how to use an air compressor

How To Use An Air Compressor: The Step-by-Step Guide

You may feel familiar with an air compressor if you are interested in a DIY car project, filling and checking tires manually, or fixing auto-related issues at home with your specific tools and machine.

But if you are not, let’s now get into our guides on how to use an air compressor effectively to back up every project that you may want to experience in the future. 

What Are Air Compressors Used For?

An air compressor is a device used to reduce the volume of air, at the same time increase its pressure and form a stored energy source in the form of compressed air. With these distinct characteristics, typically, in the perception of some novice car enthusiasts, an RV air compressor only appears in professional centers, huge car shops, garages of an experienced mechanic, or the workshops of the most dedicated auto technicians in times of the thriving automotive and auto repair industry. 

However, over time, this type of machine appears more and more in shape, characteristics, size, power, and price, serving many purposes with promising results. With a wide range of small, easy-to-operate RV air compressors packed with more user-friendly features, they are no longer a tool just for professionals or seasoned DIYers. 

These machines can  power tons of air-powered (pneumatic) items used for a large application level, from simple to complex. And the highlights in the application of air compressors are filling the industry tanks with air, generating the power needed to run air-compressed tools and spray guns, inflating car tires, or applying in car-system-related projects and air conditioning.

In terms of mechanism, air compressors store compressed air in a steel cylinder and release it in a controlled manner to operate a wide range of tool attachments, from air wrenches to sanders and grinders to nailers to automatic paint tools. An electric motor on the compressor unit will pump air into the reservoir under pressure and maintain it at a high enough pressure to power another machine connected to the reservoir via an air duct. 

During a device’s typical operation, the air compressor motor automatically starts and shuts down when the air pressure fluctuates in the tank. For example, when handling a paint sprayer, you will hear the electric motor sound once the air in the tank drops, and the machine will turn off itself each time the tank pressure reaches the set limit.

In short, air compressors have gradually become a must-have for everyday mechanics. Understanding how to use it properly before getting an air compressor is essential to keep its longevity and output quality. So Car From Japan is here to assure you understand air compressor usage and ways to operate them flexibly and efficiently.

Understand The Characteristics of Your Air Compressor Before Using

Type of air compressor

The two most common types of air compressors are the piston type and the diaphragm type. 

In terms of design, some models have automotive-style pistons that require oil to keep them in good working order. These piston-type compressors tend to be higher-capacity ones used to operate heavier and bulkier tools. For more modest projects and devices, diaphragm compressors are more suitable options. They do not use oil but create a seal using a rubber diaphragm. Oil-free diaphragm air compressors have become very popular among homeowners and help operate air nailers, paint sprayers, and other smaller appliances.

The duty cycle rating of an air compressor

Before you begin, you must know the duty cycle rating of your particular air compressor model. This rating is the ability of your machine to run for a long time without damage. Duty cycle ratings appear as a percentage, and any air compressor with a 100% rating can run all day without severe effects. 

On the other hand, an air compressor rated at 50% will require the same rest period as it runs. So remember to check the machine or the owner’s manual for the suitable duty cycle rating. Most compressors with a rating below 100% will have a guide to tell you directly how long they can run before having to shut down and rest.

Your air compressor runs on gas or electricity

To master how to operate an air compressor, you should know whether your air compressor runs on gas or electricity. Find out by testing the machine or reading the manual. If you own a gas-powered air compressor, use ethanol-free gasoline, as this substance will preserve the air compressor’s life. If that is not suitable, use a stabilizer in your fuel. For air-powered machines, there may be a necessary rest period. Usually, the air compressor will need to run for 30 minutes before use.

If your machine is electrically powered, avoid using any extension cords to power the compressor. As this action can cause the air compressor to overheat and possibly cause damage. If you have no choice but plug the electric air compressor further away from your work area, use longer air ducts to reach the workspace.

You may like: How To Winterize RVs with an Air Compressor

How To Use An Air Compressor

Here are some basic air compressor manuals common to all models.

1. Find the ideal spot in the working area and plug in the air compressor

You must make sure to place your air compressor on a flat and stable surface and avoid any working area that feels flimsy or uneven. Typically, the floor is the best place to place your compressor while it is operating. And you may also want to leave it near a grounded electrical outlet.

Once deciding to get into the project, check if the power switch is off. Then plug the power cord into a grounded electrical outlet.

2. Check the oil level

This step is only for piston-type air compressors. So make sure you can identify your type of compressor before checking its oil level. For a piston-type air compressor, this step is essential to help it reach peak performance. 

You can check the oil level of an air compressor by looking at its equipped oil gauge, as many compressors have a meter used for oil only on the side of the oil reservoir, in the form of a window. If not, use the oil dipstick to check the oil level in your machine. If necessary, add oil to the indicated level. Remember to check your owner’s manual if you still can get how to do this properly.

3. Inspect the drain valve of an air compressor

The drain valve is usually located at the bottom of the air tank and is where excess moisture heads after each use. Before starting a project, make sure the compressor discharge valve is properly tightened after your last use, as this is essential for the operation of the compressor. Use an adjustable wrench to strengthen the valve until it closes completely.

4. Ready the air tank

The next step in our how to use an air compressor notice today is to ready the air tank. First, connect the machine’s power cable to the nearest grounded power outlet. You can turn it on and let it run for about a minute so the air tank can fill up. Monitor the pressure gauge and check whether the machine turns off when the pressure reaches that specific capacity. The ideal number is typically 100 to 115 pounds per square inch.

5. Set PSI for the machine

Usually, we measure air pressure in the unit per square inch (PSI). With your air compressor connected to your specific needed tool, use the air control valve to adjust the optimal maximum PSI. Each type of device will have its requirements for voltage input. You can find this information quickly in the area under the machine or in the user guidebook.

Although playing a vital part in supporting a successful project with an air compressor, PSI is not the only concern at this point. You also need to check the tool’s SCFM requirements, which are the airflow required for smooth operation. Some devices will demand a short burst of air at the specified outlet pressure, while others may require a continuous flow of high-pressure air. So keep close eyes and adjust the air compressor’s airflow to suit the tool you will be using.

6. Air hose connection

Coming up with the next step, if you are confused about how to deal with the air hose and manage a proper connection, check your user manual carefully and note the needed notices. Make sure you have enough hose to reach your work area with some slack. If the power outlet is a fair distance away and your hose is long, use a hose reel to keep everything tidy and within reach. Wrap the threaded end of the pipe with tape only if necessary. This action is required for the quick connection of accessories. After that, use an adjustable wrench to tighten the hose in place.

7. Check the safety valve

The safety valve is often located near the hose. When you pull the valve, you will hear a hissing sound. Otherwise, it’s usually not a cause for concern, unless you fail to push the valve back into place.

8. Connect the air compressor with the tools and start working

Connect the needed device to the loose end of one air compressor’s hose. To do so, pull back the protective collar on the hose and attach it to the air inlet valve on the tool. Release the collar to secure the connection. Once the job is done or you need to change the tool for another coming-up project, disconnect the tool by pulling it back on the safety collar.

9. Remove excess moisture

When you are done with the job and before storing the air compressor, remember to remove any excess moisture in the air tank. You should do this step after each use to prevent rust from accumulating inside the tank. Check your manual to learn how to remove excess moisture from your air compressor model. However, typically users only remove the drain valve at the bottom of the tank with a wrench, and the air will push the moisture out. Once the water has drained, replace or put back the drain valve before storing the machine.

Safety Rules When Using Air Compressors

Since this is not an easy task for newbies or unprofessional mechanics, here are some safety rules you should know when using an air compressor.

  • The environment where you work with the air compressor should be a spacious, well-lit place with ventilation doors, not too hot with less dust, and you should equip a cool fan.
  • The ground must be clean, dry, and free of grease and flammable chemicals.
  • The air compressor must be located at least 5 meters away from the heat source as well as far from places where there is a gas that can spontaneously ignite or a flammable and explosive mixture.
  • Turn off the power switch when inactive to avoid sudden machine startup.
  • Only responsible persons who have undergone safety training and operate the machine are allowed to use it.
  • It is not allowed to put the machine into operation without installing the belt protection system when the safety valve is not perfect or when the manometer and pressure relay is incorrect.
  • The electrical connection for the motor to the electrical network must be done through a circuit breaker with a protective cover.
  • The electric motor of the machine must be grounded or unconnected.
  • Do not let the pressure and capacity of the air compressor fluctuate suddenly. Strictly follow operating procedures and handle incidents according to occupational safety regulations.
  • Do not arbitrarily move the machine and use the machine for other purposes without the consent of the workshop manager.
  • When there is damage to the pressurized parts, it must be reported to the responsible department for repair. Do not try to repair it yourself if you have no base knowledge and skills in the field.
  • Place the machine on the ground but remember to protect it from flooding and corrosion. Have a path to the parts for inspection, manipulation, and operation.
  • Release all compressed air pressure in the system before maintenance and repair to ensure safety.
  • When installing electricity, the overload current protection relay of the motor must not be bypassed.
  • Do not change the setting to affect the operation of the safety valve. When anchoring equipment for movement, do not unduly stretch pipes, wires, or containers.

Requirements during the operation of the air compressor

1. Do not repair or touch under-pressure parts when the air compressor is working.

2. Do not use any means/ to increase the load of the safety valve while the vessel is in operation.

3. Stop all activities with the air compressor in the following cases:

  • The pressure increase exceeds the allowable pressure
  • The safety features are not fully functional
  • Detecting facility parts with cracks, rusted sides, or leaks at welds.
  • When direct flames threaten the pressurized air tank
  • Damaged gauge/manometer
  • The lids and entrances are not safely sealed, and the parts that fasten the lids are damaged or not in sufficient quantity.
  • Measuring-testing instruments, safety parts damaged or missing compared to safety rules.

How To Maintain Your Air Compressor

Now that you know how to use an air compressor, there’s just one more thing you need to notice. That is how to take care of your machine properly to make it last a long time.

  • Store your compressor on the floor, in a low cabinet, or on a low shelf, and make sure the area is free of moisture.
  • Consult your user manual regularly, as each type of air compressor has its own care needs. Make sure you know the requirements and standards of care for your deviceú
  • Check the latches regularly, as loose latches will make your air compressor less efficient.
  • Keep the vents clean to avoid blockages that reduce the efficiency of the air compressor.
  • Check the hose regularly, as holes and tears in the hose will lead to poor performance of the machine.
  • Check when to replace the air tank. The air tanks on these compressors have a limited lifespan, as even with the best care, they will eventually wear out and can be dangerous if not replaced in time.
  • Always wear appropriate safety equipment for the personal tools you are using. Portable air compressors have improved safety and efficiency when working with these tools, but you should always follow the safety precautions.
  • Change your air compressor oil every year. Because if the oil is lacking, it may cause some damage and affect the performance of an air compressor. The specific oil for air compressors has good quality, and the viscosity of about 40 degrees is very suitable for screw compressors. It is an anti-degradation factor, is difficult to dissolve in water to form milk or foam, and is wear-resistant. In addition, you can choose a convenient oil-free air compressor with a lower maximum pressure release.


Here we have presented some notices on how to use an air compressor effectively, applying to all models and all experience levels of users. Hope these pieces of info will be helpful to you to some extent to back you up on every future project. 

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