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Understanding Air Compressor SCFM vs. CFM


Understanding Air Compressor SCFM vs. CFM

Understanding Air Compressor SCFM vs. CFM

SCFM and CFM are both pivotal measures indicating the airflow rate in a compressor. Both values provide insights into how effective an air compressor might be for various tasks, but understanding their nuances is crucial for making the right decision.

What’s the Difference Between SCFM vs. CFM?

SCFM stands for Standard Cubic Feet per Minute and represents the volume of air under standardized conditions of pressure, temperature, and humidity. On the other hand, CFM, which is Cubic Feet per Minute, indicates the real-time volume of air flow without any standard reference conditions.

Factors affecting

  • Temperature and Pressure: SCFM values are derived considering specific conditions of temperature and pressure, making them standardised. CFM, however, is measured under varying conditions.
  • Volume: Due to the standard conditions considered for SCFM, its value tends to be higher than CFM, where higher pressures often mean smaller volumes.
  • Application Suitability: CFM values directly reflect the air compressor’s internal capacity, whereas SCFM gives an indication of how a standardly pressurised gas will perform at end-point applications.

Parameters of Comparison

Full formCubic Feet per MinuteStandard Cubic Feet per Minute
StandardisationNo standard conditionsStandard volume, pressure, and temperature
MeasurementCalculated at high pressure, resulting in smaller numbersCalculated at lower pressure, often larger than CFM
IndicationRelevant to internal capacity of an air compressorShows how gas, standardized to a value, performs in applications

How to Calculate the CFM of an Air Compressor

Determining the CFM of an air compressor involves a series of steps that center around the compressor’s tank volume, refill time, and pressure differences:

  1. Identify the volume of the air compressor tank (usually mentioned by the manufacturer).
  2. Divide the tank volume by 7.48 to get your tank’s volume in cubic feet.
  3. Document the time taken to refill the compressor while noting the PSI at the start (PSI 1) and end (PSI 2).
  4. Calculate the pressure difference: PSI 2 – PSI 1, and adjust it based on atmospheric pressure.
  5. Multiply the adjusted pressure with the tank volume.
  6. Convert this value to a per-minute basis by dividing by the refill time and multiplying by 60.

Additional Air Compressor Ratings to Consider

While CFM and SCFM are crucial, several other ratings impact the efficiency and suitability of an air compressor:

  • PSI: Indicates the pressure forced through a compressor.
  • Horsepower (HP): Measures the motor efficiency at specific CFM and PSI levels.
  • Duty Cycle: Represents the on/off operational cycle of the compressor.
  • Gallons: Refers to the storage capacity, with larger sizes usually delivering extended performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which is better CFM or SCFM?

The CFM rating of an air compressor will always be lower than its SCFM rating due to measurement at usually less than 90 PSI. For appropriate comparisons between different compressors, using SCFM is preferred since it adheres to a standard set of conditions.

2. What is a good SCFM for air compressor?

Smaller tools typically need 0-5 SCFM, while bigger tools might require 10 SCFM or more. It’s advisable to check the SCFM requirements of the tools you plan to use and consider a buffer by multiplying the highest tool rating by 1.5 to determine the minimum compressor SCFM needed.

3. Is higher SCFM better?

A compressor with a higher CFM or SCFM can deliver more air, but a high CFM/SCFM rating doesn’t necessarily imply superior air compression. It merely suggests the compressor is suitable for more extensive setups.

4. Is higher CFM better air compressor?

A higher CFM signifies that the compressor can produce more air at a specific pressure level. However, it’s essential to select a compressor whose output aligns with your requirements, ensuring efficiency and avoiding potential issues.


To determine your CFM needs, identify the air requirements of all tools you intend to use, tally the total, and multiply by 1.5.


Deciphering SCFM and CFM can feel like navigating a labyrinth, but with the right knowledge, the journey becomes clear. Remember, it’s not about the biggest or most powerful compressor, but the one tailored to your needs. By understanding these metrics, you’re one step closer to making an informed decision.

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Shaleen Ashish

Shaleen is a Journalism postgraduate, and like every other gen-z, loves a good dose of humor, Italian food, fashion trends, and TV series. She is an acomplished author and expert in the field of air compressors. Shaleen discovered her passion for technical products and gadgets early in life, which drove her research and write about it.

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