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Cleaning your car with a pressure washer

By Victoria Pearson

Tips to help you wash your car quickly and safely with a pressure washer.

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Using a pressure washer to clean your car is easier than hand washing, and it uses less water than a hose pipe. Follow our guidelines to help you get the best results and avoid damaging your car.

Why not visit our pressure washer reviews to find out which ones we recommend?

Step-by-step to pressure washing your car

  • Rinse off the top layer of grit and grime. If you're using a machine with a variable jet spray, adjust it to a spray of approximately 5-8cm wide, so it's strong enough to clean the car but won't damage the paintwork. You will need to use a slightly wider and less powerful setting for the windows, lights and other fragile areas.
  • Apply a detergent. Set the pressure washer nozzle to the widest and least powerful setting - or remove it altogether - to coat the entire car in a layer of detergent. Let it work its magic for a few moments, but don't let it dry or you'll be left with blemishes that will have to be buffed out later.
  • Loosen the most stubborn dirt and grease. Use an attachable car brush to make the job quicker. If you're using the same one to clean the wheels and wheel arches, as well as the paintwork, do the wheel areas last as there's more chance of the brush picking up small stones and grit from around the wheels, and you don't want to be rubbing these against the paint. Rinse the brush thoroughly once you've finished using it to make sure all grit is removed.
  • Rinse the car off with a high-pressure jet setting. Again, using a slightly stronger setting for the paint than the glass areas. If you don't have a variable nozzle to adjust the power and width of the spray, just stand further away from the car - one metre should be a safe distance to prevent any damage.

Useful pressure washer features for car cleaning

  • Find a pressure washer with a long hose, for preference at least 5m long, so you don't have to move it around the car. Choose one with wheels to make it easier if you do need to move the pressure washer. 
  • Choose a pressure washer with variable jet nozzle settings as this will make it much safer to clean different parts of the car without causing any damage.
  • Get a pressure washer with a nozzle attachment that allows you to change the direction of the spray - we used one that could be angled upwards to clean inside the wheel arches.
  • Try to find a washer with an attachable foamer bottle, as this is easier to use than a container that you have to carry around with you.

Visit our pressure washer reviews to find out what features each pressure washer offers.

Take care with your pressure washer

  • Don't ever use a rotary (or tornado) nozzle attachment when cleaning your car as it will be too strong and could damage paintwork.
  • Watch out for the initial burst of water that comes out of the pressure washer when you first turn it on. There can be a strong initial spray, so point the nozzle at the ground first.
  • Try to pressure wash the car on concrete rather than on a gravel driveway to avoid the possibility of stones flying up and hitting the paintwork.
  • Don't use a strong spray on areas where paint is chipped as it could strip more paint away.
  • Don't use a high spray setting on old tyres, as it has been known to make them explode.
  • Never spray the engine bay, the boot or the interior - unless you fancy buying a new car. It's also worth checking all the windows are closed properly.
  • Don't point the spray directly at panel gaps for too long as these areas will be most susceptible to leaks. It's worth checking the interior after spraying to see if any of the doors have leaking seals.

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