How Long Can An Air Compressor Run?

While you are probably already aware of the value of your air compressor and its ability to help you perform a variety of tasks, including painting and cleaning up debris, you may still have questions about maintaining your compressor.

However, it is important to be aware of the limitations of your air compressor if you want to keep it in good running condition, which begs the question, how long can your air compressor run?

An air compressor may be able to continuously run for anywhere between a couple of hours up to twenty four hours per day, seven days per week, but it depends on the type and size of the air compressor that you are using.

If you want to know exactly how long you can leave your air compressor running, you need to first identify the size and type of your air compressor. Naturally, a large, industrial air compressor will have a longer running capacity than a smaller compressor that’s used at home or at a body shop. 


Types of Air Compressors

Aside from dynamic air compressors, which are often found in large industrial buildings, there are two types of air compressors that are frequently used by construction companies or at home: reciprocating compressors and rotary screw compressors, but the best air compressor to use is the one that fits your individual needs.

Reciprocating Compressors

These air compressors are most commonly found in garages and auto body shops. The smaller one-gallon compressors can only reach a maximum pressure of 100 PSI, but you can also find reciprocating air compressors with as much as 30 horsepower and up to 100 gallon capacity! Reciprocating air compressors are equipped with moving parts that create heat and friction. Reciprocating air compressors can’t run continuously and need to periodically be cooled down, which is known as the duty cycle.

Rotary Screw Compressors

These compressors are also relatively common, but are most often used in industrial warehouses or on larger construction projects.  Since rotary screw compressors use rotors that spin in opposite directions, they do not need to be oiled frequently and have the capacity to run continuously. Rotary screw compressors can run twenty-four seven and are ideal for use in work environments where constant pressure is needed. 

Of course, you need to consider the wear and tear that occurs as a result of continuously using any type of tool. While you can indeed leave a rotary air compressor running for days straight, it’s advisable to turn your equipment off when it’s not in use. 

Why Shouldn’t You Leave Your Air Compressor Running?

Say, you own a small body shop and use a rotary screw compressor. Theoretically, you can leave your air compressor running all day long, even when it’s not in use. But should you? Even though certain air compressors do have the capacity to run 24-7, they should still be turned off when you aren’t using them. Here’s why:

Motor Wear and Tear

Just because an air compressor can run all day, that doesn’t mean that the continuous use won’t wear down the motor. Let’s face it. Tools can be very expensive, so the less frequently you need to replace them, the better, right? If you constantly run your air compressor, the strain that you are placing on the motor will affect the longevity and durability of your air compressor.

Parts Failure

While the motor may wear down quicker if you are constantly running your compressor, smaller parts may completely quit on you. Sure, this issue could be resolved in most cases with a few repairs, but do you really want to take the chance of your air compressor dying out on you in the middle of a big job?

Accumulated Moisture

When an air compressor runs continuously, there is no release for the built-up moisture inside the tank. The air that enters a compressor will become vaporized, and that accumulated moisture will eventually cause your tank to develop rust and need to be replaced, which could have catastrophic results. Rusty compressor tanks can contribute to an explosion. 

Energy Storage

There’s a good reason that your air compressor is equipped with a safety valve to release pressure on the tank. If you run your air compressor continuously, you risk the tank becoming over-pressurized, which could also cause your tank to explode.

Electric Waste

Think about it this way: You can leave your T.V. on all night long and it wouldn’t hurt anything, but eventually it would cause your utility bill to rise. Even if the electric bill doesn’t significantly increase, wouldn’t you rather use that money for something else? Say, maybe a new power drill? It’s the same scenario when you run your air compressor constantly. 

So, yes. You can run a rotary screw compressor continuously, but it’s still not a good idea to do so. The motor needs to have the opportunity to rest, the drainage system needs to release moisture, and the tank needs to be relieved of the high pressure. Plus, that power drill sounds much nicer than a higher electric bill, doesn’t it? 

What is an Air Compressor Duty Cycle?

While rotary screw compressors have the capacity to run continuously, reciprocating air compressors can only be ran for brief intervals before need a chance to cool down. The duty cycle is length of time that a compressor is able to run before needing to cool down. Often the duty cycle will be listed in the form of percentages, which you need to be aware of when purchasing an air compressor.

For instance, if an air compressor has a 25% duty cycle, then you will only be able to run it for fifteen minutes at a time before giving it a forty-five minute cooling off period, which could easily place a damper on your productivity. On the other hand, air compressors with a 100% duty cycle will have the capacity to run continuously for hours, due to their built-in cooling component. Although larger body shops and factories may need a compressor with a full 100% duty cycle, you can probably suffice with a lower percentage duty cycle if you have a small garage or use your compressor for home projects. Nevertheless, it is wise to pay attention to the listed duty cycles when purchasing an air compressor.


Although rotary screw compressors can run continuously, it is strongly recommended to always turn your compressor off when you aren’t using it, regardless of the type of compressor that you own. If you have a reciprocating compressor, you can only run it for a few hours at a time, and you need to remember to regularly change the oil. At the end of the day, as long as your air compressor runs when you need it, there shouldn’t be an issue. After all, everyone wants to eventually call it quits for the day, anyway.