How to wash a car with a pressure washer

How to wash a car with a pressure washer: Image shows a woman in a grey jumper using a pressure washer to wash her red car.
(Image credit: Daniel Llao Calvet, Getty Images.)

Getting your car to look as good as new might seem like an arduous task, but using a pressure washer makes the process of cleaning it a whole lot easier. We consulted an expert to find out how to wash a car with a pressure washer.

A great pressure washer is a must when it comes to removing built-up grime, mud and dirt on your car, and of course, they are not just for cars, but are also a vital tool when it comes to getting your patio, driveway or decking looking sparkly clean and fresh. 

If you’re in the market for buying a new pressure washer, don’t forget to check out our guide to the best pressure washers (opens in new tab) you can buy in 2022. The roundup features models from Karcher, Ryobi, Greenworks and more, with points awarded to the best pressure washers for travel use, value for money and everyday tasks. 

How to wash a car with a pressure washer 

Fiona Jenkins
Fiona Jenkins

Fiona Jenkins is a landscaper with over 25 years of experience in the industry. As a gardening expert for MyJobQuote (opens in new tab), one of the UK's top trade-matching sites, Fiona offers her expert advice to tradespeople and homeowners and has also been featured as a gardening expert for a range of reputable publications. 

Before beginning to wash your car with a pressure washer, make sure you’ve got to grips with the various steps that are needed to do an effective, safe and efficient job.

We spoke to Fiona Jenkins, landscaping expert at My Job Quote (opens in new tab), to find out the various steps that are needed for effectively washing a car with a pressure washer.

“The first step is to rinse off the top layer of grime and dirt,” Jenkins explains. 

“If your pressure washer has a variable spray jet, adjust this to a spray of around five to eight cm wide. The spray needs to be strong enough to clean the car without damaging the paintwork. 

“You will need to use a slightly less powerful and wider setting when washing the lights, windows, and any other fragile glass. 

“Next, it's time to apply the detergent. Set your nozzle to the least powerful and widest setting to coat your car in a layer of detergent.

If you don’t have an adjustable nozzle on your pressure washer, simply stand further away from your car to reduce the pressure. Around one metre is a safe distance to prevent any possible damage.

“Allow it to work for a few moments. However, avoid letting it dry, as this will leave you with blemishes that will need to be buffed out later.

“Loosen all of the most stubborn grease and dirt next. Use an attachable car brush for this part to make it easier.

“Save the wheels for last as there's more chance of you picking up stones and grit on the wheels, and you don't want to risk scratching the rest of your car with these.

“Rinse the brush properly after you've finished, making sure all of the grit and stones are removed.

“Finally, you need to rinse your car with the jet on a high-pressure setting. Use a slightly higher setting for the paint than the glass parts of the car.

Can you damage a car with a pressure washer? 

Before going gung-ho with the pressure washer, keep in mind that there are some fundamentals to be aware of when it comes to pressure washing your car correctly and safely at home without leaving any damage on your vehicle. 

“The nozzle is an essential component of your pressure washer. A bad nozzle will likely harm your car's surface or coating,” Jenkins adds.

“Make sure the water pressure won't harm the outside of the vehicle by using the right nozzle. You can save time and prevent damage by correctly using the pressure washer's settings.

“You must first wash the dirt off with water before getting your equipment ready and using your pressure washer. This is the proper way to start, especially if your car's exterior is covered in a lot of dirt and debris.

“If the pressure setting on your washer is high, you might want to think about lowering it. If the washer is set too high, it may chip your car's paint and cause damage. Additionally, if the setting on your window washer is too high, it could harm your windows.”

What the expert says…

Jenkins has some handy additional tips to keep in mind to avoid damaging your car with your pressure washer. “Use your washer to remove the detergent so that your car has that brilliant shine by setting it to a stronger setting for the paint than the glass. Again, to avoid harming the paint on your car, ensure the washer is set to a generally low setting. You don't need all that extra power! Choose one that can function at 1,500 PSI or less."

“Start the washer on the lowest setting and never point it directly at the surface while standing two feet away from the vehicle (you can get closer to the wheels, though). 

“Instead, always angle the jet. Avoid spending too much time near delicate areas like side mirrors, the lenses of backup cameras, external sensors, unlocking buttons and so on.

“It is best to use an attachable car brush to scrub any remaining tough dirt or grease off the car at this point. It is preferable to finish the bodywork first if you intend to use the same brush to paint the wheels and wheel arches.

“Be careful not to use a powerful spray setting on old or chipped tyres, and make sure all windows and the boot are closed tightly. 

“Never spray the engine compartment or any other area of the car's interior with the pressure washer to prevent serious damage.”

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Deborah Cicurel is a London-based freelance journalist specializing in lifestyle, travel, interiors and more.  She also regularly reviews lifestyle, tech and parenting products, putting them to the test to ensure other consumers are well-informed before making important purchasing decisions.

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