A good generator for detailing is a key purchase for most detailing businesses, but it depends on your business model and how many customers you already have.
There are several factors to consider that I’ll outline in this blog like size, type, noise, and capacity – and whether you should even purchase one at all. I am by no means an expert in engineering, but wanted to share some suggestions I’ve found that have worked for some.
In this blog, I’ll break down some use cases for using various types of generators to help you decide what type you may need.
Should you buy a generator for detailing?
A generator is a must for detailers if you are pumping water, powering polishers, or running a medium to large detailing business.
Keep in mind, a good generator is not cheap. If you are just starting out, you may not want to spend $700-$2000 if you don’t have to. If you are visiting your customer’s home, and have access to water and power, it’s probably more cost-effective to invest in extension cords and hoses.
However, using a generator does have its advantages: operating vacuums and pumps, pressure washers, and everything a mobile detailing rig needs to provide power to.
The first step: take inventory of what equipment you need to provide power to. This will help you decide what type of generator will be best for your business
Decide what you will power with a generator
Since generators come in a variety of sizes and types, it’s important to make sure you select one that will be sufficient for your needs.
For many, the primary purpose of purchasing a generator is to use it to power vacuums and pressure washers, but here is a list of common uses:
- Powering electric pressure washers
- Powering pumps to feed water out of a tank into a pressure washer
- Powering detailing vacuums and Shop-Vacs
- Floodlights at night
- Powering buffers or orbital buffers
- Powering blowers and dryers
- Powering carpet extractors
As an example, if you have a team of 2-3 people that will be doing interior and exterior detailing using multiple appliances at the same time, you might want to purchase a high-capacity generator like the one below.
This one made by Pulsar I found for less than $1,000 on Amazon, and is probably the biggest one you will want to lug around at 10,000 watts.
This is really only ideal for working in teams when you have multiple jobs in the same hour (like office parks). If there is anything that can eat up profitability, it’s burning fuel, so keep that in mind.
If you are usually tapping into a water source, you may only want a smaller generator to power a vacuum, for example. In this case, you may want to look into something portable that is easy to unload, and relatively quiet like an inverter generator.
Understand Watts, Amps, and Volts to understand what a generator will power
To keep it as simple as possible, just understand some basic electrical terms. I am by no means an expert in electricity but just wanted to give you a basic idea of the relationship between some key terms.
Each generator you select should have a couple of readings: continuous (or rated) watts and maximum (or peak) watts.
Continuous Watts are the number of watts a generator can comfortably run under. It’s always best to make sure whatever devices you are powering stay within this range. What’s a little confusing is that a generator like the Honda EU2200i is named using its peak wattage rating, even though it is rated at 1,800 continuous watts.
You never want to run a motor continuously above its rated (continuous) wattage recommendation for a long period of time to avoid burnout.
Volts and Amps
Voltage (or volts) is the difference in charge between two different points, while amps is a measure of how strong an electrical current is. Each device you purchase (from polishers, vacs, etc.) should have its power requirements listed for you.
The relationship between amps, volts, and watts is simply: amps * volts=watts.
Let’s say you are looking to power a compressor that requires 15 amps to operate at a standard 120 volts of electricity (a standard wall outlet in America, most devices you will use). You would want to look for a generator that is capable of producing at least 1,800 watts of continuous power.
You may also see Hertz thrown around. Hertz is basically a measurement of frequency. 60 Hertz (which is standard), just means the current changes direction 60 cycles (or 120 times) in a second. You just need to make sure that your generator is operating at the same frequency (in Hz) as the device requires.
With the electrical jargon out of the way, here are a few benefits of inverter generators.
Option 1: Inverter generators – great for detailers needing portability
For homeowners, conventional generators are typically preferred because they can get pretty massive, have large fuel tanks, and run for a very long time.
For detailing, on the other hand, you don’t need something that takes up a lot of space (if you don’t have it). Since you will probably use your generator for 30 minutes to an hour at a time, an inverter generator should fit the bill; especially if you don’t need to pump water or power lots of tools.
Honda is one of the most dependable lines of inverter generators you can buy in the detailing community; they’re also loved by news crews and other organizations for this reason.
This Honda EU2200i would be my choice if I had to choose, based on its reviews on Amazon and testimonials, and simply lasts longer than many others.
I also found a few preowned units here on eBay that may be worth checking out if you want to go that route.
These run super quiet and can run 4-9 hours on a single tank. Without getting too technical, they convert AC to DC ( and back to AC), using magnets and technology that makes them run cleaner.
Benefits of inverter generators
- Noise – These operate much quieter due to special mufflers and quieter engines
- Portable and lightweight – oftentimes under 100 pounds (Honda models are around 47 lbs)
- Fuel savings due to alternating engine speeds due to microprocessors and other electronics
Cons of inverter generators
- More expensive for beginners – expect to pay upwards of 1,000 for most
- Most larger units max out at around 4,000 watts – Not ideal for powering multiple devices at once
- Cost more to repair
They are a bit more expensive than most generators that start out around $500, but definitely a worthwhile investment.
If you’re currently in the market for a good detailing generator, click here for a list of my generator recommendations for both conventional or inverter generators. Many you can find online for under $400.
Option 2: Conventional multipurpose generators
The standard multipurpose generator is the most common option I see many detailers use for trailer setups.
Unless you are working out of a van and need the portability, you really can’t go wrong with having a basic 3500-watt generator if you have the room.
Benefits of conventional generators
- Lower starting price point
- Ability to be muffled (still louder than inverted generators, but quieter)
- Larger fuel tank for powering equipment
- up to 10,000 to 20,000 watts of power
Cons of conventional generators
- Bulky, can be difficult to store and maneuver (especially in vans)
- Some can be very loud (a big deal for office parks, etc.)
- Typically burn more fuel than inverter generators
Convention generators are ideal for pumping water from a tank
If you are operating a pressure washer (for example) and are unable to use the customer’s water source, having a generator on hand is perfect for powering pumps your water tank will need.
Most pressure washers require somewhere around 20 psi of pressure to operate unless you purchase a belt or gear-driven unit washer and not a cheaper direct drive. These pressure washers cost $2,000-$3,000 at a minimum but do eliminate the need for a generator to pump water. Just something to keep in mind.
Smaller conventional generators are cheaper to operate for beginners
Most larger 6,000 watt + generators can use up to 2.5 gallons of gas per hour compared to smaller units, which can use up to a gallon less. For beginners, I would probably start with a smaller generator, unless you just have a ton of equipment to power.
Option 3: Pressure Washer + Generator Combo
One setup that I have seen is made by EVO systems I thought was pretty cool because it eliminates the need for multiple engines. It is basically everything you need for detailing (pressure washer, generator, plus compressors, pumps) in a single unit. Check out the video below for more:
Using a generator to power a pressure washer
In the detailing business, a pressure washer is pretty important, but you have a few types to choose from that may or may not require a generator to operate. When it comes to pressure washers, it’s best to decide if you need an electric pressure washer or a traditional gas-powered unit.
Gas-powered pressure washers
Since the motor and pump are already attached, you obviously won’t need a generator. If you plan to wash driveways or houses with an available water source, a mobile pressure washer (with tires) is what I’d probably start with.
Many manufacturers make skid-mounted units with hose reels that are ideal for detailing, which is the most common setup I see.
Electric pressure washers
There are some really good electric pressure washers to consider that you can run off of a standard generator or the customer’s power. This option gives you the flexibility to save on fuel costs when you can since you can switch between power sources.
If you plan on having access to both water and an electrical outlet, you may be able to get away with not having a generator at all (although I would still recommend having one).
The Kranzle K1122TST is a great commercial option if you plan on operating out of a client’s home and have access to power because it is a really quiet unit. It’s German engineered, well built, and has a built-in hose reel.
Familiar with electrical engineering? The inverter option
Just as a warning, only attempt to use inverters and batteries if you know what you’re doing. This solution is not for everybody, and really only makes sense if you need occasional power.
Inverters are not to be confused with inverter generators, which require fuel instead of battery power.
For some use cases like operating small lights or vacuums, or polishers that draw 9-10 amps at max, an inverter may be all you need for occasions where you don’t have access to a customer’s power.
I have seen some videos on YouTube like this one that explains how you can use one to power a vacuum you may want to check out.
While I am by no means an expert on generators, hopefully, you have a better idea of what you need for your business. It’s not a terrible idea to have a generator on hand as a backup, even if you are relying on external power sources.
- If you are just starting out on a low budget, I would probably opt for a traditional generator that is lightweight enough not to be a burden. Since most leave these running in an open trailer, weight becomes less of an issue.
- If you specialist in interior detailing and need to be mobile, I’d recommend something more portable like an inverter generator (or a smaller traditional generator with wheels).
Have anything to add or notice something I missed? Leave a comment below.
This post was updated on February 27, 2022