Do You REALLY Need A Pressure Washer To Clean Your Car?




Washing a Jeep Wrangler

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Spending any amount of time watching detailing videos online and on social media can easily put you under the impression that you need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment just to get started. A fancy pressure washer is one of those tools that we see often.

While a pressure washer is an incredibly helpful tool, it isn’t an absolute requirement for detailing your car in most cases. A well-maintained vehicle can be washed with a regular garden hose if you don’t have the budget for a pressure washer. You’ll need to be careful, but it can be done safely.

A pressure washer is better for washing your car than a hose – here’s why:

There’s no arguing that a pressure washer is the best tool for the job. It has several benefits over a garden hose and nozzle. The biggest benefit is an obvious one: pressure.

Having pressurized water will enable you to quickly knock off the heavy dirt and grime without having to touch the vehicle. In detailing, the minimum amount of direct contact with the vehicle’s paint is ideal. This reduces your chances of scratching the paint. 

It’s also a huge time saver. This may not be as important when first getting into detailing, but eventually those “Hey can you wash mine next?” comments will turn into “Hey, how much would you charge to do mine next?”. Ask me how I know.

Karcher pressure washer with Obsessed Garage upgrade

I didn’t have a pressure washer for quite a few years but eventually, I was washing enough cars for the investment to make sense and also be paid for by those very jobs. 

A secondary benefit is the ability to use a foam cannon with your pressure washer. Not only is a foam cannon incredibly satisfying, but it also adds lubricity and begins to carry dirt and dust off the paint as it runs down the side of the car. This further reduces the chances of scratching the vehicle’s paintwork. 

You don’t need to spend $5,000+ on the best Kranzle on the market. A more budget-friendly option from Adam’s or another supply company will be plenty to get you started and should only cost $500 (or less).

The important specs to look out for are PSI (pounds per square inch) and GPM (gallons per minute). 1,400 to 1,800 PSI seems to be the sweet spot, but PSI is nothing without water flow, look for a machine that can flow about 2 GPM. 

Check out Tim’s upgraded Karcher pressure washer setup here:

Situations that require a pressure washer

Not only does pressure washing save time, but it is also necessary in certain circumstances. For instance, it would be nearly impossible to remove copious amounts of mud from a day of offroading without using one. Getting all the mud out of the wheel wells relying on hose pressure alone would be quite frustrating. 

The video above is a perfect example of when a pressure washer is required. The 4runner is ceramic coated and the paint is in great shape – so extra care is required to get 10,000 km of mud and grime off safely.

I feel like mud is a pretty obvious reason to use a pressure washer, but what about things like bird droppings, pine needles, bugs, or pollen? Removing bugs and bird droppings quickly without touching them is imperative to keeping your paint in good condition. Those are both highly acidic and will etch the clear coat if not taken care of quickly. 

You also don’t want to scrub your paint to remove them, or you risk scratching the paint. This is where a little pressure could change your life. Keep in mind that bugs that have been on the paint for any period will most likely require more than just pressure. I recommend using a bug-specific chemical like bugout to help you remove stuck-on bug remnants. 

Pine needles and pollen won’t necessarily be difficult to remove without a pressure washer. They will however take a significant amount of time to remove. A pressure washer will make quick work of this task, blowing it out of the nooks and crannies with ease.

Pine needles are also quite sharp. By blowing them off the paint with a pressure washer you reduce the amount of time they’re able to stay on your paint which is quite a nice benefit. 

Washing a Dodge Challenger

Tips for washing a car with a garden hose

When I first started washing cars for friends and family I didn’t have a pressure washer. Getting one made my life a whole lot easier but I managed without one for quite some time.

If your car is extremely dirty and you don’t have a pressure washer at home, it may be a good idea to do an initial rinse at your local coin-operated car wash. This is also a good time to apply any pre-wash or bug and tar products you like to use to make your job easier later on. 

Bringing your car to a public car wash may seem like an inconvenience but I can assure you it’s less of an inconvenience than polishing the whole vehicle because of the swirl marks caused by trying to skip this step. 

1. Use the jet setting on the nozzle for heavier dirt

If your car only has a light to medium build-up of dirt and dust you should be ok to skip the local car wash and tackle the whole project at home. Make sure to use the jet setting on your nozzle to remove the most amount of dirt with the least aggressive method. The shower setting may be enough to rinse the soap off afterward but the initial rinse will need a little more kick. 

2. Use a high-quality car soap

It’s always important to use high-quality car wash soap. It’s especially important when you don’t have access to a pressure washer because the initial rinse won’t be as thorough and will leave more dust and dirt on the car’s surface. 

A high-quality soap will aid in cleaning your car without having to use harsh chemicals and aggressive cleaning methods. The lubricity, pH balance, and hyper surfactants will be safe on your car, prevent scratching of the paint, and break down dirt and lift it off of the surface. 

3. Substitute a foam cannon with a gun

The foam cannon is one of the best tools you can have in your car wash arsenal. Not only does it add lubricity to your wash, but it also pulls dirt off the surface of the car as it drips off. It’s such a useful tool it can seem like you can’t do a good job without one. And without a pressure washer, you can’t use a foam gun. 

Luckily there’s a solution for this exact dilemma. It may not give you the same results but a foam gun is a great substitution when a pressure washer isn’t a viable option. The thickness of the foam won’t compete but the added lubricity is well worth the purchase.

I would recommend taking an extra step when using a foam gun though. Instead of going straight into the wash after foaming the paint, it might be a good idea to add an extra rinse to your process. Once that’s done foam the paint once more, then begin the wash with a two-bucket method or my preferred multiple microfibre method. 

Head over to this article if you’d like to learn more about how foam cannons and guns compare.

4. Wash more often to avoid buildup

It goes without saying that it’s easier to maintain your vehicle by washing it frequently than to have to play catch-up when your car is completely filthy. This is exaggerated when you aren’t able to use a pressure washer. If you wash it regularly you will prevent the dirt, dust, and road grime from building up on the surface thus making each wash require a little less elbow grease.

Additionally, you can make each wash easier on yourself and reduce the amount of cleaning product you use by making sure you have a good layer of protection on your paint, trim, and glass. I’m personally a big fan of ceramic-based protection but there’s something to be said for the process of regularly applying waxes and sealants. It can be a sort of therapy for most automotive enthusiasts.

If you’re the type that wants to put in the least amount of effort regularly then ceramic coatings will be your ideal product. If you have the coating applied professionally the installer may even have a lot of good advice on how to quickly and effectively perform a maintenance wash. As well as tell you what products to use and avoid when washing your vehicle. 

Final Word

The short answer to the question I asked is: No, you don’t need a pressure washer to clean your car. The added benefits though are hard to ignore. The important things to remember when washing your car are: 

1. Make sure to do your very best to remove as much dirt and road grime before beginning the hand wash to reduce the chances of scratching. 

2. Wash often to make your job easier. 

3. Add protection to make your job easier. 

4. Enjoy the process no matter the equipment you’re able to afford. 

Ideally, we’d all have Matt Moreman garage setups but I know that’s not always attainable. I have more equipment and products for detailing today than I did when I first started. The passion hasn’t changed though, I’m still the same wide-eyed teenager at heart but I’m also striving to improve my setup and hone my skills every time I turn on the water.

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