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1 October 2020

How to clean your car with a pressure washer

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

Using a pressure washer to clean your car is easier than hand washing, and it uses less water than a hosepipe. 

But do it wrong and you could end up chipping the paintwork, ruining your tyres or soaking the interior. 

Watch our video below to find out how to clean your car effectively. Or keep scrolling to find out the most useful pressure washer features for the job.

Alternatively, head straight to our pick of the best pressure washers for cleaning your car.

Video: how to clean your car with a pressure washer

How to pressure wash your car

1. 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. 

You want the spray to be strong enough to clean the car but not to damage the paintwork. 

You will need to use a slightly wider and less powerful setting for the windows, lights and other fragile areas.

2. 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.

3. 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.

When cleaning the wheels or wheel arches there's more chance of the brush picking up small stones and grit, 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.

4. 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.

Need a new pressure washer? Head straight to our pressure washer reviews

Useful pressure washer features for car cleaning

  • Long hose: at least five metres long, so you don't have to move it around the car. 
  • Wheels: will make it easier if you do need to move the pressure washer. 
  • Variable jet nozzle settings: will make it much safer to clean different parts of the car without causing any damage.
  • Nozzle attachments: that allow you to change the direction of the spray. An angled nozzle can direct water upwards so you can clean inside the wheel arches.
  • An attachable foamer bottle: 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.

Dos and don'ts for cleaning your car with a pressure washer

  • Do 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.
  • Do 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.
  • Do make sure all your windows are closed properly.
  • Do check the interior of your car after spraying to see if any of the doors have leaking seals.
  • Do make the most of different attachments - some pressure washers come with detachable heads that allow you to change the direction of water spray - handy for wheel arches.
  • Don't spray too close to the paintwork - doing so with a high-pressure washer could cause some damage.
  • Don't let detergent dry. It will cause blemishes, which can be a pain to get rid of.
  • Don't use a rotary (or tornado) nozzle attachment when cleaning your car. It will be too strong and could damage 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.
  • Don't spray the engine bay, the boot or the interior - unless you fancy buying a new car.
  • Don't point the spray directly at panel gaps for too long as these areas will be most susceptible to leaks.

Here's our round-up of the best pressure washers for different categories such as cleaning the garden and hard-surface cleaning.

View all Pressure washers
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