How to Clean Your Car with a Portable Air Compressor

February 23, 2012

Knocking out dirt from hard to reach places in your car's interior is much easier with a portable air compressor. Compressed air reaches everywhere.

Compressed Air Nozzle

In the case of detailing the interior of your car to a professional standard, a portable air compressor is the perfect tool. With the right amount of pressure and a few choice detailing brushes you can easily remove the dirt, dust and grit from your interior's many crevices. From your air vents to your console, there's no place compressed air can't get to.

Choose the Right Compressor
When shopping for an air compressor there are three abbreviations you should know: PSI, CFM and HP. PSI stands for Pounds per Square Inch and refers the actual pressure your compressor is able to put out. Higher PSI means higher volumes of air can be compressed inside the storage tank at a time.

CFM stands for Cubic Feet per Minute. CFM is the amount of air that the compressor can pump out at a time. More CFM means faster air. Once your storage tank runs empty the compressor's CFM also determines how long it takes to refill to its normal operational pressure.

HP should be fairly recognizable as it stands for Horsepower. All air compressors come equipped with a motor that carries the actual workload of compressing the air. Like all motors, they use Horsepower to measure their power. A higher HP means a compressor can build higher volumes of air (PSI).

Detailing your car's interior won't require very much PSI, CFM or HP. You also don't need a very large tank. Anything under five gallons will do the trick. You may desire maximum portability, in which case you should shop for a compressor with a twin-stack style tank. This style offers a low profile and can be handled much more conveniently than the alternatives. You also want to make sure a hose and spray nozzle are included. If they aren't then you have to purchase them separately.

Follow Safety Measures
Always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dirt and debris being blown about by the pressurized air. Air compressors can get quite noisy, so earplugs should always be used to protect your hearing. Make sure all hoses and tool connections are properly secured so nothing can detach and strike you when you least expect it. Inspect your compressor before every use to ensure that everything is in place and good working condition. Last, but not least, go over the manufacturer's operation manual and note any additional safety measures suggested for your specific model.

Detail Your Interior
Use your spray nozzle to blast the compressed air directly into the cracks and crevices of your interior. Start at one end of your target area and direct the air to blow all the dust and grit out the opposite end. For wider areas, you can do this in a slow sweeping motion for more effective coverage. You'll often run into some stubborn debris that won't seem to budge. For situations like this, use a properly sized brush to brush it out. Once all the dirt is out of the cracks and into the open, all that is left to do is vacuum it up and put away your compressor.

Break Down and Store the Compressor
Follow the manufacturer's instructions listed in the manual to properly break down your equipment, depressurize your tanks, and have it ready for storage. Make sure your compressor is stored in a dry place that is out of the weather to protect its important electrical parts.

3 Ways a Portable Air Compressor Can Damage Your Car

There are times when an air compressor might actually cause damage to your vehicle when care is not taken or when the compressor is not used correctly. You should always ensure that your compressor's regulator is set to a setting appropriate for the job at hand.

You might also want to check out a few air compressor reviews on consumer websites so that you purchase a compressor compatible with the type of jobs you'll be performing.

May Damage Your Car's Painted Surface
If you are using your compressor to blow away dust or other particles from your vehicle, always ensure that the regulator is set to a level that will push the foreign matter away but not damage the paint on your vehicle. If you use a thin stream nozzle on your compressor, take care not told the nozzle in one place for too long or spray corners or seams in the vehicle directly. The high pressure, coupled with a high-force thin stream nozzle, can easily chip paint.

May Cause Molding and Trim to Crack or Break
Just as a high powered compressor can damage your car's paint, it can also create significant damage to old, dry or weathered molding and trim. So, never spray a high powered air stream directly on or under car molding or trim. If you need to clean these areas, do so with a bucket, soap and a water hose. Also, keep molding clean and moist with a silicone or urethane cleaner and protector.

May Strip Bolts and Nuts
An air impact wrench is a great way to quickly remove lug nuts from tires, and other air impact tools are certainly useful when making repairs to your vehicle. However, when using these types of tools, caution should always be exercised.

When using air impact tools, pay particularly close attention to where the regulator is set and also to the amount of torque required to tighten the bolt or nut you need to secure. When making repairs, always check in a car repair manual to see how tight the bolt or nut needs be.

If you apply too much torque with an air impact wrench or socket, you may cause damage to the bolt or nut or even strip out it out. If you strip out a bolt, it may make removing the bolt in the future impossible. You will need to take the part to a machine shop and have it retooled or re-bored so that a new bolt can be fitted in place of the damaged one.