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Is Pressure Washing Cars Good or Bad? What You Should Know

We’ve all seen it done, but a question that you’re probably wondering is: Can I pressure wash my car, and is it safe?

The short answer is that pressure washing isn’t really a bad thing if done right, but there are a few things you must keep in mind to prevent any damage from occurring. Pressure washing is a good method for many people if done right, but may not be for everyone.

In this blog, I’ll cover a few things to keep in mind.

Factors to consider

Before you begin, there are a few considerations like equipment, soaps, and most importantly – pressure that you will need to keep in mind before beginning.

Aside from pressure and proximity to your vehicle, pressure washing is generally a pretty safe and efficient way to wash your car, truck, or fleet of vehicles.

1. Softness of water

Believe it or not, the softness of your water can have an effect on how easily soap suds form.

The more calcium you have in your water source, the more likely soap scum will form instead of suds and may require more soap than normal to get a good clean.

In general, hot water helps break down contaminants (in addition to water softeners). As it relates to pressure washers, you may want to consider a hot water pressure washer only if you live in an area that has very hard water.

These are usually more expensive than standard pressure washers, but may be a good option if you have the money or are considering a commercial pressure washing business.

If you do have to deal with hard water (and spots) I recently wrote an article on how to prevent, remove, and even eliminate hard water spots that you may want to check out.

2. Pressure

For carwashing, as long as you stay somewhere between 1200 to 1900 PSI your vehicle should be fine.

Your standard garden hose puts out somewhere between 40 to 50 PSI, with most homes able to produce around 80 PSI at a maximum. Another factor you must consider is what nozzle to use.

3. Chose the right pressure washer nozzle

If you’re new to pressure washing, there are 5 basic nozzles that are used to narrow or widen the stream of water coming out to be familiar with.

Make sure you have the pressure on a low setting as mentioned previously before beginning. The only nozzles to avoid are the red (zero degrees) and possibly yellow nozzle to be on the safe side.

  • Red0 degrees: Rarely used, not suitable for cars
  • Yellow15 degrees: Suitable for removing stuck-on mud from certain surfaces
  • Green15 degrees: Good for all-around cleaning, good to start with for removing mud or dirt
  • White – 40 degrees: Good for rinsing in general
  • Black65 degree: A soaping nozzle, used for applying soap with a sprayer for maximum coverage

The red nozzle produces a single stream of water, which can remove paint. It really isn’t practical to use on cars and should be avoided.

Yellow can be used to blast away tough mud, but it’s best to keep a safe distance from your vehicle.  In general, the green, white, and black nozzles should suffice for car washing.

I found this video that helps describe these in greater detail:

3. Rubber and trim pieces

Aside from pressure, the main thing you want to avoid is aiming the nozzle too close to plastic trim pieces. On my truck, there are two plastic trim pieces that have fallen off when taking my truck through a car wash.

Many laserjet car washes apply pressure way too close to the vehicle in my opinion and try to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

I usually try to avoid plastic emblems, stickers, and really anything attached with an adhesive that could potentially be removed using high pressure.

4. Gas vs. electric

When it comes to pressure washers, you’ve got both gas and electric options to choose from. Both of which will do the job, with electric probably being your best bet.

Gas-powered pressure washers produce around twice the maximum pressure (up to 5,000 PSI), but really is a little overkill unless you plan to wash your driveway or porch.

I recently reviewed 5 of my favorite electric pressure washers for detailing that I thought were great for beginners on a budget.

Benefits of pressure washing your vehicle

All in all, pressure washing is a great idea for most people looking to get their car clean or back to a presentable condition.

It’s an absolute must for me, since I live in an area with red clay and lots of mud. The reason being is because it is a huge time saver.

Some trucks or SUVs can have nearly twice the surface area as some cars, and usually takes me over an hour to wash by hand. Time is money, so for me, a pressure washer is worth the investment.

Another benefit is that the pressure helps reduce the amount of scrubbing you have to do or use of other products (like bug and tar removers).

Not only can pressure remove stuck-on substances like tar, bird poop, bugs, or pollen, it’s also great for removing debris you may not be able to remove by hand.

Pine needles, leaves, and other debris always are a hassle to completely remove for me, but applying pressure definitely makes it a lot easier.

Potential disadvantages

While I’m a fan of pressure washing, it’s not for everyone. If you drive an exotic that is already garaged, it may be overkill to apply pressure at all.

Handwashing may be the way to go especially for smaller cars or if you are concerned at all about damaging the paint or clear coat.

Pressure washers can also be costly to operate if you wash your vehicle more frequently.

The primary dangers are not knowing how to safely apply the correct amount of pressure. If you have someone else who is planning on washing your car, make sure they know the risks involved.

Live in California? Keep this in mind

Believe it or not, pressure washing could cost you quite a bit of money in states like California, due to their tight restrictions on daily water consumption. The state may soon pass a law that levies a hefty, $500 fine on residents that use water hoses to wash their cars or driveways.

While the availability of water is not a problem in most states, there are several waterless ways to wash your car or vehicle. One company you may want to consider if this applies to you is a mobile detailing company called Spiffy that I reviewed.

They claim to use half of the amount of water as a traditional car wash, are environmentally friendly, and recently opened for business in the Los Angeles area.

Have anything else to add? Leave a comment below.

If you’re new to auto detailing or just a beginner, get your free copy of my eBook, 25 Essential Auto Detailing Products for Beginners.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

3 thoughts on “Is Pressure Washing Cars Good or Bad? What You Should Know”

  1. I own a landscaping business and am thinking of adding a pressure washing service so one question I had is if I could use the equipment to wash my new car. Thanks for the great content, you answered all my questions.


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