Air Compressor Vs Air Pump: What’s The Difference 2020?

Both air compressors and air pump work with air, although they have different mechanisms and uses. So many people actually confuse between these two. If you’re one of them, it’s time we ended the confusion by differentiating air compressor vs air pump.

We all have used an air pump at least once in our life. Be it inflating our bike tires or car tires, we also see the use of an air pump in an indoor aquarium too! On the other hand, an air compressor is widely used to operate air tools or air guns to fulfill different purposes. But can we replace these tools with one another? You’re about to find out!

Air Compressor Vs Air Pump: The Difference

The basic differences between an air compressor & an air pump will definitely include how they work, their uses, price ranges, maintenance, etc. Air compressors and air pumps are like the opposite sides of the same coin, they are different in many aspects yet have a lot of things common between them. Let’s cut to the chase and check out the differences—

What Are They?

An air compressor is a machine that utilizes the power of air pressure to complete a range of works. The air ejects from the machine as a force to strike the element and eventually making them work. Like using a nail gun or impact wrench, an air compressor is super efficient to finish them within a few seconds. We also see a wide use of air compressors for painting or spraying things.

On the other hand, an air pump is a machine that supplies air to fill up a congested space or aerate any element for various purposes. Basically, an air pump is the machine we often use for inflating something.


We all have used an air pump to fill up a car tire or bike tire. Be it manual or electric, the air pump is the thing we have been using since our early childhood. Almost everyone owns an air pump to fill up balloons or bicycle tires.

How Do They Work?

The second and most important difference between them is their work mechanism. Since they serve different purposes, their mechanism must be different. Let’s see how do they work—

How Does An Air Compressor Work

Being an air compressor geek, we have mentioned how an air compressor works in many of our posts. Basically, an air compressor works by drawing air into the tank and compressing it. So that the air can make a force whenever released. Then the compressed air is ejected into the air tools and eventually it makes the tool work.

You can check out best air compressor under 200 dollars for a detailed take on how an air compressor works. Having as complicated mechanism as it has, it also implements the toughest jobs in minutes. We’ll get to that later.

How Does An Air Pump Work

There are actually many types of air pumps we can find in the market. But we’re going to sort them into two types, one is the hand air pump and another one is the electric air pump. Both of them have different mechanisms, so let’s dig into that.

We all are commonly acquainted with hand air pumps. Inflating bike tires from our early childhood, most of us still own at least one hand air pump in our home. Popularly known as a bicycle pump, a manual hand air pump is generally a tube-like machine. This machine includes an inlet valve, and an outlet valve and a piston.

How Does An Air Pump Work

When you pull the piston up, the inlet valve opens and draws in the air into the shaft. After that, you press the piston down and the inlet valve closes opening the outlet valve. The air in the shaft then forced to go into the outlet valve and eventually into the area with which the outlet valve is connected.

In case of an electric air pump, all these steps are actually automatic. It draws in the air directly into the inflatable area. 

In both cases, the question is how do they draw in the air? Actually, it draws in the air by creating a vacuum in the shaft/ tank, that fills itself quickly with air. The airless space theoretically cannot be empty if any inlet gateway is present. This mechanism occurs in case of an air compressor too.

So, even though their mechanisms are different, air compressors and air pumps surely have some common points too. Their uses will tell more about their differences between them. So let’s get into that.

Uses Of Air Pump & Air Compressor

Despite both of them includes air, air pump and air compressor are quite different in their usage. We can see the usage of an air compressor almost in every heavy work. Starting from household works to industrial works, air compressors are everywhere.Air Compressor Vs Air Pump: What’s The Difference 2020? 1

An air compressor can be used for spray painting, impact wrench, framing crews, nailing guns, sprinkling water, and whatnot. You can do almost everything with an air compressor wherever any working force is required. You can even inflate car tires with air compressors too. Check out our post on how to inflate a car tire using an air compressor to get the tutorial.

An air pump is no less than an air compressor in terms of usage. Inflating bike tires or balloons for your daughter’s birthday, the usage of an air pump is not limited to that only. We can see the use of an air pump in any aquarium to infuse oxygen to the water. Or we can also use an air pump to light up fire in our fireplaces. 

Although the most important use of an air pump is as a vacuum cleaner. Those who don’t know, a vacuum cleaner is actually an air pump with the function of vacuuming things. So both of them have a set of significant uses that make both of them important.


Another difference between them is definitely operating and maintenance. An air pump is actually pretty easy to operate, even a kid can operate or maintain a manual hand air pump. Even the electrical one is easy too. There is no maintenance requirement unless any repair needed. Using it costs less too.

On the other hand, an air compressor is a complicated piece of machinery. You’ll need training sometimes to operate an air compressor. You can check out our post on how to use a portable air compressor to get an easy tutorial.

Other than operating, the maintenance of an air compressor is pretty troublesome too. In case of oil-fed compressors, you have to use compressor oil to keep it running. Besides, you’ll need to follow different maintenance instructions to keep the machine well maintained. This costs both labor and money, so an air compressor is actually a tough machine to handle.

Can You Replace Them?

If you use your air pump for only inflating stuff, then you can definitely replace it with an air compressor. An air compressor can efficiently inflate anything within a few minutes, no matter it’s a car tire or an inflatable sofa. So you can get rid of your air pump if you have an air compressor at home.

An air pump, however, can never replace an air compressor. You can never achieve that many diverse uses like an air compressor provides. So if you’re planning to buy only one product, it’ll definitely be an air compressor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can An Air Compressor Blow Up Balloons?

With a balloon air compressor, it definitely can. You can even inflate the helium balloons using an air compressor.

Can An Air Compressor Inflate An Inflatable Sofa?

No matter what size it is, an air compressor can actually be used to inflate a car tire or an inflatable sofa. You can find the tutorials on our website.

Is An Air Pump Necessary For An Aquarium?

An air pump provides essential oxygen and bubbles to the fish tank. So the fish can live better than no air pump at all.

Is An Air Pump A Filter?

An air pump does not essentially filter the water. However, it provides oxygen and bubbles which help the fish to live better.

Why Is Compressed Air Cold?

The compressed air slowly cools down due to thermodynamic action. It gets even cooler after releasing because less pressure means less temperature of the air.

So there you go, the difference between air compressor vs air pump. If you want to execute some heavy pneumatic tasks, then buy the air compressor. Or buy an air pump if you have to spend all day inflating things. If you have any questions regarding this post, do let us know through the comment section. Until then, happy working!

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