Many people who love their cars say that pressure washing is a surefire way to get all of the grime and dirt off of your car to keep it looking like new.
Using a pressure washer is also seen as much more efficient and quick than washing by hand because it moves along much faster than it does if you manually wash your car. But, a pressure washer produces a very powerful jet of water.
So, can pressure washers damage car paint?
Even if pressure washing can seem like the ideal solution to keeping your car looking new, you can damage car paint it if you’re not careful.
Not fully understanding how to use this machine can wreak havoc on your car, and it can go as far as stripping the paint fully off to expose the metal underneath. In turn, this can lead to rust damage and cost you thousands of dollars to fix.
If you’re set on pressure washing your car, you have to know how to do it at each step of the process to avoid damage.
We’re going to run you through how to do this, what can go wrong if you do it incorrectly, and a few tips to ensure you get a beautifully clean car when you finish with zero damage.
How to Pressure Wash a Car Correctly
Unlike a lot of people believe, pressure washing your car is much more involved than just pointing a high-powered, steady stream of water at your car and pulling the trigger.
You can choose from gas-powered or electric models, PSI varies from machine to machine, and you can angle the nozzle in different ways to avoid stripping the paint.
Several systems also allow you to add detergent, so you’re not trying to clean with just water. You have to be mindful of the following to prevent damaging your car:
GPM and PSI – Both PSI and GPM relate to the water’s flow, but they mean completely different things. PSI stands for pounds per square inch, and it pertains to the pressure that your machine has while GPM or gallons per minute refers to the amount of water the machine releases.
You multiply these things to get the number of cleaning units for a particular surface, and you can use 1,200 to 1,900 PSI and 1.4 to 1.6 GPM to get 1,900 to 2,800 cleaning units. Going above these measurements risks damage to your car’s paint and coating.
Gas or Electric – Gas-powered pressure washers tend to deliver more power per project than electric. For pressure washing your car, you want to use an electric model because they’re lower power, and there’s a reduced chance of stripping the paint. However, the PSI could still crack your windows, so be very careful when you work around them.
The angle of the Nozzle – You can angle your pressure washer’s nozzle from 0 to 65-degrees, and the lower angles will deliver a much more targeted, direct stream of water. Anything above 15-degrees will work well to rinse off your car or for applying soap. If you go lower, the pressure will be far too much for the paint to handle intact.
Parking Location – Pressure washing can very quickly and easily damage your home’s surroundings due to the jet of water, and this includes the pavement for fencing, even concrete. Before you pressure wash your car, make sure you park it away from other people, objects, and pets to help avoid collateral damage.
Once you’ve considered all of these important factors, you can start pressure washing your car.
Make sure that your vehicle’s doors, windows, and trunk are all securely closed before you rinse off any debris or mud, and you should start by standing at least four or five feet from your vehicle.
After the initial rinse, be ready to use a detergent that is compatible with both the car and pressure washer.
If you want to use a brush with your pressure washer, make sure the brush is free of debris and clean before you start to avoid projecting these particles onto your car and scratching the paint.
Put on close-toed shoes when you clean to prevent the spray from coming back and hitting you. The PSI on your pressure washer can be enough to strip your skin.
Potential Problems with Pressure Washing Your Car
There are potential risks with pressure washing your car like stripping off or scratching the paint that can lead to rust and metal penetration, and this is why many people recommend against using this machine on your car.
Additionally, the loose pebbles, dirt, and gravel can get picked up by the stream and scrape against your car as you work.
Beyond these larger issues, pressure washing can do more harm than good, especially if you’re new to using this machine. Other issues include:
People who attempt to clean their vehicles with a pressure washer the first few times fail to fully clean the undercarriage and surface of the car.
Doing so causes any dirt or leaves left on the car to become very abrasive when your jet of water hits them, and this can cause scratches.
- Age plays a large factor in how soon your car will develop rust spots, so you want to avoid pressure washing classic, older vehicles to keep them pristine.
- If the paint on your vehicle already has chips in it, a pressure washer can cause the cracks in the paint to get wider. It could even peel the paint right off to cause much more damage.
- Many people don’t know how to use a pressure washer correctly, and this inexperience can cause you to stand too close to your vehicle, washing from bottom to top, using a PSI that is far too high, washing the car in an area with gravel, or leaving the water jet in one place for too long.
- While a stream of water on a low setting can help remove salt, mud, or debris from the undercarriage of your car, you should never pressure wash the engine, anything made out of rubber or plastic, or under the hood.
The Dos and Don’ts of Pressure Washing Cars
If you pair your pressure washing with a nice polish, you’ll end up with a gorgeous finished product in a quarter of the time.
However, there are some things you should do and some things you should avoid to ensure you don’t cause damage. We’ve outlined them below for you.
- Check that your brush is in good condition, suited to use on your car, and clean. Even if you were to use a commercial-grade pressure washer, it won’t cause the same amount of damage that a hard-bristled brush can.
- Pick a machine that can handle both detergent and water to make the cleaning process much smoother and easier.
- Check your car’s windows, door, and trunk before you start to ensure they’re completely closed.
- Wear long sleeves, goggles, and closed-toed shoes when you pressure wash your car to protect yourself from flying debris.
- The sponges and brushes you use on your car should be rinsed thoroughly. If you don’t do this before you use them, any grit stuck in the brush will drag across your car’s paint and scratch it.
- Put the nozzle right up against your car or only a foot or so away because this can damage the paint or clear coat.
- If you’re using a more powerful commercial-grade pressure washer, don’t use any settings that are meant for stripping paint off an item or anything harder.
- Never pressure wash the engine or anything under your car’s hood, even on the lowest setting. It’s very easy to damage components.
- Never pressure wash your car on a gravel surface or somewhere with a lot of loose debris. When you work, the water jet can throw up pebbles or gravel, cause them to bounce off your car’s surface, and cause gouges or scratches.
- Put straight detergent on your car. Always dilute them properly before adding them to your pressure washer.
- Don’t start washing your car at the bottom and work your way up because you’re working against gravity. Always start at the roof and work your way down with gravity.
- Don’t hold the nozzle of the pressure washer in one particular area for long. Depending on the surface, doing so can cut it or chip the paint off your car. The water stream on your pressure washer should be moving to different areas constantly.
You can use a pressure washer to wash your vehicle if you know what you’re doing and follow certain rules.
However, many people are against this practice due to the high chance of damaging it, especially if it’s an older, classic car.
It’s much better to take your time to wash it manually and ensure there is no damage that causing thousands of dollars of damage that you have to repair.