In the day-to-day operations of many businesses, compressed air is an essential utility.

When it comes to choosing which one to utilise for your application, you will most likely come across both screw air compressors and reciprocating air compressors. These are the two most common compressed air systems, so in order to decide which one would be best for you, we have detailed a comparison between them both.

Screw Air Compressor

How It Works

A rotary screw compressor has two helical screws, often referred to as rotors, which rotate towards each other. Atmospheric air enters the compressor and is guided through to the chamber; it is then continually compressed as the rotors turn.

How Often Can You Use It?

A rotary screw compressor is suitable for continuous operation, so you can let it run for 24 hours a day. The operating temperature is reduced to 80-99°C, due to the little amount of friction and the oil or lubricant used, which makes this possible.

Screw Air Compressor Power

A rotary screw compressor can have a horsepower of up to 200HP.

Maintenance Requirements

A rotary screw compressor only has two moving parts which do not cause any friction, which means that there is limited wear to the mechanism and no need for regular replacements. No friction is also due to the oil lubrication that is provided, so the only routine maintenance that is required is the changing of oil filters, air/oil separators, and making sure oil levels are the optimum level. They often last up to 10 years which means they are reliable and cost-effective.


Due to the large amount of horsepower, a rotary screw air compressor is better suited to large industrial applications rather than lower volume use. They are the most efficient choice for commercial applications, offering the best value for money.

Reciprocating Air Compressor

How It Works

A reciprocating air compressor, also known as a piston air compressor, works by using the motion of a piston to generate and compress air. The piston is driven by a crankshaft and, as the piston moves down, the atmospheric air is pumped into the tank through an inlet valve. As the piston moves back up, it compresses the air and guides it through the discharge valve into the storage tank.

How Often Can You Use It?

A reciprocating air compressor generates heat between 150-200°C which means that it can only be used intermittently to avoid overheating. This is because of the high number of moving parts: crankshaft (driven by either an electric motor or gas engine), a connecting rod and piston, a cylinder and a valve head.

Reciprocating Air Compressor Power

A reciprocating air compressor can have a horsepower of up to 30HP.

Maintenance Requirements

A reciprocating air compressor has many more moving parts which means there is more likely to be wear and tear if you do not carry out regular maintenance. Always make sure that each part is of good quality to avoid expensive repairs.


Due to the small amount of horsepower, a reciprocating air compressor is more suitable for lower volume use rather than industrial. They are the most efficient choice for lighter use applications, offering the best value for money.

Air compressor Advice from Air Power East

When deciding between screw or reciprocating air compressors, you need to focus on your requirements; duty cycle, power, maintenance and energy efficiency, as well as the initial cost. If you work in a large industrial environment, a rotary screw compressor would be better suited for you and if you work in a smaller workshop, a reciprocating air compressor would be the best choice for you.

If you would like any more information or advice on which compressed air system would be better for your application, don’t hesitate to give us a call today.

Related Posts

March 25, 2024


What is a Piston Compressor?

Piston compressors, also known as reciprocating compressors, are probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think...

Compressed Air Servicing

March 4, 2024


Do Air Compressors Need to Be Serviced?

Just like any other equipment you may work with in any kind of industry, it’s always important to get...

pneumatic air tools

January 31, 2024


Are Pneumatic Air Tools Better Than Electric?

In nearly every industry sector, electric tools and pneumatic air tools are used. Manufacturers will often prioritise reducing costs...