How to use a pressure washer to wash a car without damaging it

If you’re one of the rare people that actually enjoys spending hours washing their car by hand, then all the power to you. If, on the other hand, the idea of attacking all that grime armed with just a bucket, brush, hose, and sponge, is less than enticing, you might want to think about investing in a pressure washer.

Cleaning your car with a pressure washer saves you so much time and effort when compared to handwashing it, and although you have to spend a bit of money at first, over time, the pressure washer will pay for itself when you compare it to the price of taking it to the car wash.

There is a bit more to cleaning your car with a pressure washer than just pointing it in the general direction and squeezing the trigger, and in this article, we will explain exactly how to use a pressure washer to wash a car, the best type of pressure washer to do so, the right accessories to use, and also how to avoid some common mistakes. With our help, your car will soon be looking as shiny as this one-

Why you should consider pressure washing your car

There are many benefits to cleaning your car with a pressure washer. The main one is, of course, the amount of time it saves you, but there are other things to consider too. Pressure washers can great for shifting stuck on mud and bird poo, and for blasting your alloy wheels back to a sparkling brilliance, and when used with accessories such as a foam lance, they can really get your car looking fantastic in very little time.

It may surprise you to know that pressure washers are actually much more efficient than any type of hose, no matter if it is a wall-mounted one, expandable hose, or even if it has one of the best spray guns attached.. This is due to the PSI (pounds per square inch) helping to shift dirt with much less water needed.

Check out this video of someone cleaning a very dirty caravan with their pressure washer-


What type of pressure washer is the best for washing my car?

Your three choices for a pressure washer to clean your car with are petrol models, corded electric pressure washers, and cordless electric models. As with anything, they all have their pros and cons, and we’ll quickly highlight them here and give you our opinion on the best option.

Cordless pressure washers give you excellent mobility as they are very lightweight and there is no power cable connecting them to the mains. The problem with the vast majority of cordless pressure washers that are available at the moment is that they don’t produce anywhere near the power that the other two types do. This only really makes them a good choice for smaller cleaning jobs and less than ideal for cleaning a car or van.

The most powerful type you can buy are petrol pressure washers, and they too are quite mobile due to there being no cable. However, they are not as lightweight as cordless or even corded electric products, and to be honest, they can be a little too powerful, making it quite easy to accidentally damage your paint job if you aren’t really careful. That’s not to say you can’t use a petrol pressure washer to wash your car, it’s just that they aren’t the best choice of the three types.

I would say corded electric pressure washers are the best for cleaning cars. They have more than enough power to shift stubborn dirt, but the low-pressure settings on them are much safer for your car than the ones found on petrol machines, and they don’t need servicing often like petrol washers. You are limited in movement by the power cable, and you might need to get a good, waterproof extension lead, but in my opinion, they are your best option.

Which nozzle should you use?

Pressure washers usually come with a selection of nozzles that are nearly always colour coded the same way. The white nozzle (40 degrees) will be the least harsh on your car’s paint but probably won’t shift stubborn dirt and stains. The green nozzle (25 degrees) gives a more focused jet of water and will do a better job of cleaning things like wheels than the white nozzle. The yellow and red nozzles are not really ideal for cleaning your car and will increase the likelihood of you stripping paint away, so you should leave them in the box until it’s time to clean your patio or blast down the BBQ.

As you can see, they are nearly always colour coded-

How to clean a car with a pressure washer

Pick a cleaning spot

The first thing to do is to pick a good place to clean your car. If you live on the roadside, you’ll probably have to clean it there, and will no doubt need an extension lead. People with driveways should probably use that, but you have to consider possible damage to nearby flower beds, garden furniture, and other features.

Start off by rinsing the top layer of dirt off

Before you use any car shampoo or attach a foam lance, you should begin by giving your car a good rinse to remove the surface dirt and dust. If this is your first time using a pressure washer on your car, make sure you have it on the lowest setting, and the white nozzle fitted, and then stand a good 6 feet away before you pull the trigger.

It is probably a good idea to spray the ground nearby first to test the power. See how well this works, and if you feel like you need to move closer then do so, but only by a few steps at a time. You might find that you have to move further away sometimes, like when cleaning plastic parts such as indicators, and you might want to change to the green nozzle to use on your wheels and rims.

If using an extension lead, please be careful not to get it wet or you could have very nasty accident that could even be fatal.

Time to soap up

After giving your car a good rinsing, it’s time to soap her up. Make sure you have the right kind of car shampoo that goes with your particular pressure washer, that you have the soap nozzle or foam lance fitted, and then locate the detergent compartment on the main body of your pressure washer. Follow the instructions on the cleaning solution bottle as regards dilution, and then add it to the compartment.

If you have set this upright, you should now just be able to point the lance down at the bottom of your car from a few feet away and squeeze the trigger. What you should see is a nice coating of foam starting to cling to the lower part of your car. Working from the bottom up, cover your car in foam, and then either use a sponge, mitt, or brush attachment and rub the foam around to help get rid of stuck-on dirt, dead insects, bird poo, etc.

You’ll need to let the soap do its job and break down the dirt, but the time needed will differ slightly from product to product, so check the instructions. Leaving the soap on too long can cause it to dry and stick to the car, which is not what you want, so don’t just walk away and leave it on.

Rinse again

Now it’s time to wash off all those suds and with it a lot of dirt. First, though, you need to make sure all the cleaning solution is cleared out of the pressure washer’s main unit, and that you have replaced the foam wand, brush, attachment, or soap nozzle, with the white spray nozzle we used earlier. Repeat the same process as before, standing a few feet away and moving closer and further away as needed. Continue until you have washed away all the soap and you should be looking at a sparkling clean car that looks as good as new. Who knows? It might even look as good as this one-

Finishing touches

All that’s left to do now is to dry your four-wheeled baby off and stand back and admire your handy work. I prefer to use soft towels to dry my car after pressure washing it, but a nice, soft, cloth will work just as well.

If you want to add an extra touch of sparkle to your newly cleaned car, there are car waxes and wax attachments that you can use with your pressure washer to give that professional finish.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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