Reciprocating and rotary compressors are the two main types of air compressors currently available. Both are commonly used in business and warehouse settings. When trying to figure out which of the air compressor types is right for you, it is important to consider all of the different strengths and weaknesses of the two compressors.

A rotary compressor is said to be at least twenty-five percent more efficient than a reciprocating compression. This results in lower maintenance costs, a smaller carbon footprint, and lower operating noise. This gives it a clear advantage over most reciprocating compressors.

That being said, there are some circumstances where a reciprocating compressor could be a valid option. This guide will help break down the different factors that could help you better determine which of the two compressor types is right for you.

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor

A reciprocating compressor has the advantage over rotary compressors when it comes to the initial price. A reciprocating compressor can be purchased for an average cost of $1500 for a 5-horsepower compressor. The price can reach upwards of $30,000 for reciprocating compressors with a horsepower approaching 200.

The overall price of your reciprocating compressor will depend on the horsepower that you require to fit your needs. No matter what horsepower you require, you can expect a rotary compressor of the same horsepower to nearly double that of a reciprocating compressor.

A 5-horsepower rotary compressor can be purchased for an average price of $3600. More powerful rotary compressors approaching 200 horsepower can reach prices of up to $100,000. This makes them a much less appealing option if the initial price is a major factor in your decision.

The reason that rotary compressors are so much more expensive is due to the way they are built and the components involved. The table below contains the average cost of an air compressor in the United States. You can use this table to better estimate what you can expect to pay for either type of air compressor at their respective horsepower.

HorsepowerRotary Compressor PriceReciprocating Compressor Price
5$3600$1500
10$6200$3000
25$13,500$7500
50$23,000$14,500
100$55,000$25,000
200$100,000$30,000

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor Maintenance Cost

When it comes to maintenance costs, Rotary compressors have a steep advantage. Due to the efficiency and design of rotary compressors, they require much less maintenance to maintain proper function. Rotary compressors are designed to last for several years longer before requiring any serious maintenance than reciprocating compressors.

Typically, owners of rotary compressors can expect to pay no more than five percent of their total investment cost annually for maintenance and repairs. Compared to the average 15 to 20 percent that reciprocating compressors are expected to incur annually, this makes the rotary compressor a better choice long-term if saving money on maintenance is a major factor for you.

The table below contains a visual representation of the annual maintenance cost that you can expect to pay to maintain each of the different air compressor types. This can be useful when determining how much it will cost to ensure that your air compressor is functioning properly at all times.

Air Compressor TypeAvg. Maintenance Cost
Rotary Compressor5% of total investment
Reciprocating Compressor15-20% of total investment

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor Energy Efficiency

When it comes to raw energy efficiency, the rotary compressor is the clear winner. Energy efficiency in relation to air compressors describes the machine’s ability to deliver more air for less energy. Energy cost over time will be the largest expense incurred by your air compressor. Because of this, it is important to only consider air compressors with a high energy efficiency rating.

Rotary air compressors can achieve energy efficiency levels of up to 90%. This is incredibly high and is not easily achievable by most reciprocating air compressors. Reciprocating air compressors generally operate at much higher speeds and by design, produce more heat and wasted energy.

 This causes the average reciprocating air compressor to only have an average energy efficiency of around 70%. This leads to higher energy costs over time, making the rotary compressor a much more cost-efficient option to consider.

Owners of a rotary compressor can expect to pay around $80,000 annually to power their machine. This is much lower than the estimated $120,000 that it can cost to run a reciprocating air compressor annually.

The table below contains a visual representation of the annual energy cost that you can expect to pay to power each of the different air compressor types. This can be useful when determining how much it will cost to ensure that your air compressor is powered properly at all times.

Air Compressor TypeAvg. Energy Cost
Rotary Compressor$80,000
Reciprocating Compressor$120,000

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor Uptime

Rotary compressors have the advantage over reciprocating compressors when it comes to uptime. Uptime is extremely important to consider when purchasing an air compressor. If the air compressor you purchase requires a lot of downtimes, this could cause you to lose out on the overall efficiency of your compressor.

A rotary compressor does not require any downtime and can operate at 100% for the full 24 hours of the day. This gives it a clear advantage over reciprocating compressors, which generally need around 8 hours of downtime a day to function properly.

Downtime is necessary for reciprocating compressors to avoid overheating and damaging the machine. The way that rotary compressors are designed to ensure that they can always be functioning without having the worry about damaging the machine’s internal components.

The table below contains a visual representation of the average downtime that you can expect your air compressor to need daily.

Air Compressor TypeAvg. Daily Downtime Required
Rotary CompressorNone
Reciprocating CompressorAt Least 8 Hours

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor Longevity

Rotary compressors will most time outlast the average reciprocating compressor by many years. The way that rotary compressors are designed makes them much more durable than reciprocating compressors. The average, well-maintained rotary compressor can last up to 100,000 hours or 15 years.

You can expect your reciprocating compressor to need replacing far sooner than this, even with proper maintenance and care. The average reciprocating compressor will only last around 65,000 hours or around 8 years.

This makes the rotary compressor a much better choice if longevity is a major factor in your purchase decision. Rotary compressors operate at lower speeds that utilize minimal friction allowing them to increase the longevity of their internals.

The table below contains a visual representation of the average lifespan of the two air compressor types being discussed.

Air Compressor TypeAvg. Lifespan In YearsAvg. Lifespan In Hours
Rotary Compressor15100,000
Reciprocating Compressor865,000

Reciprocating Vs Rotary Compressor Pros And Cons

The list below contains some of the pros and cons of each type of air compressor discussed in this guide. You can use this list to help you better determine which type of air compressor is appropriate for your needs.

Reciprocating Compressor Pros And Cons

Reciprocating compressors have the advantage when it comes to low initial cost. Reciprocating compressors can often be purchased for several thousand dollars less than the average rotary compressor.

This makes them a much more cost-efficient choice initially to have set up and installed. They also generally operate at a higher discharge pressure, making them slightly more powerful at the detriment of energy efficiency.

The main drawback to a reciprocating compressor is the extremely high noise level, higher maintenance cost, and higher energy expense over time.

Rotary Compressor Pros And Cons

Rotary compressors have the advantage when it comes to overall efficiency. This includes uptime, energy usage, and internal functions. They are also designed to run all the time, which makes them a more efficient choice if you wish to avoid downtime.

The main drawback of the rotary compressor is the extremely high cost of purchase. Because of the high-tech design and internals of most rotary compressors, they often cost double what reciprocating compressors do at the same horsepower.

Final Thoughts

This guide has provided you with all of the information that you need to ensure that you choose the right air compressor for your particular needs. Choosing the air compressor type that is right for you can save you money over time.

As this guide indicates, the rotary compressor is the clear winner in terms of efficiency, performance, and longevity. That being said, a rotary compressor is also commonly double the price of a reciprocating compressor of the same horsepower.

Because of this, the reciprocating compressor can be a more cost-effective option initially. You should consider all of the different factors outline in this guide to help you make an informed purchase decision. This can ensure that you make the right choice for your business.

Using the information provided for you here, you will have no problem determining the traits that you wish your air compressor to have and finding the right type to meet those specific needs.