How to Use an Air Compressor: A Step by Step Guide

An air compressor is a surprisingly handy tool to have stored around the house, and it can connect to a variety of power tools to complete essential functions at home and at building sites.

Whether you want to inflate a tire for your car or bicycle, spray paint efficiently, blow debris out of your concrete shutters, power up a nail gun, or attach to a pressure washer to clean your patios, pavements, and sturdy home surfaces, an air compressor is often the tool of choice. It even has some surprising uses such as for a snow machine to assist with diving.

However, while more and more homes are owning these handy tools, using one isn't as simple as turning it on and going to work on your desired project. For the safety of yourself and your family, property security measures demand that you check the unit is functioning correctly and accurately connected to power.

If your is to correctly learn how to use an air compressor, our simple and straightforward instructions detailed below will ensure that you use your tool with confidence, and without accidentally ruining your investment. By following these steps, you ensure your own safety while also making sure your air compressor will last for years to come.

These steps are detailed and every essential portion is compiled into a single place, so you can read it and get on with using your air compressor.

Cover photo by kropekk_pl

Step 1: Gather All Necessary Materials

Before you begin, get together all the materials you will require to use your air compressor and put them in a single place. This way, you won't waste unnecessary time halfway through the process if you realize you don't have a certain tool or resource to complete a step.

You will need the following tools together:

  • A pair of safety goggles that fits securely over your eyes.
  • The power tools that you wish to use once it is attached to your air compressor.
  • A grounded, three-pronged outlet as the power supply. 
  • Get your air compressor manual out and ready to reference throughout the process.
  • Your air compressor, or if unassembled, the air compressor parts.
  • The correct oil for your air compressor (see Step 3 for more information).

Step 2: Assemble Your Air Compressor for Use

This step is only necessary if this is the first time you are opening up your new air compressor, which is why you want to know how to use an air compressor.

Every air compressor is different, internally and externally, and as a result, it is important to consult your air compressor's manufacturers manual to correctly complete this process. Make sure the follow the listed directions exactly.

Once assembly of your air compressor is completed by following your manual's exact specifications, connect the compressor hose to the regulator valve.

Step 3: Change or Check the Engine's Oil

Just like your car, the engine of your air compressor needs a healthy amount of oil to function well. In fact, if you run out of oil during use, you are sure to ruin the engine, and most warranties do not cover this oversight.

In short, this step is absolutely essential, and should not be skipped for any reason.

There is one exception, where certain compressors do not use oil in the engine design. These designs replace the engine's piston with a rubber diaphragm instead.

This typically includes air compressors that are exceptionally low in cost, especially any compressor that cannot be turned on for extended periods of time.

However, in every other case, checking the oil is essential.

Determine What Oil to Use

It is possible your manual offers a recommendation of the best oil to use for your particular air compressor, so as usual, check it first before buying any oil. If there are no specific oils listed, you can seek out an oil that is specially designed for air compressors, which you can find at a local hardware store – just check the label.

For older compressors or compressors with a much older engine model, it is best to use an oil can, often found at different parts stores. Look for non-detergent, and an oil can that is 20w or 30.

Be sure that you do not use any other motor oils that are available for cars or other engines. These oils often foam up, and in an air compressor, it will prevent the necessary protective film from developing and covering the internal components of the engine.

Determine if an Oil Change is Necessary

An oil change should be conducted on your air compressor either once a year or after a set number of hours of use. This number of hours can be defined in your manufacturer's manual.

On the other hand, if the compressor itself is opened up for any reason, the oil must be changed immediately, because there is no oil filter.

If it is time to change the oil, follow these simple steps. The process is similar to changing the oil for a car engine:

  1. Turn off the compressor. Do not worry about decompressing the air tank, however.
  2. Place a container underneath the oil tank and open the plug at the bottom. Drain out the old oil. Once you have caught all the old oil into the container, seal it and take it to your nearby parts store, where it can be recycled for reuse.
  3. Close the plug underneath the oil tank.
  4. Pour in new oil into the filler spout, which can often be found at the top, above the drain plug. Be sure to add the oil until it reaches either the center of the fill window or up the line on the dipstick that indicates the tank is full.
  5. Most air compressor engines can hold about a quart of oil, so prepare accordingly.

Check the Engine's Oil

Again, unless you have one of the few air compressors that do not use oil in the engine, this step must be completed with every single risk, at the risk of ruining the engine if you do not.

To make sure your engine has the right amount of oil, complete the following steps.

  1. Look at the oil's fill window or check the dipstick and ascertain if more oil is needed to reach the fill line. This process is very similar to a car's oil check.
  2. If the oil is at all below the recommended amount, fill it up to the line on the window or dipstick.

This short step will prevent wear and tear on the internal components of your machine so that it will have a long life and work as an effective investment.

Step 4: Connect to a Nearby Power Source

At this point in the process of how to use an air compressor, we are finally ready to get some electricity in your engine.

Plug the air compressor into a nearby power supply. Make sure it is a grounded three-pronged outlet for safety reasons.

Once this is complete, check that the relief valve is set correctly. Check the best settings by using your air compressor's manual.

Step 5: Start the Air Compressor's Engine

Now that we are beginning to work with power tools, it is essential to put on your safety goggles right away. Eye injuries are one of the most common injuries when working with heavy equipment, and most of them can be avoided with the right eye gear.

Turn on the compressor pressure switch, which will begin to pump the tank.

Finally, close the valve on the tank drain.

Step 6: Connect Your Power Tool to the Air Compressor

Excellent job, your air compressor is now turned on and running safely, without any safety or security risks that put you and those around you in harm's way.

Once again, it is time to consult your manufacturer's manual. Use your intended power tool that will connect to the air compressor, and ascertain what the best settings are for your air compressor.

Every single time you use your air compressor, revisit the best settings for your engine and specific power tools of choice. You should never have an extensive amount of power going through your air compressor if your tool won't be using too much.

Finally, you are ready to connect the desired power tool to the air compressor's hose. Use your air compressor until you are finished.

Step 7: Turn Off Air Compressor and Store Correctly

Once your project is completed and you are ready to turn your air compressor back off, follow these steps for a simple and safe process of storing it correctly. Be sure to follow these steps in this exact order.

  1. Shut off the motor.
  2. Unplug the unit from the outlet.
  3. Turn off the regulator valve.
  4. Bleed out all the air from the hose.
  5. Remove the power tool from the air hose.
  6. Open the regulator so that air can go back into the air tank.
  7. Store the hose in a dry location.
  8. Open the drain cock so that any accumulated moisture can drip out. Be sure to leave this open during storage, until your next use.

Be sure to store your air compressor in a warm and dry climate. If you store it off the floor of your garage, will you protect it from water damage in addition.

Simple Steps to Use Your Air Compressor for a Long Life

When considering the best steps in how to use an air compressor correctly, these detailed and thorough directions will ensure your compressor is protected and ready to last a long life in your garage or closet. An investment in an air compressor should be made on a rare occasion, and by taking proper care and maintenance of your product, you can ensure you will not be forced to buy a new compressor before its really required.

When you want to properly use your air compressor, every single use must include checking the compressor settings against the manufacture manual's settings, filling up the tank with the correct oil (or conducting an oil change if necessary), and wearing safety goggles. These are all in addition to plugging in and turning on different parts of the air compressor in the correct order.

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