Pressure washing your car is fun and completely safe as long as you know what you’re doing (after all, it’s how most professional detailers do it). This tutorial will walk you through the process from start to finish, using the same proven methods as the pros.
Tools and materials
Besides a pressure washer, you’ll need a few other tools and materials to clean your car. You may need everything on the list below, or you may just need some things depending on the type of vehicle you have, how much effort you want to put in and more.
Use 1,500-2,000 PSI for cars (even for a dirty work truck).
Use a product that’s made for car washing (don’t use dish soap).
Use decent size buckets, and get two.
Use microfiber material, and get two.
Use microfiber material, and get at least two (more is better).
Get if your car soap isn’t made for pressure washers.
Get if you want to give your car a shiny finish after washing.
Get if your wheels are extra dirty (from brake dust, etc.).
Get if you want to give your tires a shiny finish after washing.
Get if you want to clean your engine bay before washing.
If this is your first time using a pressure washer, read our guide on how to use a pressure washer to learn the basics. Then, follow the instructions below to pressure wash your car (or truck, motorcycle, trailer or any other type of vehicle).
Step 1: Prepare car
Park your car somewhere with no direct sunlight, if possible, and make sure your doors and windows are completely closed so water doesn’t get inside. If you have a truck, use a broom to sweep any loose dirt or debris out of the bed.
Step 2: Set up equipment
Pull out your pressure washer and connect your garden hose, high pressure hose and spray gun. Prepare your car soap following the manufacturer’s instructions (some need to be diluted, others don’t), then fill your pressure washer (some models have an onboard detergent tank, others have a siphon that you put directly in your solution), or fill your foam cannon if you’re using one. After that, fill your water buckets (one with soap and water, the other with plain water). When you’re ready, turn on your water and start your pressure washer.
Step 3: Clean wheels
Connect the 40° nozzle (usually white) and pre-rinse the wheels with plain water to remove loose brake dust. Then, switch to the 65° nozzle (usually black), or connect your foam cannon, and apply soap (or, if you bought a wheel cleaner, spray that on instead). Grab one of your wash mitts and soak it in the soap bucket, then scrub each wheel inside and out (rinse your mitt in the water bucket as needed). Finally, switch back to the 40° nozzle and rinse the soap off.
Step 4: Clean body
Following basically the same instructions as above, connect the 40° nozzle and pre-rinse the body with plain water to remove any loose dirt. Then, switch to the 65° nozzle, or connect your foam cannon, and apply soap. Grab your other wash mitt (not the one you used for the wheels), soak it in the soap bucket, and wash the exterior. Work from the top of your car to the bottom, wiping from side to side to prevent swirl marks. Finally, switch back to the 40° nozzle and rinse the soap off.
Step 5: Dry car
Use one of your drying towels to absorb any big pools of water on your roof, hood and trunk, then grab a new towel and dry the car like normal. Start with the paint, then do the windows, then do the wheels, and use new towels as needed.
Step 6: Detail
Apply your detail spray following the manufacturer’s instructions (usually, you just spray it on and wipe it off with a towel). Work one body panel at a time, detailing the paint, windows and even the plastic trim (be careful with running boards, some can get slippery). Once the exterior is done, apply your tire shine (if it didn’t come with its own applicator, you can use a towel, just keep it for future use).
Frequently asked questions
The most common questions about pressure washing a car are answered below. For other questions, you can reach out to us at any time. If you have a question about a specific product, you may need to contact the manufacturer.
Can you use car wash soap in a pressure washer?
Some car wash soaps can be used in a pressure washer, but most of them can’t because they’re too thick (which can damage the pump). If a product is approved, it will say so on the bottle. If the bottle doesn’t say anything about pressure washers, it probably shouldn’t be used in one.
Is it safe to pressure wash a car?
There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s safe to pressure wash a car. Too much pressure can certainly damage car paint if you don’t know what you’re doing, but if you follow the instructions above and use the right methods, it’s as safe as rinsing it with a hose. Ask yourself this: would professional detailers do it if it wasn’t safe?
What PSI will damage car paint?
Any pressure washer with decent PSI can damage car paint, but like the answer above, it’s all about your methods. For example, 3,000 PSI is too much if you’re spraying two inches away with a 0° nozzle, but a 40° nozzle at three feet away is going to be a lot less powerful.