Everything to Know About Pressure Washing a Car

Everything to Know About Pressure Washing a Car

Washing your car by hand is very rewarding but takes time and physical effort. 

You may not have enough time during your day to cover every inch of your dirty car by hand, but this does not mean you can’t wash your car! Although you could easily go to an automatic car wash, it is not highly recommended

Rather, you should consider pressure washing your car yourself. There are many different products and methods that can be used to pressure wash your car. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to pressure wash your car. 

Before starting, you may wonder if pressure washing a car is good or bad. There are many advantages to pressure washing your car, but there are also some important disadvantages to consider.

There are many different opinions about using a pressure washer on your car. You may ask yourself, “Is pressure washing cars good or bad?”

There are pros and cons of pressure washing a car, so you’ll need to consider all of them before deciding to continue. 

Here are four basic reasons that pressure washing a car can be good or bad.

1. Quick and Easy

It is much quicker and easier than hand washing, which requires more materials and takes longer to cover all areas of the car. 

For high-pressure car cleaning, you only need your pressure washer and car wash soap.

Pressure washing also has the added benefit of extra attachments, such as a foam cannon. This will make it even easier to remove all the dirt from your car. 

Washing with a high-pressure hose also makes washing much easier. 

It reduces physical effort since you won’t need to bend over to hand-wash the car. Additionally, larger vehicles are much easier to clean with high-pressure because they have spots that are hard to reach.

2. Helps Minimize Scratches

Scratches are very possible during the hand-washing process. Dirt and grit picked up during a wash can stick to towels and cause scratches. There are methods to help prevent this, but it is still a common problem.

High-pressure car cleaning avoids direct contact with the paint, therefore reducing the potential for scratches. Dirt is instantly washed away when hit with water rather than sticking to a washing towel.

3. May Leave Some Dirt Behind

It may not clean all the dirt off your vehicle. 

Although touchless washing has benefits, some dirt simply won’t come off without direct contact with the surface of the paint. 

It can be disappointing to see spots with leftover dirt after washing.

When the car is wet, it can be more difficult to find spots that are still dirty. Therefore, you can easily leave dirt behind, which you won’t notice until the car is dry.

You can attempt to prevent this by keeping track of which panels or sides of the car you have cleaned.

Although most dirt is rinsed away, you may find a few spots with a thin layer of leftover dirt.

This can be fixed by following up with an Instant Detailing Spray to take care of small dirty spots.

4. Can Damage the Paint

paint flakes with rust

Although scratches are prevented by avoiding direct contact, it is not impossible to scratch the paint.

Pressure washing with large amounts of dirt can be damaging if you aren’t careful.

If high-pressure is immediately used on the dirty surface, the abrasive dirt can be pushed against the paint causing scratches.

This can be avoided by washing heavy dirt first with a light water stream or normal hose.

Additionally, washing the car on a surface with stones or heavy dirt, such as a gravel driveway or grass, can cause damage if particles are knocked into the air when the high-pressure hose is aimed at the ground.

If paint chips or flakes are present on your vehicle, they can be made larger, causing more damage. A high-pressure water stream can travel under the chips and peel off additional paint. 

paint flakes with rust

This is especially common with older vehicles. Therefore, you should be extremely careful to avoid damaging them while pressure washing.

Use caution when getting the hose within 6 inches of your car.

Using Car Soap with a Pressure Washer

There are two ways to integrate soap into the pressure washer. While the first method is most effective, the second can be easier and uses less materials.

1. Foam Cannon

The most effective (and satisfying) way is using a foam cannon. A foam cannon sprays a thick layer of soap onto the vehicle to break up dirt. 

This helps remove more dirt without having to touch the vehicle with a washing towel.

Most foam cannons are very similar (even the more expensive ones) and will work fine, but it is important to buy one with solid metal parts instead of plastic. 

I recommend the MATCC adjustable foam cannon because it is cost-effective, well-made, and gets the job done.

You can use any normal car wash soap with your foam cannon. I’ve had great results using Meguiar’s Gold Class car wash soap with the MATCC foam cannon.

2. Detergent Tank

The second way to integrate soap into the pressure washer is using the detergent tank on the machine. 

Although it will not produce as much soap as the foam cannon, it can be easier to use and requires less materials. 

If using the detergent tank to pressure wash a car, you can use a soap designed for use on cars and pressure washers or a normal car wash soap.

How to Pressure Wash a Car

  1. Lightly rinse heavy dirt off the vehicle with water from top to bottom. Use low pressure and spray more than 3 feet away from the vehicle.

  2. Spray soap onto the vehicle using either the detergent tank in your pressure washer or a foam cannon.

  3. Spray soap in the wheel wells and under the vehicle if desired.

  4. If using a foam cannon, let the soap sit on the car for a minute before rinsing. Avoid allowing the soap to dry, as this could leave a residue on the car.

  5. Thoroughly rinse the vehicle from top to bottom, keeping the pressure washer hose more than 1 foot from the surface of the car. 

    • If spraying too close, you could strip paint and cause other damage.

    • The car will need rinsed more thoroughly than when hand-washed because soap reaches more cracks and crevices when using a pressure washer.

Best Pressure Washer for Car Detailing

Before pressure washing a car, you should have the proper equipment. Obviously, the most important piece of equipment is the pressure washer. 

Most pressure washers are acceptable to pressure wash a car, but they can cause damage if used incorrectly. 

If you already own a pressure washer, check that the pressure is below 2,000 PSI, or adjust the machine to a safe level.

If you don’t own a pressure washer, you should choose one with a safe level of pressure (below 2,000 PSI). 

A water pressure that is too high can cause damage, such as stripping of the paint. 

A popular choice for a car pressure washer is the Sun Joe SPX3000. The SPX3000 is an electric pressure washer capable of 2030 PSI. It comes with the appropriate spray nozzles for pressure washing a car and two detergent tanks.

It is also important to use the correct nozzle washing a car. The nozzle determines the angle in which the water leaves the pressure washer. If the angle is too sharp, it can cause damage to your car.

You should use a 25 or 40 degree nozzle when pressure washing your car. Check your pressure washer to find the appropriate nozzle attachments.

Is High-Pressure Car Cleaning Right for You?

High-pressure car cleaning could be the perfect option for you for several reasons:

  1. If you don’t have time to wash by hand, it is a much quicker process. You don’t even need any materials, as self-serve car wash stations are common and easy to find.

  2. To minimize scratches, especially on black cars. Black cars are notorious for swirl marks and scratches caused by hand-washing, so high-pressure car cleaning could be the best option to prevent this damage.

  3. To easily clean larger vehicles. Larger vehicles can be difficult and time-consuming to wash by hand. High pressure cleaning makes this easier and more effective.

  4. To quickly clean vehicles that don’t need a perfect wash. Not all vehicles need a spotless clean, such as work trucks.

Car Pressure Washing Tips

Remember these important tips and guidelines when pressure washing a car:

  • Use a safe PSI for washing cars (2,000 PSI or less)

  • Use a nozzle tip greater than 25 degrees

  • A foam cannon will break up dirt more than using your detergent tank

  • Use caution when pressure washing closer than 6 inches

  • Use caution when pressure washing older cars with rough, fragile paint jobs

  • Keep track of the parts of the car that you haven’t washed to avoid missing spots

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