What Is a Compressor and how do they work? The A-Z Guide

When you hear the word compressor, your mind automatically goes to a humongous industrial machine. Well, not necessarily!

Compressors play an important part in our daily lives more than you think.

You head home from a hot summer’s day, open up your fridge, and grab a cool drink before turning on your AC and kicking back. Believe it or not, this wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for compressors!

But what is a compressor? And how does it work?

Let’s find out!

How Does a Compressor Work?

A compressor works by compressing the surrounding air. This means it keeps the air’s pressure substantially higher than the atmospheric pressure. It can also compress certain gasses.

The compressed air, stored in the tank, creates potential energy. Once the tank is full, the device automatically shuts off and stops the compression process.

It then releases the potential energy to operate and power a variety of tools and machinery. When the compressed air depressurizes, the compressor will repeat the cycle.

What Are the Types of Compressors?

There are several types of compressors, each with different internal mechanisms. However, we can classify them into two main types.

Positive Displacement Compressors (Intermittent Flow)

A positive displacement compressor receives gas in portions. Once it receives a portion of gas, it will start compressing it. After it’s full of compressed air, it’ll release it and repeat the process.

This is why they’re called intermittent flow compressors; because the flow of the gas is not continuous.

Some types of positive displacement compressors include:

-Reciprocating compressors

-Rotary compressors

-Scroll compressors

-Dynamic Compressors (Continuous Flow)

Unlike the intermittent flow compressor, the continuous flow compressor doesn’t divide the gas into portions. The flow of the gas is continuous, steady, and doesn’t stop.

Some types of dynamic compressors include:

-Radial compressors

-Axial compressors

-Mixed compressors

Who Uses Compressors?

Air compressors power most of the everyday machinery, particularly those found in workshops and construction sites. They can do anything from simple household tasks to heavy industrial tasks.

Let’s ‌look at who uses air compressors.

Consumer compressors

Some compressors are used to serve light tasks specifically around the house. These consumer-grade air compressors are usually small and lightweight.

Household tasks can include:

-Powering air-powered drills for basic woodworking and construction tasks.

-Filling and inflating car and bike tires

-Filling air mattresses

-Filling Inflatable pools and pool toys

And a lot more!

Warning: Never use gas-powered air compressors indoors. This is because gas air compressors release fumes that may be toxic.

Keep your gas air compressor outdoors at all times.

Professional compressors

Professionals like contractors use air compressors on construction sites, especially remote ones with limited access to reliable electricity.

This is because air compressors are extremely dependable to power devices, such as:

Power drills: plumbers use this to hang pipes and drains on the wall.

-Nail guns


-Impact wrenches

Other portable tools used in construction.

Commercial-grade compressors typically have greater durability and overall better quality than consumer-grade compressors. This is because they’re built to perform harder tasks such as road maintenance.

Industrial compressors

Heavy-duty industrial air and gas compressors are by the far the largest, strongest, and most powerful compressors.

Industries consider air compressors an investment. This is because ensuring a high-quality compressed air supply is crucial to maintaining a manufacturing business.

Air compressors are used in a variety of industries, some of which are:

The Food and Beverage Industry

Air compressors are arguably one of the most important machines to have in the food and beverage industry. They’re considered indispensable.

This is because they perform highly important tasks like filtering out contaminated air. This ensures that all food is completely sanitary, preventing health risks.

Food-grade air compressors can also:

-Peel vegetables

-Package food

-Mix food

-Dispense liquids, such as condiments and soft drinks

The Manufacturing Industry

Air compressors are used in every area of the manufacturing industry. This is because most manufacturing machinery requires a steady supply of clean, long-lasting compressed air to operate.

Air compressors, like electricity and water, are considered basic utilities in the manufacturing world.

Let’s take a look at some of the manufacturing businesses that require the use of air compressors and why:

-Mining Industry – To power drilling machinery, operate hoists, and provide ventilation

-Stone, clay, and glass industry – To operate molding machines, pneumatic mixers, blending machines, and glass blowing machines.

-Plastic and rubber industry – To power tools and mold press machinery, and operate injection molding machines.

The Agriculture Industry

Whether small or large, most farming equipment and processes depend on compressed air to function.

As a result, air compressors are a vital piece of equipment in the agriculture sector. They offer increased crop productivity and harvesting efficiency.

Here are some applications for air compressors in agriculture:

-Inflating and filling vehicle, truck, and tractor tires

-Operate water pumps and crop sprayers

-Operate dairy machines

-Offer ventilation for greenhouses

Difference Between a Compressor and a Pump

Most people confuse compressors with pumps. We can see why. However, despite being two fairly similar devices, they have a bunch of differences.

Let’s take a look at the differences between a compressor and a pump.


Compressors are solely used to compress air and certain gasses to increase pressure and potential energy.

Pumps, on the other hand, are used to transport gas and liquids (water, oil, etc) from one place to another at varying heights.


In a pump, the transportation of the fluids to a greater height causes the pressure of the fluids to increase.

However, in a compressor, what makes the pressure and temperature of the fluid increase is the compression process.

-Storage Capacity

All compressors have tanks to store the compressed air until it’s called into use. Pumps, however, don’t have any storage space because they don’t need it.

-The Odds of Pressure Change

The pressure of the fluid inside of a pump may or may not change. However, the compression process will most definitely change the fluid’s pressure.

Wrapping Up

Whether it’s a small business or a heavy industry, they all require the use of compressors. This is because compressors are durable, easy to use, and simply get the job done!

They’re also handy for everyday activities such as filling your tires, blowing up balloons, and operating devices like your AC and fridge!

This begs the question. What is a compressor? We put together this guide for you to find out!