A 20-gallon air compressor is a great blend of power and portability. You can move it around your garage or outside, and it has enough air capacity that you can use most tools without running the motor very often. You wouldn’t want to haul one onto your roof or run a commercial garage with it, but most DIYers will find it a useful size.
Compressors can also be a bit confusing to buy because they incorporate arcane lingo that most people don’t use very frequently. We wrote these reviews to help you identify which 20-gallon air compressor is right for you. We included a handy buyers’ guide so you can take what you learn in our reviews and combine it with those tips to make the most informed choice possible.
|Industrial Air 20-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor|
|DeWalt DXCMPA1982054 Air Compressor||166 lbs||4.7/5|
|WEN 2202 20-Gallon Air Compressor|
(Best for the Money)
|NorthStar Single-Stage 20 Gal. Air-Compressor (Vertical)||204 lbs||4.2/5|
|Porter Cable PXCMF220VW 20-Gallon Compressor||97 lbs||3.9/5|
This air compressor is quiet, powerful, reliable and a good value. It does everything you want from an air compressor and does it well.
When we say that it’s quiet, we don’t mean as silent as your refrigerator. We mean that it’s much quieter than what you’d expect from an air compressor. That comes courtesy of the motor that compresses enough air for every normal circumstance.
Naturally, it’s expensive. It’s not the most expensive 20-gallon air compressor on the market, and it’s not even outrageously expensive. It’s just enough that it’s going to represent a significant investment.
The DeWalt DXCMPA1982054 outperforms the Industrial Air 20-gallon air compressor. It’s a little faster to build pressure, a little quieter and even a little more durable. If you need an air compressor solely for pneumatic tools, you might want to consider this one as a better choice.
There is one reason why we dropped it to the runner-up rank: the price. It’s better than the Industrial Tools in every way except for the cost, and the price difference is enough that it overcomes the better performance.
It is a better air compressor, but what it costs makes the Industrial better.
If you want raw return on investment, take a look at the WEN 2202. It’s much more affordable than our top two models and still suitable for most things that you’ll need a 20-gallon air compressor for. If you want to set up an air compressor in a static position for a workshop, this might not be your first choice. If you’re looking for a basic air compressor that will make the most of your investment, this is one you’ll like.
However, it’s loud. Get ready for noise. It also takes a long while to refill the tank after you’ve drained it. If your work requires that you use it continuously, this one will save your money but cost you time.
NorthStar’s Single-Stage air compressor is probably the most portable one we looked at. If your primary criterion is that it’s easy to move your air compressor and work away from your workshop, this is a good candidate. That’s especially the case if you’re pressurizing air for small tools.
Otherwise, this is an expensive and noisy way to create pressurized air. It also doesn’t fill the tank fast enough to really make it useful as a heavy-duty air compressor.
The biggest drawback is its price. It’s really expensive for what it can do. If it was more powerful and filled the tank faster, we could see paying the money. But if all you’re paying for is portability, you can get that with a smaller compressor.
Porter Cable usually has a good reputation for quality, so we’re not sure what happened with the PXCMF220VW. Here is what you might like about this air compressor: it’s pretty inexpensive. If your budget is really limited, this is one that might fit it.
Here’s what you might not like about it: everything else. Air compressors depend on sound structural integrity. This one tends to start breaking down quickly. This makes it a giant risk for leaks, which means lost pressure.
It’s also loud, takes a long time to fill the tank between uses and will shut down after overheating, which it seems to do with alarming frequency.
If you’re purchasing a 20-gallon air compressor, chances are you’ve invested a good chunk of money in pneumatic tools. This size of air compressor will let you perform the smallest tasks for which you’ll need compressed air. However, the tank is a bit too big for portability. For that, you can get away with something smaller and therefore less expensive.
The question is how to buy the right air compressor for your workshop. We have included this buyers’ guide to help you sort out the options you’ll find in the market.
The first step is figuring out your space requirements and how portable you need your air compressor to be. A 20-gallon air compressor occupies a middle range, so you can find models built for both. If you plan to install the air compressor in your home garage for vehicle work, find a model best suited for installation rather than one that places a premium on large wheels and sturdy carriage. If you want to move it around, say to run a spray hose to wash off your house, you’ll want a lighter one with larger wheels and a sturdier carriage.
One of the most confusing things about air compressors is that they are associated with all kinds of numbers you don’t run into when buying other tools. Here’s a quick run-down. The 20-gallon air compressor has an air tank that can hold 20 gallons of compressed air. The rate at which that air is used is described in cubic feet per minute (CFM), which tells you how quickly it will deplete that tank. It’s not an exact number, because most tools aren’t in constant use. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for all your pneumatic tools to get a better idea of what CFM you need, based on the actual number of seconds per minute you will commonly use that tool.
The amount of pressure that the compressor can pump out is measured in pounds per square inch, also known as psi. The longer you use your air compressor, the more the psi could drop off, requiring that you let the tank refill. Another common relationship is an inverse one between CFM and psi. The more air you use, the less pressure will be behind it. The less air you use, the higher the pressure that will come out.
The motor is an important component of every air compressor. It compresses the air into the tank and then refills it. Depending on how quickly you deplete your tank, your motor could get quite a bit of use. Look for air compressors that marry the actual compressor with a high-quality motor. You’ll also want to look at things that might reduce maintenance and repairs, like getting a motor that connects to the compressor via a belt. Be aware of any fluid needs your motor will have and how much it’ll cost to service it if it breaks.
Air compressors are not very quiet pieces of equipment. They’re also designed to kick on frequently during operation so they can refill your tank. Electric motors tend to be a lot quieter than gas ones. While gas ones are more powerful, they use engines to power the motor, which tends to create a lot of noise. This is also going to affect where you plan to use it. If you are going to haul it around the yard, you can get away with a louder air compressor (although we’d hope you’d be mindful of your neighbors). If you’re operating it in an enclosed workshop or garage, however, that noise will be compounded.
If your choice comes down to a couple of very similar models, or you’ve worked out your budget and decided what features you have to have and what you don’t need if the price isn’t right, then price becomes an important criterion in getting the right air compressor. If you skimp and use it frequently, you might also find that you wind up paying a lot in maintenance and repairs. So don’t leap right for the cheapest one you find.
After reading our reviews, you know that we really liked the Industrial Air 20-Gallon Belt Drive Air Compressor the best. We felt it combined performance and value to deliver what most homeowners are looking for. We also liked the DeWalt DXCMPA1982054 as a good alternative. If you’re a value shopper, the WEN 2202 delivered what we felt was the best combination of performance and return on the dollar. We felt the NorthStar Single-Stage was too limited in what it could deliver to warrant serious consideration, and that if you’re going to invest the money, you shouldn’t give much consideration to the Porter Cable PXCMF220VW.
We hope you found our reviews helpful, and if you want to expand your search, that you combined what we had to say with our buyers’ guide to make the most informed choice possible. We wish you plenty of luck in finding the right air compressor, and that it helps you get the most out of your pneumatic tools.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!