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Updated March 2017

Best Air Compressors

Updated March 2017
Makita
Big Bore 2.5-HP
Campbell Hausfeld
3-Gallon Portable
PORTER-CABLE
Oil-Free UMC Pancake
Senco
2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon
California Air Tools
Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free, 2.0 HP
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Bottom Line

Hands down the best air compressor on the market. Powerful, durable, and extremely reliable.

A budget model - suitable mostly for inflating jobs rather than air power tools.

The best value for your money. A superb price/performance package.

A sold mid-tier machine, but we recommend going with the Makita instead.

The large tank and higher CFM rating of this machine is a perfect fit for larger jobs.

Good

Scores at the top of the pack in virtually every measure of performance. Its cast iron components give it an exceptional operational life.

Perfectly adequate for a wide range of inflating jobs; should be able to drive some tools with low pressure requirements.

Comes from a manufacturer with a great reputation for quality and durability. Has tremendous output for such a compact unit.

Takes just 67 seconds to fill its tank. Most machines take several minutes.

Extremely powerful, yet quiet pump. You can have a normal conversation while standing right next to it.

Bad

On the more expensive end, but its high construction quality will end up saving you money in the long run.

The hose is brittle and prone to fracture. However, that's a relatively cheap item to replace.

Takes a little bit longer to fill its tank.

Sometimes has trouble starting outside in cold weather, but if you take it indoors to warm it up a little, it's trouble-free.

At 90 pounds, it is not as easy to move around as some other units.

Best of the Best
Makita
Big Bore 2.5-HP
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Bottom Line
Hands down the best air compressor on the market. Powerful, durable, and extremely reliable.

Bad
On the more expensive end, but its high construction quality will end up saving you money in the long run.

Good
Scores at the top of the pack in virtually every measure of performance. Its cast iron components give it an exceptional operational life.
Campbell Hausfeld
3-Gallon Portable
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Bottom Line
A budget model - suitable mostly for inflating jobs rather than air power tools.

Bad
The hose is brittle and prone to fracture. However, that's a relatively cheap item to replace.

Good
Perfectly adequate for a wide range of inflating jobs; should be able to drive some tools with low pressure requirements.
Best Bang for the Buck
PORTER-CABLE
Oil-Free UMC Pancake
Check Price

Bottom Line
The best value for your money. A superb price/performance package.

Bad
Takes a little bit longer to fill its tank.

Good
Comes from a manufacturer with a great reputation for quality and durability. Has tremendous output for such a compact unit.
Senco
2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon
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Bottom Line
A sold mid-tier machine, but we recommend going with the Makita instead.

Bad
Sometimes has trouble starting outside in cold weather, but if you take it indoors to warm it up a little, it's trouble-free.

Good
Takes just 67 seconds to fill its tank. Most machines take several minutes.
California Air Tools
Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free, 2.0 HP
Check Price

Bottom Line
The large tank and higher CFM rating of this machine is a perfect fit for larger jobs.

Bad
At 90 pounds, it is not as easy to move around as some other units.

Good
Extremely powerful, yet quiet pump. You can have a normal conversation while standing right next to it.
How We Decided
  • 78 Models Considered
  • 34 Hours Spent
  • 2 Experts Interviewed
  • 211 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Best Air Compressors

    Fixed compressors can be impressive beasts, but they are also large, heavy, and impractical outside of a professional environment. What we've concentrated on are the flexible, portable air compressors that have many different uses around the home. We've also included some with extended capacities that make them suitable for keen-amateur or semi-pro home remodelers and auto enthusiasts. They are:

    Products we Considered

    • Makita
      Big Bore 2.5-HP
    • Campbell Hausfeld
      3-Gallon Portable
    • PORTER-CABLE
      Oil-Free UMC Pancake
    • Senco
      2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon
    • California Air Tools
      Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free, 2.0 HP
    Richard
    EXPERT CONSULTANT

    Richard is a seasoned small business owner in the hardware industry. He also owns a pool maintenance business and serves as an advisor on groundskeeping committees for a number of prominent organizations. He’s a regionally renowned safe cracker/locksmith expert, and in his spare time, he renovates and repairs vaults, safes, appliances, and a number of other products.


    Richard  |  Hardware Store Owner, Do-It-Yourself Guru

    Considerations

    Power, Motor, and Tank Capacity

    There are gas-powered air compressors available, but they really should only be used outdoors, so all of our choices are electric. As we'll see, however, there can be a big difference in the motor and tank capacity between different electric models.

    Performance

    Air compressor output isn't just about the actual pounds per square inch (psi) generated. In fact, the cubic feet per minute (CFM) of the air compressor is more important, and we'll show you how to navigate this consideration when making your purchase decision.

    Features

    Some air compressors come with all kinds of fittings and inflators, while others are very basic. We investigate the accessories and fixtures of all the models in order to guide you to the best machine for your specific needs.

    Price

    There are some very cheap air compressors available, and they are intended purely for tire inflation. We've tried them and they simply don't meet our standards for most use cases. However, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend a fortune for good equipment. We'll tell you which machines give you the most value for your money.

    Richard

    Many air compressors have accessible valves that release excess moisture to protect parts from corrosion and rust. Become familiar with the location and operation of these valves.

    Considerations

    Power, Motor, and Tank Capacity

    Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 3-Gallon Air Compressor

    The compact Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 Air Compressor has a 1 horsepower, oil-free motor and a tank capacity of 3 gallons. At just 19 pounds, it's a lightweight unit and is similar in performance to the cheap air compressors that are used for tire inflation. However, its large tank provides a consistent air supply and should mean the pump isn't working all the time, which is a huge advantage. At 84 decibels, some owners did find it to be a little noisy, although a few of the other units we tested were even louder.

    PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC

    Things might appear confusing when you see that the Porter-Cable C2002-WK Pancake Compressor is rated at 0.8 running horsepower - which is less than the Campbell Hausfeld. In fact any motor produces more horsepower as it starts, but it then evens out. The two manufacturers are using different measurements, but the effective power is actually very similar. The Porter-Cable also has an oil-free motor, which is maintenance free but is not as durable as an oil-filled model in the long term. Its 6 gallon tank capacity is much bigger, and at 34 pounds, it's a fair bit heavier - although that's still no great weight to move around.

    Senco PC1131 Compressor, 2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon

    The Senco PC1131 Compressor produces 2.5 horsepower 'peak' performance which is quite an increase over the Campbell Hausfeld and Porter-Cable, even allowing for a slight reduction in normal use. It's also a good bit heavier at 60 pounds. The motor is an oil-filled unit, which many owners found to give it a much longer life. The teflon bores and pistons of oil-free motors do wear eventually, but they can't be replaced, whereas oil-filled versions are much like a car engine - they require some maintenance but are more durable and can be repaired if necessary. How important that is depends on your requirements, as even the smallest oil-free motors should last at least several years with moderate use. The Senco holds 4.3 gallons in twin tanks. This is a space-saving design feature, not to be confused with professional two-stage air compressors.

    Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor

    An initial look at the specifications of the Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Air Compressor give a similar reading to those of the Senco: a 2.5 horsepower, oil-filled motor and twin air tanks with a capacity of 4.2 gallons. At 77 pounds, the Makita does weigh a bit more, part of which comes down to the 'big bore' cast iron cylinder that runs at slower rpm and will therefore last longer. There's also a useful wrap-around roll cage to protect the motor from damage, which many owners find to be a nice touch.

    California Air Tools CAT-10020 Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 2.0 HP 10.0-Gallon

    At 91 pounds, the California Air Tools CAT-10020 Air Compressor stretches the idea of portability, although it does have wheels to make it easier to move around. The motor is a 2 horsepower, oil-free unit, feeding a giant, ten gallon tank which accounts for quite a bit of that extra weight. A standout feature of the motor is how little noise it makes: an almost whisper-quiet 70 decibels. Many of the owners we surveyed found this to be a true difference maker.

    The CAT-10020 pump produces compressed air quickly enough to fill the ten gallon tank in just under 130 seconds, which is really quite remarkable for that size.
    Considerations

    Performance

    Most people think of air pressure as pounds per square inch (psi), but when it comes to air compressors there's also SCFM: Standard Cubic Feet per Minute (usually just written as CFM). All pneumatic tools have CFM ratings - usually measured at 90 psi - so you can tell whether your air compressor will drive them. A brad nailer, for example, has a low CFM, while a pneumatic impact wrench or angle grinder has a high CFM. The Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 Air Compressor delivers 0.5 CFM @ 90 psi, which means that this is a light-duty machine. Its maximum air pressure is 110 psi, so it's perfectly adequate for a wide range of inflating jobs, and it should be able to drive some tools with low pressure requirements - like the aforementioned brad nailer, for example.

    The neatly designed Porter-Cable C2002-WK Pancake Compressor can produce more actual air pressure - at up to 150 psi - and is rated at 2.6 CFM @ 90 psi, so it will drive a wider range of accessories than the Campbell Hausfeld. This is also where the benefit of the larger tank can be seen. If you've got a six gallon reserve, you can deliver more compressed air for longer. While it takes a while to fill the tank, once it is done the pump doesn't have to work as hard or as often in order to keep it topped up and to maintain working pressure.

    While lower-rated machines can take several minutes to fill their tanks, the more powerful Senco PC1131 Compressor takes just 67 seconds. Its maximum pressure is 125 psi, which at first seems quite a bit down from the Porter-Cable, but the Senco produces 4.4 CFM @ 90 psi, so it's actually capable of providing more useable compressed air and will drive all kinds of construction tools. Roofing nailers are quite demanding and find the machine to be slightly inadequate, but most owners we surveyed told us that the Senco gives more than enough power for what they need. It also "recovers" quickly - that is to say it quickly refills the tanks once depleted.

    Performance figures for the Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Air Compressor are close to those of the Senco. Maximum pressure is 130 psi, and it delivers 4.2 CFM @ 90 psi, so in operational terms it's going to be able to drive the same kind of tools. Once again, owners were complimentary about fill time and recovery. A standout feature of the Makita is that the large pistoned pump actually works surprisingly slowly, making it a cool-running and quiet unit at 79 decibels.

    California Air Tools CAT-10020 Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 2.0 HP 10.0-Gallon

    The California Air Tools CAT-10020 Air Compressor takes a similar low-reving approach to the Makita and is even quieter at just 70 decibels. Many of the owners we surveyed remarked that they could hold a normal conversation while standing next to it, which is not something you can say for most of the machines of this type. Although its maximum pressure is a fairly ordinary 125 psi, it's the most powerful of the machines we've rated, producing 5.3 CFM @ 90 psi. Additionally, its pump produces compressed air quickly enough to fill that big ten gallon tank in just under 130 seconds, which is really quite remarkable for that size.

    The Makita scores at the top of the pack in virtually every measure of performance.
    Considerations

    Features

    Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 3-Gallon Air Compressor

    The Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 Air Compressor is quite a basic unit, but it does have nice, clear gauges so that you can monitor air pressure easily. It is also equipped with a useful accessory kit containing a number of inflation nozzles, needles, adapters, a blow gun, and 25 feet of recoil hose. A number of owners have criticized the hose, saying that it's brittle and prone to fracture. However, that's a relatively cheap item to replace, and many people had no problems once they upgraded to a more flexible version.

    PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC

    You get very much the same set of accessories with the Porter-Cable C2002-WK Pancake Compressor as you do with the Campbell Hausfeld, except that the hose is not the recoil type and thus doesn't receive the same negative comments. The dials are conveniently positioned and are easy to read, there's a useful molded handle to make it more comfortable to carry around, and the compressor has a general look of quality about it, which is no surprise given Porter-Cable's reputation. The low amp motor is great with with cold-starts and also ensures that it doesn't trip breakers by overloading them. Unusually on a "home use" compressor, there are two outlets - indicating that you can run two tools at the same time. Indeed it's a feature that several owners have found particularly impressive in such a compact unit.

    Senco PC1131 Compressor, 2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon

    The Senco PC1131 Compressor has a very functional appearance, and its components seem to have been assembled where they would take up the least amount of space rather than for any visual appeal. You won't have any problems reading the gauges or operating the controls, but it's not the most ergonomic of designs. There are no accessories provided, but to be fair, that's often the case with more professional-standard machines - neither the Makita or the CAT supply them either.

    Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor

    When you compare the Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Air Compressor with the Senco, you see what can be done with a bit of thought about product design. It's a remarkably neat and tidy unit, with everything well positioned and ergonomically placed. The design incorporates a roll bar to protect the pump and offers two outlets - and indication of just how hard the machine is expected to work. There's also a low amp starting system, just like most of the other units on our shortlist. Attention to detail is reinforced by little things like the oil sight glass - so you know when it's time to top up - and the lever handled drain valve that's much easier to use than the normal petcock.

    California Air Tools CAT-10020 Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 2.0 HP 10.0-Gallon

    The California Air Tools CAT-10020 Air Compressor is another machine with a more industrial approach to design, but then again it's quite difficult to imagine how they could possibly go about concealing that ten gallon tank in a more elegant manner. Nevertheless, the gauges are very legible and the controls fall easily to the hand. There's a handle on top, but given that the machine is over 90 pounds, it is mostly used for pulling the unit - not carrying it. As you might expect with this kind of capacity, the machine comes with twin outlets and a low amp starting system. Some owners we surveyed were unhappy with the wheels and had problems with them seizing up, but alternatives are widely available so this is ultimately a relatively simple problem to remedy.

    The Makita MAC2400 is a remarkably neat and tidy unit, with everything well positioned and ergonomically placed.
    Considerations

    Price

    Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 3-Gallon Air Compressor

    The Campbell Hausfeld FP209499 Air Compressor is currently on offer at a fraction under $71 - down from a usual price of $130. It's undoubtedly a budget model - suitable mostly for inflating jobs rather than air power tools, but it has a big advantage over cheaper "pump only" compressors in having a tank to even out pressure flow. Some owners did mention that the tank takes quite a long time to fill, but most customers found performance acceptable for the price.

    PORTER-CABLE C2002-WK Oil-Free UMC

    List price for the Porter-Cable C2002-WK Pancake Compressor is close to $340, so being able to get one for $149 is a tremendous saving. It's a good looking unit from a well-respected manufacturer, and it's got great capacities. It is consistently highly rated in reviews and one owner's description of it as "the perfect compressor for around the home," is echoed by many happy customers.

    Senco PC1131 Compressor, 2.5-Horsepower (PEAK) 4.3-Gallon

    At around $189 (down from $326), the Senco PC1131 Compressor is a solid deal. Senco are another one of the big names in air compressors, and while it doesn't have the style of the Porter-Cable, there's no doubting this machine's abilities. Owners are particularly pleased with its build quality, power output, and noise control. Some customers do seem to struggle to start it outside in cold weather, but we found that if you take it indoors to warm it up a little, it's trouble-free.

    Makita MAC2400 Big Bore 2.5 HP Air Compressor

    The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore Air Compressor is available at the moment for $319, reduced from a list price of $493. It's a well thought out unit, attractive, quiet and - according to one satisfied owner - powerful enough to drive an impact wrench on occasions. That's a lot to expect of a home air compressor and is a good example of what it's capable of if pushed.

    California Air Tools CAT-10020 Ultra Quiet and Oil-Free 2.0 HP 10.0-Gallon

    Right now, the California Air Tools CAT-10020 Air Compressor is $475, which is well below its list price. That's quite an outlay for a tool for around the home and garage, but it's very competitive for a professional-standard air compressor - which is how you should look at this machine. If you're thinking about using more air power tools in a home shop, or if you want something for site work but don't need a big stationery air compressor, the large tank and higher CFM rating of this machine may be the perfect fit for you.

    One owner described the Porter-Cable as "the perfect compressor for around the home."

    Best of the Best

    We have reviewed and rated five very good air compressors. There are no losers among this group. When you weigh price and performance, each machine has its strengths and will appeal to different needs. However, we have to choose an outright winner - no easy task given the high general quality among the models on our shortlist.

    Our best portable air compressor is the Makita MAC2400. It doesn't have the out-and-out performance of the California Air Tools CAT-10020, but it will satisfy the vast majority of users. It scores at the top of the pack in virtually every measure of performance. Its cast iron components give it an exceptional operational life, and the fact that it is oil-filled only adds to its potential longevity. It's designed to shrug off the occasional bumps or knocks that a machine like this is bound to get from time to time, and its reduced price makes it an excellent value right now. We often leave the last word with owners, and they regularly praise the Makita for its "superior build quality," and for being "reliable, powerful and quiet," - everything you want in a top portable air compressor.
    Best of the Best
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    Cast iron components should give it an exceptional operational life, and being oil-filled can only add to that.

    Best Bang for your Buck

    Deciding the best value for money portable air compressor is difficult because each person's idea of value will depend on the job to be done. If you need over 2 CFM, for example, the Campbell Hausfeld wouldn't be good value, no matter how cheap it is. Yet for many household tasks, it would be perfectly adequate.

    However, there is one machine here that punches way above its weight, and it's the excellent little Porter-Cable. It looks smart, comes from a manufacturer with a great reputation for quality and durability, and has tremendous output for such a compact unit. Take into account the current cost, and you have a superb price/performance package. Users stress that it's important to follow the break-in procedure, but once it gets going the unit is beyond reproach and consistently meets or exceeds owners' expectations. It is beyond doubt the best value air compressor on the market today.
    Best Bang for your Buck
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    The one machine that punches way above its weight.
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Editor
    • Jasmin
      Jasmin
      Operations
    • Jimi
      Jimi
      Product Analyst
    • Kriti
      Kriti
      Data Scientist