Are Pressure Washers Really Safe To Use On Cars Or Any Vehicle?

pressure washer

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Whether you’ve got an old car and notice that it’s been getting dusty in your driveway or you’ve just bought a new sports car and want to see it shine, you might have asked yourself about the value of pressure washers. Do they really work better than washing by hand with a sponge and hose? Can pressure washers cause damage to my vehicle? Is the cost of a pressure washer worth it?

There’s a surprising amount of disagreement about whether pressure washers are safe and effective. For this reason, it can be hard to work out the facts and make an informed decision. Whether your car is old or new, you don’t want to have the keys handed back to you after your car has gone through a pressure washer only to discover that it has been damaged in the wash.

A pressure washer is a quick and effective way to wash your car or truck. If your vehicle is covered in mud from off-roading, or has just been collecting dirt from weeks without rain, you can expect that pressure washers will get the job done and blast away all the grease and grime from the road. Plus, you’ll be able to use the foam gun in tandem with the pressure washer for an added clean.

But before using pressure washers, it’s a good idea to understand how they work. Water may seem harmless when it’s coming out of a garden hose or shower head, but when it’s coming from a high-pressure nozzle, it has the potential to do harm to both people and vehicles. To learn how to effectively use a pressure washer, read on.

How Does a Pressure Washer Work?


The basics of a pressure washer are simple. High-pressure water shoots from the nozzle at the end of the washer wand, also called a lance. Because the pressure level is high, dirt is blasted away faster than with a comparatively low-pressure garden hose.

For a better understanding of pressure washers, you need to know the different kinds of pressure washers available. If you’re thinking about purchasing a pressure washer for your home use, then you’ll probably be using an electric-powered washer. These units are ideal for low-volume jobs where you have access to a source of electricity, like you do in your garage.

If you own or service a lot of vehicles that you plan to wash regularly, you probably want have the convenience of using the pressure washer wherever you are. If such is the case then an engine-powered unit might be worth it to you. Most consumers won’t need this, as it’s more expensive and powerful than an electric washer, but for some people it’s the ideal way to pressure wash.

An electric-powered pressure washer is still powerful and can cause damage if used incorrectly. The most common mistake that results in damage comes from using the wrong pressure nozzle. More on the correct nozzle to work with below.

Should You Purchase a Pressure Washer?

cleaning cars

Before you decide to buy either an electrical or an engine-powered pressure washer, make sure that you look into what kind of warranty is offered by the manufacturer. High pressure on the outside means that these machines deal with pressure on the inside, and that causes significant wear and tear. Always check the warranty first before paying for an expensive pressure washer that might break down.

Some people don’t purchase a pressure washer themselves, but instead use ones available at self-service car wash stations. If you have a choice of different washer wands, choose the one that works best for the section of vehicle you’re washing. Short wands are great to use around the wheel wells while longer wands are best used on the large engine bay of your vehicle.

Some nozzles can deploy both high-pressure water jets and soap to reduce the amount of time you have to spend washing. But, you’ll probably get a more thorough wash if you soap and rinse separately.

The Right Way to Pressure Wash a Car

Before you activate your pressure washer, take a look at the nozzle setting. Many pressure washer wands have adjustable nozzle settings that allow you to choose the speed and shape of spray you want. Beware of focused, high-pressure streams. You want a spray pattern that is evenly dispersed so that you don’t have too much pressure hitting any one section of your vehicle.

If you see any nozzle settings that seem to indicate “heavy duty” or “power wash”, you can probably skip these. If possible, use a 25-degree nozzle. A 25-degree nozzle distributes water across a 25-degree angle, meaning it’s still focused but the pressure is dispersed enough to prevent against damage.

A 25-degree angle pressure head sprays roughly three times the pressure of an ordinary garden hose. If the hose doesn’t indicate the spray angle and just has a graphic representation of the spray formation, then try the lowest pressure setting first and experiment to find a roughly 25-degree spray angle from there.

How Far Away Should You Stand?

Most people understand that the distance between the hose nozzle and the vehicle is important. But exactly how far back should stand away from your car or truck before turning on the spray? Here’s a general rule you can use when determining how far away to stand. If you stand two feet from your vehicle, then the pressure is half as much as if you were standing one foot away.

By doubling the distance between you and the vehicle, you cut the pressure hitting the car in half. Less is more with pressure washers, so it’s a good idea to take a step back from where you think you should be standing. Your car will thank you for it. When you are washing those delicate parts of your vehicle, like the side mirrors, you’ll want to stand as far away as possible.

Is Pressure Washing Safe?

car wash

If you use it responsibly, yes. That being said, it’s easier than you think to misuse a pressure washer and cause unseen damage to your vehicles. Take the tires for example. If you aim the washer wand directly at them for as little as five seconds you could be doing damage to the sidewall of your tires that you cannot see.

Blowouts on the road can cause serious accidents and even fatalities, so the risk of accidentally doing damage to your tires by power washing is a real problem. If you pay a professional to power wash your car for you, then they should be aware of this risk and know to avoid it. That doesn’t mean that everyone working at the car wash will be aware of the effects a pressure washer can have on tires.

Pressure Washers Can Save the Environment

There’s a good reason to choose to use a pressure wash for the sake of the environment. If you choose to wash your car in your own driveway with the sponge and bucket, you should know that you’re putting the safety of the environment at risk. When you rinse soap and wax off your car, where does it go? It rolls down the driveway, into the street, and down the storm drain.

These drains empty into the ocean without being treated. That means that those detergents are environmental waste that can have an adverse effect on wildlife along the coastline. For the sake of the sea creatures, you can have your car cleaned with a pressure washer by professionals. Car washes filter out toxic chemicals before releasing the water down the drain.

Before starting your wash, look for existing chips in the paint. This indicates there’s a weakness in the paint coat that might be weakened further by a direct hit from a focused spray nozzle. If you do have chips or imperfections in the trim or paint, be extra careful to stand as far as possible from the vehicle with the pressure on a low setting.


Can you get a great wash using a pressure washer? Absolutely. Can you do it safely? As long as you know what you’re doing and know to avoid some common errors, then it is safe to use a pressure washer.

If you’re in the market for a pressure washer, consider one that has a spray pressure between 1400-1800 psi. If you opt for more than that, you might get more power than you need without improving the effectiveness of your wash. If you have dead bugs stuck on your windshield that won’t come off, step a little closer to increase the pressure of water hitting your vehicle.

Whether you use a pressure washer or a sponge and bucket, you deserve to keep your car pristine and undamaged. That’s why it’s always better to attend to dirt and grime before it becomes unmanageable. Dirt can eat away at the finish of your car’s paint, negatively impacting your car or truck’s resale value. So don’t delay. Grab a pressure washer wand, or a bucket, and get to work today.

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