How to safely clean your car using a power washer

Don’t worry—it’s hard to mess this up
by Joey Bernardez | Jul 31, 2019
PHOTO: Leandre Grecia

When I was a kid, washing my car was something I did quite often. Back then, it was all the rage to have body-colored fender wells and to have them really clean. Just about every time I washed my car, I’d have to jack it up, take off the wheels, and manually scrub those fender wells. Oh how I wished we had a pressure washer back then so I could have just hosed them off clean.

You see, ordinary households couldn’t afford to have pressure washers before. They were just too expensive. Nowadays, a pressure washer can be one of the tools in a typical home garage. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re relatively inexpensive and very useful for cleaning a variety of stuff in your house. The pressurized water just about takes the place of manual scrubbing, which is now only resorted to for the most stubborn embedded dirt.

These are some of the advantages of using a pressure washer as opposed to the traditional garden hose, bucket, and sponge:

  • There’s less contact with the car, therefore reducing scuffing of dirt and debris onto the paint finish.
  • Caked dirt is just blasted away, instead of tediously scrubbed off by hand.
  • It’s easy to reach tight places that otherwise would be difficult to access.
  • It takes less time and effort to finish cleaning your car. 

No doubt that it’s much easier to clean a car with a pressure washer. However, the power it can generate requires a bit more care in its use compared to that of an ordinary garden hose. Because of the force behind it, some say that a pressure washer might damage the paint. I haven’t seen that happen myself, but it seems reasonable. In fact, there are pressure washers that are designed to remove paint, but I don’t think those are available at your neighborhood mall.

To be on the safe side, before using this on your car, make sure that the pressure that it puts out is less than 2,000psi. That should be safe enough for your paint. And if you have chipped paint, common sense says not to concentrate the water blast on those damaged areas. Otherwise, you could make the damaged area worse.

Here’s a bit of knowledge that I picked up from Eddie Salonga, one of the country’s most esteemed auto-show judges. This guy has immaculately clean cars. We once talked about using pressure washers on cars and he said he doesn’t use them because he likes to take his time washing his cars. But when he did use them, he would always be careful to not concentrate on the door handles and the bottom edge of the windows. This is to avoid water getting into the doors, window mechanisms, and door locks where it can get trapped and cause rust. Although I haven’t seen this negative effect for myself, it seems reasonable. 

As for the steps to cleaning a car using strong streams of water, here they are:

1) Start off with a thorough rinse.

Go from top to bottom, and rinse the dust and dirt off the car first.

2) Use the pressure washer to shampoo the car.

If you have a pressure washer, you can attach a detergent tank to it. That will spray your chosen car shampoo onto the car.

3) Don’t forget to spray down the wheels.

Blast the soap into the wheel wells and wheels.

4) Soap down the car.

Take a soft sponge soaked in your soapy solution and soap down the car, being careful not to put too much pressure but getting as far into the nooks and crannies as you can. Use a different sponge for the bottom part of the car, wheel wells, and wheels.

5) End with another thorough rinse.

Thoroughly rinse the car down with your pressure washer, taking care not to blast water into sensitive areas like the door handles and window bottoms.

One last thing: Remember those garden hose games you played when you were a kid, spraying water on your friends and/or siblings while washing the car? Try not to do it with a pressure washer. The blast can hurt people. And more important, you’ll look immature if you play with water at your age. 

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PHOTO: Leandre Grecia
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