The size of an air compressor determines how many amps it will use. A 120-volt compressor will draw 15 amps or less. A portable, 12-volt air compressor will draw about 10 amps. In this article, We’ll cover the 3 most common air compressor sizes and their amperage draw.
Often, my readers are specifically looking for an answer on amperage draw so they can power their compressor with a generator. We have an article dedicated to that as well.
See Related: Generators For Air Compressors
Portable 12-Volt Compressors
A small 12v air compressor is ideal for filling car tires. These compressors plug into the cigarette lighter style plug or with direct battery connection clamps.
How many amps does an air compressor pull? Because of their lower voltage, they tend to draw more amps than a larger compressor will. Generally, these 12-volt compressors will pull 10-18 amps.
A 12-volt compressor with a 15 amp draw creates a 180-watt draw (12 volts x 15 amps = 180w)
Keep your car running while using this air compressor to keep it from discharging the battery too much.
A portable compressor makes it easy to keep your tires topped off to save fuel and reduce pollution. These work well for RV travel trailers and all vehicles.
Hybrid air compressors that switch between DC and AC power are pretty rare. It is more cost-effective to buy a compressor designed for the energy source you will be working with.
See Related: Shop 12-volt compressors.
Pancake compressors are popular for home contractors. They are light enough to be carried in one hand and can power multiple nail guns simultaneously. They are designed with a lighter amperage draw to keep from tripping household circuits.
How many amps does a pancake compressor pull?
Looking at the Campbell Hausfeld DC060500 6-gallon air compressor, it will pull 7.5 amps at 120-volts. A Porter Cable 6-gallon compressor uses 10 amps at 120volts.
A 120-volt compressor drawing 10 amps uses 1,200 watts (120 volts x 10 amps). This is generally the maximum draw calculations for 60 Hz, 120-volt circuits.
Since the average household circuit is rated for a 15 amp draw, both of these compressors are well suited to be plugged into a standard wall outlet.
Many of my readers want to run their compressors from a generator. I recommend purchasing a generator capable of exceeding the rated load amps (RLA) by 50%.
See Related: What Size Air Compressor Do You Need?
A 60-Gallon air compressor pulls a much higher amount of electricity. These heavy-duty compressors require special wiring for a 220-volt power supply.
How many amps does a 60-gallon air compressor use?
The Ingersoll Rand SS4L5 air compressor is a good example.
This 5 horsepower compressor has a maximum current draw of 21.5 amps. Since this uses a 220-volt compressor motor, this model will produce 4,730 watts.
All compressors should have a motor nameplate current rating that will show the horsepower, as well as the voltage, motor rating and amperage requirements.
See Related: Shop 60-Gallon Air Compressors
How To Calculate Amperage From Watts
When you look at the nameplate on a motor, you should be able to find the wattage. Additionally, it is easy to find the wattage from the rated horsepower. Multiply the horsepower by 746 watts to get the total wattage.
Once you know the wattage, you divide it by the number of volts to find the amperage.
For example, a 5 horsepower air compressor motor will produce 3,728 watts. (5 hp * 746 w = 3,728 watts)
If that motor uses 220 volts, then the amperage calculation will be 3,728 watts / 220 volts = 17 amps.
A household circuit breaker will be rated for either 15 amps or 20 amps. This breaker size is important since excessive draw will cause it to trip.
Can You Power A Compressor From An Inverter?
With the increased interest in solar power and off-grid living, we get more questions about using inverters to power air compressors.
A pancake compressor will need a 3,000-watt inverter. This should be a modified sine inverter, sometimes also referred to as square wave inverters. Inverters should exceed the maximum air compressor draw by 25%.
A compressor drawing 15 amps will deplete a 100 aH deep cycle battery in about 11 minutes.
Generally, a large battery bank or a generator is a better choice for powering air compressors.
What Size Breaker Is Needed For 60-Gallon Air Compressors?
Compressors larger than 30-gallons generally need a 220-volt power supply. Some of these will also require 3-phase power or a capacitor start.
A 60-gallon compressor will generally pull from two, 20-amp breakers, which will provide the requisite 220-volt power supply with 40 amps of power.
How Many Watts Does A Pancake Air Compressor Pull?
Pancake air compressors are some of the smallest ones that are practically sized to run nail guns.
The wattage requirement is calculated by multiplying the voltage x the amps.
A 110-volt air compressor that draws 10 amps will produce 1100 watts.
Generally, you need to exceed this by 25% when calculating the power requirements of a generator, so you have enough excess capacity to handle the motor startup load.