How do air compressors work-Types of Air Compressors

How do air compressors work

If you’ve ever seen an air compressor, then you know that the whole point of the machine is to pump air out of a tiny little hose. While this device is necessary to work with all kinds of power tools, do you know how it operates? Well, it turns out that a lot is going on inside of an air compressor/portable air compressor, and the details can be quite fascinating. Thus, if you’re curious about how it works or want to know more about air compression, then you’ve come to the right place. Today we’ll be showing you exactly what happens inside of these devices, as well as how to properly care and maintain them.

Types of Air Compressors

Although the primary purpose is the same for each style of compressor, the way that they work is a bit different depending on the internal components. There are several ways to classify air compressors, but one of the most crucial is the method by which the air is compressed. There are three ways to do it, as we’ll see below.


This is the most common type of compressor, and it’s highly effective for most jobs that need pressurized air. The way that it works is that a set of pistons (usually two but it can be more) move up and down, pulling more air in and compressing it by making an airtight seal. The pistons move in the same way that they do in your car, which is why this system is so effective. The only issue with piston compressors is that they need oil for lubrication; otherwise, the components can scrape and get damaged. That means that the air coming out is not completely clean, which can be a problem for some situations. We’ll go over those later.

Rotary Screw

If you want to get a more efficient method of air compression and you don’t mind paying a little extra than a screw compressor is the way to go. These devices work by having two screws overlapping with each other so that they aren’t technically touching, but they can still move air into the tank for compression.

Because of the way that these machines are set up, you get a constant airflow, which means that you can increase the pressure much faster. Also, they don’t need oil for lubrication, so screw compressors can provide clean air if necessary.


This is the most powerful and costly of all the compressor types, and as such it is used mostly in industrial applications. The way that this model works is that it has impellers that spin rapidly, driving air into the tank. This system also works without any lubrication, meaning that you get clean pressurized air. Also, because it is so efficient at compressing the air, you can get incredibly high pressure readings, which is why it’s so useful for large-scale applications.

Air Compression Basics

Now that we know what drives these devices, let’s go over how they work to provide compressed air for a variety of tasks. We’ll go through everything step by step so that you can see how it all comes together.


First, the compressor has to pull air in from the surrounding environment. If you tried to operate one in a vacuum, it wouldn’t work because there would be no air to draw into the intake. This setup can vary depending on the system, meaning that some units have filters to ensure cleaner air and others don’t.

Compression System

We’ve already looked at how these machines can compress air, so your device will have either pistons or rotary screws pushing the air into the tank. Odds are you won’t work with any centrifugal compressors, though.

Air Tank

If you look at all the different models of air compressor available, you will see that some are classified as “inflators,” which means that they take the ambient air and push it through a hose directly without compressing it. These models don’t have an air tank, but they also don’t provide pressurized air.

To get a higher PSI (pounds per square inch) rating, the air has to be in an airtight container. As more air enters the tank, it gets compressed, which is where your PSI comes in. Having a larger tank means that the air lasts longer before it has to be refilled, but the recycling process does take longer. Recycling is the act of bringing new air into the tank to be pressurized.

Air Hose

To use that compressed air you need to have a hose hooked up to the tank. Usually, there will be a valve either on the hose or the tool you’re using to ensure that you control when air is flowing through it.

While some extra components can help the whole system run smoothly (such as lubrication), this is the basic setup for all air compressors.

Clean Air vs. Dirty Air

As we mentioned above, some situations call for pressurized air that is completely free of any contaminants or toxins. Medical devices and food service machines are some examples of when you need clean air, as well as airbrush painting. If you had tiny flecks of oil in your air while you painted, it could affect the way it dries and cause it to run.

As a rule, colder air is cleaner as any toxins separate from it during the cooling process. Many systems will utilize a cooling unit to clean the air, and many of these will have extra filters to ensure complete removal of dirt or debris.


Overall, air compressors are highly useful devices that can be applied to a wide variety of situations and industries. You may not have known before, but air compressors are some of the most crucial and versatile machines that keep modern society running at top speed. We hope you found this article informative and thank you for joining us! Click to know more..

Mary T. White

Hi everyone, I'm a trained AC service technician who uses several tools in my profession. I created this interactive platform to share experiences and vital information. Feel free to share your views and ask any question.

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