How to Pressure Wash Your Car

Our cars are put through a lot. They’re often outside and exposed to the elements. Because of this, they can pick up a lot of dirt and grime and other substances. Many car owners have learned that the car wash isn’t the only place you can wash your car to get it looking good as new; pressure washing is another way to wash your car – while doing it yourself and in the comfort of home.

Pressure washing your car is relatively easy, but how do you do it? You can pressure wash your car in a few simple steps: getting the necessary materials, finding an appropriate area to pressure wash your car, prepping your pressure washer, prepping your car, rinsing your car, applying detergent, and rinsing the detergent from your car.

To help you get your car looking its best by pressure washing it, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about pressure washing your car, like what pressure washing is, all the steps to pressure washing your car, and where you can find a pressure washer to use on your car.

By the end of this article, you’ll be a pro on pressure washing your car. Before we dive into all the necessary steps for pressure washing your car, let’s run through what pressure washing is, the types of pressure washers, and other properties of pressure washers you should know.

An Overview of Pressure Washing

Pressure washing is the use of spraying water at high, fast pressures to clean surfaces and remove substances like mold, dirt, old paint, and mud. People use pressure washers are used on a huge variety of surfaces like decks, patios, driveways, fences, boats, roofs, siding, and (like we’ll discuss here) vehicles.

Pressure washers are a type of power tool that utilize two to four jets that swivel around one another when water is flowing. The jets create a fast, pressurized stream of water that can clean surfaces quickly and effectively. 

Types of Pressure Washers

There are two main types of pressure washers that each have different properties and uses: electric pressure washers and gas pressure washers. Each type of pressure washer is classified by the pressure per square inch (or PSI) it emits, as well as how many gallons per minute (GPM) it releases.

Pressure washers also have a number of different tips, nozzles and attachments that are suited for different tasks. Tips and nozzles on pressure washers control how the water is released, meaning they determine whether a spray will be hard and focused, or more soft and widespread.

Electric Pressure Washers

This kind of washer have a PSI of 1,300 to 1,700, and are great for smaller jobs and more fragile surfaces. Electric pressure washers are ideal for cleaning things like outdoor furniture, grills, boats, roofs, and vehicles. 

Consider an electric pressure washer to use at home, as they’re smaller, less noisy, and easier to store than gas pressure washers. 

Gas Pressure Washers

You’ll find that gas pressure washers operate with a PSI of 2,000 to 3,000, meaning they essentially pack a bigger punch than electric pressure washers. In general, gas pressure washers are more powerful than electric pressure washers, and are ideally suited for larger jobs that need more water pressure to clean the surfaces. 

This type of pressure washer is great for use on decks, sidewalks, concrete, fences, and other large and strong surfaces. They’re louder, larger and harder to store than electric pressure washers, but those characteristics are necessary for the jobs gas pressure washers complete.

How to Pressure Wash Your Car

Now that you know more about pressure washing and the different types of pressure washers, it’s time to get to the good part: pressure washing your car. You’ll need some necessary materials and completed prep work before you get started on following the steps to pressure washing your car. 

Overview of Steps

You’ll want to continue reading about these steps as we go over them in depth for the best results when pressure washing your car. However, so you know what to expect, here’s an overview of the steps to pressure washing your car:

  1. Gather the necessary materials
  2. Find a safe, appropriate area to pressure wash your car
  3. Prep your car
  4. Prep your pressure washer
  5. Rinse your car with the pressure washer
  6. Apply detergent to your car
  7. Rinse the detergent off your car with the pressure washer
  8. Dry your car and enjoy the finished product!

Step One: Gather the Necessary Materials

Naturally, you’ll need to gather some materials before pressure washing your car. To pressure wash your car and get its exterior looking good as new, you’ll need:

  • A water source
  • An electric pressure washer
  • The correct tip nozzle for the pressure washer
  • 1 quart of detergent
  • A bucket
  • Cloth to dry your car
  • Safety glasses (optional but recommended)

A Water Source for the Pressure Washer

Your pressure washer will need a water source to work effectively. This is most often a garden hose attached to your home. 

Use an Electric Pressure Washer

As we discussed previously, electric pressure washers are optimal for smaller jobs like pressure washing cars. This is because they use less pressure, meaning they won’t damage the paint or windows of your car. A pressure washer with a setting of 1,200 to 1,900 psi is optimal for pressure washing your car!

The Correct Tip Nozzle for the Pressure Washer

We also discussed the many tip nozzles and attachments that can accompany pressure washers. Tip nozzles are very important and need to be taken into consideration when pressure washing anything because they control the pressure level of the water.

To put this into perspective, the wider the spray means the lower the pressure. For example, a 10 degree tip will deliver a focused, very pressurized blast of water, where a 40 degree tip will deliver less pressure in a wider spray. 

To pressure wash your car, you’ll want both a 25 degree tip and a 40 degree tip. Tips are often categorized by color; 25 degree tips are commonly green in color, and 40 degree tips are commonly white in color. 

25 degree tips are great for cleaning truck beds and wheels, or for getting mud and other tough substances off cars. They’re also optimal for the pre-wash rinse on your car that we’ll discuss soon. 

40 degree tips clean large areas quickly, and are what you’ll use to clean the surface of your car and wash the detergent off your car. 

The Right Detergent for Your Car and Pressure Washer

Unless you plan on applying detergent to your car by hand, you’ll need to make sure to purchase a detergent that can be used with your pressure washer. Most pressure washers have distinct, special compartments for cleaning detergents; the detergents just need to be compatible with the pressure washer.

It’s important to note that most all detergents need to be diluted with water before they’re applied directly to a car. Make sure to read all manufacturer directions and warnings. 

Step Two: Find an Area to Pressure Wash Your Car

It’s important to find an appropriate and safe area to pressure wash your car before beginning. You’ll want to be mindful of your power sources and water sources, as those can determine how far away you can use your pressure washer. 

Large driveways or streets are great areas for pressure washing your car. No matter where you decide to pressure wash your car, make sure that there are no other objects around that shouldn’t be power washed. Also make sure there aren’t any other people or pets nearby that could be harmed by the pressure washer. 

Make sure to put a good amount of thought into where the safest and best area will be to pressure wash your car.

Step Three: Prep Your Car

Before even thinking of turning your pressure washer on, make sure you prepare your car. Once you’ve parked your car in the appropriate and safe area for pressure washing, all windows should be completely up and sunroofs should be closed. 

It probably goes without saying, but make sure your car is in park with the emergency brake engaged. Additionally, ff you plan on pressure washing a truck, make sure everything is removed from the bed that you don’t want pressure washed. 

Step Four: Prep Your Pressure Washer

You’ll also need to prep your pressure washer before beginning. To do this, first check your power and water sources. Is your pressure washer plugged in to an appropriate power source? Are your hoses secured tightly without any kinks or bends?

Next, set your spray and nozzle to the lowest setting to prevent any recoil or kickback once you turn it on. Then, attach your 25 degree (green) tip nozzle. 

You may want to consider wearing safety glasses and a mask while pressure washing your car in case any debris is washed back towards you! 

When you’re ready, position yourself at least 3 to 4 feet from your car and start your pressure washer.

Step Five: Pre-Wash Rinse

Before actually rinsing your car, test out the pressure of your water by spraying it at the ground first. Once you see how the pressure is, you can make adjustments as needed.

Rinsing your car is an important first step in the process of pressure washing it. When rinsing your car, you’ll remove the bulk of mud, dirt and other substances that are on it. Spray the water downwards on the car’s surface, rather than directly on it. 

Make sure you’re standing 3 to 4 feet away from your car while rinsing to prevent damage to your car and blowback of substances onto you. You may need to move closer to the car to remove debris from the wheel wells, tires and hubcaps of the car. 

Step Six: Apply Detergent

Once you’ve completed the pre-wash rinse of your car, it’s time to apply detergent. For this example, we’ll assume you’ve decided to apply the detergent with the power washer and that your power washer has a detergent tank. 

First, read the instructions on the detergent for diluting the detergent with water. Most all detergents in this scenario need to be diluted with water before use. 

Next, take a bucket and the necessary amount of water to dilute the detergent with the water. Then fill the detergent tank of the pressure water with your diluted detergent solution. Make sure to change the setting on the pressure water so it sprays the detergent and not just water. 

When spraying the detergent on your car, it’s important to start from the top and work your way down to the bottom. 

When you’ve applied the detergent, let it sit for at least 5 minutes.

Step Seven: Rinse off the Detergent

It’s time to switch to a 40 degree tip for your pressure washer and change your pressure washer setting so it’s back to spraying water. Rinse all the detergent off your car by again spraying from the top of your car and working your way down to the bottom. 

Step Eight: Dry Your Car and Enjoy the Finished Product!

Guess what? You’re almost done! Using a cloth or drying product of your choice, dry your car off completely. Once you’ve dried off your car, it’s time to enjoy the finished product and be proud of your hard work. 

Safety Tips

Safety is key when using pressure washers, so make sure to follow these safety tips when using a pressure washer to wash your car (or for anything else)

  • Use protective equipment like long sleeved clothing and pants, safety glasses and masks when operating pressure washers.
  • Never put your hands or other body parts in front of the nozzle of a pressure washer.
  • Never point the nozzle of a pressure washer at yourself, another person, a pet, or a surface not intended to be pressure washed. 
  • Stand at least 3 feet away from any surface being pressure washed.
  • Never operate a pressure washer on a ladder or other tall or unsteady surface. Recoil from the pressure washer could cause you to fall and become injured.
  • Always check and double check your components and connections of the pressure washer before using. 

Where to Get a Pressure Washer

There’s no doubt that you’ll obviously need a pressure washer to pressure wash your car. If you don’t have one, there are quite a few places to rent or buy one. Let’s walk through the places you can buy or rent a pressure washer and how much it can cost. 

Renting a Pressure Washer

Renting a pressure washer is a popular option for those who don’t have the budget or storage space to own a pressure washer. Additionally, if you rent a pressure washer, you don’t have to perform any maintenance on it. 

Pressure washer rentals tend to have a lot of different rental length options. For example, at Home Depot, you can rent an electric pressure washer 4 hours, day to day, week to week or four weeks. Prices vary on where you’re located, but example prices for renting an electric pressure washer are:

  • $27.00 for 4 hours
  • $39.00 per day 
  • $156.00 per week
  • $468.00 for 4 weeks

Other places to rent pressure washers vary on your location, but there are many local shops and other large retailers that rent pressure washers. Major retailers like Lowe’s and Ace Hardware are also known to rent pressure washers depending on location and availability.

Buying a Pressure Washer

Buying a pressure washer might be the right option for you if you have the budget, ample storage space, and plan on using a pressure washer frequently. You’ll want to take into account what type of pressure washer will be best for you before purchasing one. 

Electric pressure washers tend to cost less than gas pressure washers, but gas pressures have more power and more mobility. Let’s do a brief comparison of pressure washers.

Electric Pressure WashersGas Pressure Washers
Costs less than gas pressure washersCost more than electric pressure washers
Run on electricityRun on gas
Smaller, quieter and less mobile than gas pressure washersLarger, louder and more mobile than electric pressure washers
Ideal for washing cars, outdoor furniture, boats, plastic play equipment, and small decks or patiosIdeal for washing large areas, fences, driveways, sidewalks, siding, and large decks
1,300 to 1,900 psi2,000 to 3,000 psi

You can purchase a pressure washer at any major home improvement retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware.

Home Depot has electric pressure washers for sale that are priced anywhere from $168.00 to $629.00. Gas pressure washers are listed on their website for around $283.00 to $1399.00. 

At Lowe’s, electric pressure washers start at $119.00 and work their way up to $463.00. Gas pressure washers are priced anywhere from $249.00 to $1440.97. 

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