Use this comprehensive guide to compressed air hoses to select the right hose for all of your needs — from auto body painting to powering dental tools.

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Choosing the best air hose for your industrial compressor system can feel challenging, with a plethora of options designed to fulfill different purposes. How can you determine whether a neoprene hose is better than a polyurethane hose, or whether a recoil hose is better than a standard? Use these guidelines to ensure you make an informed decision in choosing an air hose that’s efficient, reliable, and suitable for your applications.

When to Replace Your Existing Hose

There are a number of reasons that would require you to upgrade your current air hose. If you plan to use different equipment and do not have a hose that’s compatible with this equipment, upgrading will allow you to get more out of your compressor and enable a broader range of applications. If, on the other hand, there’s a defect in your current hose, replacing your hose should be a top priority.

Common defects that will necessitate hose replacement include: a damaged fitting or connector, a cut or puncture in the tubing or an air leak, an irreparable kink or twist, premature wear caused by exceedingly cold or dry air, seepage caused by high pressure.

Eventually, even if your hose has not suffered any obvious defects, you will need to replace it. Industrial air hoses generally have a service life between five and ten years. However, your hose may experience significant wear before that time, and its longevity depends on a number of factors, such as product quality, material, frequency of use, and the quality and frequency of maintenance.

Quality Considerations

When purchasing a new air hose, users should consider the length and diameter needed, ideal material for specific applications, and whether a standard or recoil hose better suits their needs.

Length

When deciding on the ideal hose length, first consider your applications. If you’re an automotive body shop professional, you may be moving around large vehicles throughout the day and require a long, highly maneuverable hose. If you’re woodworking with an air drill at the same bench all day, you’ll likely require a much shorter hose.

What’s more, a number of hoses are designed with connectors for owners to customize the length of their hose by connecting one hose to another. If you need to extend your hose’s reach, it’s more prudent to use a longer hose as standard hose couplings are not full-bore and create restrictions that can result in pressure loss that can stall your tool.

Your goal should always be to strike a balance between mobility and low pressure losses. Pressure losses accelerate along the length of a hose, meaning the longer the hose, the more pressure is lost as compressed air travels to its final destination.

Diameter

Air hoses are measured by their internal diameter (ID), and come in standard sizes of ¼”, ⅜” or ½” or metric sizes of 6mm, 8mm, or 10mm. Since higher ID correlates to higher air capacity, selecting your ideal air hose diameter requires an understanding of the CFM needs of your air tools.

Handheld nailers, for example, often run on low CFM — between 1 and 3 — and thus don’t often require a hose with larger than a 6mm ID. Tools operating above 6 CFM are better suited for 8- to 10mm hoses.

Keep in mind that air tools list “average” flow ratings which speak more to how you use the tool than to the actually unrestricted air volume it can pass.  Issues that result in inadequate pressure at the tool usually are borne by the combination of hose bore size, coupling bore size and length.

Material

The material of which an air hose is made will affect its weight, performance, longevity, and flexibility, so it’s crucial to understand the differences in materials before making a decision to purchase a new hose.

Nylon is light, transportable, and affordable, making it ideal for many in-home applications. However, nylon performs poorly in cold weather and is far less durable than other hose materials, susceptible to kinks, bends, and quickened wear.

Neoprene is thick, heavy, highly dependable, and suitable for medium- to heavy-duty agricultural, industrial, and home applications. It is naturally resistant to kinks and cuts, lying flat at all times. Neoprene hoses generally come with a higher price tag than nylon hoses and perform well in temperatures down to -4°F.

Polyurethane, while not as flexible as neoprene, is light and transportable, as well as durable and well-suited for high-pressure applications. Since it is susceptible to kinks, it is a better material for recoil rather than standard hoses. Hoses of polyurethane perform well in temperatures down to -22° F, and are generally good investments thanks to their longevity and performative excellence.

Standard vs. Recoil

Standard hoses lie flat, and can be stored by loosely wrapping it or by mounting it on a hose reel. Alternatively, recoil hoses are designed like traditional telephone cords in tight, tense coils that retract when released, compressing for easy storage.

Selecting either a standard or recoil air hose is largely up to user preference and individual application. Manufacturing plants, for instance, often prefer recoil hoses since they take up less space and can be quickly and easily stored, so they are never at risk of interfering with other processes. Many auto body shops opt for standard hoses, especially for painting applications, since the resistance of a recoil hose may feel limiting in terms of mobility.

Determining Fittings

Most should already come with the right fittings, but if you're choosing, remember to choose high quality “full flow”  fittings that mitigate air losses and are properly suited for your application. Reliable, strong fittings ensure both safety and efficiency when using your compressed air hose.

Ultimately, the best compressed air hose is the one that’s right for the job. If you have questions about when to replace your hose, or which material, sizing options, or style are right for your needs, your distributor can help you decide which hose is best.

Topics: Air Compressor, Compressor 101

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