Best Portable Air Compressor Reviews 2018–Ultimate Buyer’s Guide
Buying a best portable air compressor can be complicated. As soon as you look at one in a box at the hardware store, you are inundated with numbers: 2.6 hp, 1 gallon, 3.2 cfm, 90 psi, 130 psi max, 69 db. Specifications can be intimidating and in confusing, but don’t get sidetracked by all the statistics. With a little patience and careful examination, they are easy enough to understand.
After reading this guide and review, you will know what does and does not matter in terms of features and ratings, and that way you can buy with confidence knowing that your best portable compressor is going to meet all of your needs.
Out of the most widely available portable models on the market, we’ve selected 9 models that offer the best values for those that prefer to do their own home improvements. These are all small to midsize models since portability and affordability were both major considerations in selection, and they all have enough “oomph” to get most average home improvement projects done.
Top 6 Portable Air Compressors -Comparison
VIAIR 85P Portable
Editors First Choice
P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator
Viair 00073 70P
- 1 Things To Consider Before Buying The Best Potable Air Compressor
- 2 Top 8 Portable Air Compressors - In Depth Reviews
- 2.1 1. PORTER-CABLE CMB15 150 PSI -Air Compressor Review
- 2.2 2. VIAIR 85P -Portable Air Compressor Review
- 2.3 3. Viair 00073 70P-Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
- 2.4 4. PowRyte 500143 Elite 3 Gallon- Oil-Free-Pancake Portable Air Compressor Review
- 2.5 5. Viair 00088 88P -Portable Air Compressor Review
- 2.6 6. Bostitch BTFP020126 6-Gallon -best Pancake Compressor
- 2.7 7. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC -Pancake Compressor Review
- 2.8 8. P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator – Electric 12v DC Portable Auto Air Compressor
- 3 Final Verdict
Things To Consider Before Buying The Best Potable Air Compressor
These Compressors Are NOT for High-Demand Pneumatic Tools
If you are looking for a portable air compressor to run your air-greedy tools such as pneumatic sanders, wrenches, or paint sprayers. They just don’t have the capacity or airflow to provide the kind of power those tools demand in order to be fully functional.
The electric compressors on this list are not designed for high-demand jobs that need to shift a lot of air through powerful tools. You will need to invest in a large capacity, high CFM air compressor that will not be nearly as portable to run equipment like that.
It’s All About Cubic Feet Per Minute (CFM)
Cfm is the number that describe how fast a compressor for nail can supply air to an attachment. It’s also the most important number to consider when shopping for a compressor as well. If you have a high-consumption tool that draws air faster than the compressor can dish it out, you will have to pause your work and wait for the compressor tank to refill.
The good news is that every manufacturer tests their compressors at 90 psi, which is an average setting for most nail guns. That means you are making equal comparisons when examining cfm numbers, so you can get an accurate image of how much power you’re buying.
Tank Size is King...Most of The Time
The compressors reviewed have a wide range of tank sizes, anywhere from 1 to 6 gallons. Bigger tanks mean more air, and more air means you can run tools longer before a pressure drop and the motor kicks in to refill the tank. This might forestall work stoppages a little longer for the tank to refill, but bear in mind this very important fact: when you are using high -volume tools, adequate cfm beats a larger tank every time.
Psi Is a Relatively Minor Factor
When it comes to pressure, most compressors provide more than enough for to run most home improvement tools. For this reason, the pounds-per-square-inch (Psi) really don’t factor into the overall capabilities of most air compressors.
However, a higher max psi does have one distinctive benefit: it allows compressors with smaller tanks to contain more air and provide performance like a larger tank. For example, a two gallon tank at 150 psi actually holds as much as a 3-gallon tank at 100 psi.
Some Compressors Can Be Up To Four Times as Loud as Others
The compressors in this review vary widely in overall noise level by decibel. The difference of a few decibels may not seem significant, but the decibel scale is different than most rating scales that people are familiar with. An increase of 10 dB means that the noise level has doubled. So if a machine is rated at 60 dB, it is twice as loud as one rated for 50 dB.
This means that by that reasoning, a 70 dB machine would be louder by a factor of four. In other words, even a small reduction in decibel level can mean a serious increase in the overall comfort level when operating your compressor.
Weight Isn’t the Only Factor Governing Portability
Don’t just look at the weigh of each portable compressor when comparison shopping. You also need to consider the overall shape and size as well. Slimmer compressors and low profile best portable air compressors are the easiest to shift from place to place, whereas wider units can be a real pain to move. These reviews will focus some of the discussion on just how portable each compressor really is, and whether or not it’s a deal breaker.
Top 8 Portable Air Compressors - In Depth Reviews
1. PORTER-CABLE CMB15 150 PSI -Air Compressor Review
With their longstanding reputation for high quality tools, Porter-Cable’s CMB15 is a well rounded portable compressor offering for the DIY crowd. With a 2.0 CFM, it has more than enough juice to run most pneumatic nailers, and the 1.5 gallon tank also has a relatively quick recovery time. That’s more time working and less time waiting. The 1.5 gallon tank is fully shrouded, making the overall profile of the unit slimmer and more portable thanks to the placement of the integrated carry handle.
Thanks to its max PSI of 150, the CMB15 can also run tools longer between tanks refills than most 1.5 gallon units. The oil-free pump adds tremendous long term value to the unit as it is maintenance free, thus extending the expected lifespan of your compressor. Best of all, the 120V motor starts up easily even in cold weather, making it useful year round for whatever projects you can throw at it.
This unit is ideal for those who want to do their own home improvement projects but don’t want to haul around a large tank compressor that has a higher cost and weighs significantly more. It may not have the capacity of some similar models, but the higher PSI rating and CFM more than make up for the smaller tank in terms of actual performance.
- 2.0 CFM allows for quick compressor recharge
- 1.5 gal tank is shrouded and easy to carry
- 150 PSI max means better performance from a smaller tank size.
- A little on the bulky side
- Not as balanced as some portable models when carried
- Very loud compared to comparable models
2. VIAIR 85P -Portable Air Compressor Review
This particular compressor is intended for automotive use rather than DIY or running pneumatic tool kits, but it is a high quality offering nonetheless. VIAIR’s 85P runs off of a vehicle’s 12 volt outlet and cranks out about 60 PSI. You need to keep the engine running, but if you are filling a spare or topping off your tires during cold weather that’s usually not an issue for most users.
The CFM for this unit is 1.26, so probably less than ideal for most pneumatic toolkit or similar, but that does allow for fast tire fills with minimal energy draw. Also, it is very important that your auxiliary 12 volt outlet in your vehicle be rated up to 15 amps, as this unit draws a significant amount of amperage for its size.
In addition to having an exceptionally accurate and high quality tire pressure gauge, this unit also features an extremely bright LED work light built in, making it ideal for increasing visibility during roadside breakdowns and allowing you to keep your hands free in a brightly lit working environment if you need to pull this out on the go late at night.
Overall, I’d recommend this for those who want a high quality roadside assistance compressor that takes up minimal space in the trunk and works quickly and well under any conditions.
- Runs off of 12 volt car battery
- 1.26 CFM-
- Integrated tire gauge
- Engine must be on while in use
- Cannot run pneumatic tools
- Lower power compared to most portable compressors
3. Viair 00073 70P-Heavy Duty Portable Compressor
For the automotive portable air compressor user that needs more power to refill high pressure truck tires, the Viair 00073 70P is definitely the beast you are looking for. This model tops out at 100 PSI max, which means that you must keep your vehicle engine running. A 1.06 CFM means you won’t be using this to run a pneumatic wrench anytime soon, but it does allow for fast and efficient tire top-ups or refills.
The compact size and included carrying bag make this an excellent choice for keeping in your truck’s tool box, and the the integrated carry handle makes this easy to move around as you work. The unit needs a 15-amp 12-volt jack to function properly, but the power cord is 16 feet long, making it ideal for any tire maintenance situation.
Additionally, the 4-foot air hose has a brass twist-on tire chuck, making it easy to connect up to tire stems for a secure fit. Best of all, the unt is vibration dampened for more comfortable use, and it has an integrated tire gauge, allowing you to accurately refill tires to your preferred pressure quickly and easily.
I’d recommend this unit for anyone who routinely refills truck or ATV tires and needs something small, portable, and high quality to keep in their toolbox or cargo carrier for flat tire emergencies.
- Compact footprint means more trunk or cargo space
- 100 PSI max
- Deluxe carry bag included
- No integrated work lightC
- Cannot run pneumatic tools
- Must be connected to running vehicle in order to work
4. PowRyte 500143 Elite 3 Gallon- Oil-Free-Pancake Portable Air Compressor Review
For the home improvement crowd, it is hard to find a better DIY portable air compressor than PowerRyte’s Elite 3. At 135 PSI, this unit is ideal for running pneumatic nailer, and with a 2.2 CFM at 90 PSI it also won’t spend a lot of time recovering air between uses. The motor is fairly quiet compared to most similar models, and is shrouded for protection from airborne debris.
Additionally,, the vertical pancake tank has an improved center of gravity, making the 22 lb. carry weight balance nicely when you are shifting it from place to place using the integrated carry handle.The pump is both oil and maintenance free, guaranteeing a longer product lifespan. Best of all though, this unit comes with a 20-piece accessory kit, making this unit quite possibly the most versatile one on the list.
Some may be concerned by the lower max PSI, but with the higher CFM rating, the difference in tank size is negligible. I’d recommend this unit for the home improvement crowd that wants a compressor for all occasions without breaking the bank or buying a lot of features they won’t use. In terms of quality and versatility, this is an excellent investment.
- 3 gallon tank for high capacity
- 2.2 CFM for longer working sessions between tank recharge
- Includes a 20 piece accessory kit
- Lower capacity than many comparably priced models
- Some users may not like the way a pancake compressor balances while carried
5. Viair 00088 88P -Portable Air Compressor Review
Among the most powerful available portable air compressors for automotive needs, this 120 PSI Viair 88P clips directly to your battery terminals using the included alligator clips. If you need to fill tires fast and don’t mind getting under the hood of your vehicle, this is the air compressor for you. The integrated tire gauge is easy to read even in low light, and the included 10-foot power cord allows you to quickly and easily shift from wheel to wheel when adding air or refilling a flat.
I would not recommend this to run pneumatic tools as it clearly doesn’t have the requisite CFM at 1.47, but in terms being an excellent, high power emergency compressor, this is definitely well designed and affordable.
It is rated for up to 33-inch tires, and includes a 16-foot air host that includes three free inflaton tips. It is definitely on the louder side, but in an emergency situation, having a louder compressor isn’t always a disadvantage.
This portable air compressor is the best choice for automotive uses who want an emergency compressor that can reliably deliver the goods in a hurry during an emergency situation without requiring much if any maintenance.
- Can run directly off battery
- Compact and powerful
- Integrated tired gauge
- Not all current vehicle batteries have easily accessible battery terminals
- Not for power pneumatic tools
- Bulkier than comparable models
6. Bostitch BTFP020126 6-Gallon -best Pancake Compressor
In terms of capacity and capability, this offering from Bostitch makes every DIY project you take on a breeze. With a 6 gallon tank and a max PSI of 150, this compressor can keep even the most demanding tools happy and functioning longer thanks to its 2.6 CFM.
Despite the large tank, this unit is also well balanced, with a comfortable carrying handle on top that makes staying mobile on the job easy despite the 29 lb. heft of this particular unit. It is a bit on the louder side at 78.5
dBA, but the motor is both oil and maintenance free, making it ideal from a longevity standpoint. Bostitch also installs a high flow regulator on this model, along with custom machined couplers to maximize airflow and minimize loss during use.
Aside from being a bit on the bulky size, I’d say this portable compressor is a home improvement specialists dream come true. It’s got everything: capacity, airflow, and fast refill speed. There is definitely not much to hate about this portable compressor.
7. PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC -Pancake Compressor Review
This is definitely Porter-Cable’s limousine of portable air compressors. Implementing a pancake style tank for optimal stability and balance, this 6 gallon unit can handle just about anything you can throw at it in terms of tool performance.
The tank maxes at 150 PSI, and the 2.6 CFM means that your will spend less time waiting between tank refills and more teme working. As a means of ensuring quality, the air coupler and plug are both factory installed on this model in order to prevent leaks and to save on longer term repairs or replacements.
The low-amp motor is both oil and maintenance free, and the integrated carry handle makes shifting it from place to place with a minimum of difficult despite its rather hefty weight at around 30 lbs.
Best of all, it also comes with a 13-piece accessory kit, expanding both its versatility and usefulness throughout the home. This portable air compressor would make an ideal selection for those interested in nome improvement or other household uses. It is basically everything a DIY specialist looks for in a tool: high quality, dependable, and built to last.
8. P.I. Auto Store Premium Digital Tire Inflator – Electric 12v DC Portable Auto Air Compressor
This last little number offers a whole lot in a compact package. It is an automotive air compressor, but it is also exceptionally powerful with numerous automated features. A built-in microprocessor monitors air flow and pressure in order to automatically shut off when your tire reaches its ideal pressure.
Additionally, this compressor can fill a tire from almost completely empty to 30 PSI in under four minutes, which is fairly astonishing in its own right. Running efficiently off of 12 volt power, this 150 max PSI unit can inflate car, bicycle, motorcycle, RV, SUV, ATV, and truck tires without a need to change settings or compressors.
It can also be powered up using 120 volt AC current with an adapter, but that is an optional accessory you may want to consider buying to simplify your life.
Best of all, this model comes with its own carrying case, and fits neatly in most vehicle trunks or toolkits. While it may not be ideal for the DIY crowd, it is perfect for anyone that wants to keep their tires pressurized with a minimum of fuss and bother.
For my money, I would recommend the best Portable Air Compressor Bostitch BTFP020126 6-Gallon. It offers the most versatility and utility without having a prohibitively high cost or any serious drawbacks to its use with pneumatic power tools.
The tank capacity, CFM, and max PSI all more than meet the requirements of most pneumatic tools needed for home improvement products, and Bostitch has a longstanding reputation for building high quality tools and electronics.
As far as longevity goes, this unit is built like a tank, and will work well regardless of what harsh conditions it might be exposed to in the line of duty. Get one for yourself, and experience all the power and convenience that Bostitch has to offer on your next home improvement or DIY project.