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Single vs Two-Stage Air Compressor: What’s the Difference?

single-stage vs two-stage air compressor

If you’re in the market for an air compressor, one question you’ll want to answer as you research specific models is whether you’re looking for a single- or two-stage air compressor. Each kind has its strengths, and knowing which one is best suited for your needs is critical to getting the right tool.

What’s in a name

Single-stage air compressors are called that because they compress the air just once before storing it. A two-stage compresses it, you guessed it, twice. That means that the double-stage air compressors tend to be more powerful than a single-stage, from a basic 200 psi to 100 psi.

Pressure output

The biggest question is what the power needs are for what you’re going to use it on. A single-stage puts out less energy. That’s enough to run most hand tools, although if you use it a lot, you might have to allow it to build energy. The two-stage compresses the air and then compresses it again, giving it more power. You can still use it for hand tools, but you can also use it for things like a shop where you need to inflate a lot of car tires.

air compressor on the floor
Image credit: Flickr

A little bit of heat

A two-stage air compressor draws in air, compresses it, and then compresses it again for storage in a second tank. In between the two compressions, it runs through a unit that cools the air, which causes it to contract further. The cool air is compressed again and sent to a second storage tank. The single-stage compressor sends uncooled air to the storage tank.

Size and portability

Since a single-stage air compressor generally produces less pressure and is designed for hand tools, it’s also lighter and more portable. If you have a home workshop, it’s definitely one you’ll want to look at so you can better take your work with you, especially if you will use it for roofing. If you plan to install it in a commercial facility, however, the bigger, bulkier two-stage compressor’s drawbacks aren’t so significant.

Looking at price

A single-stage air compressor is more affordable. You’re giving up power, but if you don’t need the power and plan to only use it occasionally, the lower price for a single-stage compressor might be the deal maker for you. On the other hand, if you need higher pressure because you own a commercial or industrial business, you’ll want to spend a little more money upfront.


If you’re just looking for an air compressor to run tools in your home, you’ll probably want a single-stage air compressor. Their power output is enough to run power tools, and they take up less room. They also tend to cost a bit less. But if you’re running a shop or a factory that uses a lot of compressed air, a two-stage uses more energy but produces a lot more compressed air. They’re also more expensive.

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Header image from: Pxhere

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