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Pressure Wash Cars, Trucks and Boats

Washing a car, truck or boat can be hard work. Learn how to handle the job quickly and efficiently by pressure washing or power washing your vehicle.

Man Pressure Washing a Truck.

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Preparing for Pressure Washing

The cleaning power of pressure washers depends on multiple factors. Check the owner's manual to see if the power output of your machine is appropriate for the job. Settings vary depending on whether you're applying detergent, performing high-pressure cleaning or 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.
  • Remove any obstacles in the work area that could cause you to trip or snag hoses.

Check your vehicle owner's manual to see if it's okay to clean your vehicle with a pressure washer.

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 proper ear and eye protection.
  • Do not operate gasoline-powered pressure washers indoors, without proper ventilation. Direct the exhaust away from doors, windows and vents.
  • For electric pressure washers, keep the electrical connections dry and off the ground and never touch the plug if your hands are wet.
  • Never leave a spray gun unattended while the pressure washer is running.
  • 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

Check your vehicle owner's manual for specific cleaning instructions. Check your pressure washer manual for operating instructions and details about spray settings and how far the spray tip should be from the vehicle. Using a pressure washer incorrectly can damage your vehicle. Always test the spray pattern on a hidden area before cleaning to avoid damage. Here are some basic tips to help you pressure wash a vehicle:

  • 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, flush the engine according to the manufacturer's instructions to remove any detergent that may have gotten inside.

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 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 those instructions to make sure your pressure washer is ready for your next cleaning project.