The “best” 20-gallon air compressor for your purpose is going to vary from one reader to another. It all boils down to what you plan to use it for, how much you plan to use it daily, and how much money you’re looking to invest.
In this list, I go over quite a few of the popular 20-gallon air compressors on the market and provide my air compressor reviews on their specifications.
Here at Tool Tally, we are air compressor experts. Whether you are shopping for a portable air compressor, the best 12V air compressor, a 60-gallon air compressor, 30-gallon air compressor or want to know how air compressors work, we’ve covered it all.
Most people need to read our “What is the correct air compressor size” article before shopping.
Furthermore — unlike most of the other blogs — my friends and I have used most of these brands either on the job site while building a house or in our shops (ah, the joys of growing up on a dairy farm!).
As you know, sometimes the cheapest isn’t the best. We’ll discuss why one compressor might be less expensive, and where it might be worth investing more to get a better unit.
You’ll find our handy comparison tables make it easy for you to shop, and our in-depth buyer’s guide means this is the last article you need to read to get the right compressor.
If there is a question you have that we did not cover, please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll try to get that information added!
The 20-gallon size is an excellent choice. It provides enough compressed air reserves that multiple contractors can operate simultaneously off the same air supply, while still being portable enough to take from the job site to job site. It also is not typically as expensive as the 30-gallon tanks are.
RANT: One of the competing blogs in Google are ratting on some of these models and saying that they “aren’t strong enough to run an impact wrench.” Shoot. I bet they’ve never held an impact wrench in their life. These compressors should be able to power a ½-inch or smaller impact wrench easily. Sure, if you are an automotive shop, then step up to a 60 Gallon machine and quit being a cheapskate. But homeowners will love the power these little units put out. View our sizing chart for more information.
ELECTRIC Compressors (20-Gal)
Ingersoll-Rand P1.5IU-A9 20-Gallon Oil Lubricated
|CFM @ 90 PSI||5.2|
|Warranty||1 Year Limited Warranty|
Ingersoll-Rand was one of the first manufacturers of air compressors. They first started producing tools back in the 1800s and have been in business for nearly 150 years. Most mechanics know the Ingersoll Rand name Commercial industries, and it is likely that you have one or more of their tools around your shop.
This compressor enters the market at a critical juncture. It provides more power then the DIY Home garage would generally need, while still bringing the durability and performance that a professional would expect, making this the best 20-gallon air compressor.
The Ingersoll Rand offers dual cylinder, single-stage compression. That means it can generate air more rapidly and reduces the frustrating downtime that comes from waiting for the air tank to fill. It can also create 135 PSI while still offering 4.6 CFM at full flow. Those are pretty impressive numbers. The standardized CFM is 5.2 at 90 psi makes this one of the top ones on the list.
You’ll find that this unit is no slacker and is engineered for all-day use. With an oil-lubricated piston, this compressor is rated for 100% continuous duty use. This duty rating means that even when you have drained the tank, you can keep working, knowing that the compressor is rated to keep running.
As a result, some people use this for high-volume jobs such as spray painting a car. It’s a little small for that, but with the durable Compressor pump, it can keep up, and you can, with enough practice, pull it off.
This unit is also extremely quiet. It is powered by a 2 hp motor, that draws 20 amps of power.
Unlike the many dual voltage units that we review on this list, this one is not compatible with 240 V. The only downside of this is that some users complain about this unit tripping their breakers. This motor is a beast and is one of those that you want to keep on a short cord to limit power drops. ( as a quick side note, Ingersoll ran rates this unit as only needing 15 A. However, they seem to have a higher real-world amperage requirement than most of the other models. I would find a 20-amperage circuit for it)
The pneumatic and solid wheel combo, is ideal for this unit, and makes it easy when wheeling around the shop, or loading into the bed of your pickup.
Finally, this is a quiet compressor. It is belt-driven, which helps reduce the noise, and it is only 80 dB. Eighty decibels is soft enough to carry on a conversation around.
With a one year warranty and an ASME-rated tank, this Ingersoll-Rand is one of those choices where you can’t go wrong. If you want a robust compressor that is designed to last, this Ingersoll Rand Garage Mate is the correct choice.
Industrial Air IPA1882054
|CFM @ 90 PSI||5.7|
|Warranty||2 Year Limited Warranty|
Industrial air is another one of those brands that I love. They are coming to the niche with an incredible balance of features and durability while controlling cost.
This motor is a heavy-duty induction motor. Induction motors are more durable then Universal motors, and the porter cable and in Ingersoll ran model above also have them. So it’s great to see so many great options that include the induction motor.
The cast iron Compressor head, it’s going to withstand the high heat and abuse of daily use. The large pulley-driven cooling fan is going to help this compressor effectively disseminated heat.
The Industrial Air is one of the first compressors on our list that is dual voltage. It comes equipped to plug into 120-volt outlets. However, if you are using it heavily, you can rewire it for 240 Volts, to get more consistent airflow, without tripping the breaker.
The IPA comes pre-lube with synthetic oil for thousands of hours of all-day use. Should you put this in your cabinet building shop (for example), your team will appreciate the 155 max psi and higher-than-usual delivery of 5.7 CFM airflow at 90 psi.
This CFM rating is a lot more power than your average impact wrench will need and matches the airflow of many of the larger compressors.
The horizontal configuration makes this compressor less portable, in my opinion. However, it is an excellent choice for the workshop, as you can still build shelves above it, and it takes up minimal space. The 2-year warranty shows you how much IHA trusts their product. IPA1882054 is one of the top options to consider. Another unit that is assembled in the USA.
|CFM @ 90 PSI||5.7|
|Warranty||2-year pump, 1 year all other parts warranty|
This Dewalt is a real head-turner. It comes to the market with a lot of power, and what feels like a smaller-than-normal form factor.
For starters, it does not lack power. It delivers 255 psi max pressure to ensure adequate power for any scenario.
And then, it is also no slacker when it comes to airflow. You get that super-high 5.7 CFM CFM at 90 psi. You could almost run three framing nailers at once offer this little unit.
The ASME-rated tank gives you that added peace of mind as you are bouncing from job site to job site, and the pneumatic tires make it easy we’ll around.
Everything about this compressor is extremely efficient and designed for longevity. The cast-iron, twin-cylinder pump comes with an aluminum head to help disseminate heat even faster then a solid cast-iron unit will.
It also uses automotive style ball bearings, stainless steel reed valves, and an easily accessible oil fill access for ease of maintenance and maximum longevity.
The tool comes equipped for 120-volt outlets, and I would plan on keeping it near the outlet to prevent power drop that would harm the motor. It should also be the only machine on that circuit. (It’s a little bit of a power hog.)If you’re using in your shop, and have access to a 240 V circuit, it is a dual voltage induction motor so you can rewire it for the higher voltage.
What truly sets this compressor apart is the high flow regulator. It delivers 20% more torque than you see demonstrated in the higher CFM then almost any other unit on this list.
I would probably be skeptical of this higher CFM feature if it were any brand but Dewalt. With the two-year pump warranty and one year on all other parts, this is the compressor that I would love to have in my shop, and would eagerly take it from job site to job site to ensure aggressive air supply for my entire team.
If you are tired of fighting with your air supply and want a lightweight, portable compressor, this is a great choice.
NorthStar 20 Gallon
|CFM @ 90 PSI||5|
|Warranty||4 year limited warranty|
This Northstar is a real head-turner. Built on the same frame as their larger models, it delivers a lot of power and durability in that small, easy to move, 20-gallon size.
The Northstar is another dual voltage induction motor, and you know how much I love induction motors! I also appreciate the flexibility of choosing between 120 V or 240 V.
The V-twin dual cylinder compressor is a single-stage design that delivers up to 135 max psi. That double-cylinder design is convenient for rapidly filling up the tank, while still medicating heat.
One thing that you will notice about this model is that big red, belt cage. This tips us off to some cool features that are limited to belt-driven models.
This belt drive design has two benefits. First of all, it creates a very quiet compressor that runs at under 80 dB. Additionally, it protects the large pulley, which creates airflow when the motor is running. These fans are built into the pulley, helping to help cool off the compressor, further extending its life and making it more efficient.
It also uses Copper Inter- and Aftercoolers to help cool the air before it goes into the tank, reducing the amount of moisture your tank will collect.
The oversized pneumatic tires make it easy for rolling around on the shop floor, and the ruggedized powder coating helps ensure that it looks as good in year ten as it did the first day you brought it home.
Finally, it is an oil-lubricated model. I ranted about this enough, but the oiled models last so much longer, that they’re worth every second you invest in check and oil levels. There isn’t that much more maintenance required, and you’re getting a compressor that will likely last twice as long.
This Northstar has a lot of features that I love. The only thing keeping it from being ranked higher on MY list is that they reduce their four-year warranty down to a 90-day warranty for commercial use. Considering that other brands do not do that, it makes me question how much Northstar believes in this product.
Porter-Cable PXCMF220VW 20-Gallon Portable Air Compressor
|CFM @ 90 PSI||4|
If Ingersoll-Rand is the godfather of air compressors, Porter-Cable might be one of the most popular “godsons.” You see this brand everywhere, and they’re one of the most recognizable companies in the airpower tool niche.
This Porter-Cable would probably be considered a consumer-grade piece of equipment. However, they do such an excellent job with their equipment that many contractors choose to buy a Porter Cable over the other, more supposedly, “ commercial grade” Brands.
I’ve seen some of their entry-level compressors being used to build houses. Their tools will put in a long workday and are difficult to kill.
Which brings us to the PXCMF220VW. The oil-free pump design makes this it ideal for consumer use. You never have to worry about checking oil levels or changing the oil. The oil-free design offers peace of mind to the busy homeowner who needs a hassle-free air supply.
The semi-pneumatic wheels make it easy to roll around, and the built-in handle is ideally located for well-balanced movement. It is a small enough compressor that one person could pick it up and loaded in the back of a pickup truck.
The PXCMF220VW is not going to be the most potent compressor on our list. It does deliver a max psi of 150 psi. However, it only produces about 4 CFM at 90 psi. To run any impact wrench, remove Lugnuts, and allow you to work on your car. You can then wheel it around the back of the house to build a deck.
This Porter-Cable might be one of the best 20-gallon air compressors any homeowner could hope to buy.
Campbell Hausfeld HL433000DI
|CFM @ 90 PSI||4.5|
|Warranty||2-Year Limited Warranty|
Normally Campbell Hausfeld gets a much better rating on our list. However, they are struggling with their marketing in this niche and it creates a little bit of a vacuum.
We do know that it has a lot of features that we love such as the oil-lubricated pump and an induction motor. It is a direct-drive, so it is likely to be a tad louder, but Campbell Hausfeld doesn’t typically make extremely loud units.
We’re okay with the 135 Max PSI, but where this model comes up short is with the 4.5 CFM at 90 PSI. It would be great if it could match the 5+. However, it is only a 1.6 horsepower instead of a 2 horsepower, so that may have something to do with it.
Overall, it is a solid pump that is made by a trusted brand and comes with a 1-year warranty. You can’t go wrong with this model. It includes an air filter and oil bottle for easy maintenance
|CFM @ 90 PSI||4.7|
I wanted an extremely cheap compressor to include on this list. However, I was very torn because it is difficult to find a compressor under $300 that can still deliver more than 4 CFM at 90 psi.
This Central Pneumatic model just barely squeaks in.
Full disclosure is that I probably would save up my money, and go with the Porter Cable or one of the other brands on the list. However, if you have a job that you absolutely need to get done, and you want an extremely affordable compressor, this one is going to be cheaper than renting one probably.
The Central Pneumatic comes with a larger 2.5 hp motor, so be sure to keep it near the outlet as it is likely going to draw a lot of electricity.
It is oil-filled, which should help extend its life.
However, an air compressor’s life is a hard one. It is constantly exposed to heat, moisture, and external abuse as you move it from location to location.
I am not fully qualified to understand where they’re saving their money on this unit (do I have any industrial engineering readers who want to point out where brands tend to cut corners?). However, if you need one for occasional use, this one offers a lot of value for the light-duty user.
California Air Tools 20040DC Dental Air Compressor
|CFM @ 90 PSI||10.6|
The California Air Tools is a unique compressor, and that it is designed to be ultraquiet. It also delivers clean, dry, air that is specific for dental use. One of these days I’ll do an article on the best compressor for dental offices, but in the meantime, this one would win.
It’s going to be much more expensive than of the contractor grade models on this list. So the majority of our readers will not find this one suitable.
What makes this compressor, so ideal is that it delivers extremely quiet airflow. At only 75 dB, it is softer than an Italian family talking at their Thanksgiving dinner (I love being invited over to my Italian friend’s house for the holidays).
This compressor uses two pumps and motors. The double pump and motor design enable it to deliver extremely-high 12.8 CFM at 40 PSI and even 10.6 CFM at 90 psi.
That is ample airflow and is perfect for running multiple power tools. It can power four dental handpieces at the same time.
It also has all of the accessories built into it, which makes this one ideal for the dental office. It’ll have a dryer, the oil vapor absorber, a humidity filter, and the water separator all included. Since this will be in a back room of the office and isn’t something that you will want to have to maintain on a weekly basis, go ahead and invest in the model that has an auto tank drain.
This is an oil-free compressor so no oil would get into your air-lines. However, even with this oil-free construction, this compressor is expected to last for 3000 hours of use, outlasting other oil-free models with almost double the lifespan.
This compressor is a unique choice that is perfect for high volume scenarios where discretion and clean air is paramount. However, the price point puts it out of the range of most of our readers.
This model is backed by a one year warranty and the California Air Tools reputation.
GASOLINE Compressors (30-Gal)
Northstar Gasoline-Powered 20 Gallon
|CFM @ 90 PSI||13.7|
|4-year residential warranty, 90-day commercial warranty|
Most of our customers are not shopping for a gasoline-powered compressor. These are a very niche item. However, they offer so much versatility to your team. If your company has the budget to afford one, you’re going to love being able to do your work without being tied down to electrical supply.
Northstar is one of the more popular models that we sell. It is a well-built brand, with a rapidly growing following. Unlike many of the other brands, which charge more for their brand name, Northstar is reasonably priced, but delivering the same– if not better – value.
The Northstar comes with the Honda GX 160 engine. This 4.8 hp Engine is an absolute fuel sipper compared to the 11 hp model that comes on the 30-gallon compressor.
It is an overhead valve Engine design–similar to what you have in your car. The Overhead Valves makes it a more efficient Motor, that provides complete burning of the fuel, and less exhaust.
However, this engine is not short on power. It is attached to a compressor with twin-cylinder power, that rapidly fills up the tank. This twin-cylinder design translates into 130 max psi with 13.7 CFM at 90 psi. We’re talking more than enough power to run a 1-inch impact wrench if you need to. A roofing crew could run 3 to 4 nailers simultaneously.
The cast iron piston head helps manage the heat generated by this unit. The pulley for the piston also serves as a fan, helping move fresh air across the fence, further cooling the head and extended its life. It also uses a Splash oiling system, to help keep things lubed and cooled.
Finally, this compressor pump is rebuildable, with fully replaceable crank journals and a removable two-piece connecting rod.
The bottom line is, this pump is going to do about everything for which you could want an air compressor. And then, when you finally use it up, you can rebuild it and keep going.
If you want a compressor that you can hand down to your grandkids, this might be one of the last ones that stand a chance of outlasting you.
The entire unit is back with a four-year residential warranty or two-year commercial warranty.
Buying Guide: Which air compressor should you choose?
There are a lot of confusing options above. Hopefully, some of these definitions help provide more clarity.
What is an air compressor?
An air compressor takes atmospheric air and pressurizes it for use in pneumatic (air-powered) tools such as sandblasters, nail guns, impact wrenches, and LVHP paint sprayers.
They are commonly used in construction and automotive repair. They come in many shapes and sizes, and it is important to get the correct size for your intended needs
Is A 20 Gallon Compressor Big Enough?
When shopping for an air compressor, it is easy to get into the” bigger is never big enough” mode. Even some of the 60-gallon air compressors do not provide enough air for high-volume tasks such as painting a car or running a sander.
You need a compressor that is large enough for you to complete your task without constantly forcing you to wait for it to refill.
Your choice of air compressor is going to depend entirely on the type of tools that you plan to power with it. Many of my competing bloggers would consider a 20-gallon air compressor as significant enough to run an automotive paint sprayer (the same site says that they are too weak to power an impact wrench. Go figure)
This is mostly true if you are using a low volume high pressure (LVHP) paint sprayer head. LVHP paint sprayers operate more slowly then they’re bigger cousins. However, they can get the job done.
If you’re purchasing this compressor to paint a car with, I would recommend that you step up to the 30-gallon size.
However, for most compressors, 20 gallons is the smallest size you can go with and still power most air tools. You should have little difficulty running impact wrenches up to a 1/2-inch drive. It can also run air ratchets.
That said, this size lacks the volume for sandblasters, orbital sanders, and larger impact wrenches.
It can likely run 2-3 framing nailers at once, allowing a larger crew to work simultaneously off of one device.
Can A 20 Gallon Compressor Run An Impact Wrench?
It can generally run an impact wrench up to ½-inch drive. You could probably use a ¾-inch or larger but wouldn’t get the full torque out of the tool.
They are excellent for airing tires and running air ratchets. And, for carpenters, they are overkill for framing nailers, allowing you to run multiple tools simultaneously.
CFM is the Limiting Factor
If you haven’t run into the term CFM, yet it’s time to introduce you to it. CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. It is a measurement of how fast an air compressor can deliver air.
Most compressors have no difficulty generating greater than 90 psi. (PSI is the measurement of how much air pressure a compressor can deliver). Due to physics, it is CFM or airflow that is the limiting factor, not PSI.
Most compressors measure their CFM at a standardized PSI. Unless otherwise, you can assume that CSM’s quoted in this article are measured at 90 psi.
A 20-gallon compressor will generally create about 4 to 5 CFM.
Ideally, you will choose a compressor that can deliver 20% more airflow and than your tool requires. However, I can tell you from real-world experience that you can often get the job done with a smaller CFM then the rating calls forth. It just requires more patience.
How important is tank size?
Tank size is the limiting factor for how long you can work before the compressor pump has to rebuild pressure. If you are doing a big job, this can cause the compressor to kick on more frequently, and shorten your compressor’s life.
Additionally, most manufacturers match their compressor pumps to the tank size. If you purchase a larger tank size, it will generally come with a larger, more efficient, compressor.
Accordingly, you are required to purchase a larger tank size anytime you require more power.
Single Phase or Dual Phase?
Most of these units will be single phase. A dual-phase compressor raises the air to a higher PSI by compressing it twice. It is initially compressed in phase 1, to around 150 PSI. Then it is cool briefly, before being compressed further to about 170 or 175 PSI during phase 2.
Since most pneumatic tools do not require more than 100 psi, dual-phase models offer greater pressure than most users would need. We discuss a single-phase versus dual phase in more detail, on our “how compressors work” series.
Gas-powered or elected powered compressor?
Gasoline-powered unit cost much more. However, they are portable to any location and are handy for generating air on job sites where you do not have access to reliable electricity.
They are also ideal for use on service trucks for powering their tools and inflating flat tires on the side of busy high ways
Most of our readers should choose an electric compressor instead of gas. Unless you have a lifestyle that will require you to work in remote areas without electricity regularly, an electric-powered compressor will work just fine and at a fraction of the cost.
Oil-Free or Oiled Compressor?
Oilless compressors are the hot new thing in the industry. These use a Teflon coating on their inner parts that lasts for somewhere around 2000 hours of use. As the compressor is used, that coating slowly wears off, finally leading to the compressor’s “death”.
Oil-less units are touted for their lower price, lower maintenance, and lighter weight.
By comparison, oiled compressors tend to last longer, run quieter and cooler and require only minimally more maintenance than an oil-free model. They also can withstand higher usage requirements, known as “duty cycles.”
We have an entire article comparing these two types, but in most cases Tool Tally recommends going with an oiled unit since the maintenance requirements are not much different.
Vertical or Horizontal Compressors
Both styles are available in this size. Both types perform comparably.
It comes down to a matter of personal preference. Some people feel that it is easier to wheel a horizontal unit around. It is my perception that a vertical compressor takes up less space, and it is easier to get in and out of the back of a pickup truck.
Whenever I have a chance, I lean towards the vertical air compressors. However, both are excellent.
Horsepower is one of those ratings that shoppers typically compare, and manufacturers like to brag about.
However, it is the least important rating with which to be concerned.
An extremely efficient compressor design will be able to create more airflow with a smaller motor. At the end of the day, it is the amount of airflow that matters.
One thing that is nice to look for is an induction motor. Induction motors are better design then Universal motors, and they tend to last longer and operate more quietly.
Whatever you do, avoid getting too hung up on horsepower ratings.
Amperage And Power Requirements
Amperage is more critical with these models; then it is with the smaller pancakes style portable compressors. These compressors have larger motors and require more power.
While most of them required 120 V, many of them also need 20 A as a minimum.
If you attempt to plug a compressor with a 20 amp requirement into a 15 amp circuit ( the standard for most houses), it is likely to blow the circuit breaker. Furthermore, if you try to use one of these higher amperage devices with a long extension cord, it can shorten the motors life, or cause a circuit to blow.
Keep in mind that you may need to set your compressor very close to an outlet or run new, dedicated, circuits for your compressor.
In some cases, simply investing in a heavy gauge (expensive) extension cord to support the power requirements of this larger compressor will work (and this is even more true with the 30-gallon models).
The Importance of Warranties
While most of these compressors are well-made, and designed by companies who have been around for a long time, it is possible to get a poorly made compressor.
Many of these are manufactured overseas and, unfortunately, that can lead to a lower quality product.
Be sure to research the warranty for the model you’re interested in. Some of these models offer shorter warranties for compressors that will be used in a commercial manner.
A 20-gallon compressor is a significant investment, and you want to make sure at the brand, and its warranty is one that you trust.
What Size Generator Is Needed To Run A 20-Gallon Air Compressor?
Most generators are sold based on the wattage required. When investing in a generator for power your compressor, it is important to identify whether that wattage is divided among multiple outlets, or whether that is the wattage available at one plug-in.
For these compressors, you will generally need around 2400 Watts (preferably a little bit more to handle the load on startup). An excellent compressor is the Durostar 4000DS. This one provides 20 amp outlets, as well as a 30 amp outlet. It is not as flashy as some of the more-consumer-oriented models, but it delivers the high kilowatt output that you need for reliable all-day use.
Many manufacturers are concerned by whether a generator can destroy the motor on the compressor due to the irregular power fluctuations.
If you expect to be without power frequently, contact the manufacturer of the desired compressor, to verify that using a generator will not void your warranty.
Additionally, if you see this as something you will do regularly, it would be less expensive to invest in a quality-made gas-powered compressor.