The 5 Best Air Compressors Under $500 [October 2020]

Last Updated on October 6, 2020 by Paul King

Your job site or home renovation project may need heavy-duty tools to get the job done right. These could include airbrush tools, cleaning equipment, or nail guns. The need for a professional-grade air compressor is going to come up eventually for anyone serious about their home remodeling.

The quality between units is variable and varies even more depending on the need of your project and experience level. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the best air compressors under $500 that you can buy in 2020, including a buyer’s guide that goes into detail about the factors that determine which air compressor you should buy.

Anyone in the market for one of these machines could do well with any of them. Read on to find out the specifications of each that will help you tailor your decision to your needs as closely as possible.

The first compressor we reviewed is the Makita Big Bore, an industry-leading unit with a ton of power and utility. Its cast-iron pump promotes fast recovery time on the job despite drawing relatively low amperage.

Its twin stacked tank is useful for any home remodeling team or work site since it has two outputs at a combined pressure of 130 PSI, enough to hook up two nail guns or airbrushing tools and work simultaneously.

This is a large unit, bringing increased air intake and processing over its competition. A roll cage construction makes sure that it can take a beating if it comes to that, protecting your investment behind a sturdy design.

Since its pump is oil-lubricated, the Big Bore starts easily in cold temperatures, wears out more slowly, and always performs the same in any condition.

Why we like it

  • Huge horsepower capacity
  • Twin stacked tank design built for multitasking
  • Roll cage construction for increased durability
  • Oil lubrication for easy startup
  • Removable iron cylinder for easy maintenance
  • Fast recovery time

Our Verdict

The Makita Big Bore is an industrial-grade option in consumer air compressors that would be an asset to any home renovation. With enough utility to work with two tools at once and enough power to run smoothly and efficiently in even colder weather, the Big Bore is a premium option but justifies its price with stability and efficiency.

Our Rating

5/5

In terms of visuals and dimensions, this may be more what you expect from an air compressor that is designed for industrial usage. They can’t all be constructed for compactness. Yet, if you can get past the bulk of the California Air Tools compressor, you’ll find that it has a lot to offer.

This compressor is known for its low power requirements and its quiet operation. Drawing just 7 amps of power, you can be sure that this will run on any household outlet without blowing a fuse. It gets up to 125 PSI and features a 10-gallon tank so it can take pretty much any job without needing to stall or recharge partway through.

The real draw of the California Air Tools compressor is that despite running on a competitive 2 hp, it only creates 70 decibels of noise output, making it just about the quietest a compressor of this size could run.

In the case of the upright tank on wheels, rest assured that it’s not as cumbersome as it looks. Many contractors prefer the ability to wheel their compressor around rather than lift it. It makes for quite a lot of convenience when moving rooms on the job site or around the side of the house for multiple DIY renovation projects.

Why we like it

  • Competitive 2 hp compression power
  • 10-gallon tank
  • Oil-free pump
  • Wheeled for easy portability
  • Quiet operation

Our Verdict

If you’re a seasoned remodeler who knows that they prefer an upright tank, this California Air Tools compressor runs better and more quietly than others on the market. If you want to be able to work on home renovations without disturbing your neighbors or family or need to be able to hear on your job site, you may prefer this relatively quiet model over its competition.

Our Rating

5/5

This compact air compressor from DeWalt has a 2.5-gallon tank and a max PSI of 200 so you know what you’re getting: a compact compressor with a ton of power but not as much capacity as other units on this list.

Although it only draws 12 amps, there are units that require far less amperage that we’ve included on this list. The real draw to this one is its size. At only 36 pounds, the DeWalt is easy to move to multiple sites or around the house.

It doesn’t sacrifice power for being small, however, with a 2,300 RPM pump speed, which is very competitive in its class. Similar to the California Air Tools 10020C, the DeWalt DWFP55130 is also relatively quiet, producing only 72 decibels of noise output.

Unlike some compressors, the DeWalt doesn’t come with any hoses, attachments, or accessories. Since you’re just buying the compressor, a beginner needs to keep in mind that the low price will have to be adjusted to get those other parts.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you may want to seek out a more all-inclusive package. However, if you’re a seasoned renovator who knows they want a compact, quiet compressor to supplement their home remodeling or their job site, DeWalt may have what you’re looking for.

Why we like it

  • Low power draw
  • Quiet operation
  • Compact, lightweight construction
  • High RPM pump speed
  • High maximum PSI
  • Oil-free pump

Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a compact air compressor, this DeWalt unit can be hauled around with ease. It runs quietly but packs a punch so you can get your jobs done without anything that causes more of a disturbance in your neighborhood or on-site. Just remember that it doesn’t come with anything other than the compressor.

Our Rating

5/5

As if they couldn’t get any bigger, Makita’s Big Bore line also put out the MAC5200, which features a huge 3.0 hp motor capacity. This compressor is fit for heavy auto work and construction projects that need the extra oomph. If this is what you’re looking for – the MAC5200 has you covered.

Despite being large, this Big Bore comes as a standing, wheeled cart with a folding handle that makes it easy to store away and to wheel out to your site.

Its durable cast-iron construction makes it a perfect choice for those who think their site might be prone to wear and tear on equipment.

Like others on this list, its pump is oil-lubricated for an easier startup in cold temperatures, perfect if you know you’ll be storing or using this unit outside. It has room to hook up two nailers at the same time so a crew or a husband and wife team can work simultaneously on one project.

Why we like it

  • Folding handle construction with wheels for portability
  • 2 output hoses for multitasking
  • Huge 3.0 hp motor
  • Oil lubrication for outside use
  • Cast-iron construction for durability

Our Verdict

The MAC5200 Big Bore is even bigger than the previous one listed. Its 3.0 hp motor makes it the pack leader on this list in terms of power. If you know your work requires heavy auto work or construction-grade jobs in home remodeling, this may be the option for you. The fact that it’s easy to store and transport despite its size is just part of the Makita promise for machines that are durable yet versatile.

Our Rating

5/5

Though its tank is mid-sized at 4.5 gallons, this DeWalt compressor provides more usable air than its equally sized competitors owing to its efficient intake system and fast recovery time of about 22 seconds.

At 225 maximum PSI, you won’t find anything much more powerful anywhere else on the market. This unit is also compact and easy to port around to multiple sites owing to its sturdy tires and convertible standing mode and collapsible handle.

Not only does it fit in any normal storage space, but it also runs relatively quietly at 78 decibels – not the loudest or softest on this list, but impressive for the pressure output. With a 1.6 hp motor capacity, this DeWalt should be able to get done just about any renovation or construction project involving air compression that you throw its way.

Why we like it

  • Huge max PSI of 225
  • Relatively low noise output at 78 decibels
  • Compact size with a collapsible handle for easy storage
  • Sturdy foam tires for easy transport
  • 1.6 hp motor

Our Verdict

The last DeWalt on this list has a huge max PSI for more efficient air usage than most of its competition. The compact size of this unit combined with its handle and wheel construction makes it easy to port to multiple sites or around the house and store in any normal storage area. Those looking to tackle a huge workload with a small machine may find this DeWalt to be the ideal choice.

Our Rating

4.7/5
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Buyer’s Guide

When comparing these units, it’s essential to know the features that contribute to their aptitudes in certain environments and for certain experience levels.

No matter if you’re just getting started on home renovations or are a seasoned remodeling enthusiast, checking the qualities of each unit separately will ensure that you match their parameters with the needs of your job.

1. Motor capacity

The listed horsepower capacity of the air compressor’s motor will determine how long it can run without needing to recharge. If you’re looking for a machine that can handle the heavier work, you want to make sure it not only has a high motor capacity but a tank to match.

Just remember that the harder it runs, the noisier on average it will be.

2. Noise output

On that note, as a home remodeler, you may not want to pollute your house with the constant thrum of a compressor more powerful than you need. This is why checking the noise output level is an important point you should consider in your decision.

This is also true if you plan on using this at a job site and want to make sure that you can hear your team. Some models like the California Air Tools 10020C are built to be quiet, so it may be worth looking into.

3. Portability

If you plan on moving this unit around the house or to multiple job sites, it needs to be portable. Portability comes in many forms, however.

Some are simply compact units that can be picked up by themselves – look for something less than 40 pounds so you don’t tire yourself out.

Others are heavier but mounted to a wheel and handle frame for easy transport. If you plan on storing this at your house, you may want to make sure that the handle is collapsible so that you have as much storage space as possible.

This is also true if you plan on taking it with you in the car to the construction site or a friend’s garage. You want as many portability conveniences as possible when choosing a unit that you plan on taking with you on the go.

4. Multitasking

Not all air compressor units come with the ability to multitask multiple nailers or airbrush tools at once. This could be a deal-breaker if you plan on using this machine with a partner on a job site or with a partner on your home renovations.

5. Materials

Look for air compressors made of sturdy materials with cast-iron pumps and hose housings to prevent wear. Especially if your work is intense or your site is busy, you want something that can take a beating.

The Takeaway

When looking for the best air compressors under $500, it’s important to assess their features in context. You will pay more for a quiet machine, but you may not need one. Or perhaps the horsepower of the motor is high, so high that you don’t need to shell out for it.

Then again, maybe you’re a construction enthusiast that wants the biggest, most powerful machine on the market, regardless of cost.

The Makita MAC2400 Big Bore isn’t the top in any category on this list, but it has everything in an amount that makes it our top pick for any contractor or home remodeler that wants a sturdy air compressor for their work.

It nearly leads the list with its impressive 2.5 hp max motor and sits at a completely usable 130 max PSI for pretty much any work you want it to do. It has the utility to accommodate multiple applications at once.

Best of all, it comes housed in a sturdy roll cage construction that not only makes it completely portable but also makes it the most durable unit on this list.

Regardless of which you choose, consider the factors that differentiate each unit as well as those that any unit should have to be up for consideration in the first place. These units from the leading brands will have what you’re looking for on your next home remodeling or renovation project.

If your budget is a bit more restricted check out our recommendations for air compressors under $300 and under $200.

Paul King

I have an unhealthy obsession with contracting and renovation. I’ve been a contractor for over 15 years and I love tackling challenging projects to make them look amazing.