When it comes to buying an air compressor, the first thing most people consider is size. For most people, the goal is to find a portable model that’s powerful enough to handle a variety of tasks. One of the most popular sizes for general home use or contractor work is the 6-gallon tank.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about 6-gallon air compressors, including what they can be used for, what you can expect to spend on one, and whether they’re a worthwhile investment.
What Can 6-Gallon Air Compressors Be Used For?
A 6-gallon air compressor can be used for a range of light-duty tasks and air tools. They’re generally best for tasks that don’t require a continuous air supply. The exact air tools you can use will depend on the CFM (cubic feet per minute) of the compressor and the CFM requirements of your tools.
6-gallon compressors have an average CFM of around 2 or 3. This means that, despite the tank’s relatively small size, it will take a minute to fill back up. So if you’re using the compressor for a tool or application that requires more air than the compressor can produce continuously, you’ll be doing a lot of waiting for the tank to refill.
- Filling tires and sports equipment
- Nail guns & staple guns
- Air drills
- Light-duty grinding & sanding (using a die grinder or sander)
- Light-duty cutting (using a cut-off tool)
- Small impact wrenches (¼-inch to ⅜-inch)
- Air blow guns
- Small paint jobs (using a paint spray gun)
Due to the relatively low CFM and small air tank, a 6-gallon compressor isn’t ideal for tools with high power demands, nor for tasks that require continuous air for longer periods, such as big paint jobs and cutting or grinding metal.
It’s also worth noting that these air compressors work best with a shorter air hose (25ft or less). Using a very long hose will mean a weaker air supply from your tool or nozzle.
Will a 6-Gallon Air Compressor Run an Impact Wrench?
A 6-gallon air compressor can run a smaller impact wrench, but larger wrenches won’t be as effective. Most impact wrenches ½-inch or larger require 5+ CFM, which is more than 6-gallon compressors typically provide. You’ll frequently be waiting for the tank to refill when using a larger wrench.
Will a 6-Gallon Air Compressor Fill a Car Tire?
A 6-gallon air compressor can easily fill most car tires, even from empty. Most 6-gal. compressors easily exceed the 1-2 CFM required for tire inflation. A 6-gal. tank is sufficient to fill most tires in one go, but for a truly huge tire, you may have to wait for the tank to refill at least once.
How Long Does It Take for a 6-Gallon Air Compressor To Fill?
On average, it takes around 2 minutes for a 6-gallon compressor tank to fill (reach cut-out pressure) from empty. However, this is different for every compressor model. How long your compressor tank takes to fill ultimately depends on the CFM and maximum PSI (cut-out pressure) of your compressor.
Most 6-gal. compressors have a cut-out pressure of 150 PSI. When the tank reaches this pressure, the pump automatically shuts off. When the PSI falls below a certain threshold (called cut-in pressure), the pressure switch will turn the pump back on until cut-out pressure is once again achieved. This is called “recovery” and typically takes around 45-60 seconds for most 6-gal. compressors – depending, of course, on the CFM, cut-in pressure, and cut-out pressure.
Typical CFM, PSI, and HP Ratings of 6-Gallon Air Compressors
When it comes to selecting the right 6-gallon air compressor to fit your needs, there are a few important specifications to look for – the CFM (or SCFM, which stands for Standard Cubic Feet per Minute), PSI (Pound per Square Inch), and HP (Horsepower).
Perhaps the most important figure in terms of functionality, the CFM essentially describes the air output of your compressor at a given pressure (90 PSI is the industry standard for this measurement). As mentioned earlier, some tools and applications require a higher CFM than most 6-gallon compressors can provide.
On average, most 6-gal. compressors are rated for around 2.6 CFM (@ 90 PSI), making them suitable for basic light-duty DIY tasks. A few 6-gal. compressors have CFM ratings as low as 2, while fewer still can provide as much as 6.5 CFM.
A compressor’s PSI rating refers to its maximum PSI or cut-out pressure. The average maximum PSI rating of 6-gallon compressors is 150 PSI. In general, the range is anywhere from 125-165 PSI, which is adequate for most purposes.
An air compressor’s horsepower is less important than the other two measurements but is still worth paying attention to. The HP ultimately determines how efficiently the pump can produce a given CFM. Most newer compressors can provide decent CFM with relatively little horsepower.
On average, most 6-gal. compressors use around 1HP. Some models feature 0.8HP motors while others have 3HP motors – these latter ones tend to have a higher CFM rating as well.
Another important consideration with HP is the noise level – the higher the horsepower, the louder the compressor tends to be. However, there are some exceptions, as many manufacturers go to great lengths to help suppress the noise level.
How Long Do 6-Gallon Air Compressors Last?
You can generally expect a 6-gallon air compressor to last around 10-15 years. However, that lifespan is dependent upon proper care and maintenance – neglecting to perform routine service tasks will shorten its lifespan. How often (and how long) you use it will also impact its longevity.
Most 6-gallon compressors are oil-free and require very little maintenance, but draining the tank, keeping it clean, and changing the air intake filter (along with other basic tasks) are essential for making your compressor last longer.
In addition, smaller compressors aren’t exactly suited for long-term continuous use, so if you want a compressor that you can run continuously for prolonged periods (particularly if you’re using it every day), you may want to go with a larger model.
How Much Should I Spend On a 6-Gallon Air Compressor?
You can expect to spend anywhere from $100-$300 for a quality 6-gallon air compressor. The more expensive models typically boast higher CFM/PSI ratings or exceptional noise reduction. Ultimately, what you’ll use it for and what kind of extra features you want should determine how much you spend.
If you just want a basic air compressor for filling tires and other low-demand applications, a less expensive model should be more than adequate. If you want to be able to use high-demand pneumatic tools without sacrificing portability, or you’re willing to pay more for better noise reduction, go with a more expensive model that meets your needs.
Are 6-Gallon Air Compressors Worth It?
A 6-gallon air compressor is worth it if you want a solid portable compressor for basic tasks and low-demand tools. Some models offer higher CFM/PSI ratings for tools that demand more power. However, if you need it for continuous-use applications, you’re probably better off going with a larger tank.
Moving up to a larger and more powerful compressor usually comes with a significant price increase, but if you want the airpower in your garage or shop, it’s likely worth it. But if you just want a basic portable compressor with a decent amount of power and versatility, a 6-gallon model is a good place to start. Ultimately, the decision comes down to what you need it for.
The Best 6-Gallon Air Compressor for the Money
We’ve done the research and landed on the best overall 6-gallon air compressor on the market. This is determined by a range of factors including versatility, quality, price, manufacturer reputation, and customer reviews. Here’s what we’ve decided is the best for your buck:
The Craftsman 6-Gallon Pancake Air Compressor.
This portable compressor from the tried and trusted Craftsman brand is in many ways the perfect middle-of-the-road 6-gallon compressor. With an 0.8 HP motor capable of producing 2.6 CFM @ 90 PSI, this compressor boasts rapid recovery times and can easily power a range of air tools – even some smaller impact wrenches. It has a max pressure of 150 PSI, which makes it more than adequate for most purposes.
Weighing in at 32.5 pounds, with a compact pancake design and convenient carrying handle, this compressor is highly portable and easy to store. Its oil-free pump also makes maintenance virtually non-existent and ensures enhanced longevity. It also features two couplers so you can run two separate tools at one time.
To sweeten the deal, this compressor also comes with a 13-piece accessory kit that includes a 25-foot air hose, tire pressure gauge, and an assortment of nozzles for air blowing and tire inflation. And at $150, it’s hard to beat this compressor for overall value.
Best 6 Gallon Air Compressor