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Refrigerated air dryers are one of the most common ways of ensuring dry air. This is a must for anyone using air tools – since water is the #1 way to quickly corrode and ruin that tool.
But good refrigerant dryers are not cheap. And since they (should) last for decades, it’s important to get the right one.
Below I’ve covered some of the best types of refrigerant air dryers available today. I hope this shortlist will help you get closer to finding the one that’s perfect for your shop.
Don’t use industrial amounts of air? Desiccant air dryers are far cheaper and better for small-scale home use. Check out our full guide to the best desiccant air dryers.
How Does a Refrigerated Air Dryer Work?
Air compressors need to use dry air. Water is threat #1 for your air tools, so removing moisture is crucial.
Cool air can hold less moisture than warm air.
The cooler the air, the dryer it is. (The remaining moisture comes out as liquid, via condensation).
Simply put – these air dryers bring the temperature of our air down to around 3o and ‘squeeze’ the moisture right out of it. All the water condenses on the side of the dryer, and is collected in a bowl at the bottom.
But how does it cool it down?
The same way your fridge works – through refrigeration. We use a liquid ‘refrigerant’ to cool down the warm compressed air. To keep the refrigerant cool it’s compressed by a separate compressor and then put through a condenser to cool before being used to cool down more air.
In the market for an air compressor? We’ve got a well-researched, 4000+ word guide to the quietest air compressors. Check it out!
Best Refrigerated Air Dryers
If you don’t run a large commercial shop, it might be worth considering a JT-Type dryer.
JT stands for Joule-Thompson, the name of the effect of air temperature changing from being forced through a valve or porous plug.
It uses high pressure air (150-175PSI) fed into a chamber, then quickly depressurized in an expansion chamber.
This lower pressure makes the air cool down.
Cooler air can’t hold as much moisture.
The air is forced through a porous wall, which squeezes out the moisture like a sponge. The water collects into drops, and falls down into the bowl below.
The remaining air is then pumped out at a usable workshop pressure; 90-120PSI.
The only downside is that these need to be used with a compressor that can reach incredibly high pressures. At least 175PSI!
These are known as 2-stage compressors, since there is a second part (this dryer) that reduces that extreme pressure into a more usable one.
JT-Type Dryer Recommendation:
JT Series Refrigerated Dryers by Air Options
|Super Quiet||Needs 2-Stage Compressor|
|Much Cheaper||with 175PSI - 200PSI output.|
While there aren’t many JT-Style dryers on the market, there’s thankfully a very good one.
This series by Air Options comes in weighing a little over 22lbs of grey steel.
It’s price tag? Around a quarter of standard refrigerated dryers.
For that huge saving this dryer can still handle incredible amounts of air. There are models available for both 3-5 HP, and 7.5-10 HP compressors. These can move 20 and 40CFM respectively.
But what really sells these are their quality. They’re rated for a lifespan of 30 years, and with no refrigerant to worry about that is a ton of peace of mind.
This is all backed by a massive 5-year warranty. Talk about confidence.
Lastly it’s worth noting that these dryers are completely quiet. There’s no massive power drain and noise generation. It’s just pure air being dried thanks to clever expansions and moisture traps.
Bottom line: these are definitely worth a try if their output fits your needs. Far cheaper and quieter than standard dryers – and you can always return them if they’re not performing for you.
Ingersoll Rand are like the Harley-Davidson of Refrigerated Air Dryers.
Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But hear me out.
They’re built on a great reputation. They’re proudly made in the USA. And their products are great quality.
(For the record, their dryers are fairly quiet and don’t sound like a Harley bike! Maybe I’m stretching this comparison a little hard.)
They’ve also got the most American company advertisement I’ve ever seen:
Their refrigerated air compressor range goes all the way up to 106CFM. They offer plenty of options.
Although their prices are higher, the overall build quality and customer support are top notch.
Including the extra level they have on their controls. Many models come with ‘smart controls’, which let you digitally control the system.
|Great Brand||1-Year Warranty|
|Made in USA||High Price|
|Wide Range of Options|
Ingersoll Rand’s range of compressors are definitely worth checking out.
They’re all USA-focused quality, and that shines through in their major appliances like these dryers.
Shulz produce a massive range of great all-rounder refrigerated air dryers. Cheaper than their competition, they still provide massive quality for a value-focused price tag.
They cover just about every capacity you can think of. They have models rated for 10, 15, 20-25, 35-44, 50-65, 70, 71-86, 100, and 150CFM! There’s one out there for everyone. (The prices, at the time of writing, range from $700-$2000.)
Their dryers are also offered with a pre-filter: a standard 2-stage system of a water separation filter (5 microns), then a coalescing filter (0.01 microns) to dry out the air and remove any oil. THEN the refrigerator handles the heavy-lifting of the complete drying via refrigeration.
Note: if you don’t get the pre-filter package, you do still need to ensure that any water and oil are removed from the air before they enter the dryer.
|Great range of options||1 year warranty|
|Pre-filter option available|
Having the most versatile range in the industry, Shulz offer a quality and powerful set of refrigerated dryers for very fair prices.
The only downside is their simple 1 year warranty, which (in my opinion), isn’t enough for a heavy-duty appliance such as this.
That said, they’re solid dryers that have an option for every type of workshop. They’re a great all-rounder option for any type of industrial or commercial use.
I wanted to add this last refrigerated dryer because, although small, it’s proven to be a good hit.
Hankison offer this smaller, 10CFM only model of a refrigerated air dryer. Weighing around 60lbs, it’s light enough to sit on a wall bracket (which is included).
Despite being limited to 10CFM, it can handle a massive 250PSI and has great performance reviews from satisfied customers.
|Cheap Price||10CFM Only|
|Max of 250PSI||1 Year Warranty|
Definitely worth a look if you only need a 10 CFM model.
Unfortunately they also only offer a 1-year warranty on this model, which is expected for the smaller range and being a company from South Korea.
The ability to mount it on a wall-bracket makes it great for smaller spaces – all for one of the lowest price tags on this list.
Cycling vs Non-Cycling Refrigerated Air Dryers
Refrigerated air dryers come in two kinds: cycling and non cycling.
Simply put – this means where they “cycle” the refrigeration on and off.
Cycling the cooling on and off helps minimize the energy you use, and the wear and tear on your dryer. These are great for lighter use, but are more expensive up front. They’ll eventually pay for themselves, though. Both in energy cost, and in lifespan.
A non-cycling dryer will always be running when you have it on. This is only really worthwhile for cases where your compressor’s also always running – otherwise you’re simply burning up your energy bills. Though they’re cheaper up front, they’ll need more maintenance and replacements.
A good refrigerated air dryer not only gives you super dry air, but also the peace of mind that you’re getting the most out of your air tools.
I hope this article’s helped you get closer to finding the right model for your shop.
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Thanks for reading, and have a great day.