How To Use An Air Compressor [Safety & General Tips]

Air compressors have become a crucial component of just about any garage or workshop. They enable the use of powerful, pneumatic tools, which make a job a lot easier. Despite their power, air compressors are surprisingly approachable and beginner-friendly. 

To use an air compressor, all you have to do is plug the power cord in, turn it on, set your pressure level, connect your air hoses, and use your tools. It’s of crucial importance to make sure you don’t give your tools more air pressure than what they are rated for, and it’s a good habit to lower the pressure when switching your tools. And don’t forget to always release the drain valve when you are finished to make sure no moisture collects in the tank.

In this article, we will go over the basic operations of an air compressor. We will also discuss the various different types of air compressors on the market.

Air Compressor Setup 

Getting an air compressor up and running is as simple as plugging in the power cord and air hose.

The most important aspect of using an air compressor is to make sure that your pressure output is set within a range that is compatible with your air tools.

Also, make sure to lower the pressure when switching tools and to always release the drain valve when you are finished.

1.Check The Oil Level 

If you have a rather large or old air compressor or a model that is just based on an old design, then it will more than likely be oil-filled. So, locate your air compressor’s oil dipstick and make sure it has enough oil to run.

You can usually find the oil dipstick near the bottom on one end of the compressor. The oil level should rest somewhere around two thirds level on the stick. If you have an oil-free air compressor, you can skip this step.

2. Attach The Air Hose To The Pressure Regulator 

First, make sure the air compressor is sitting on a flat, even surface. Then, locate the regulator valve.

It will generally be located close to one of the pressure gauges on the compressor. Simply insert the pointed end of the hose into the valve to make the connection.

3.Attach your power tool to the other side of the hose 

To do so, simply slide the tool’s connector into the hose the same way you plugged the hose into the tank.

4. Plug In The Air Compressor Power Cord 

With the air compressor’s power switch still off, plug the compressor into the wall. Unless you have a really heavy duty one, you want to avoid using an extension cord with an air compressor.

If you need a little more reach, the best way to go about it is to extend the air hose rather than the air compressor’s electrical connection.

How To Use An Air Compressor

1.Test The Safety Valve 

Locate the copper-colored plug somewhere close to the air line. The safety valves usually have a pull-ring on them, so that’s a dead give-away if you are having trouble finding yours.

Pull on the ring and listen for it to hiss out some air. If you hear it, then the valve is working fine. If you pull the ring out and hear no sound, however, then your safety valve is not functioning.

2. Turn The Air Compressor On 

Hit the button or flip the switch on the air compressor to turn it on. You should see the larger pressure gauge start to increase. Monitor that needle and wait for it to stop increasing. This will show that the air inside has reached the maximum pressure level.

Note: The smaller of the two gauge, which is usually located near the hose, should not display any air pressure at this time.

3. Check Your Tool’s Air Pressure Requirements 

You can usually find this information printed on the tool itself, and certainly on its included literature. Every tool has an associated CFM and PSI that is required for it to run.

You want to make sure not to max out your tools. For instance, if whatever tool you are attaching to your air compressor can handle a maximum pressure of 90 PSI, make sure to keep your air compressor set to somewhere around 80 PSI.

Note: Each tool has its own air ratings, so you are going to need to adjust the pressure when you switch tools. It’s a good habit to turn your air compressor down when you remove a tool and then turn it back up after you attach a new one.

4.Set The Correct Air Pressure For Your Tool

You can find the pressure regulator knob on the air hose. Simply twist the knob counterclockwise to increase the air pressure and counterclockwise to decrease it. While doing this, keep an eye on the smaller pressure gauge. It will rise as you increase the air pressure.

5.Use The Pneumatic Tool With Air Stored In The Tank

One of the great things about an air compressor is that it doesn’t have to be on all the time.

Once there is enough air in the tank at the right pressure, your tool is ready for use. The compressor will only have to come on once the air falls below a certain pressure level. You can think of an air compressor tank as a type of air-battery.

Shutting The Compressor Down And Compressor Maintenance 

1.Open The Drain Valve

Make sure to open your air tank’s drain valve to release any condensation that may have gathered in the tank.

The valve will be located on the bottom side of the air compressor. Simply twist the valve counterclockwise to allow the tank’s air pressure to blow out any collected moisture. After that, twist the valve clockwise to close it.

2.Release Pressure From The Air Tank

First, use the pressure regulator knob to shut off the air supply. Then, turn the compressor off and pull the pressure relief valve to bleed the remaining air from the system.

3.Remove The Air Hose And Put Up The Air Compressor

Remove the compressors power cord from the wall. Then, remove the hose. Because you have already removed the remaining pressure in the tank, the hose should be really easy to remove. When you are done with all that, it’s best to store the compressor and its hose in a dry, climate-controlled environment.

4.Replace The Oil 

If you have an oil-filled air compressor, then it’s important to replace your oil at least once per year. Clean oil is essential for the proper operation of these machines. It’s easy to change an air compressor’s oil.

Most of the time, all that is needed is a socket wrench to remove the oil plug. Make sure to have a container ready to capture the old oil. After that, simply close the oil drain valve, and add new oil with a funnel.

General Tips 

  • An air compressor that has a higher CFM rating fills up faster, so that means less recharge time between uses.
  • Larger air compressors are best suited for demanding jobs such as using large pneumatic tools or a paint sprayer.

Note: Small air compressors are usually oil-free. Oil-free air compressors generally wear out a little faster than their oil-filled counterparts, but they cost a lot less time and money to maintain them.

Important Cautions When Using An Air Compressor

While an air compressor is a relatively safe-to-operate tool, there are still some basic guidelines that need to be followed. Also, air compressors can run things like pneumatic drills and cutting tools, which can make them a whole lot more dangerous. 

Read your tool’s documentation and find its maximum pressure limits. Make sure to never supply it with more air pressure than it is rated for.

Avoid the use of extension cords, use a longer air hose instead.

Use Hand Protection: If you are powering any sort of cutting equipment, make sure to wear the appropriate eye and hand protection.

Can You Leave Air In A Compressor?

Yes. It’s safe to leave compressed air in the tank. The problem is, there is often some amount of moisture in that compressed air. If you leave moisture in your air tank, it can lead to rust and leaks.

For that reason, it’s recommended to drain all the air (and moisture in it) from your air compressors tank after each use. 


Air compressors are extremely useful tools and have become an integral part of workshops and have become a mainstay in every automotive repair shop. Without an air compressor, many powerful tools that could make your life easier will remain out of reach. 

For someone unfamiliar with the basic operating principles of an air compressor may be overwhelmed when using one of these machines for the first time. The good news is that these powerful tools are easy to use.

If you do all of the above, then you will know how to use an air compressor. We hope this article helped you figure things out and answer the questions you had about air compressors. Thanks for reading!

      Residential & Commercial Air Compressors