A quality air compressor can take your mobile detailing business to the next level, but not all are created equal. After researching different types of air compressors that I have seen in the detailing community, I’ll share my recommendations and why.

Some on the smaller side, and perfect for basic use where you are just blowing air. However if you want to power many air tools (like the Tornador), be sure the check out the options with higher CFM ratings.

Tank Size: 5.2 Gallons: Makita MAC5200 5.2 Gallon Air Compressor (click to check current price on Amazon)

Our Recommendation for: Best Small Compressor under 6 Gallons

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. This one should have no problem in doing that.

It has a CFM rating of 6.5 at 90 PSI, which is really high for generators in this class. The only thing that may be problematic is the tank size. For cleaning seats for a few seconds at the time, (or carpet) you should be okay, but it will re-cycle quite often.

This unit is the most portable unit by far in this class (because it has wheels) makes it easy to push around. It is a little pricier, but definitely much higher build quality than most pancake compressors.

Pros

Cons

  • Very high CFM rating should power Tornador and other tools
  • Sleek, portable design
  • Folding handle
  • Air hose wrap
  • 3HP motor
  • Perfect for light spot cleaning
  • Smaller tank size, will re-cycle more
  • Loud
  • Pricier compared to other 6 gallon compressors

Tank Size: 6 Gallons: Bostitch BTFP02012 6 Gallon Pancake Compressor (click to check current price on Amazon)

Our Recommendation for: Small Budget Compressors

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 blow guns and other light attachments. The build quality of the unit is better than most, since some entry level off-brand pancake compressors can use more plastic.

It’s also a good choice for beginners unfamiliar with compressors due to its low price point. The build quality of some of the optional (not included) accessories may not be great if you create a bundle on Amazon, so just keep that in mind.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordability
  • Oil-free design
  • Good build quality
  • 150 PSI makes inflating larger tires easier than other units
  • A smaller 0.8 HP motor – takes longer to refill
  • Some have complained about noise levels vs. some in this category
  • Hose, inflating guns may not be included depending on retailer

Tank Size: 8 Gallons: California Air Tools 8010 Ultra Quiet Compressor (click to check current price on Amazon)

Our Recommendation for: Quiet Medium-Sized Detailing Compressors

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 it is easy to lug around being on wheels.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordability
  • Quick filling tank
  • Lays flat in any detailing trailer or van
  • Good customer service
  • Great for light use and tire inflation
  • 2.2 CFM at 90PSI makes it unsuitable for powering cleaning tools
  • Smaller 8-gallon tank
  • Build quality lower than others in the line
  • Some have had problems with pressure regulator

Tank Size: 20 Gallons: Industrial Air IL1682066.MN 20-Gallon Compressor (click to check current price on Amazon)

Our Recommendation for: Best value for 20 gallon compressors

In terms of powering tools like the Tornador, which requires at minimum 5 CFM, this unit is a great budget option. For the price, it is more affordable than others in it’s class considering the CFM/tank size ratio, and the 20 gallon tank is definitely more ideal for powering tools than smaller pancake compressors.

This one has great reviews, and is my top overall pick for detailers looking to power pneumatic tools for the first time.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordability
  • High CFM rating relative to tank size
  • Great reviews
  • Powerful vs others in its class
  • Easy to operate
  • Vertical orietation, not as portable for fitting in trailers
  • Tires could be better

Tank Size: 30 Gallons: Industrial Air ILA188354 30 Gallon Air Compressor (click to check current price on Amazon)

Our Recommendation for: 30 Gallon Compressors

This is another quality unit by Industrial Air, and with 10 extra gallons recycling shouldn’t be a huge deal even with most high powered air tools at 5.7 CFM at 90 PSI. It also has 20 more pounds of maximum pressure, topping off at 155 PSI.

The design is not quite as top-heavy as the 20-gallon unit, and an affordable choice for mobile detailers compared to other similar 30 gallon tanks, which can cost well over $1,000.

Pros

Cons

  • Affordability
  • Larger tank size
  • Higher CFM at 5.7
  • Vertical design not as portable as other horizontal ‘hotdog’ units
  • Some have said the wheels are not the best

Considerations to Keep in Mind

There are several factors to consider when purchasing a compressor you will be using for detailing. Portability is key, which is why most of my recommendations are below 30 gallons.

Carrying around a 60-100 gallon tank is really a little overkill for detailing unless you have the budget or space. I would stick to electric polishers, buffers, due to the fact that huge compressors are really expensive for this use. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Tank Size – Will dictate how often your compressor re-cycles
  • CFM (or SCFM) rating at 90 PSI – many tools require 5-6 CFM
  • Portable vs Stationary – will it stay in your trailer/van or not?
  • Weight – How much weight can your trailer/rig support?
  • Engine Horsepower
  • Noise – Many have a noise rating in the specs

For more information on the benefits of adding a compressor to your arsenal of detailing gear, check out our post on: Why You Should Use Compressed Air For Auto Detailing.