Car Pressure Washers Damage Car Paint? [Ask The Experts]

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Many people choose to wash their cars by hand or with a hose, but there are advantages to be had by using a pressure washer instead.

Not only is it far less manual effort than washing by hand, but it also uses less water than a traditional, unpressurised hose.People often question whether washing a car with a pressure washer can damage the vehicle’s paint.

 Though this is possible if proper care is not taken, it doesn’t have to be the case. Below, we’ll look at how a washer can be used without any risk to your car’s paintwork.

Choosing a car-safe washer

Not all pressure washers are safe for use on a vehicle; some are too powerful, whereas others have unsuitable nozzles. Follow the below advice when searching for a car-safe washer:

  • Choose a washer that has a long hose, preferably at least 5 meters. Shorter hoses could drag against your vehicle when moving between surfaces, with the potential to cause scratches
  • Choose a machine that comes with a variety of nozzles. Whereas narrow, focused spray nozzles are fine for glass and wheel rims, broader nozzles should be used for cleaning paint
  • Aim for a pressure washer that has a built-in or supplementary detergent or soap container. This will avoid the need to carry an additional container, and as with the hose, carrying extra equipment could lead to accidental knocks or scratches on the vehicle’s paintwork

General advice when washing


Before we go into detail on the best process to follow, here are a few pieces of advice that will ensure your pressure washer is not likely to cause your vehicle any damage:

  • Avoid using rotary nozzle attachments or washers known as rotary cleaners. These designs are far too powerful for your car’s paintwork and could easily cause damage
  • Don’t focus the spray for too long upon seals, seams and joints, including the gaps between windows and doors. This can force water into the car’s interior, dampening the upholstery
  • Don’t use your pressure washer to clean the engine compartment of the car, nor any of the other various interior compartments
  • Taper the strength of the spray that you use – typically, no more than 3,000 PSI should be used on a vehicle. Even weaker pressures are best for tire sidewalls, which can be easily damaged by high-pressure hoses
  • Don’t wash your car on a surface with loose debris and stones. The pressure of the water could kick debris up onto the car and cause scratches and chips
  • Direct your pressure washer’s jet into the ground when first switching on the machine, as the first blast is often more powerful than the usual stream

Washing your car safely:

Now that you know the best pressure washer to choose, as well as the advice to follow to avoid damage, here’s our quick guide to safely cleaning your vehicle with a pressure washer.

Remove excess dirt and debris first

Using one of your broader spray nozzles, you’ll first want to remove the top layer of dirt. Avoid a powerful spray or a focused nozzle whilst dirt remains on the paintwork, and be especially careful with delicate areas such as headlights.

Use a cleaning agent

Again, using a weak and broad spray pattern, apply a detergent or foaming car soap. You can use your pressure washer to do so, if it has a feature that allows this. Only allow the detergent to sit for a few moments, otherwise you can be left with streaking.

Focus on ground-in dirt

Next, you’ll want to focus on removing any dirt and grime that wasn’t removed on the first pass. If your pressure washer supports a variety of attachments, you could use a brush nozzle. That said, do not use your brush on the wheels prior to the rest of the car, otherwise you risk transferring abrasive debris from the wheel arches onto the paintwork, causing scratches.

Rinse away the remaining dirt and detergent

At this point, you can switch to a high-pressure spray pattern and nozzle. Any remaining dirt should now have been loosened and will be easily washed away by the strong jet of water. To avoid risking any damage from the higher-pressure setting, you should maintain a safe distance from the car; approximately 1-1.5 meters between the nozzle and paintwork is ideal.


By following all the advice and steps laid out above, you can safely enjoy the time-saving benefits of pressure washing your vehicle, without any of the concerns that you had regarding paintwork damage.