How to Pick out the Best Small Air Compressor for You

A small air compressor is great for most do-it-yourself projects. Smaller, portable breathing air compressors also come in handy.

Smaller models are affordable but powerful enough to provide fresh air when needed for scuba diving, paintballindustrial work, and other important applications.

The following are some guidelines for choosing the best small air compressor for your needs.

Choose a Small Air Compressor by CFM over PSI

Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI) are common ways to measure a compressor’s performance.


CFM indicates how fast the small air compressor supplies air. Of all the specifications, CFM is the one to focus on when shopping for a compressor.When it comes to breathing air compressors, you want a fast and steady rate of air flow.

If you are using air faster than your compressor can deliver it, it’s not just your work that stops. You have to stop and pace your breathing until the compressor catches up.

Manufacturers test compressors at 90 psi, which is an average setting for a nail gun. So the CFM listed with the model is accurate. A good, smaller compressor will be 0.6 to 2.8 CFM for most tasks.


Most compressors provide enough pressure for the lighter tasks you have in mind. For this reason, psi doesn’t need to be a deciding factor for you.

The benefit that a high psi has is that it enables the smaller tank to hold more air. For example, a two-gallon tank at 150 psi, can hold as much air as a three-gallon tank with 100 psi. More air in the tank means less frequents stops to refill tanks.

Consider Tank Size

A larger tank holds more air. This gives you more work time before you have to stop and refill the tank. A good size tank for a small compressor is one to six gallons.

Though, as we already discussed, a larger tank doesn’t stand in for adequate CFM.

Portability and Design

The portability of the air compressor has to do with the shape as well as the weight. A lighter weight is preferable. And, a slimly designed compressor is easier to carry and reposition. Wide units are clunky.

One disadvantage to good portability is that you are likely to beat up your compressor. You can damage the gauges and outlets more easily than you think.

Whenever possible choose a small air compressor that has a case that surrounds the whole unit.

Portable compressors are often a favorite among scuba divers who don’t care to wait around the dive shop to refill their tanks.

Consider Decibels

Most small compressors range from 60 to 87 decibels. Keep in mind that going from 60 to 70 dB doubles the level of noise.

So, a compressor rated at 80 dB quadruples the noise level. Even a modest reduction in decibels is advantageous.

Portable Breathing Air Compressors

The above recommendations are very general. If you are looking for a portable breathing air compressor, you already have some practical requirements for your compressor.

If you have any additional questions about small compressors and which ones may be best for your needs (scuba diving, paintball, etc.), please contact us at Max-Air using the contact information at the top of the site.