A portable air compressor powers nail guns and other pneumatic tools and can even pump up a deflated tire when you're in a pinch.
We researched the top models, evaluating portability, performance rating, and tank size.
Here are the best portable air compressors.
Makita 4.2 Gal. 2.5 HP Portable Air Compressor, MAC 2400
With a generous 4.2 gallon air tank capacity, a mighty 2.5 HP motor, and professional-grade oil-lubed components, this model from Makita leaves little to be desired in a portable air compressor—regardless of whether you are a weekend DIYer or a seasoned contractor. Part of Makita’s Big Bore series, this air compressor is designed with a larger piston and cylinder to more efficiently compress air while increasing CFM air flow rates. You can expect 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI; plus, with dual fittings, you can run two pneumatic tools at a time without sacrificing pressure or performance.
The Makita Portable 2-Stack Air Compressor is an oil-lubricated compressor. This means you’ll need to perform basic maintenance to keep this compressor running at full power, but there are advantages to oil-lubricated models. For one, the lubrication tends to keep friction low and components don’t overheat as easily. This translates into a longer lifespan, so long as your compressor is properly maintained. In addition, oil-lubricated compressors are often quieter: this Makita model is rated at 78 decibels, offering significant noise reduction over other models.
Price at time of publish: $364
RIDGID 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor
For an affordable option to power your next project, consider this pancake air compressor from Ridgid. This model has a 6-gallon tank and 150 max PSI. With an air delivery rate of 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI, it’s best suited for projects around the home or light-duty projects at the job site (such as finish or trim work).
This budget-friendly portable air compressor impresses with its pair of quick couplers, which stand out for being user-friendly and easy to connect to ¼-inch automotive and industrial tool plugs. A ball valve tank drain requires one simple turn to drain the tank of condensation and to prevent corrosion. It features a 3-year warranty, besting the warranty period of many other budget air compressor picks on the market.
Price at time of publish: $129
Best for Cars
AstroAI Tire Inflator Portable Air Compressor
Inflators are the smallest type of portable air compressor. Often used for small jobs and quick tasks, keeping a compressor like this one in your car is a good idea in case you need to quickly inflate a tire.
The AstroAI Portable Compressor takes the guesswork out of inflation: just set target pressure and the device will shut off once the threshold is met. Keep in mind that the maximum is 100 PSI for this small air compressor, but that’s plenty for average vehicle tires.
To use this portable air compressor, you’ll plug it into your vehicle’s 12V power supply. Since the air compressor has no storage tank, it will run continuously to supply air. A 9-foot power cord and 31-foot air hose make it easier to reach all four tires of your car or SUV. Four adaptors mean that this compressor can fill tires, toys, and other inflatables with ease.
Price at time of publish: $45
Best with Jump Starter
STANLEY J5C09 1000 Peak Amp Jump Starter
Be better prepared for on-the-road problems by picking a portable air compressor with a built-in jump starter. The STANLEY JUMPiT Portable Power Station is a versatile tool that can inflate car tires with up to 120 PSI and includes a patented SureFit air nozzle that threads directly into tire valve stems. It can also be used for other quick inflation needs, like sporting equipment, or bicycle and ATV tires.
If your car battery dies, this handy air compressor's jump starter can deliver up to 1,000 amps to get your motor running. For safety’s sake, a reverse polarity alarm will give you a heads up if you make the wrong connection with the jumper cables.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to stash this jump starter away in your garage for months at a time; ensure it’s always juiced up and ready to go by charging the unit once a month.
Price at time of publish: $130
Husky 12/120 Volt Auto and Home Inflator
If you’re looking for a versatile air compressor that can run using a 12V power supply from your vehicle or 120V from an electrical outlet, the Husky 12/120 Volt Auto and Home Inflator is a good choice. If you have easy access to a standard socket in your home, garage, or shed, just plug in this mini air compressor and fill your tires, air mattresses, or other inflatable gear. But if you’re stuck on your commute, while you're camping, or otherwise cut off from 120V power supply, then this digital compressor readily plugs into your vehicle’s 12V out.
Price at time of publish: $80
Best for Painting
DeWalt 27 Gal. 200 PSI Portable Vertical Electric Air Compressor, Model DXCM271.COM
To keep up with the demands of paint sprayers, you’ll need a larger portable air compressor that can meet the challenge without sputtering out. This vertical air compressor from DeWalt offers the performance you need while retaining portability, thanks to two wheels that allow you maneuver the tank like a dolly. Use it for spraying paint on household projects or for automotive painting.
This air compressor for painting has a 27-gallon tank and a maximum 200 PSI. At 40 PSI, you can expect air flow at a rate of 6.8 SCFM—enough to keep pace with the demands of painting using HVLP spray guns. If you need to bump things up to 90 PSI, you’ll still have a respectable airflow of 5.1 SCFM. While it provides plenty of airpower, this oil-free compressor also boasts a 78 decibel sound rating, saving some strain on your ears during operation.
Best Oil Lubricated
WEN 20 Gal. Oil Lubricated Portable Vertical Air Compressor, Model 2202
While the majority of portable air compressors on the market are oil-free for easy maintenance, an oil-lubricated air compressor, like the WEN 20 Gallon Oil-Lubricated Vertical Air Compressor, has its advantages. These compressors rely on lubricated piston chambers that must periodically be refilled with oil for a long life of service. However, this type of compressor may offer better durability and longevity, since components stay cooler as a result of the oil lubrication.
This vertical portable air compressor from WEN offers a max of 135 PSI, and airflow at a rate of 3.8 CFM at 90 PSI, or 5.0 CFM at 40 PSI. It can keep pace with high-volume air tools like HVLP spray guns or many pneumatic woodworking tools. The 20-gallon tank means it’s not as easy to maneuver this portable air compressor, but two wheels make it easy to tilt and wheel it around your garage or shop.
Price at time of publish: $260
Best Twin Tank
RIDGID 4.5 Gal. Portable Electric Quiet Air Compressor, Model OF45200SS
Two tanks mean twice the air capacity, but the RIDGID 4.5 Gallon Air Compressor keeps it compact and portable. The 1.6 horsepower motor sits atop twin air tanks, and the whole machine measures just 12 x 19 x 20 inches.
Despite its small footprint and portable size, this air compressor has an impressive 200 PSI that delivers airflow rates of 5.7 SCFM at 40 PSI. Even if your task demands 90 PSI, airflow only dips to 5.1 SCFM. Ideal for transporting to job sites, this air compressor from RIDGID supplies plenty of power but keeps things quiet with a sound rating of 77 decibels.
Price at time of publish: $350
Oasser Mini Compressor
A mini air compressor, sometimes referred to as an inflator, is a handy tool for making quick work of pumping up bicycle tires, sports equipment, or even car tires. The Oasser Mini Air Compressor is a handheld inflator, capable of inflation up to 120 PSI. While it may not be the fastest way to inflate a car tire, it is capable of doing so (just keep in mind that it’s not a good match for truck or RV tires).
This mini air compressor is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery or a 12V power source. Measuring under 10 inches long, it can be stored in a tool chest, glove box, or beach bag.
Price at time of publish: $46
RYOBI ONE+ 18V Cordless 1-Gallon Compressor
A cordless air compressor is one of the most convenient ones to have a supply of air on demand. The RYOBI ONE Cordless 1-Gallon Compressor is handy for small projects around the house or job site. It earns plenty of praise for its portability and easily takes on tire inflation, pumping up pool toys, or reviving deflated sports equipment.
At the same time, this cordless compressor is popular with DIYers and handymen looking for a lightweight, easy to transport compressor for finish work and small projects. It may not be the most powerful air compressor on the market with modest airflow delivery rates of .7 SCFM at 40 PSI and .5 SCFM at 90 PSI, but it conserves battery energy while providing enough power to operate pneumatic tools like a brad nailer.
Price at time of publish: $178
Makita Quiet Series 2 Gal. 1 HP Oil-Free Electric Air Compressor, Model 210Q
For indoor projects, minimize the noise produced by your air compressor by choosing a quiet compressor. The Makita Quiet Series is among the quietest portable air compressors on the market, with a decibel rating of 60. By comparison, this is about the level of typical conversation or the operating noise of a dishwasher. It’s significantly quieter than other noise levels of standard air compressors, which can exceed 70 or even 80 decibels.
At the same time, this quiet portable air compressor still packs plenty of airpower. It features a 2-gallon tank and 1 HP motor for efficiency. This air compressor produces an airflow of 2 CFM at 90 PSI, with a maximum tank pressure of 135 PSI. Take note of the fact that the motor can fill the tank from empty to full in just 65 seconds, saving you time as work through an air-intensive task.
Price at time of publish: $230
Our top pick is the Makita MAC2400 Portable Air Compressor (view at Amazon), which provides plenty of airpower and has commercial-grade components that will last for years to come. If you're on a budget, we recommend the RIDGID Pancake Air Compressor (view at Home Depot), which gives you a compact yet practical 6-gallon air tank with oil-free lubrication.
What to Look for in a Portable Air Compressor
Air compressors are powered by either electricity or gas. Electric units typically run on standard household voltage—the exception is extremely high-powered products—and are recommended for indoor applications since they don’t emit fumes. Gas-powered compressors can be more convenient since you don’t have to plug them in, and they’re often more powerful. However, the drawback is they should only be used outside or in well-ventilated areas.
All air compressors come with a performance rating, measured in SCFM, or standard cubic feet per minute. This number tells you how much air the compressor can deliver, and you’ll want to compare it against any pneumatic tools you plan to hook up to the compressor. For instance, if you’re planning to use a nail gun with a rating of 4 SCFM, you’ll want to ensure your compressor can deliver this force.
Most larger air compressors come attached to a tank where compressed air is stored. As you might have guessed, the larger the tank, the longer you can run tools before the compressor must turn back on. If you’re using tools that require a high volume of air, you’ll want a larger tank—typically 6 gallons or more.
What is a portable air compressor?
A portable air compressor is great for use on a construction site or around the home because it can be moved wherever it's needed. This tool is designed to pull air in, compress it, store the compressed air, and release the compressed air to operate a pneumatic power tool, fill a tire, or blow away dust and debris.
How do you use a portable air compressor?
You can use a portable air compressor with a wide assortment of pneumatic tools, like a pneumatic nail gun or paint sprayer. Just connect your pneumatic tool of choice to the portable air compressor with the air compressor hose. Turn the air compressor on and wait for the pressure to build up inside the tank. Once the pressure has built up to the maximum, the compressor will turn off, indicating that it's time to start working. Squeezing the trigger on a paint sprayer or nail gun will release the stored air from the tank so that it can provide the force necessary to spray the paint or to drive the nail into the target material. Keep in mind that as you use the stored air, it will need to be replenished, so expect the compressor to turn back on and start pulling in more air as you work.
How does a portable air compressor work?
Portable air compressors work by pulling air into the compressor and gradually reducing the space the air is trapped in, increasing the air pressure. The air is forced through an output into a storage tank, where it is kept at a high air pressure level. When the storage tank reaches its maximum air pressure, the compressor will turn off. The stored air can be used to power pneumatic tools, inflate a tire, or simply clean dust and other debris. After using some of the stored air, the compressor will turn on to pull in more air and increase the pressure in the tank to the maximum before shutting off again.
Why Trust The Spruce
Erica Puisis has been covering home appliances and power tools for The Spruce for more than three years. No stranger to home projects and deflated tires, she keeps a cordless RYOBI ONE+ air compressor in the trunk of her vehicle for quick inflation from a compact compressor. Additional reporting and research for this article was done by Timothy Dale, a long-time home improvement expert specializing in plumbing, construction, and product recommendations, among other topics.