Best Air Compressors for Mobile Detailing [Buyers Guide]

A quality air compressor can take your car detailing game to the next level and can be used on everything from car upholstery to door jambs. But not all are created equal!

If you’re a hobbyist or run an auto detailing business air compressors can:

  • Power a Tornador Car Cleaning Gun or other automotive blow gun
  • Clean hard-to-reach areas like door jams using steam
  • Remove water from exterior trim, door panels, and other crevices
  • Remove debris from cup holders, rubber floor mats, and other areas of your car interior
  • Clean debris from around buttons or switches
  • Clean your engine compartment

You’ll find a few different types of air compressors on the market, ranging from small, single-stage ‘pancake’ compressors to larger, heavy duty compressors; larger units provide enough constant air pressure to inflate tires or power pneumatic tools. 

Check out our post on a few ways to use air compressors in detailing if you’re considering purchasing one.

Single stage vs multi-stage air compressors

Just want to blow out debris or water in tight spaces? A single-stage compressor and a rubber tip blow gun will suffice; this low-cost option is perfect for hobbyists.

If in mobile detailing, we recommend a multi-stage compressor that will divide the compression process into several cycles, reducing stress on the pump; these units are generally quieter than small compressors.

Determine the flow rate needed for your detailing process

To power a compact blow gun like the Tornador, consider the CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating. Smaller compressors process less air per minute and will struggle to provide the power needed to generate steam for a prolonged period.

Now that you know the basics, here are our recommendations for compressors ideal for detailing in both the small and large varieties.

Makita MAC5200 5.2 Gallon Air Compressor

Our recommendation for:

Best small air compressor under 6 gallons.

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

Makita 3.0 HP Air Compressor

This unit by Makita is a great choice if you are purchasing a compressor to blow pressured air and occasionally power a cleaning gun that requires somewhere around 5-6 CFM to operate.

For cleaning seats a few seconds at a time, (or carpet) the tank size shouldn’t be an issue.

It’s also a portable unit in this class with wheels for maneuverability. It is a little pricier, but much higher build quality than most pancake compressors.

Pros

  • Sufficient CFM rating to power cleaning tools
  • Sleek, portable design
  • Folding handle
  • Air hose wrap
  • 3HP motor
  • Powerful enough for light spot cleaning

Cons

  • Smaller tank size; will re-cycle more
  • Loud
  • More expensive than other 6-gallon compressors

Bostitch BTFP02012 6-Gallon Pancake Compressor

My recommendation for:

Small budget compressors.

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

As far as small pancake compressors go, this 6-gallon unit by Bostitch is at the top of the list. Being a 6-gallon tank, it’s capable of up to 150 PSI and great for operating air guns and other light attachments.

The unit’s build quality is better than most since some entry-level off-brand pancake compressors use cheaper components.

Pros

  • Affordability
  • Oil-free design
  • Good build quality

Cons

  • Smaller compressor with 0.8 HP motor
  • Not a quiet compressor compared to others in the category
  • Not ideal for steam-cleaning guns

California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet 8-Gallon Compressor

Our recommendation for:

Quiet medium-sized detailing compressors

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

This 8-gallon unit by California Air Tools is probably my favorite compressor for beginners not using pneumatic tools, due to its portability and quietness. This one has a slightly larger tank (8 gallons) than most pancake compressors and is designed to be quieter than most.

Its horizontal alignment is perfect for trailers or vans, and its wheels make it easy to lug around.

Pros

  • Affordability
  • Quick filling tank
  • Lays flat in any detailing trailer or van
  • Good customer service
  • Top quality brand
  • Large enough for tire inflation

Cons

  • 2.2 CFM at 90PSI makes it unsuitable for some cleaning tools
  • Smaller 8-gallon tank

Industrial Air Tools 20-Gallon Air Compressor

Our recommendation for:

Best value for 20-gallon compressors

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

This unit is a great budget option for detailing an entire interior. For the price, it is more affordable than others in its class considering the CFM/tank size ratio; its 20-gallon tank provides enough air for any detailing application.

This one has great reviews, and is my top overall pick for detailers that want an upgrade from a small compressor

Pros

  • Affordability
  • High CFM rating relative to tank size
  • Great reviews
  • Powerful vs others in its class
  • Easy to operate

Cons

  • Vertical orientation, not as portable for fitting in trailers
  • Tires could be better

Industrial Air Tools 30-Gallon Air Compressor

Our recommendation for:

Best 30-gallon compressor

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support.

This is another professional quality unit by Industrial Air with enormous power for any detailing application. This unit can power any air tool you use and is rated at 5.7 CFM at 90 PSI. It also has 20 more pounds of maximum pressure, topping off at 155 PSI.

Pros

  • Affordability
  • Large tank size
  • High CFM at 5.7
  • Ideal for all detailing tools

Cons

  • Vertical design is not as portable as some units
  • Some have said the wheels could be better

Final considerations

Portability is key especially if space constraining or a mobile detailer, which is why most of our recommendations are under 30 gallons.

Carrying around a 60 to 00-gallon tank is a little overkill for detailing unless you have the budget or space.

Consider these specs when selecting a compressor for detailing:

  • Tank Size: The larger the tank, the shorter the re-cycle time
  • CFM (or SCFM) rating at 90 PSI: Many air tools require 5-6 CFM to operate.
  • Portable vs Stationary: Determine if it will fit in your trailer, van, or garage!
  • Weight: How much weight can your trailer/rig support?
  • Engine Horsepower
  • Noise: Look for a noise rating in the specifications

Ready to improve your washing and detailing skills?

This video course unpacks the fundamentals of washing and detailing. From exterior cleaning and blemish removal…you’ll learn the secrets that will give you spotless pro-level results!