Best Size Air Compressor For Auto Detailing: What You Need & Why

An air compressor may not be the first tool you think of when thinking about auto detailing. You probably think of a vacuum cleaner and microfiber cloths. Perhaps some brushes for the interior and wax for the exterior of the vehicle. However, having an air compressor can actually save you a ton of time when detaining cars. Whether you want it to clean your own vehicles or you have a detailing business, a compressor is a must-have for auto detailing. But what kind of compressor do you need? And what size is best?

Compressor size is only one factor determining best use in auto detailing. Depending on the tools you use, you can get away with using fairly small compressors, between 10 and 15 gallons. If detailing is the most demanding thing you’ll be doing, a small but powerful compressor is best. 

Do You Need a Compressor for Auto Detailing?

While you can probably get by without an air compressor for auto detailing, having one will save you time and help keep your customers happy. Without an air compressor, you will find it difficult to get dirt, dust, and hair out of those hard-to-reach places, such as seat runners, upholstery cracks, and a variety of other crevasses present in every vehicle. 

Most vacuum attachments can’t reach far enough into these places to suck up the dirt. So you may find yourself using toothbrushes to try and get dirt out of these small areas. Plus, with a compressor, you can offer to fill tires for an extra fee. You can also use a compressor to clean out dirt and debris from the engine compartment, the grille, and from around windows and mirrors. 

Some compressor tools work with a cleaning solution to help you get stains out of upholstery and tough spots off the vehicle’s exterior. 

What Air Tools Are Used for Auto Detailing? 

There are a few air tools you’ll need to be familiar with to determine the kind of compressor that will work for you. Different air tools have different requirements as far as CFM and PSI. Here are the most common air tools used for auto detailing. 

The most impressive detailing air tools require a CFM (cubic feet per minute) flow rate of around 5 at 90 PSI (pounds per square inch). This means that any compressor you get needs to deliver at least this much air for the tools to work adequately. But that’s not the only thing to consider. Let’s take a look at the factors you do need to look at when searching for an air compressor to use for car detailing. 

Compressor Factors to Consider for Auto Detailing

While size is certainly a factor to consider, there are many other factors worth considering when looking at air compressors. These include CFM and PSI, as mentioned above. Noise levels are also something to consider, as well as portability.

CFM and PSI

The two most important factors to consider when looking for an air compressor for auto detailing are CFM and PSI. CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute and is the measure of the flow rate the compressor is capable of.

PSI means Pounds per Square Inch and is the measure of volume that the compressor is capable of. 

These two measurements relate to each other and therefore are often mentioned together on a compressor’s spec sheet or features list. 

For example, a compressor capable of delivering 5 CFM @ 90 PSI delivers 5 cubic feet per minute at 90 pounds per square inch. 

You’ll want to check the requirements of the specific air tools you’ll be using for detailing to make sure you get a compressor that will meet them. However, most compressors on the market deliver adequate pressure — somewhere between 125 and 175 PSI. CFM is another story. That’s why selecting a compressor with the right CFM is important

Size

Size is an important factor to consider as well for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with how long it will take for the tank to empty and kick back on to refill. A smaller compressor will need to kick on more often than a larger one, which can make your detailing job last longer if you need to wait for the compressor to refill. 

However, most detailing air tools don’t require a constant flow of air. You use them for 15 to 30 seconds at a time to blow dirt and debris out of crevasses and then wipe or vacuum it up. This means that a decent-sized tank should do you well with most detailing air tools. 

The other consideration factor for size is portability. Obviously, smaller compressors are easier to take around than others. And this is important if you’re a mobile detailing operation. But this deserves its own heading, which we’ll look at now. 

Portability

If you’re going to be using your compressor on the move, portability will be a major factor. However, if your detailing will be done at one location, with cars coming to you, then portability is not such a big issue. 

Most compressors that are of the size ideal for use detailing vehicles have wheels to make them easy to move around. Compressors under ten gallons are generally small enough that they don’t require wheels because you can move them around by picking them up. 

If you’re going to be on the move with your compressor, you may want to consider getting a twin-stack compressor that’s both small and powerful. Many of these compressors can run while in use thanks to their two-tank design. 

Noise Levels

Noise levels are another important factor to consider. When you have people waiting nearby for their vehicle to be detailed, the last thing you want is a super loud compressor. Not to mention the benefits of a quiet compressor for your own sake. And if you’ll be using the compressor at your own home, a loud compressor can drive your neighbors a little nuts. 

Luckily, there are many compressors on the market that are rated as quiet compressors. This doesn’t mean that they’re silent. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a silent compressor. But some of them come pretty close. You’ll usually have to pay a little more for a quiet compressor, but the benefits outweigh the cost for most people. 

Best Air Compressor for Auto Detailing

Taking all the above factors into consideration, we’ve researched an air compressor recommendation that is excellent for auto detailing. This California Air Tools Ultra Quiet 10-Gallon Air Compressor is an incredibly quiet but powerful air compressor that any detailer will love. 

At only 70 decibels, this 2 horsepower air compressor is quiet enough to have a conversation around without speaking too much louder. It’s designed for longer run times, meaning even if you use air tools that require near-constant airflow, this compressor will be able to keep up. It features a dual-piston design and is rated for 3000+ hours of run time before wear. It has an oil-free pump so you don’t have to worry about oil-related maintenance. 

You can start this compressor in low temperatures thanks to the no-load startup feature. The tank is made of steel and it features wheels so you can move it around the car you’re detailing to avoid tangling up the air hose. Perhaps best of all, this compressor delivers 5.3 CFM @ 90 PSI and 6.4 CFM @ 40 PSI, making this one powerful 10-gallon compressor. 

Our Recommendation

Features

  • 125 PSI Max Pressure
  • 5.3 CFM @ 90 PSI & 6.4 CFM @ 40 PSI
  • 10-Gallon Steel Air Tank
  • Wheels for Easy Transport
  • 3000+ Hours of Run Time (Longer Than Most Other Home-Use Models)
  • Quiet Operation at 70 Decibels
  • Dual Piston Design
  • Oil-Free Pump
  • Low-Temp Start
  • Two Couplers
  • 1-Year Limited Warranty
  • Time to Fill From Empty – 120 Seconds

Justin

Justin is a full-time blogger with a passion for anything DIY. When he's not hanging out with his wife and son, you can find him putting the finishing touches on yet another home project he's taken on. He's also the creator of AllAboutAirCompressors.com.