A Guide to Choosing the Right Size Commercial Retractable Air Hose Reel

April 25, 2024

Downtime and delays often occur when the equipment isn’t suitable for a project. Choosing the right size air hose and retractable reel for pneumatic tools is crucial to avoid issues. Factors like the hose diameter, airflow needs, distance, and environmental conditions should be considered when selecting the best commercial retractable air hose reel.

Considerations When Purchasing a Retractable Air Hose Reel

Selecting an air hose reel is about more than just size. While retractable reels aid in pneumatic housing organization, other crucial factors come into play. Many overlook the key considerations when choosing the best retractable air hose reel. Factors like application, environmental conditions, media flow, operating pressure, and various dynamics should all be considered.

Aspects influencing the choice of retractable air hose reels should include: 

  • Application: The purpose for which it’s used will define pressures, flow rates, and flexibility of an air hose reel; retractable mechanisms also may require more robust materials and design if usage will be of a heavy-duty nature.
  • Delivery system: The distance the pressurized air or other gas must travel affects flow rates, so considerations should be made concerning restriction to the flow and losses of friction to make the delivery most efficient. 
  • Ends:  Certain applications may require specific types of fittings that match the size of the hosing on the ends, like connectors or couplings.
  • Environment: Besides temperature, environmental conditions like chemical exposure or ultraviolet radiation may be particularly important for an air hose; retractable reels also may be required to be more robust if it needs to withstand these conditions as well.
  • Fittings: These must be compatible with and match the hose size perfectly; otherwise, connectors and other fittings are likely to leak, which will then reduce the pressure within the system.
  • Flexibility: Pneumatic hosing should be able to bend without kinking, with certain applications requiring more flexibility than others.
  • Flow Rates: The diameter is most often what allows for differing flow rates in air hoses; smaller air hoses tend to restrict flow, whereas larger diameter hoses tend to decrease pressure.
  • Material: Because different applications require various levels of abrasion, chemical, and thermal resistance, the material of which the air hose and retractable reel are made should be carefully considered.
  • Media: Many other gasses can be used in a retractable air hose reel, though they may be more abrasive or corrosive than pressurized air; if retractable air hose reels must handle gasses that are flammable or explosive in nature, greater consideration should be made to the material of which the hosing is made to keep it from leaking. 
  • Pressure: The pressure under which pneumatic hosing can operate is important to know, as there are specifications on pressure ranges for each type of air hose; retractable reels for pneumatic hose should also be able to accommodate the length and diameter of pneumatic hose to protect it from damage, as well as to promote better performance and safety.
  • Temperature: This refers to the temperature of the air or other media passing through the air hose. Retractable reel and housing material often have limitations on the temperature at which they can be used, and exceeding this can cause failure of the air hose or retractable reel. Higher temperatures may lead to pneumatic hose bursting or leaking, while lower temperatures may make hose material brittle, causing it to crack.

Although all these considerations are important, the material out of which a retractable air hose reel is made and its sizing – both length and diameter – are the most important aspects that should be contemplated.

Best Material for Air Hose & Retractable Reel

Rubber, PVC, and polyurethane are commonly used materials in air hoses. Retractable reels are typically crafted from plastic composites, metal alloys, or fiberglass, with the hose material being of greater importance. 

Rubber is favored for air hoses due to its abrasion resistance and minimal kinking. It is a reliable choice for agricultural, industrial, and professional settings, offering durability at a reasonable cost. However, its performance diminishes in extremely cold conditions below -4°F (-20°C).

PVC, while cost-effective, can crimp and curl and is lighter than rubber. It is preferred for applications where mobility is key, though it falters in temperatures below 23°F (-5°C).

Polyurethane, though less flexible, is well-suited for retractable air hose reels. It is lightweight like PVC, offering easy transport and performing well in cold weather, enduring temperatures below -22°F (-30°C). While slightly pricier than PVC, its durability and cost-effectiveness make it a popular choice for various applications.

Determining the Best Size for an Air Hose & Retractable Reel

When it comes to pneumatic equipment performance, the key consideration is sizing the air hose correctly. Retractable reels for pneumatic use need the right hose size for optimal functionality. Choose reels capable of handling the necessary flowrate and pressure to maintain peak tool performance and safety.

Five steps should be followed when selecting an air hose: 

  • Calculate airflow requirements: Identifying how much airflow is required for pneumatics is normally measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or cubic meters per minute (m³/min). The airflow will differ depending on the application, though a pneumatic tool’s user manual will show its airflow requirements.
  • Check air compressor output: As with the pneumatic tool, an air compressor will have its maximum output in its user manual in either CFM or m³/min.
  • Calculate the air hose size: Retractable reels require a hose size equal to the required airflow divided by the compressor’s output in CFM or m³/min. Slightly larger housing sizes offer greater flexibility and better retractable air hose reel performance.
  • Consider the length of the air hose: Retractable reels must easily accommodate the hose’s length. Longer hose lengths and larger diameters generally lower pressure levels, so length must be considered to provide stable air pressure.
  • Compare sizing: Once the necessary values have been determined, these should be compared with the tool’s airflow requirements and air compressor’s output before making a final choice on the retractable air hose reel.

How do I know what size air hose to buy? 

To determine air hose size:

  • Calculate the tool’s airflow requirements in CFM or m³/min.
  • Check compressor outputs in CFM or m³/min.
  • Air hose size = tool CFM/compressor CFM.
  • Consider hose length compared to diameter.
  • Compare findings against manuals or other reputable sources.

How to Size Air Hose for Retractable Reels

Retractable air hose reels should accommodate pneumatic housing that meets the compressor’s pressure rating and airflow requirements for tool operation. Diameter, length, compatibility with accessories, the compressor, and the tool are key considerations when selecting a compressor air hose.


Pneumatic hoses come in various sizes, determined by both their inside diameter (ID) and outside diameter (OD). The OD measures the circumference on the outer part of the hose, including its material, while the ID refers to the passage for air inside. The OD can vary based on the hose material.

In the United States, air hose reel sizes are commonly measured in fractions of an inch like ½, ⅜, or ¼ inch (equivalent to 12.7, 9.525, or 6.35 mm), which represent the ID size. The ½ or ⅜ inch (12.7 or 9.525 mm) hoses are suited for tasks needing high airflow. Conversely, outside the US, retractable air hoses typically have IDs of 10, 8, or 6 mm (equivalent to 0.393701, 0.314961, or 0.23622 inch).

There are key guidelines to consider when selecting an air hose reel for workplaces. As the CFM (cubic feet per minute) of pneumatic tools increases, opt for retractable hosing with a larger diameter. For instance, tools like nail guns or spray guns, typically using 1 to 3 CFM (0.028316847 to 0.084950541 m³/min), are best paired with an ¼ inch (6.35 mm) retractable air hose. Conversely, heavy-duty tools like impact wrenches, requiring 6 CFM (0.169901082 m³/min) or more, call for larger reels. Remember, the hose diameter also impacts the overall weight of the retractable air hose reel.


The length of the air hose for retractable reels affects the functionality and performance of pneumatic tools. While a 150-foot (45.72 m) might allow workers to reach everywhere they need, it’s not the added bulk and weight that makes it most imprudent. Rather, the longer the hose is used, the more air pressure is lost en route.

The application for which it’s used will often affect the length of the retractable air hose. Reels for pneumatic housing would need to be longer, for example, where a pneumatic spray gun is used to paint cars throughout a large workshop than a pneumatic sander used at a single workstation in a factory. When choosing the best length for a retractable air hose, reels used to power pneumatic tools should balance maneuverability against air pressure loss.   

What size air hose is best?

Common applications per air hose ID:

  • ¼-inch housing suit DIY tasks and portable compressors.
  • ⅜-inch hosing suit general tasks that aren’t too heavy-duty.
  • ½-inch hosing works well with pneumatic tools requiring high CFM, along with larger compressors or machinery.
  • ¾-inch hosing is largely for heavy-duty applications with higher airflow requirements.

To learn more about the best-size retractable air hose reel for your application, contact the reel experts at Alert Reel.