At some point in time as a car owner you're going to have to wash your car. How you choose to do that depends on the amount of time and money you have at the moment and your own personal interests in taking care of the job. Some people like to give their car a hand wash every weekend in the driveway. Some drivers are happy just to drive through an automatic car wash. Whatever the case it's pretty clear that more water pressure means more cleaning power when it comes to a car. But is a pressure car wash good for your car?
No matter where you live your car is going to get dirty when you drive it around. In dry climates you have to deal with a lot of dust, and winter climates are going to have to deal with salt from the roads. And all around the world you're going to have to put up with dirt and grease getting splashed up onto your car as you drive. If you want to keep it looking it's best then you need to keep a regular schedule for getting your car washed. It doesn't just ensure that it's going to look good, it can help extend the life of your car as well. You want to get things like road salt off of your car as soon as you can. Likewise, you don't want too much dirt and debris getting up into important components like your brake pads, for instance.
Let's take a look at what kind of pressure you want to be using when it comes to washing your car, what might be too much, and what you need to know about getting a pressure car wash to keep your car looking and performing as best as it can.
Is It Okay to Wash a Car with a Pressure Washer?
When you head to a gas station or a car wash place to get your car washed you'll notice that whether you're going through automatic wash or whether you do it yourself, you are going to be using a pressurized hose. However, this is not the exact same thing as a pressure washer like you would use at home to clean off your patio, for instance.
Although many people will use a pressure washer to clean their car at home, and you can find plenty of them for sale that list this as one of the many uses for the pressure washer, keep in mind that this isn't specifically what most of them were designed for. If you have any nicks in the paint on your car, a pressure washer is going to blast that small hole into a much larger one. That in turn can leave your car open to developing rust that much faster.
Pressure hoses available at most commercial car washes don't have the same amount of pressure that a pressure washer you’d use for cleaning your deck has. In any event, a typical garden hose and some soap should be all that you really need to get your car washed at home if that's what you're looking to do.
If you've always washed your car with a pressure washer and you've never had any problem then you're probably thinking we're giving you terrible advice here. And it's true, like we said many people do wash the car with pressure washers. It's very possible you could wash your car every week for 20 years with a pressure washer and not experience any problems. You just need to be aware that there could be a problem. If there's any damage to your paint, if there are any cracks in your headlights or in the bumper, anything like that could serve as a weak spot that may get severely damaged when the pressurized water hits it. So, you just need to be aware of things like that before you go ahead with anything.
The damage caused by a pressure washer will happen extremely fast, so you won't have a lot of reaction time if you notice something has gone wrong. The spray can obscure your vision so if you happen to cause paint to chip away, you likely won't notice it until you move the spray somewhere else and see the hole that's been created in your car’s paint job.
Is 2000 PSI Too Much to Wash a Car?
If you are using a pressure washer to clean your car then you need to be aware of just how much pressure you're using. For instance, your common garden hose is going to have a pressure of somewhere around 40 PSI to 50 PSI. You can put on a certain kind of nozzle to increase the pressure, of course.
When it comes to using a pressure washer, you want to keep the pressure somewhere between 1200 PSI and 1900 PSI at the very most. 2000 PSI is definitely going to be too much for washing your car safely.
If you're using a pressure washer at 2,000 PSI or above, you are risking damaging the paint even if there aren't already chips and cracks in it. This is the kind of pressure that you can use to gouge holes in a wooden deck or fence, and when you use it on your car even though it may be in good condition normally, the water can end up blasting the paint right off of your car.
Some commercial pressure washers can get all the way up to 2500 PSI. This will definitely ruin your paint and if you actually hit your car at the wrong angle you could even dent the panels as well with pressure that's this high.
Generally speaking, if you're using an electric powered pressure washer you should be in the safe range. Always check to be sure ahead of time, but typically speaking an electric pressure washer will likely produce a PSI somewhere between 1200 and 1700.
Gas powered pressure washers can produce a PSI that ranges from 2000 all the way up to 2800. This is extremely unsafe for washing the car and you should never even try with a gas-powered pressure washer.
One thing that's worth keeping in mind is, if you're unsure whether or not your pressure washer is safe for washing your car, you can adjust the nozzle to make it safer. Pressure washer nozzles come in different degrees and you can use the one that is 20° or 40° to spread the water out in a way that won't put all the pressure at a single point on your car. That will make it far less likely to cause any damage to your panels or the paint job. Even a 15-degree nozzle should be fine for washing a car. Just be careful with the 0-degree nozzle, that's the one that just allows the water to shoot in a straight jet.
Which Nozzle is Best to Pressure Wash My Car?
Most pressure washers come with four nozzles. As we stated before they come with a zero-degree, 15-degree, 25-degree, and 40-degree nozzle.
Zero Degree Nozzle: This nozzle is the one that shoots a straight jet of water. This is probably best for something like your rims if you're looking to spray those off from dirt and debris. If you have a spot of dried bird poop or something like that on your car this might work as well if you know that the pressure isn't so high, it will damage your paint.
15 Degree Nozzle: This may be best for tough spots, dirt that is hard to wash away and greasy grime around the wheel wells.
25 Degree Nozzle: This nozzle is ideal for doing a pre-wash rinse of your car just to get the whole surface wet and ready to go. It's still a fairly strong spray, but not as concentrated in one spot as the zero or the 15-degree nozzle is. This should be able to get off any actual chunks of dirt and any coating of dust that may be on your car before you really get into cleaning it.
Once your car has actually been washed, this is okay for rinsing it off again as well if you feel like the 40-degree nozzle isn't doing the job for giving it rinsed off quick enough.
40 Degree Nozzle: When it comes to just giving your car a proper wash, the 40-degree nozzle is a good one. This covers a wide range when it sprays out so it's perfect for maximum coverage on your car while not being so intense that you have to worry about anything getting damaged.
Do I Need Safety Gear to Pressure Wash My Car?
Obviously, this is going to be up to the individual when they're washing their car, and you probably have never seen anybody wearing any kind of safety gear at the car wash when it comes to washing a car. However, if you are using a high-powered pressure washer it's never a bad idea to keep some safety equipment on hand. You may want to wear some goggles just in case, as well as a pair of gloves. Another thing that most people don't think of, but which may be one of the most important safety things you can wear when you're using a pressure washer is safety shoes of some kind.
You'd be surprised how often someone lets their guard down and lowers the end of a pressure washer while it's still operating and then ends up shooting the jet of water onto their foot. If you're wearing soft shoes, a pressure washer can cause some serious damage to your foot. Obviously being careful is the smartest course of action, but it never hurts to be prepared and wear some hard shoes just in case.
What is the Pressure of a Car Wash?
When you go to a professional car wash, whether it's a drive-through car wash or a car wash that you're going to pay to gain access to the pressure washer so you can watch it by yourself, you're still dealing with pressurized water. If you're curious how the car washes compare to your own pressure washer, it's worth knowing that a typical car wash is going to provide you with water that is usually at 1,000 PSI to 1200 PSI.
Some car washes do have higher pressure hoses available but those are not usual and typically aren’t necessary for the average car wash.
The Bottom Line
If you want to keep your car looking good, then you definitely need to make sure you're washing it on a regular basis. It's pretty impossible to drive your car for any significant distance around town without ending up with a lot of road grime, dust, and other residue on your vehicle.
You can save yourself a lot of time and money if you use a pressure washer at home to get your car cleaned rather than taking it into the car wash, you just need to make sure you're being safe and responsible when you do so. Pressure washers can be extremely dangerous tools and not everyone respects just how powerful they are because it seems like it's only water. Just how dangerous could water be, right? Well, keep in mind that there are tools called water jets that are actually used to cut right through steel. With the right amount of pressure there is very little that you can't do with a jet of water and that makes it extremely dangerous. Not just dangerous for your car, but dangerous for you as well if you're not careful with how you're using it.
Make sure that you know the PSI of the pressure washer that you're using, and if you have any doubts, use one of the nozzles that we mentioned that will boost it above 0° to either 15°, 25°, or 40° to ensure that the spray of water isn't so concentrated any longer and you won't have to worry about damaging the paint on your vehicle or potentially causing any dents or dings in the surface as well.