A regulator is attached to the outlet of your compressor’s air tank and features an adjustable knob and a built-in pressure indicator. The knob can be used to raise and lower the pressure by using a spring to open and restrict a valve that blocks airflow.

Typically, air compressor regulators are highly interchangeable and can be switched out for new ones as long as the compressor allows this type of modification. If your compressor allows for regulator modification, you can easily interchange it with another one of your choosing.

This guide will provide you with all of the information that you need to better understand what an air compressor regulator does and the different types that are available for purchase. This information can be useful when trying to decide which air compressor regulator is right for you.

What Is An Air Compressor Regulator?

An air compressor regulator is used to regulate air pressure as it flows from your compressor to your tools and machinery that require it. They are useful for quickly and easily adjusting the pressure so that it is appropriate for a wide range of applications.

Typically, regulators are used to ensure that tools and machinery that utilized compressed air do not become overpowered and damaged due to an inappropriate amount of air pressure. Regulators will also help to maintain a constant output of pressure regardless of any variations in air input.

You should keep in mind that air compressor regulators can only lower the pressure in your compressed air system, not raise it. Even if you attempt to increase the pressure past what your compressor is designed for, you will not reach pressure levels that exceed its specifications.

How Does A Compressor Regulator Work?

A regulator is attached to the outlet of your compressor’s air tank and features an adjustable knob and a built-in pressure indicator. The knob can be used to raise and lower the pressure by using a spring to open and restrict a valve that blocks airflow.

Single-stage compressors max out at around 125 psi. Once this pressure threshold has been reached, a pressure switch will be released to stop the motor and the compression process until the pressure is at an acceptable level.

In most cases, users wish to set this pressure threshold themselves to ensure the cutoff is at the proper levels. You can do this by using a compressor regulator. A regulator will automatically adjust the levels of air that you need to the appropriate levels for both tools and machinery.

A regulator cannot however raise the pressure rating of your compressor beyond what it is specified for. You should consider purchasing a regulator for your air compressor to have more control over the pressure being built up inside of the tank.

It is generally not advised that you operate an air compressor without a proper regulator installed. Doing so will cause your operating expenses to skyrocket due to the amount of air pressure being used constantly.

Types Of Air Compressor Regulators

The two main air compressor regulator types are relieving and non-relieving. Relieving regulators allows for the high pressure to be adjusted to low pressure even in dead-end situations. They can easily relieve any excess downstream pressure out of the compressor, which often creates a loud hissing noise that is easily recognizable.

A non-relieving air compressor regulator will not allow any excess downstream pressure to be released. This will call for the need for a downstream valve to be used in air compressor setups that use a non-relieving regulator.

There are several different types of regulators that use either a relieving or non-relieving design in their compression process. These regulator types will be discussed in detail in the section below.

Poppet-Style Valved Regulators

Poppet-style valve regulators are the least expensive type of air compression regulator. They are designed without a diaphragm chamber and are a non-relieving regulator. Poppet-style valve regulators utilize an adjustment spring to control the internal functions.

When the adjustment screw or knob is turned to adjust air pressure, the spring is compressed and forces the diaphragm to move. This in turn causes the poppet to uncover its orifice plate. With the orifice plate exposed, the poppet then throttles the orifice opening to restrict flow.

This restriction increased the downstream pressure to the wanted levels. As the pressure rises downstream, it begins to balance the diaphragm and balance it against the force of the spring. The spring under the poppet then ensures that the valve closes all the way when there is no airflow.

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Diaphragm Chamber Regulators

Diaphragm chamber regulators are larger and more expensive. They utilize a separate diaphragm chamber that allows the primary airflow to minimize any abrasive effects. This will help extend the lifespan of your compressors and regulators valves.

A diaphragm chamber regulator uses an aspirator tube to extend all of the pressure from the compressor. This aspirator is generally somewhere exposed so the air can escape properly.

When the flow increases through a diaphragm chamber regulator, the aspirator tube will create a slightly lower pressure contained in the diaphragm chamber. This will cause the diaphragm to deflect downwards and open the orifice while not reducing the pressure.

Because of the large diaphragm available in this type of regulator, they are known for having increased response and sensitivity while experiencing minimal pressure drops.

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Balanced Poppet Regulators

Balanced poppet regulators are similar in design to separate diaphragm types but have a much larger orifice which leads to greater airflow. The poppet is pressure balanced to maintain the proper stability. This pressure balance helps to cancel out any pressure fluctuations and improve response.

Precision Regulators

Precision air compressor regulators use several isolated diaphragms that will act against the flapper valves and nozzles as a balance. The regulators are generally produced with limited flow capacities and much smaller connection ports.

Precision regulators generally hold a line pressure between 0.5 to 1.5 psi. It is important to know the pressure variation tolerance of your compressor before using a precision regulator.

How Do I Choose An Air Compressor Regulator

You will need to consider the downstream flow and pressure requirements for your compressed air application to choose the right regulator for your situation. Smaller regulators are generally direct-acting and non-relieving, while larger ones are self-relieving and utilize a separate diaphragm.

You should also consider your desired adjustment type. A tamper-resistant locking tee or push-lock knob are the two most common adjustment screw types. You should consider your desired airflow when choosing an adjustment type.

Lastly, you should consider the orifice flow rating and the connection sizes that the regulator uses. Generally larger regulators have known for better setting sensitivity and experience far fewer drops in pressure than smaller ones.

No matter what regulator type you choose, as long as it is compatible with your air compressor, you will be better off than you were without one. You should try and avoid operating your air compressor until you find a suitable regulator.

Do You Need A Regulator On An Air Compressor?

Air compressor regulators are one of the most important components of any compressed air system and are highly recommended for any setup involving compressed air. Without a regulator, your compressed air system will have no way of regulating the downstream air pressure going to your tools.

You will also experience larger levels of energy consumption due to your compressor’s lack of ability to set pressure thresholds without a regulator. These are the two main reasons that you should consider adding an air compressor regulator to your compressed air setup.

Air Compressor Regulator Price Guide

The table below contains some of the most popular online vendors and their prices for the different types of air compressor regulators. You can use this information to ensure that you are getting the best deal no matter what type of regulator you require.

VendorAvg. Poppet-Style Valve Regulator PriceAvg. Diaphragm Chamber Regulator PriceAvg. Balanced Poppet Regulator PriceAvg. Precision Regulator Price
Amazon$30$65$42$75
Home Depot$27$60$45$80
Walmart$32$68$40$95
Lowes$33$58$44$88
Ace Hardware$30$62$47$72

Final Thoughts

This guide has provided you with all of the information you need to better understand the different air compressor regulator types. This information can be a valuable resource when you are trying to decide which of the regulator types is right for your compressed air system.

As this guide indicates, it is highly recommended that you install a regulator in your compressed air system. A regulator will allow you to make precise changes to your pressure settings which will enable you to use your compressed air with a large variety of tools and machinery.

Using the information in this guide, you can distinguish between the different types of air compressor regulators and better understand the ways that they work. You can also use this guide to help you decide which of the regulator types best suites your needs.