When detailing a car, you would use an air compressor for interior cleaning as well as exterior cleaning. For exterior cleaning, the compressor replaces a pressure washer and on the interior, it aids or replaces a vacuum.

An air compressor can take the place of many tools, such as a pressure washer to detail your vehicle, and all you need is a spray gun attachment.

It is important to note that the pressure that comes from the compressor isn’t nearly as much as what would come from an actual pressure washer.

Based on our research, we believe the best air compressor car detailing is the Makita MAC5200. The Makita has multiple outlets, 5.2-gallon tank, and 6.5 CFM. A compressor that will be used to detail cars, need to have at least 4.5-gallon tank, 5.4 CFM

Best Air Compressors For Car Detailing

Additionally, most detailers choose electric-powered air compressors, since those are quieter. However, if you are doing mobile car detailing, you may opt for the gas air compressor due to lack of access to reliable power.

In this guide, we will go into the top choices, important factors to consider as well as FAQ.

Best Car Detailing Air Compressors

Product CFM @ 90 PSIMax PSITank SizeDecibelsHP
Makita MAC52006.5 SCFM140 PSI2.5903.0
DEWALT Pancake 6-Gallon2.6 SCFM165 PSI6 Gallon75.50.9
California Air Tools2.20 SCFM120 PSI8 Gallons602.0
Industrial Air 20-Gallon2.4 SCFM125 PSI10 Gallons751.6
Campbell Hausfeld 8 Gallon 2.4 SCFM125 PSI8 Gallons681.3 

1.Makita MAC5200 Big Bore 3.0 HP – Multi Outlets 

The Makita MAC5200 is the ideal air compressor to have around the garage. It’s strong enough to operate a cleaning gun, such as a sprayer, as long as it doesn’t require any more than 5-6 CFM. It weighs around 88 pounds, but it has wheels, so transportation is a breeze. 

The single best thing about this compressor is the multi outlets. When you are using it with a blowout gun (like the Vortex Blow Gun), you can use two guns at the same time. This will be a major time saved considering you got to do different mats, the back seat, and the front of the car.  

This particular air compressor should have absolutely no issue performing this task. Its powerful motor has an oil-lubricated pump with an automotive-style filter that allows for greater air intake and efficiency.

Additionally, the motor consists of a durable cast iron cylinder to enhance the longevity of the compressor. 

The Makita Big Bore consists of a 3.0 HP motor with a CFM rating of 6.5 at 90 PSI. For this class of compressors, this is a high number. It also features a 5.2 gallon air storage tank. It’s a little small in size, but it still gets the job done.

Additionally, it may take more time to clean carpets or seats in your vehicle as it needs to re-cycle very often, but for the price, it’s worth it as long as you can tolerate the 90 Decibel noise rating. 

Lastly, this Makita air compressor is ultra-portable. It contains rugged wheels for optimal portability and a built-in storage compartment for hose fittings and other accessories. Included with the accessories is a large 50-foot ⅜ air hose. You will also find that the tank contains an oil drain and sight glass as well as a tank drain valve for simple maintenance. 

Makita MAC5200 3.0 HP Big Bore Air Compressor

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Pros

  • Powerful 3.0 HP motor
  • Built-in storage compartment
  • Folding handle for easy transportation
  • High CFM rating
  • Oil-lubricated
  • One-year warranty

Cons

  • Small air tank
  • Loud 
  • Pricier compared to others in its class

2.California Air Tools 8-Gallon Air Compressor

If you detail cars for a living or you have many cars that you own that need detailing, the California Air Tools Compressor will be your go-to tool. California Air Tools has always offered a variety of designs for their products such as the option to choose between aluminum and steel tanks.

This particular air compressor comes with a kit that has the most essential accessories and fittings that you need. 

This powerful air compressor offers 120 PSI of compressed air with an add-on filter that allows the air to be emitted at such high pressure with only the best quality. It can work continuously for at least 30-minutes, making it the perfect compressor for auto detailing. It can extend up to one hour of continuous use. 

The air compressor runs off of a generous 2 HP oil-free motor. An oil-free motor allows for cleaner operation and easier startup during cold weather. Two pressure control gauges allow you to keep an eye on the amount of pressure building up within the tank, Additionally, there is a thermal overload protector and less heat coming from the machine. 

Finally, you can operate the compressor and use a variety of tools since it puts out 2.20 CFM @ 90 PSI and 3.10 CFM @ 40 PSI. It has a maximum PSI of 120 and takes 130 seconds to fill from empty. The time it takes to recover from 90 PSI to 120PSI is just 30 seconds. Since it only puts out 60 Decibels of noise, you don’t need earplugs when the compressor is in use. 

California Air Tools 8010 Steel Tank Air Compressor | Ultra Quiet, Oil-Free, 1.0 hp, 8 gal

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Pros

  • 1-year limited warranty
  • Multiple tank options
  • 2 HP Motor
  • Oil-free operation
  • Starts well in cold weather
  • 2.20/3.10 CFM 
  • Low noise rating

Cons

  • Complaints of burning smell

3.Industrial Air 20-Gallon Air Compressor

Looking for something with a little more air storage space? The Industrial Air 20-gallon Air Compressor offers just that. It is one of those products that has been exclusively designed for heavy-duty needs, such as car detailing, auto mechanic shops, and farming. These compressors are crafted to ensure longevity and to withstand even the toughest conditions. 

The Industrial Air compressor features a cast iron, V-twin cylinder pump that’s lubricated with oil. It features a durable aluminum head with a valve plate that allows quicker heat dissipation. The 1.6 HP dual voltage motor can bring high pump performance to allow for hassle-free operation.

The powerful motor paired with the large vertical storage tank allows for a maximum air pressure of 135 PSI. It delivers 6.2 CFM @ 40 PSI and 5.3 CFM @ 90 PSI, which is more than enough power to run a variety of car detailing instruments and power tools for other projects. Simply plug it into a 120-Volt outlet and you’re ready to go. You can even convert it for 240-Volt applications. 

Moreso, Industrial Air has greatly considered user convenience. There are automatic on and off features as well as pneumatic tires for quick and easy transportation.

The two cylinders encased in a cast give it a sturdier design than other compressors in its class. The only downside that we could see to this air compressor is that the pump must be oiled regularly. 

Industrial Air IL1682066.MN 20-Gallon Belt Driven Air Compressor with V-Twin Cylinder

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Pros

  • Large 20-gallon tank
  • Portable 
  • Strong and durable
  • Easy to use
  • High CFM rating
  • 78 Decibel rating
  • 1.6 HP motor
  • Belt-driven 
  • 2-year warranty

Cons

  • Warranty claim may be a hassle

4.Campbell Hausfeld 8 Gallon Portable Air Compressor

Campbell Hausfeld is known for making some of the quietest air compressors on the market. They assure their customers that their machines are up to 50% quieter than other comparable compressors.

Not only that, but they boast their premium quality materials and durability that brings a long lifespan if properly taken care of. 

The Campbell Hausfeld 8-gallon air compressor doesn’t require oil, which means less maintenance for you and more time to detail your vehicle. The large 8-gallon tank allows more air storage and reserve for future use.

It has a maximum output of 125 PSI and 2.4 CFM @ 90 PSI, which is ideal for a magnitude of projects such as painting, nailing, and auto detailing. 

As far as durability goes, Campbell Hausfeld promises a high-quality and durable product. This compressor has a hotdog design with large wheels and a steel handle with a rubber grip for simple portability. It also has an oil-free dual-piston pump and other components that are said to last up to four times longer. 

Lastly, the powerful 1.3 HP motor is more than enough to ensure all of your car detailing needs are met. You can use it both indoors and outdoors due to the low 68 Decibel noise level.

The portability of the air compressor paired with the low noise level and heavy-duty motor makes for a versatile piece of equipment that can meet most of your project needs. 

CAMPBELL HAUSFELD, 1.0 HP, 120VAC, 8 gal. Portable Electric Air Compressor, 125 psi

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Pros

  • Low 68 Decibel noise level
  • Portable
  • Minimal maintenance
  • Large air tank
  • Maximum of 125 PSI
  • 2.4 CFM @ 90 PSI
  • Durable

Cons

  • Questionable warranty & customer service

5.DEWALT Pancake 6-Gallon Air Compressor

The DEWALT brand is a name known to a majority of households across the globe. They are known for creating some of the best power tools and accessories on the market. One such tool is the 6-gallon pancake compressor.

It’s powerful enough to run a pressure washer sprayer as well as other car detailing tools. The small pancake-sized tank is compact enough for easy storage and transportation. It weighs just 30-pounds and has a convenient carrying handle for optimal transportation. 

The 0.9 HP high-efficiency motor allows the unit to power up even in cold weather whereas some units have trouble. It will even assist with extension cord application startup.

There is an oil-free pump within the unit that allows maintenance-free operation. Additionally, the high flow regulator and couplers help maximize the performance of a variety of power tools.

When it comes to the storage tank, it can hold 6-gallons of high-pressure air. It can put out a maximum of 165 PSI with a CFM rating of 2.6 @ 90 PSI. This allows the tools to run for an extended period with a quick air recovery rate. When running, it only emits 75.5 Decibels of noise, which is much lower than a majority of air compressors in its class. 

As far as car detailing goes, this compressor is a decent choice, but you may have to deal with constant tank recuperation. It will run the required tools, but it may just take a little longer than larger compressors. 

DEWALT Pancake Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, 165 PSI (DWFP55126)

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Pros

  • Quiet operation
  • Acceptable CFM rating
  • Lightweight
  • Easy cold weather startup
  • 165 maximum PSI 
  • 1-year limited warranty

Cons

  • Needs to refill often

Auto Detailing Air Compressor Accessories

Auto detailing air compressor accessories are vital to your car detailing adventures. You aren’t going to be able to use just one tool to get the job done properly. When paired with the proper air compressor, auto detailing tools can prove to be a vital investment. 

Blow Out Tool

A blowout tool is a cleaning air gun that can be used to remove debris from pockets, under seats, cup holders, and other small places. Tools such as the Tornador can assist with drying wet engines after they have been power washed. 

Blow Gun

A blowgun is ideal for heavy-duty and professional use. It’s perfect for blowing dust, water, debris, and other particles out of the engine bay and other hard-to-reach areas. Additionally, you can find them with multiple air pressure settings. 

Air Polisher

An air polisher is ideal for the exterior of a vehicle, such as headlights. It can be attached right to the hose of an air compressor, but some models may require higher CFM and PSI outputs. More than some of the smaller air compressors use. 

What Is An Air Compressor Used For In Car Detailing?

Although an air compressor may not be the first tool you think of when you’re getting ready to detail your vehicle, it should be on your list. It can be unbelievably helpful and several benefits come from using an air compressor that can set you apart from other detailers.

If you’re just detailing your own vehicle it may not be a huge deal, but if you’re a professional car detailer, having the proper air compressor can be essential to a profitable business. 

Tool Operation

Tool operation is the most important aspect of car detailing. If your tools aren’t doing the job correctly, then you’re not detailing the car correctly. Cleaning guns are one of the most vital tools that you’re going to own for detailing vehicles. 

The cleaning guns are used to suck the gunk out of door jams, seat runners, and they are ideal for cleaning seats. Many of these cleaning guns give you the option to use either pressurized steam or air for drying what you just cleaned. With this tool, you don’t have to spend a ton of time degreasing. 

You can also purchase a blowgun. This is a simple tool that has a trigger allowing you to blow high-pressure air from the device. They are great for cleaning cracks and crevices. However, if your air compressor isn’t putting out a high amount of CFM, the blowgun is essentially useless. 

Interior Cleaning

Without using compressed air, cleaning out cup holders, in-between tight spaces, and dashboards can be a hassle. Many people think that using a shop vac will get the job done just as well, but it won’t because it isn’t capable of reaching tight spaces. 

The hose on an air compressor is much smaller, allowing for smaller tools to be attached and utilized. There are so many tight spaces in the interior of all vehicles, that using anything bigger than what can fit on an air compressor hose just won’t be as efficient. 

Exterior Cleaning

If you are going to use an air compressor instead of a pressure washer, it is important to note that the pressure from an air compressor is generally around 150 PSI whereas a pressure washer gives out about 1300 PSI. You can move the sprayer closer to the vehicle and use alternate sprayers to clean your vehicle effectively. 

Really, the only tool that can be used for cleaning the exterior of vehicles is a pneumatic polisher. This will require a large tank, but the tool is simple to use. You could also utilize a blowgun to get all of the leftover water out of hood vents, grills, and bumpers, but that’s about it. 

Engine Bay

Using an air compressor for cleaning an engine bay is not only smart but time-saving. Before you use water or any other solution in your engine bay, you can use an air gun to blast any loose particles, such as dirt, pollen, and other debris, that may have built up around tubes and other hard-to-reach areas. Additionally, you can use the air gun to blast out an air filter.

What Size Air Compressor Do I Need For Mobile Detailing

The key to proper mobile detailing with an air compressor is to ensure you have the proper air compressor for the job. The $99 compressor from your local hardware store may seem like the best option, but it’s probably not.

You need to check the requirements of any air-powered tool and compare it to what the compressor itself offers. 

How Many PSI Do I Need For Automotive Detailing?

PSI means pounds per square inch. Any air-powered tool you have in your toolbox will require at least 70-100 PSI, but you aren’t going to want to go any higher than 90 PSI for detailing.  You can buy a two-stage air compressor with really high PSI ratings, but it’s not really necessary unless you’re also a body shop that uses sanders and other heavy tools. 

How Many CFM Do I Need For Auto Detailing?

CFM means cubic feet per minute. This is actually the key to a decent running air-powered tool. CFM is how quickly air is released out of the tool from the tank. Certain air-powered tools will require a minimum of 5.5-6.5 CFM, so this is what you need to check for.

Which Tank Size Of Air Compressor Is Required For Mobile Detailing?

If the tools you have require a high CFM rating, the size of your tank is going to matter. If your tank isn’t large enough to keep up with the CFM requirements, you’re going to spend more time allowing the air compressor to re-cycle than you will detailing the vehicle. 

If you’re a mobile detailer, you’ll definitely need a larger tank than if you’re detailing your vehicle at home. You may need to invest in a 25-30 gallon tank to ensure maximum performance. However, if you don’t mind the re-cycling issue, a smaller and more affordable tank may be the best option. 

Is Oil Free or Oiled Pump Best For Auto Detailing?

Oil-free and oiled pumps come down to one thing-maintenance. Oil-free pumps don’t use oil for lubrication, rather, they consist of wearable parts that are designed to lubricate themselves due to friction-reducing chemicals.

They require little to no maintenance. However, oiled pumps use splash lubrication. The compressors have rotating dippers that are attached to the lower part of the connecting rods that splash oil on the moving parts. The million-dollar question here is whether or not one is better than the other. 

It all comes down to the job you need to do. If you’re working on your vehicle from the comfort of your home and only detail your vehicle once in a while, then you may benefit from an oil-free compressor.

They’re more lightweight and are easy to carry around. If you’re looking to use it for an auto detailing business that requires a high CFM/PSI output, an oiled compressor would be your best bet. 

If you’re still unsure, here are some advantages and disadvantages of each: 

Oil-Free Advantages: 

  • The air is dryer and cleaner
  • No oil is needed
  • The compressor is more lightweight
  • Better for cold weather use
  • Quieter
  • More efficient
  • No oil filter needed

Oil-Free Disadvantages

  • None

Oiled Advantages

  • Better for professional use
  • Higher RPMs=Higher CFM/PSI rating
  • Can be used in warmer climates

Oiled Disadvantages

  • Requires maintenance
  • Heavy
  • Oil can contaminate the air

Conclusion

The takeaway here is that car detailing only requires a couple of tools to get the job done properly. If you are detailing just your vehicle once in a while, you can most certainly get away with a small air compressor and a few attachments. If you plan to make a business out of it, you’re going to need to invest in a larger air compressor, which is going to cost more. 

Before you purchase anything, you should thoroughly research all of the tools you plan to use and what CFM and PSI they need to operate efficiently. You should also take into consideration whether you want an oiled or oil-less air compressor.

Do you want to put up with maintenance? Do you need to run high-powered tools? Are you taking it on the road as a mobile business? These are all aspects to think about before you make any decisions. 

We hope that the information in this guide has helped you better understand what you need for auto detailing.