Car Advice

How to choose a pressure washer

Pressure washers are becoming more and more popular for use around the house and particularly when cleaning a vehicle, here’s how to choose a pressure washer for your car or 4×4.

Most of us grew up using a garden hose and a bucket of soapy water to clean our car. And for many people this age-old system for keeping their pride and joy spick and span is enough, but sometimes you need more…

See, with a garden hose you’re at the mercy of your house’s water pressure which can either be geyser-like or a dribble. Sure, you can buy hose attachments to focus the spray but it won’t be effective as a pressure washer.

See, if you opt for a pressure washer then you can increase the water pressure to blast away even the most stubborn lumps of muck. Using a pressure washer also uses a lot less water than a garden hose alone, in fact, common pressure washers use around 68 percent less water. A pressure washer will make water work a lot harder than a garden hose but they still pump around 320 litres of water every hour or more depending on the flow rating of your unit.

More than this, using a pressure washer is a whole lot more fun than dribbling water onto the surface via a garden hose, and you can quickly clean a muck-covered 4×4 in no time at all. And, beyond using less water, using a pressure washer should also be theoretically better for your car’s paint surface. See, if your using a pressure washer with soap applicator then you’ll be loosening and removing grit before you stick a sponge on the thing; and trying to wash away grit with a soapy sponge alone can scratch your car’s paint.

But using a pressure washer to clean your car is not without its issues, see if you stand too close or aim it directly at hoses and rubber seals and use the wrong spray head then you risk doing damage to your vehicle; some are designed for cleaning and some designed for stripping muck off bricks and even paint off the side of a house. But, with a few common-sense tips and techniques, something we’ll explore over the coming months, then you’ll soon be using a pressure washer like a pro.

Petrol or electric?

Pressure washers are available with either a petrol or electric motor to increase the pressure of the water from your garden hose. A petrol-engined pressure washer is best for professionals needing to clean bricks or clean/strip paint from weather boards before re-painting, or even professional car detailers needing a machine that will handle constant use.

For most of us a pressure washer with an electric motor will be more than sufficient for washing the car and even cleaning pavers, the bbq and even outdoor furniture. More than this, an electric pressure washer is generally smaller and can be packed away more easily.

What water flow rating should I be looking for?

When it comes to choosing a pressure washer you’ll notice something on the box reading PSI or Pounds per Square Inch and this is generally the grunt of the unit, like torque on a car. And then there’s the water flow itself which is measured in litres per minute. What you’re looking for is a system with around 1200psi to 3000psi. Obviously, the more pressure your system has the more powerful it is, so, make sure you select the correct accessories for the job you need the washer for. Don’t forget, most pressure washers can generally have the pressure turned down by rotating the wand head. In some cases it’s best to start off with less pressure and turn the nozzle to focus the spray until you’ve got a handle on your washer’s grunt.

What accessories do I need?

This all depends on what you plan to do, if you’re choosing a pressure washer then you’ll generally be able to buy a ‘pack’ that offers the washer and a range of attachments, like a deck cleaning brush and a generic pressure wand. Not all washers will have a hose to suck up detergent but most will have a wand attachment that can take a detergent feeding lance/wand. So, obviously, if you’re buying a pressure washer for cleaning your car then you’ll need to make sure you can get car cleaning attachments, like the shampoo feeder or even a soft-bristled brush head than will feed foam directly onto the brush and your vehicle just like those self-clean car wash facilities.

Basic cleaning tips

Over the course of the next few months we’ll go into more detail on how to use a pressure washer to clean your car but there are a few basics you need to know. And some, even before you buy a pressure washer. For instance, what’s your water source? Most pressure washers are designed to be connected to a garden hose but some can also handle drawing water from a bucket or a water tank without needing another pump on the water source.

If you’ve never used a pressure washer before, make sure you start slowly and make sure you stand more than five feet away from your vehicle when starting out until you get a hang of how the washer works and how powerful it is. And always make sure you’re using the manufacturer recommended wand for the job.

For instance, you might start out by rinsing your vehicle with the pressure washer, and then move to a shampoo dispensing wand to further loosen grit and muck from the surface and wheels before moving to a soap-dispensing brush attachment and then rinsing off again.


Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.