What Is the Function of an Air Compressor Pressure Switch?

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Air compressors are among the most adaptable pieces of equipment available today. HVAC systems, paint shops, pneumatic nail guns, and a variety of other industrial applications rely on compressors. They are available in a variety of sizes, performance specifications, and use-case designs. Nonetheless, they are basically the same and are based on universal principles.

An air compressor’s aim is to deliver compressed gas or air either for storage or immediate usage. An air compressor’s major components are a driver (often an AC motor) that provides compression power, a pressure pump, a buffer or storage tank, inlet and output pipework, and controls. The controls monitor numerous compressor characteristics and serve as an interface for modifying or calibrating operating factors. One of the essential controls is an air compressor pressure switch.

What is a Pressure Switch on an Air Compressor?

This is a key component that is designed to automatically turn the driver ON and OFF during operation in order to maintain constant air pressure at the output. It is a mechanically activated electrical switch. When the output pressure goes below a specific threshold, the switch turns on, and when the pressure rises beyond a given level, the switch turns off.

The switch’s ON/OFF function begins and stops the driver, and hence the pressure pump. The objective for having an adaptive switching mechanism is to guarantee that the compressor runs within safe limits, and the output pressure stays relevant and helpful to the specific application.

What exactly is the Unloader Valve?

A reciprocating or positive displacement compressor pump employs piston motions to compress air. It’s critical to understand why an air compressor unloader valve is required in reciprocating compressors owing to the driver’s ON/OFF switching.

When the driver shuts down, the compression pump shuts down as well, leaving the pistons stuck in their locations within the cylinders. Within the cylinders, the pistons may trap pockets of compressed air. This pressure pounds the driver when it is idle, making restarting difficult, if not impossible. When the driver pauses, the air compressor unloader valve opens to relieve the built-up pressure in the pump, preparing the pressure chamber for a fresh compression phase.

What Is the Function of an Air Compressor Switch?

Pressure switches are available in a variety of models and kinds. The design’s adaptability, intricacy, and functionality are heavily influenced by the switch’s application and suitable compressor. However, the basic operation of an air compressor switch is pretty obvious and easy to grasp. Each switch is made up of the following parts:

Terminals and Contacts

Contacts are metallic strips that terminate at bolted-connector terminals, which are attached to the driver’s power lines or switching controls. When the contacts make contact, the circuit connected to the terminals closes and the driver turns on. When the contacts separate, the driver shuts off.


The diaphragm consists of a flexible rubber membrane that pulls up or down depending on the pressure within the compressor. The diaphragm’s movement compels the contacts to either separate or touch.

Adjustment Spring

The adjustable spring modifies the low and high pressure limitations for turning the switch ON and OFF.

Unloader Valve/Pressure Release Valve

The unloader may be situated on the switch’s side or bottom. When the air compressor switch is tripped, the valve releases any trapped pressure between the check valve and the pump. This valve performs a similar function to the unloader valve explained above.

What is the difference between cut-in and cut-out pressure settings?

Compressor switches allow the output pressure to change within a specified range. The cut-in pressure is the lowest pressure value that causes an ON state, whereas the cut-out pressure is the greatest pressure value that causes an OFF state.

The range between the cut-in and cut-out pressure is known as the differential. You may adjust the cut-in pressure on any switch as long as it is within the capacity of the switch. But some switches have an adjustable difference, while others have a set differential often in the range of 0.8 to 1 bar.

Setting the cut-in pressure is only a matter of turning the adjuster knob or screw in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, depending on the model. Switches with adjustable differentials feature a secondary screw or knob for adjusting the range, which determines the cut-out pressure.

What Do You Do if Your Air Compressor Pressure Switch Is Leaking?

The most prevalent problem with air compressor switches is leaking. If you see any air escaping around the switch, determine if the leak occurs all of the time or only during the compressor’s ON or OFF phases to help narrow down the problem.

If air is constantly leaking from the switch, the diaphragm may be worn out or punctured. You can change the diaphragm and stop the leak with a few switches. However, most switches are not designed with disassembly in mind, and it could be difficult to find new components anyhow. In this scenario, replacing the faulty switch is significantly easier.

If the switch only leaks when the compressor is working, the unloader valve is most likely the source of the problem. The seal on the valve may wear down with time, resulting in leakage. Again, depending on the switch, you may be able to replace the valve, but in most cases, you will need to purchase a new switch entirely.

Another usual occurrence is when the switch leaks continually while the compressor is turned off. Although this might be an issue with the unloader valve, in most situations, the check valve fails to maintain internal pressure, leading the unloader valve to constantly relieve pressure from the tank rather than the discharge system.

Diagnosing pressure switch leaks is all about determining where the leak is coming from on the switch by noting the condition of the compressor when the leak occurs.

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