Gas vs Electric Air Compressor: Which One Should You Get?

Gas vs Electric Air Compressors: Which One Should You Get?

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If you’re shopping for an air compressor, you’ll probably spend some time comparing electric and gas-powered ones. And if you’re unsure which of them to get, I’ll help you decide with this article.


Which One Should You Get?

Electric Air Compressors

Electric air compressors are more common than their gasoline counterparts as they’re more versatile, quiet, and easier to maintain.

They’re the ideal choice for working indoors, using in a garage, workshop, or even at home.

This is also true as they require extension cords to function, which limits mobility.

Depending on the model of your inflator, it’ll work with a 120-volt household outlet or a 12-volt vehicle accessory outlet.

Gasoline-Powered Air Compressors

Contrary to electric models, gasoline-powered air compressors are better suited for outdoor work areas where you wouldn’t need an electrical outlet.

Furthermore, their motor runs on high horsepower, and they’re far superior in terms of PSI (Pounds per Square Inch).


The Specs of an Air Compressors

Work Environment

If you’re going to be working in a damp or wet area, you should steer away from electric compressors.

On the other hand, if you work indoors or in an unventilated area, don’t use a gasoline-powered compressor.

Horsepower (HP) Rating and PSI

The horsepower rating is equivalent to the power output you’ll get from your motor and is measured in PSI (Pressure per Inch Squared).

The higher the horsepower, the more your tool can pressurize air and deliver higher PSI.

And as the PSI gets higher, the more air you’ll be able to store in the tank. Consequently, running your compressor for more extended periods.

Generally, electric-powered motors can’t be run for as long as gasoline-powered ones can and don’t give as powerful a performance.


Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) and Standard

Cubic Feet per Minute (SCFM)

CFM and SCFM measure the volume of air that your air compressor is capable of delivering at specific PSI levels.

The lower the PSI output, the higher the CFM.

Usually, a compressor with a higher CFM rating will deliver more air and is suitable for heavier-duty applications such as operating air wrenches or framing nail guns.

The Storage Tank Size

Storage tank sizes are measured in gallons.

4 to 6 gallons is suitable for many small projects such as airbrushing, operating brad nailers, and nail guns. Things that electric-powered compressors are good at doing.

On the other hand, a larger tank can store more compressed air at higher pressures.

So they’re more suitable for heavier-duty tasks that require a regular and consistent flow of air such as remodeling projects or automotive work.

A gasoline-powered motor is a suitable choice for such jobs.

Note: Although the horsepower is what indicates a compressor’s power output, it’s important to mind the CFM ratings at specific PSI levels as that’s what dictates the tools with which you can work.


Air Tools Run by Air Compressors

Air tools have specific air pressure and volume requirements that your compressor has to meet to optimize the function of the device.

To understand how this adds up, determine the highest CFM at the highest PSI. Then, add around 50% as a safe margin and get a compressor that matches that.

For example, if your tools require 3 CFM and 90 PSI, get a compressor that works at 4.5 CFM at 90 PSI.

Such tools include ratchets, impact wrenches, staple and nail guns, air hammers, chisels, rotary tools, grinders, and paint sprayers.

How Does an Air Compressor Work?


The drive is the part that powers up the compressor’s pump to begin the process of pressurized air into the tank.


The pump uses the energy from the drive to suck in atmospheric air and compress it until it reaches very high levels of pressure.

This compressed air is then sent to the storage tank for later use through the discharge tube.

Storage Tank

The storage tank is the part that has the check valve. This valve is responsible for preventing the compressed air from applying back pressure on the pump.

Features Found on an Air Compressor

There are more things to an air compressor than the basic features, and these include the following:

An oiled vs oil-free pump

An oil-free pump is typically found on electric compressors and requires little to no maintenance as its bearings are permanently oiled. However, it can’t handle heavy-duty jobs.

Belt Drive System

A belt drive system works on reducing the operating noise of the unit as opposed to a direct drive system.

If you want a quieter compressor, go for an electric-powered one.

Thermal Protection Stops

These work on protecting your compressor from suffering any damage that may be inflicted by overloads.

Adjustable Exhaust

An adjustable exhaust enables you to project the exhaust away from your working area to provide you with more visibility and a cleaner work area.

Multiple Couplers

To handle various tasks without having to connect and disconnect tools, some compressors are equipped with various couplers. They’re more commonly found on the more powerful gasoline-powered air compressors.


Although hoses aren’t always included, you can still find some accessories with your compressors such as nailers and blowguns.

Some units even allow you to buy separate auxiliary tanks to increase the capacity of the air tank.