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Can a Pressure Washer Damage Car Paint?

You may have heard that using a pressure washer to wash your car can damage your paint or trim.  But how true is this statement?  

Lots of us use pressure washers to wash our car all the time.  Are they safe?  

I’ve been using a pressure washer for years.  And I like to keep my paint in perfect condition.  

Here is what I think of pressure washers.

Quick Answer

A pressure washer won’t damage car paint.  I have used a pressure washer for years to wash my car.  I use it to create thick snow foam.  Pressure washers are great for washing mud and road grime without causing scratches.

Benifits of using Pressure Washer to Wash Your Car.

Car paint is easy to scratch.  And a lot of the scratching happens when washing (and drying) your car.

A pressure washer can help you massively reduce the number of scratches you cause when washing.  

Remember, any time you touch your car you scratch it a little.  So the goal with washing is to keep scratches to a minimum.

And a Pressure Washer will help you do just that.

Pressure Washer Usage Tips to Prevent Damage.

  1. Use a wide fan nozzle for higher pressure washers.
  2. Don’t use too much pressure (max 3000psi)
  3. Don’t use a Pressure Washer on a rusty car unless pressure is low.
  4. Don’t use too much pressure around old window seals or plastic trim.
  5. Don’t use a pressure washer on an engine bay (my preference).
  6. Don’t use too much pressure if you have touch up paint on your car.

The Magic of Snow Foam

If you really want to pamper your car you should use snow foam.

A simple foam cannon attachment will allow you to create a thick foam.

The foam sticks to the car and breaks down dirt and road grime.  Put the normal power washer attachment back on and rinse away the foam and most of the dirt.

Read More …

How a Pressure Washer Helps when Washing a Car.

  • Pre-rinse:  Get as much dirt off your car before you hand wash it.  
  • Bug Removal: Scrubbing your car will scratch it.  So use your pressure washer to get most of the bugs off.
  • Mud Removal:  Mud is easy to blast away with a pressure washer.
  • Wheel Wash: That black stuff on your wheels can be washed away.
  • Wheel Wells: It’s easier to reach in there with a pressure washer.
  • Floor Matts:  Take them out and use the pressure washer to give them a deep clean.

How Many PSI is Safe for Cars?

  • Minimum Pressure for Washing Cars: 1200 PSI
  • Maximum Pressure for Washing Cars : 3000 PSI

Pressure washers of less than 3000 psi are fine to use on modern cars. There have been a number of tests to verify this. I have used gas pressure washers of 2700 psi for years without damaging my cars.

I am always careful around plastic trim that might become loose if the water jet was concentrated on it for too long. Also, you should be careful around windows to make sure you don’t get inside the rubber seals.

Keep the water jet moving over the car as much as possible. Remember you only want to remove dirt and soap bubbles so you don’t need to focus too long on one spot.

The only issue I ever had with a pressure washer was on an older car. We had applied some touch-up paint to fix some paint chips. The pressure washer removed some of them.

We reapplied the paint chip product and we were more careful the next time, we used a wider jet and held the washer further away from the paint. Problem solved.

If you have a classic car or an old car that may have some rust then I would also avoid using a pressure washer. You should probably wash your car by hand only.

What pressure washer nozzle is safe for cars?

Use a minimum of a 25-degree nozzle for cars.  Anything smaller could risk damaging your paint or trim.

The zero-degree nozzle and the turbo rotating nozzle are particularly not safe to use on cars.  

Best Type of Pressure Washer for Washing Cars?

A power washer that allows you to adjust the pressure is perfect for washing cars.

The Karcher K5 Full Control is a great example.  It’s the pressure washer I’m currently using.

You can use the high-pressure setting to get the most foam or to remove mud.

Use the low-pressure setting to rinse off pre-rise foam or to rinse your car after a hand wash.

The low-pressure setting also uses less water.

And if you want to use your pressure washer for cleaning your driveway you can adjust the pressure as needed.

The K5 comes with a Dirt Blaster attachment that is not suitable for cars in my opinion.  This attachment uses a single spray point that spins around.

You should use a regular pressure washer lance instead.

Is there a better value pressure washer for washing cars?

I have seen a number of professional detailers using Sun Joe pressure washers.  

These are extremely good value for money and have a good reputation for reliability.

The Sunjoe SPX3000 produces 2000 psi which is perfect for washing cars.  There are a large number of attachments available that you can add at a later stage.


Can I use a Pressure Washer on Wheels and Tires?

Yes, you can use a pressure washer on wheels and tires.  

If you have black stains on your wheels you should use a wheel cleaner spray to dissolve it first. 

The stains are caused by brake dust. 

Your pressure washer will easily blast it away once it’s dissolved.  

Is it Safe to use a Pressure Washer on PPF?

PPF or Paint Protection Film is a thin layer of plastic that is applied to cars to protect their paint.

I have read about people who have a clear bra or some other protection film having issues with high-powered pressure washers. Problems can arise when a weak point appears on the film and the water jet gets underneath it. 

I think this is very rare and in most cases, it will rarely happen.  But if you can see the PPF starting to peel on your car then you should be careful.

What About Rust?

A pressure washer could damage a rusty car.  Even a small amount of pressure could push through and create a big hole where you didn’t want one.

Don’t use any pressure if you have rust spots.  Rust can be hidden under the paint and you accidentally punch a hole through.

You can still use your pressure washer on a rusty car to generate snow foam.  Just rinse it off with a hose instead of using the pressure washer.


Final Thoughts

A regular electric presser washer won’t damage car paint.  

It’s a great way to get the dirt off your car quickly without scratching it.

Use it to create snow foam which further protects your car from scratches.

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