Whether you’re using an air compressor in a professional setting, for home use in your garage, or for an industrial application, you’re either using a single-stage or two-stage compressor. Many people wonder what the difference is between the two and which one is best for their needs. 

Single-stage air compressors compress the air one time before it goes into the storage tank. Two-stage compressors send the compressed air for a second compression before it goes to the tank resulting in higher psi. Single stage are normally less expensive and better suited for home and private use. 

Two-Stage vs. Single Stage Air Compressors: What’s the Difference?

Single-stage air compressors work by pulling in air through the cylinder and compressing it at about 120 psi before sending it to the storage tank for use. 

Two-stage air compressors work the same way except the compressed air is pushed to a second, smaller piston and compressed a second time (around 175 psi) before it goes to the storage tank. 

CompressorPowerAverage Price
Single Stage Air Compressor90 – 145 psi$300 – $1,500+
Two-Stage Air Compressor Up to 175 psi$1,200 – $2,500+

Single-stage air compressors are typically less expensive than two-stage compressors. Two-stage are normally larger and more powerful, meaning they can run more powerful tools and provide air pressure for longer periods.

Another difference is the noise level. Single-stage compressors are normally louder than two-stage compressors. So, if you’re using the equipment in a setting where sound is a factor, you may want to consider the costs and benefits of using a two-stage versus a single-stage compressor.

Is a Two-Stage Air Compressor Better than a Single Stage?

There are some situations where a two-stage air compressor is better than a single-stage compressor, but it really depends on the application. There are advantages and disadvantages to either type.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors you should consider and which compressor type is best for each. 

FactorWhich Compressor is Better?
Energy & PowerTwo-Stage 
PriceSingle Stage
PortabilitySingle Stage
Heavy-Duty UseTwo-Stage
Home-Use and HobbyistsSingle Stage
Cooled AirTwo-Stage
EfficiencyTwo-Stage
Continuous UseTwo-Stage

Energy and Power

Two-stage air compressors are more powerful and will provide more energy than single-stage compressors. This is due to the second compression cycle and cooling process that two-stage compressors use. 

However, more power may not be “better” in all situations. 

If you’re only using the compressor in your garage to power your home tools, you may not need the additional psi from the two-stage compressor. A single-stage compressor can run standard tools with no problem. 

Still, in a professional or industrial setting, or for heavy-duty use, the added power may be better for your situation.

Price

Single-stage air compressors are normally cheaper than two-stage air compressors. This should go without saying because they are smaller and less powerful than their counterparts. So, depending on your use, it may not be a good decision to pay more for the larger two-stage compressor. 

If you’re considering budget alone, the single-stage compressor may be the better option.

Size and Space Considerations

Depending on where you plan to use and store your compressor, a single stage may be better for you. These smaller units are more portable and lighter weight than two-stage compressors. 

Still, if you need more power than a single stage compressor provides, the bigger and heavier two-stage compressor may be your only option. 

Duty Cycle

Two-stage air compressors typically have a 100% duty cycle, meaning they can run on-stop without needing to cool down in between. For large projects that require ongoing compressor use, two-stage may be the best option. 

Single-stage air compressors normally have a duty cycle of 50%, up to 75% depending on the unit. So, that means there will be times when the unit needs to stop and cool down preventing continuous use. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgr5urFXloc

Why Would You Need a Multistage Compressor vs. Single Stage?

The type of air compressor you need ultimately depends on your application and how you plan to use it. There are advantages and disadvantages for each type, but in some cases only one of the two makes sense.

Two-stage compressors are typically more efficient in that they will run tools for longer periods and provide more power, and they may be required for certain applications where single-stage units aren’t big enough. 

Still, a single stage compressor might be the best option for someone who needs to be able to take their tools on the go or easily move around without worrying about a big, heavy air compressor. 

Two-stage compressors are typically best for: 

  • Large construction crews
  • Jobs requiring large amounts of air
  • Jobs requiring ongoing air supply for long periods 
  • Industrial applications
  • Commercial applications
  • Heavy-duty use with more wear and tear
  • Auto shops
  • Pressing plants
  • Operating high-powered tools (over 100 psi)
  • Manufacturing
  • Food packaging

Single-stage compressors are typically best for: 

  • Home or private use
  • Woodworking
  • Nailing
  • Drilling
  • Grinding
  • Riveting
  • Kitchens
  • Garages
  • Workshops

Another way to determine which type of air compressor you need is to consider what tools you’ll be using. Think about all the various air-powered tools you may need to hook up for use at the same time. Add up the CFM for each and then add another 30% to that number. 

Once you know the total capacity you’ll need (CFM), you’ll be able to determine the size and type of air compressor most suited for your situation. 

To give you an idea, here are some common air tools and the average CFM for each: 

ToolAverage CFM (at 90 psi)
Brad Nailer0.3
Hammer 3 – 11
Drill3 – 6
Framing Nailer2.2
Hydraulic Riveter4
Impact Wrench2.5 – 10
Orbital Sander6 – 9 
Ratchet2.5 – 5
Shears8 – 16
Speed Saw5

What is a Two-Stage Reciprocating Air Compressor?

Reciprocating air compressors are best suited for home use and smaller projects. These units aren’t designed for ongoing, continuous use like rotary screw compressors. 

The capacity of these compressors is up to about 50 cubic feet per minute (CFM), which is less than most rotary screw compressors. 

Reciprocating air compressors use a piston inside a cylinder to compress air and they may be single stage or multi-stage types. A two-stage reciprocating compressor would be able to provide increased psi and power compared to a single-stage reciprocating compressor.   

Is a Two-Stage Compressor Worth It?

To decide if a two-stage air compressor is worth the investment, you’ll need to consider the application. And you’ll need to consider whether the added cost is worth the added efficiency and capabilities. 

Two-stage compressors offer greater power, meaning they can run higher-powered tools for longer periods. They’re also better suited for heavy-duty use and large-scale jobs. Two-stage compressors are necessary when you need ongoing, continuous use. 

So, if you’re using the compressor in an industrial setting, factory, assembly line, or in certain applications where power and continuous use are necessary, a two-stage compressor is probably worth the added cost. 

However, if you’re a hobbyist or home-user, or only use the compressor for smaller jobs, a single stage air compressor is probably all you need. Not to mention, smaller single-stage units are more portable, easier to maintain, and easier to use. 

Energy efficiency is another thing to consider. Two-stage compressors can produce more psi and do more work while using only a little more energy than single stage compressors. With a lot of use over time, energy savings can add up and increase the overall value of purchasing the two-stage unit.

So, while single stage compressors are typically less expensive, they’re also less powerful. For smaller jobs, it may be just enough, but in some cases, you will need a bigger, more powerful compressor.

The Bottom Line

Single-stage air compressors are typically less expensive, easier to use, and more portable than their two-stage counterparts. However, they’re not suitable for every job or application. In some cases, you may need something larger and more powerful. 

Two-stage air compressors work the same way as single stage compressors, but they compress the air a second time before sending it to the storage tank. That way, the compressor has air that’s more pressurized and it can do bigger, heavy-duty jobs for prolonged periods. 

For home or private use, a single stage air compressor is probably sufficient. However, two-stage air compressors may be necessary for operating multiple tools at the same time. 

Ultimately, the best air compressor for you depends on how you plan to use it. Understanding how the different types of compressors work and how they’re typically used will help you make the best decision for your situation. That way, you can make the best investment in this piece of equipment.