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Pressure Wash Cars, Trucks and Boats

Washing a vehicle can be hard work. A pressure washer lets you handle the job quickly and efficiently.

Man Pressure Washing a Truck.

Tools & Materials

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Preparing for Pressure Washing

Different pressure washers have different cleaning abilities. Read the documentation that came with your pressure washer before beginning any cleaning task and confirm that your model is appropriate for the job. Learn how to set up your machine and how to select the correct spray pattern. Settings vary by whether you're applying detergent or performing high-pressure cleaning and by the type of surface you're cleaning.

Move the vehicle to an open space and close the windows, doors and sunroof. If you're pressure washing a boat with a canopy or removable seat cushions, take these items off of the boat. If you're washing a truck, remove loose items from the bed. Cover any exposed electrical components on the vehicle.

Check the work area and remove obstacles that could cause you to trip or that might snag the hoses.

Caution

Check your vehicle owner's manual to verify that pressure washing is an acceptable cleaning method.

Using a Pressure Washer Safely

Follow the safety instructions in your pressure washer manual. General guidelines include:

  • Stand on a stable surface where you have good balance and solid footing.
  • Wear the eye protection specified by the pressure washer manufacturer.
  • Wear hearing protection when using a gasoline-powered pressure washer.
  • Do not operate a gasoline-powered pressure washer indoors or in an area that does not have proper ventilation. Direct the exhaust away from doors, windows and vents.
  • When using an electric pressure washer, keep the electrical connections dry and off the ground. Don't touch the plug if your hands are wet.
  • Never leave a spray gun unattended while the pressure washer is running.
  • Be aware of where you're directing the spray. Never point the spray gun at people, animals or plants. Keep the spray away from electrical fixtures, power sources and power lines.

Cleaning Vehicles with a Pressure Washer

Consult the vehicle owner's manual for cleaning instructions specific to the vehicle. Using a pressure washer incorrectly can damage your vehicle, so check the pressure washer manual for operating instructions, including information on spray settings and how far the spray tip should be from the vehicle. Test the spray pattern on an inconspicuous area before cleaning to make sure the setting does not damage the surface. General instructions for pressure washing vehicles are listed below:

  • Use only detergents intended for pressure washers.
  • Use a low-pressure spray pattern to apply detergents.
  • Avoid streaking on vertical surfaces by applying the detergent from the bottom up.
  • Let the detergent remain on the surface for several minutes before you rinse it off, but don't let it dry. Rewet the surface as needed.
  • Work on one side of the vehicle at a time.
  • When you finish applying detergent, disengage the detergent supply. Set the pressure washer to the appropriate spray pattern for the vehicle and activate the spray to clear any residual detergent from the system.
  • Start spraying off the detergent and grime with the spray nozzle a minimum of 4 to 5 feet from the vehicle surface. Slowly move closer as needed. Work from the top and move downward.
  • Be careful spraying around windows. Holding the spray tip too close can allow water to enter the interior.
  • Move back from the vehicle to reduce the pressure when cleaning around delicate items such as mirrors and light covers.
  • When cleaning graphics or decals, keep the spray at a 90-degree angle to the surface. Start at the center of the decoration and move out.
  • Keep the spray nozzle a minimum of 6 inches from tires.
  • Give extra attention to areas on the vehicle that can get especially dirty — wheel wells, bumpers and grills. On a boat, the areas around the engine and trailer rigging might need extra effort. The wheel wells on a trailer might also need attention.
  • After pressure washing a boat, flush the engine according to the manufacturer's instructions to remove any detergent that may have gotten inside.
Caution

Don't direct the pressure washer spray into the vehicle's vents or engine compartment.

Finishing Your Cleaning Project

After you clean your vehicle, move it away and flush the work area with clear water to dilute the detergent residue. You'll also need to take care of the pressure washer. Your manual should include directions for relieving the water pressure, draining liquid from the pump and storing the machine. Follow these instructions to make sure your pressure washer is ready for your next cleaning project.