Always follow the right steps when choosing an air compressor for yourself.

Did you know that you use the very first air compressors every day? Your lungs are a basic form of air compressor. Our ancestors used to use them to blow on their fires to stoke them.

It took many years until the 18th century for a mechanical air compressor to get invented. Today technology has developed to give us a wide range of options when it comes to compressors.

It can be confusing and overwhelming when choosing an air compressor. Use this guide to help you select the right compressor for your business.

Stationary or Portable 

As a general rule, a portable compressor won’t be as powerful as a stationary one. If you need a compressor for home use, they will all be small and portable.

For businesses, you have the option of a small portable compressor or one that is less so. These compressors tend to have larger tanks that are on wheels.

When it comes to industrial compressors most are not meant to be portable. The compressor stays in one place and powers a particular stage of the manufacturing process.

Inside or Outside 

If you want a portable compressor, then you will most likely use it outside at some point. If this is the case for you, make sure the compressor you choose has features that protect it from the elements.

This shouldn’t be too hard of a task; most generators have these protections even if they are meant for inside use.

What About the Drive System?

How do you want to power your compressor? The two main options are electric and gas powered.

Electrically powered compressors tend to cost less to purchase. They also tend to operate at a lower decibel.

The drawback is they always need to be plugged in for their source of power. If you are on job sites, this may not be possible.

How Much Power Do You Need?

Knowing how much power you need out of your compressor is vital to choosing the right one. You will find that manufacturers will have a variety of ways that they measure the power output of their compressors.

One standard method of measurement is cubic feet per minute or cfm. This unit measures the level of airflow that that compressor can produce.

Displaced cfm 

To calculate this measurement the compressor’s rpms, stroke, and bore are used. The highest of the three is the displaced cfm.

Other variables like friction and heat are not considered. This makes this type of measurement pretty useless in a real-world application.

Standard cfm 

This measurement uses a standard reference point to measure the airflow. This is an excellent measurement because it puts all of the different compressors on an even playing field.

Actual cfm 

This is the most useful measurement because it gives you pump’s output in a specific condition. This makes it the most accurate measurement of them all. The downside is that it is the most difficult to calculate.


The psi is the pounds per square inch. This is the amount of pressure the compressor can produce.

Look at the highest rated tool that you want to use with your compressor. At the very least it needs to match this tool. It is a good idea to size up and give yourself some breathing room.

You don’t need to add measurements together to get the psi-like you do the cfm.


Don’t use the horsepower as one of your primary methods for choosing a compressor. When it comes to selecting a commercial compressor focus on the psi and cfm.

You will see a running horsepower rating from manufacturers. This is the power you will achieve once the compressor is up and running at operating rpms.

There is a second horsepower measurement that you might see. This is the peak or maximum amount of output that the compressor’s motor can produce. You may also see this referred to as brake horsepower.

This higher level of horsepower cannot be maintained long term. But for a very brief bump, you can achieve up to seven times the operating rpms.

Tank Size 

The tank is where the pressurized air is kept. The larger the tank, the more air that is pressurized and immediately ready for use.

A compressor with a smaller tank will have to work harder to produce the same level of output that a larger tank can produce. If you intend to have constant or high demand, then a larger tank is a smart choice.

When comparing compressors, you want at least five gallons per cfm. If you only plan to use your compressor in short bursts, then you can err on the smaller side. For those who intend to use their compressor non-stop, you will want to be on the larger end of the sizing.

Horizontal or Vertical

There are both styles of tanks, but the one you choose depends on where you intend to put it in your facility. If you are limited on floor space, then a vertical tank is the smarter choice.

Electrical Requirements

This is one feature where it becomes key to know what the final use of the compressor is. Residential or home use compressors have compatibility with single phase power. Industrial facilities use a three-phase process for electricity.

You also need to pay attention to the voltage. If you are unsure of your facilities electrical requirements and wiring, it is best to consult with a professional.

With everything becoming more advanced these days, consider if you need a compressor with a printed circuit board. This would make your compressor compatible with the advancing technology of your business.


So far, we have focused on the compressor and your needs, but this leaves out one crucial factor, cost. One way to keep your costs down is to carefully and accurately measure your needs.

By knowing exactly what you need you can avoid spending more money than necessary on a too big of a compressor. Measuring correctly can also prevent you from buying a compressor that is too small. If you make this mistake, you’ll end up spending double by purchasing a replacement generator.

Compressor Quality 

It isn’t smart to base your choice on the cheapest compressor you can find. High-quality compressors tend to be a higher up-front investment. They also have reduced maintenance and operating costs.

Take this into account when deciding how much you want to invest in your compressor both upfront and long term. Look at the compressor’s efficiency rating and life expectancy.

Finally, just like with any other business, look at the manufacturer and their qualifications and experience. Look at how happy other customers are with their compressor purchase.

Homeowner Needs 

When you have your own air compressor at home you can handle anything life throws at you. You can keep your tires full of air and run your tools.

If you don’t plan on doing many projects around the home, a small pancake compressor will work fine. Don’t be alarmed when you hear it refilling as you fill your tires.

For homeowners that plan to do a lot of DIY projects, a larger single stage compressor will work fine. The larger tank will give you the power you need to run the tools that will make your next home improvement project a breeze.

Pro Needs

If you are a contractor or own your own business, then you need an air compressor that is larger than the home use ones. A professional grade air compressor will have the durability you need for continued use at a job site.

Look for an air compressor that is meant for your particular industry. After all, you won’t find the same compressor at a tire shop as you would a dentist office.

For larger businesses, look for a compressor that can handle more than one tool at a time.

Manufacturer Needs

Choosing the right industrial compressor is vital for keeping production flowing in an efficient manner. These compressors are going to be large and very powerful.

When you look at an air compressor for sale, consider your growing business. Don’t be a compressor that barely covers your production right now. You want a compressor that is big enough to handle your growth.

If you can’t find the right compressor for your needs, you also have the option of building your own custom compressor. This will be the most expensive option though.

Choosing an Air Compressor That Is Perfect for Your Needs

When choosing an air compressor, you need to think about its intended use. Is this a compressor that you plan to use at home, at a small business, or in an industrial application.

Your answer to this will put you in the right direction to narrow down your search. Think about your demand now and expected growth. This will help you select the right compressor in your category.

Check out our business and finance section for more useful guides to running your business.