How does an Air Compressor Work

An air compressor at home does a lot of handiwork. Inflating flat tires, dry cleaning air conditioner filters, and driving through nails are some of the wonders it does. That’s why any shop or home makes sure they have a fully functioning air compressor.

Before, repair shops utilized a central energy reservoir to operate other equipment, machines, and even smaller tools. But, with an air compressor, they do not need to waste energy manipulating mechanically-operated tools. Hence, even if technology has a lot of advancements, nothing gets old keeping an air compressor. 

Interestingly, it makes us wonder how this machine could work. What mechanisms and processes does it utilize compressed air in many ways? Find out as you continue reading below. 

rv air compressor
Credits to: The Rv Geeks

How did the Concept of Air compressor begin?

Historically, compressing air began when early civilizations discovered and realized the function of the human lungs. Ancient people had been amazed by how they can extinguish a fire by just forcefully blowing it.

Eventually, these people engaged in metallurgy, and most people worked as metalsmiths or blacksmiths. In their industry, they need hot air to melt and liquefy metals, such as silver and gold, to turn them into ornaments or utensils. 

Not only that, but they also need air to cool metals after the molding process. In doing so, they realized it was challenging to melt and cool metals by just breathing. The human lungs can only generate a minuscule amount of air compared to modern-day air compressors.

Therefore, the need to improvise and devise ways emerged to produce more robust, hotter air conveniently and efficiently. 

Air Compressor: What is it?

An air compressor pumps air, converts it into air pressure, and utilizes the reinforced energy by discharging it. Energy sources ranged from diesel, gasoline, or an electronic motor to run this power converter machine. 

Also, the best air compressors for RV come in many types for various purposes, whether in more prominent industries or at home. These types are the single or dual-phase piston or rotary screw, non-oil or oil-lubricated, and one-speed or varying-speed kinds of compressors.

Interestingly, each type has different mechanisms and processes to compress air pressure. Bottom line, the pressured air has a lot of use, which may benefit various industries and household chores.

What are the essential parts of an Air Compressor?

Knowing the parts and their function could enlighten us on how it works. These parts are the drive, pump, and tank. 

It is the drive that generates power to suck in air and pressurize it. As mentioned, electricity, batteries, diesel, or gasoline are the typical energy sources. 

Secondly, the pump is responsible for converting the electric energy to compress air. It could be a piston type, rotary screw, or rotary vane. As a result, the compressed air stores up into the tank, readily available when used. 

While there are many air compressors, these essential parts or the function it serves, are present in all varieties.  

How does the entire process occur?

The mechanism behind the air compressor technology is converting potential energy into kinetic through operating a device through electrical power. This process works differently among various types of air compressors.

Piston Air Compressor

piston air compressor
Credits to: indiamart

Whether using a single or dual-phase for a piston type, the process goes like a vehicle’s piston. The cylinder attached to a rod, valve-head, and shaft is the essential thing to remember.

The piston acts as a pump so that the rod and cylinder could suck air and undergo compression as it enters the first valve. It creates a vacuum by decreasing the air pressure above space until it gets through the bottom of the cylinder. 

When air pressure reaches the bottom, the valve closes to block atmospheric air from coming in. Then, the piston allows the air to return so that the compression would take place as the air comes out through the second valve. The process continues as it reaches the air pressure limit. Hence, the stored compressed air is ready for usage.  

Piston air compressors are likely suitable as nailers and sprayers of paint.

Rotary Screw Air Compressor

rotary screw compressor sketch
Credits to: The Work Shop Compressor

In contrast, the process is entirely different in air compressors that use rotary screws with a compositely-covered impeller instead of a piston. In this type, the air sucks through the middle, which allows the rotation of the impeller. 

Consequently, the spinning of the impeller pressurizes the air coming in. The compression happens when the air comes out. However, unlike piston air compressors, rotary screw versions do not have a first or second valve acting as an on and off switch. 

Painting cars is a perfect task for rotary screw air compressors. 

Rotary Vane Air Compressor

rotary vane air compressor
Credits to: Detergents And Soaps

Rotary vane air compressors find similarities with rotary screw types. However, both work differently as the rotary vane uses asymmetrical rotors. 

These rotors, or helical screws as it appears, are responsible for compressing air pressure—the unique design of the rotors to rotate oppositely even in very close clearance. 

In addition, the rotors have two cooling jackets covering them and two shafts that facilitate the transfer and timing of the motion. This rotor motion pushes the air that gets stuck from side to side.

Luckily, this type of compressor has a lot of use, especially in dental clinics, automotive and repair shops, beverages, and dry cleaning. Plus, it is oil-free.   


To summarize, air compressor mechanisms are about storing air and applying pressure to conserve significant amounts of potential energy to create powerful kinetic energy when in use. It is like making a manual pump stronger so that you can inflate flat tires faster and firmer. 

Fortunately, many air compressors are depending on usage complexities, whether for industrial or home chores. Nevertheless, compressed air has a lot of use in many jobs like the dental cleaner, dry and water cleaner, beverage dispenser, metal melter and cooler, tire inflator, 

On the surface, people may find the underlying mechanisms and processes of an air compressor complicated. But knowing that the human lungs were the inspiration for this unique technology makes it understandable.  

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