A small portable compressor is always handy to have around. You may need to inflate a yoga ball, a swimming pool rings, or even in case of an emergency. For example, you may need to top up the air pressure for your car or bike tires.
You’ll need a power source for the air compressor but may not have a wall outlet connected to the grid available, for example if you’re on the road. So can you use an inverter to run it? And if so, what size (watts) of inverter do you need for a small air compressor?
To find out what size of inverter you can use to power a small portable air compressor, and how else you can power it besides using an inverter, read on.
Can You Run a Compressor on an Inverter?
Yes, you can run a compressor off an inverter without any degradation in the performance of the compressor or damage to the inverter. The inverter capacity (watts) should be suitably selected to handle the compressor power draw at the start and when running continuously for the compressor to run well and to avoid damage to the inverter.
You need to decide if you need to run other electrical appliances off the inverter at the same time as the compressor and factor that into the inverter capacity sizing.
Note: The information provided below considers the small compressor only. The inverter size should be increased if you plan to run other appliances simultaneously.
What Size of Inverter (watts) for a Small Compressor?
This depends on the amp draw of the small compressor. For a small portable air compressor with an estimated power consumption of 120 watts or amp draw of 1 amp at 120V, consider using a 500-watt inverter or greater. It can handle up to 3 times the estimated surge current of the compressor.
Note: This is only a guide, check the air compressor power requirements for your specific model and accordingly select a suitable inverter size. The inverter size should be able to handle both the continuous and surge power rating of the air compressor.
Pure Sinewave or Modified Sinewave
Preferably use a pure sine wave inverter to power the inverter. Appliances with motors can run hotter than usual and noisily when connected to a modified sine wave inverter. With that said, some users have reportedly run a portable air compressor off a modified sine wave inverter without any degradation in performance or overheating of the compressor.
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Car Cigarette Lighter Socket – Can you Use it to Power an Inverter with a Small Air Compressor?
A standard cigarette lighter socket may only be able to handle a power draw of up to 120-180 watts, equivalent to 10-15 amp draw at 12V. Therefore, always check the power requirements of the air compressor and confirm that they are within the limits of the cigarette lighter socket.
A small portable air compressor with a power consumption of 120 watts or 10 amps at 12V should be wired directly to the battery with suitably sized wiring (and note through a cigarette lighter socker) or else you risk overloading the wiring and blowing the fuses.
Alternative Ways to Power a Small Portable Air Compressor
1. Use a Car Battery
Besides using an inverter battery solution to power the small compressor, you may be able to plug it into a cigarette lighter socket (for really capacity compressors). Confirm that it is safe to do this though.
2. Use a compressor with a rechargeable battery pack
Some small compressors have portable battery packs. Could this be a good option for you?
3. Use an inverter generator
For compressors with a large power draw consider using an inverter generator solution.
Yes, you can run an air compressor off an inverter. Make sure though that the inverter is sized well enough to handle the small air compressors’ surge and continuous power draw.
A small portable compressor with a power draw of 120 watts at 120V can be powered off a 500-watt inverter or larger. Preferably use a pure sine wave inverter.