The 3 Main Types of Air Compressors and Their Application

different types of air compressors

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Last Updated on March 2, 2021 by John Patterson

Air compressors are used in many practical applications such as in gas stations, plant manufacturing, industrial sites, etc. As you can see in our heading, in this article, we’ll know about different types of air compressors with their uses.

Air compressors consist of several components, each performing a unique function. It uses an engine or motor to compress air. This compressed air is then carried to the tank with the help of pipes.

There are a variety of air compressors, each having different speeds and temperature ranges.

Let’s have a look at some of the most common air compressor types-

Different Types of Air Compressors

There are three main air compressor types:
#1. Reciprocating Compressors
#2. Rotary Screw Air Compressors
#3. Centrifugal Air Compressors

#1. Reciprocating Compressors

Reciprocating Compressors

These compressors come with pistons inside the body. These pistons play a significant role as it’s their action that compresses the air. This is why they are also known as piston compressors.

Working of The Compressor

There are two valves installed in the cylinder: one to suck air and the other to discharge it. The suction valve sucks air into the cylinder and releases it through the discharge valve after it is compressed.

The process is carried out by the consistent motion of pistons. Gas enters the compressor when the pistons drawback. It ejects when the pistons go in the opposite direction. The pressure applied due to the motion of pistons compresses the air.

The gas can be used right away or be stored in the tank. However, the gas must be used directly from the source to ensure it does not lose its pressurization.


Reciprocating air compressors used in a variety of industries including manufacturing plants, gas stations, chemical plants, refineries, workshops, and agricultural fields.

They also used in natural gas processing and delivery. In addition to this, they used in many household items as well including refrigerators.

What We Liked
    • Easy to use.
    • Cheaper than other compressors.
    • Require little maintenance due to fewer moving parts.

What We Didn't Like
  • Little bit noisy.
  • Oil content is high in the air pipe.
  • Not suitable for big appliances.

Grab your copy of Reciprocating Compressors: Operation and Maintenance 1st Edition on Amazon

#2. Rotary Screw Air Compressors

Rotary Screw Air Compressors

Rotary compressors use a rotary-type positive-displacement mechanism to compress air. A pair of rotors do the job internally in a silent manner.

These are known as oil-cooled devices as they include no valves. The rotors have a unique design, and they go in opposite directions with little to no clearance between them.

Rotary compressors are best for applications that require consistent air without any disturbance. Find the best one on Amazon.


Two helical meshing screws work to compress air in the chamber. Gas is sucked in from the suction compartment and passed right through the screws as the rotors rotate.

This puts the right amount of pressure on the gas and forces it to get compressed.


They are suitable when large volumes of air are needed; hence they are more commonly used in industries. Other than this, they are used to operate big tools like:

  • Jackhammers.
  • Impact Wrenches.
  • Food packaging plants.
  • Automated machines.
  • Tow behind trailers.
  • Pneumatic pumps.
  • Riveting tools.
  • Industrial paint systems.

Types of Screw Compressors

#1. Oil-Free Screw Compressors
#2. Oil-Injected Screw Compressors

#1. Oil-Free Screw Compressors

  • They are used to restrict the entrance of oil into the airflow.
  • Safe for the environment.
  • Less expensive.

#2. Oil-Injected Screw Compressors

  • They work in the presence of oil.
  • Since it involves oil, the right amount of heat can be generated which can cause pollution.
  • More expensive.

The oil-free rotary screw model results in less pollution because it works in the absence of oil. Moreover, it can prevent overheating with its air-cooling and water cooling capabilities. It can easily achieve 150 PSI 2000 cubic feet per minute.

On the other hand, the oil-injected rotary screw model uses oil to enhance sealing. The oil is further cooled, filtered, and recycled to exclude particulates. If you are looking for the best synthetic air compressor oil, our latest reviews will help you find the most suitable one.

Both of these compressors are fast at compressing air. They can compress air in under 2 minutes. The compressed air is pure, hence it can be useful for various uses.

What We Liked
    • Easy to operate.
    • Offers variable speeds.
    • Produce pulse-free air.

What We Didn't Like
  • A bit difficult to maintain.
  • Noisy.
  • Catch rust if not in use.

#3. Centrifugal Air Compressors

Centrifugal Air Compressors

This is a dynamic compressor that uses centrifugal force to compress air. It utilizes an impeller or rotor to add velocity or kinetic energy to flowing fluids. However, its performance may get affected by external conditions like changes in the inlet temperature.

The highlight of this air compressor is that it delivers consistent pressure. Moreover, it also offers a reasonable temperature range.

Get the Centrifugal Compressors: A Basic Guide on Amazon.

Working of A Centrifugal Air Compressor

These compressors have a built-in motor to kick start the unit. It works in three stages to divide the load and increase efficiency.

When air enters the compressor, the gas is accelerated using an impeller or rotor. As it moves ahead, a diffuser decreases its speed to cool it down. This reduced speed also helps convert kinetic energy into pressure.

These compressors provide quick results and also use condensation to remove moisture from the air.


Centrifugal air compressors let you change the pressure by increasing or decreasing the number of stages. This multi-stage compressor is most commonly used in the oil and gas sector.

What We Liked
    • Does not cause pollution as it is oil-free.
    • A multi-stage compressor lets you control pressure.
    • Does a quick job.

What We Didn't Like
  • A bit complex to understand.
  • Requires mounting to minimize vibration.
  • The output may not always be consistent.

In Conclusion

These are three of the most common different types of air compressors today. While they do the same job, they use different methods to compress air; hence their applications differ.

Reciprocating compressors are budget-friendly and use pistons to compress air. Screw compressors are a bit expensive, but they can deliver continuous pressure, unlike reciprocating compressors.

Lastly, centrifugal compressors can deliver the highest pressure but may not always be consistent. The right option depends mostly on your budget and requirements.

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#3. Air Compressor Cost
#4. Air compressor size ideas for your air tools

About the author

John Patterson

Hi there! My name is John Patterson. I’m a meticulous guy who loves to deal with the perfect tools for various needs. No matter if it’s a woodworking tool or gardening tool or anything else, I don’t compromise the quality and usability. Since 2010 I’ve been testing different tools for different DIY and professional tasks. Later in 2015, I decided to share my knowledge with the world. I started by answering people in the forums and several Q/A sites like Quora. Then I founded this blog to aid others like you with my knowledge and experience.