers high-quality air compressors as well as air accessories. There are several VIAIR components that are also used in OEM vehicles.
Some of the products they currently offer include air compressors, portable air compressors, pressure switches and needle gauges. In addition, you can find air systems, electrical relays, check valves, air pressure regulators and more.
Since 1998, their products have been found in on-road, off-road, industrial markets and medical devices. VIAIR effectively leads the industry standard for automotive aftermarket products across the world.
California Air Tools
Since 2002, California Air Tools have been focused on creating products that are useful and offer superior performance. Not just that, but they pair their outstanding products with excellent customer service.
They are currently located in San Diego, California have had many new products introduced. In 2009, they produced “Ultra Quiet” air compressors. In 2011, they were a leader in the introduction of the SPRAYIT LVLP Spray Gun and were also recognized as the top rated air compressor brand.
In 2015, they introduced the new “SP” motors and finally in 2016 the “Quiet & Light” Air Compressor hit the market.
How to Choose the Best Portable Air Compressor
When you are ready to pick out your next portable air compressor, there are several factors to keep in mind.
Air compressors can be powered by gasoline or electricity. An electric compressor will run on standard household voltage. Choosing a compressor that exceeds two running horsepower requires a 220-240V outlet. These are the best option for indoor usage.
It is important to note that running an electric compressor with a generator has the potential to damage the motor.
A gas-powered compressor is the choice for most builders and contractors. That’s because they offer a high output and are convenient to use anywhere. The downside is that they emit exhaust and can only be used in well-ventilated areas.
Size of the Tank
The size is going to tell you how long the compressor can run air tools before the compressor needs to turn back on. Most tank sizes are rated in gallons and will offer anywhere from a 1-gallon tank all the way up to 80-gallons.
When using air tools which require high volumes of air for continuous use, you should look for a larger tank size. To use a tool intermittently, the compressor would be fine with a smaller tank size.
Tools requiring a short burst of air such as brad or finish nailers, drain the tank slowly. For simple tasks such as these, a 2-6 gallon tank should be adequate.
Determining the air compressor you need based on weight will be a personal decision. It will require you to factor in the amount of time you need to move the compressor around.
Most portable compressors are smaller enough to carry. If they weigh more than what most people can carry, they generally include wheels.
There are several other features that are worth looking at when choosing your next air compressor:
what about Choosing a Quiet Air Compressor?
When choosing a quiet air compressor, the noise level is certainly your main concern. The level of noise can be measured in decibels (dB). Many units on the market will offer ratings between 40 to 90 dB.
To understand how loud that is, a normal conversation between two people can be rated at just 60 dB. The lower level of quiet air compressor is comparable to the noise a bird makes during calling.
On the other extreme, a noise level of 85 dB within an 8-hour shift can lead to hearing loss. These continuously loud noises can also lead to headaches and ear ringing.
For an air compressor to be rated as a quiet air compressor, it needs to have a level that produces 75 dB or less.
When picking the dB rating that is going to work for you, start by determining what level would be too high for you to tolerate. Then, you’ll be able to shop the available brands below that dB rating. Keep in mind that the lower you go with a dB rating, the more you are most likely going to pay.
At this time, it is not possible to find a portable air compressor that doesn’t make any noise, but choosing one with minimal sound is what is best for your health.
Top 5 Portable Compressor Reviewed
Lucky for you, I’ve found five amazing products which tick all these boxes, and more. Read my portable air compressor reviews below to find out more…
1. Viair 00073 70P Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
My Overall Rating
First up, the perfect compressor for anyone looking for a classic is this one from Viair – anything described as ‘heavy duty’ is always going to be a winner in my books! This air compressor works extra hard so that you can, too. Great for use with paint sprayers, this compressor will allow you to work as long as you need to without sputtering or giving up.
Running at twelve volts, Viair’s compressor is a powerful beast, and comes with a fifteen foot cable – perfect if you want to paint your car and need to strut around. Amazingly, this product is quiet, despite the power behind it, so you can crack on with your DIY at any time of day without worrying about the neighbors.
This compressor is also great for inflating car tires, and comes with various attachments so that you can use it for pretty much any odd job around the home. It’s handy for blowing up spare mattresses – it gets the job done quickly without shaking the walls like so many compressors do!
It’s nice and compact, meaning you can store it in the trunk of your car if needed, or can squeeze it onto a shelf in the garage or shed, awaiting your DIY and painting jobs.
2. EPAuto 12V DC Portable Air Compressor Pump
My Overall Rating
EPAuto have created a great little air compressor for under $50 with all the power and tech of a pricier product.
Again, this compressor is great for any painting jobs you may have – it’s powerful enough for you to easily spray paint your car, walls and anything else you fancy. It comes with handy add-ons, so you can use it for various jobs around the home and garden, too.
Portable and lightweight, this is a lovely product for anyone who wants something reliable to keep in the car, or store at home. Noise is kept to a minimum with this air compressor so you won’t be disturbing anyone – the best portable air compressor for those who need to stay quiet!
Of course, this air compressor can also be used to re-inflate car tires. I love this for the fact that it shuts itself off if it’s getting close to over-inflating your tires, perfect for anyone else with the attention span of a goldfish!
This handy feature joins forces with temperature-control – it will switch itself off if it gets close to overheating, saving you the stress that can come with so many other compressors out there.
The digital display on this compressor is easy to read and self-explanatory, and is accompanied by an LED flashlight for those emergency, midnight road-side stops.
3. P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator
My Overall Rating
PI Auto Store have created this lovely little compressor, which is perfect for all your needs in and around the home.
This smart thing is easy to carry due its lightweight frame, and comes with a carry case to make it just that bit easier to transport. It’s super user-friendly, with an LED, digital screen to keep track of what you’re doing, and, get this – you can set the pressure you want to hit and it’ll carry on at this level automatically once its reached without going any higher. Genius!
Thirteen glorious feet of extension cable means that you can use this in the driveway or garden easily, and it comes with adaptors for in-home use, too. It’s quiet enough to use with a paint sprayer while still packing the punch you’re looking for.
It plugs into the cigarette lighter in your car so you can roam around and get all those odd jobs done, like sorting your tires out. This promises to inflate your tires in such a way that the tread will wear evenly, meaning you’re kept safe in your car with ‘optimum traction and control’. Sounds good to me!
This compressor is speedy and reliable – the best portable air compressor for those on the move.
4. California Air Tools 5510SE Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free
My Overall Rating
California Air Tools have specifically designed this air compressor for those working in environments where noise is an issue. Small, portable and verging on silent? I think I’ve found the best quiet portable air compressor out there! This compressor only reaches a tiny 66 decibels – amazing given how much power is pumping through it.
I also love this product for the fact that it’s oil free, keeping the air nice and clean and making maintenance a lot easier than some of the other products currently on the market. Great for anyone looking for something to help out with spray painting, you can use this to paint the car or any outdoor surface!
As with most compressors, you can use this one to blow up tires, mattresses and to run power tools. It runs for a long time, silently, of course, and recovers quickly if it does get used for long periods of time. It’s easy to transport, despite its slightly bulky appearance.
Given the high quality of this product, you’d expect it to be at the top end of the price spectrum. Not so – this compressor is an absolute steal at under $130. A great investment piece for anyone who’s looking for a multi-purpose air compressor they can really rely on.
5. LifeLine AAA 300 PSI 12 Volt DC Air Compressor
My Overall Rating
Last, and least only in terms of price, is this gem from LifeLine AAA. It may look pretty basic, but don’t let that put you off.
This budget air compressor made my top five list partially because of it’s incredibly low price, but also for its versatility. Any DIY-ers out there will be thrilled with this compressor and its ability to be used in conjunction with a paint sprayer.
Home maintenance is easy with this ten foot cable, and they’ve handily included some adaptors so that you can use it on mattresses and car tires, too.
This, for me, is the best small air compressor for those on a budget and is a great addition to any vehicle’s trunk! Reliable and quality-guaranteed, you can use this for as long as you need to without it running low or giving up, as some budget buys can do.
The pressure gauge on the side may not be as fancy as some of the digital displays that my other top picks boast, but, for the price you’re paying, you’re still getting an awful lot!
This is a relatively quiet product, maybe not as deadly silent as some of the more expensive picks on the list, but it’s great value for money.
Car & Truck Tires: What To Look For
When driving a car it is always wise to carry a portable tire inflator with you. At any time, tires can lose air pressure for a wide range of reasons. Having a small air compressor available makes it easy to get back on the road again.
Some portable compressors will boast of high PSI numbers and will cause you to believe they are powerful. Sometimes, these figures can be misleading. The PSI is only what the gauge can measure, not what the inflator is actually capable of.
Most car tires require 32 to 40 PSI so you should be able to find a compressor worthy of using. If you need to inflate RV tires, you could be looking at up to 120 PSI. It would be wise at that point to purchase a compressor capable of up to 200 PSI because they won’t typically achieve values that high.
Keep in mind that car tires aren’t the only uses for portable air compressors. Don’t forget to use them for your bicycle, trailers, lawn mowers and wheelbarrows as well.
Is a 12v Portable Air Compressor Enough for Me?
Most people enjoy using a 12v portable air compressor for inflating car tires. Thankfully, there are many other uses for these portable compressors. They can also be used for simple, pneumatic tools such as a nailer. Because they are ultra-portable, you could use these tools anywhere you go.
A 12v portable air compressor isn’t for everything. The air flow isn’t as high as a regular compressor and might not be enough for the bigger air tools. When determining if a 12v compressor is enough for you, take into consideration the minimum airflow needed for the particular tool you want to use. Bigger air tools require lots of pressure and air flow to run.
You might think that inflating a mattress or inflatable swimming pool would work well with a 12v air compressor, but it’s not true. These items require low pressure but high air flow which your portable compressor won’t offer.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can’t I use a small compressor for?
You won’t use a small compressor for air tools, paint sprayers or sanders.
Are all portable compressors quiet?
The more expensive portable compressors are quiet, while the budget-friendly options tend to be noisier.
What is the price range of small compressors?
You can spend as little as $15 up to a couple hundred depending on what features you need.
So, there you have it – the best portable air compressors out there.
I’ve covered a variety of air compressors within a broad price range, so hopefully there’s something for everyone out there. Air compressors can be used for a lot of jobs around the home, as well as on the side of the road.
When it comes to re-inflating your tires, these are all great for doing so, quickly and reliably, and make great travel companions. I also love using air compressors with paint sprayers – the power behind them makes it so easy to paint a car or outdoor surface efficiently.
You’ll never use a paint brush again…