Air Supply UK: Specialist Compressed Air Engineers

Published: 04/10/2022

Advantages and disadvantages of reciprocating air compressors

Reciprocating air compressors are a positive displacement device used in many industrial applications. They are sometimes also referred to as piston compressors as gases are compressed by the machine due to the reciprocating motion of the pistons. The suction valve draws in the air by creating a vacuum, in the cylinder the pistons move in a reciprocating motion to begin the compression. Once the pressure in the cylinder is higher than the pressure in the discharge pipe, the air is released into the storage tank via the discharge valve.

The types of reciprocating air compressors

There are four different types of compressors to choose from. The types are, single-acting, double-acting, single-stage, and double-stage. 

A single-acting air compressor is where the compression takes place in just one side of the piston.

A double-acting air compressor is where the compression takes place on both sides of the piston. On each stroke of the piston both suction and compression take place.

A single-stage air compressor is where there is only one cylinder. In the one cylinder the air compression takes place by each movement of the piston. The initial movement sucks in the air, and the second movement compresses it. 

A double-stage air compressor has two cylinders. In the first cylinder the air is partially compressed and then pushed into the second cylinder. In the second cylinder the air is further compressed before being moved to the storage tank.

For full information on each of the types of compressors take a look at our blog on “The types of reciprocating air compressors”.

The advantages of reciprocating air compressors

Although there are four different types of compressors, they tend to have the same advantages due to producing the same results.

Used to produce higher pressure gases

Unlike rotary screw compressors, reciprocating air compressors can produce high pressured gases up to 30.000 PSI. They can also be used for climate control applications that require 60-90 PSI. This means that reciprocating air compressors have an overall flexible use.


Reciprocating air compressors are available in both oil-flooded and oil-free varieties, meaning you will not need to be constricted by possible oil contamination from oil-flooded versions. 

The choices of the base for the machine helps the placement position. You can choose from either tank mounted or base mounted. This can be really helpful when thinking of where the compressor will go in your business.

As mentioned above, they can be used for a variety of different pressure types as well.

High efficiency

A reciprocating air compressor typically needs less energy to run whilst being able to produce high pressure gases. This makes the machines extremely efficient and great for applications where intermittent use with high pressure is required. However, this can result in the machine working better for intermittent supply of compressed air rather than continuous. 


Reciprocating air compressors are relatively durable and have low maintenance costs. Depending on the type of compressor – single-acting being the cheapest – a compressor can be a good and low cost investment. Due to their durability this results in the machine having a significant product life, meaning you shouldn’t need to keep replacing and upgrading.

The disadvantages of reciprocating air compressors

Although there are a few good advantages to reciprocating air compressors compared to other machines such as rotary compressors, there are also a few drawbacks to be aware of.


Reciprocating air compressors, especially double-stage compressors, can be quite large. This can be an issue for smaller industry applications. It can be difficult to find an appropriate space for such a machine, as well as a stable concrete surface to place it on.

Noise pollution

Each reciprocating air compressor has a very high noise pollution. Ear protective equipment will need to be worn at all times when around the machine to reduce the risk of damaging the ears. They also let off lots of vibrations which can cause unstable and weaker surfaces to crack and become damaged. For this reason the machine needs to be placed on a hard stable surface such as concrete that can withstand the vibrations.

Not able to self-regulate

One of the main drawbacks of a reciprocating air compressor is that it cannot self-regulate its own capacity against a given output pressure. This means that the machine will continue to displace the compressed gas until told to stop. If you are wanting a certain amount of compressed air, you will simply have to keep an eye on the machine as it will continue past this point.


The compressed air outlet temperature of reciprocating air compressors is very high. This can be a hazard and an issue for smaller spaces.


There are always advantages and disadvantages to any machinery. However once you have been made aware of these it’s easier to decide which product will be easier for you to handle and more efficient in your industry. Reciprocating air compressors have a lot of good advantages, but if you wish to find out more or have any questions on them we have not answered already, please get in touch today and we will be happy to help!



You may also be interested in some of our other blogs:

© Air Supply Ltd 1995 – 2024 | View our Cookie Policy | Company number: 4514029 | VAT number: GB929641690

Website createdfor Air Supply UK