How to wash a car with a pressure washer

Bring the car wash home effortlessly, by using a pressure washer. With a little care and our instructions, you’ll get great results.

A man standing on the truck bed of a pick-up, cleaning the vehicle with a pressure washer

Why would I wash my car with a pressure washer?

A high-pressure cleaner uses water, directed at high pressure, to effectively remove dirt from your car, saving you a great deal of effort. However, to avoid causing damage there are a few things to consider when using a pressure washer on your car.

Washing a car with a pressure washer: choosing the right device

When selecting a pressure washer to clean your car, the first thing to consider is how easy the tool is to handle and manoeuvre, as you’ll need to move it around frequently to wash your whole car. So lightweight design is an advantage here: the RE 90, for example, weighs just 9.8 kg.

Another factor that affects how well the pressure washer will wash your car is the water pressure available – you need a minimum of 80 bar, but it need not be above 200 bar. It is not just the pressure level that determines how effective the clean will be though, but also the amount of water delivered. The pressure washer you choose should have a throughput of 300 to 500 litres per hour. It’s also useful if you can attach a wash brush for cleaning your car – all STIHL pressure washers feature this capability.

Close-up of the dial on a STIHL RE 130 pressure washer being turned

Tips for pressure washing a car

When you wash your car, you shouldn't expose it to dramatic changes of temperature. That means it’s best to avoid using a pressure washer on it in winter if temperatures are below -10°C, as there's a chance that spraying warm water onto the cold surface could cause fine cracks in the paintwork. Similarly, in hot summer conditions, you should wash your car either in the morning or in the evening: the aim is to avoid shocking sun-heated paint with cool water. Essentially, we advise against washing your car when temperatures are very high or very low.

To protect the finish of your car, you should only apply the jet of the pressure washer at a shallow angle to the exterior paint and start at a low pressure setting. Be sure to keep the washer a sufficient distance from the car bodywork (at least 30 cm). If you need to, gradually increase the pressure until it effectively removes dirt. However, excessively high pressure (over 200 bar) may damage the paint.

Am I allowed to wash the car with a pressure washer?

Washing the car with a pressure washer on your own property or on the open road is not allowed everywhere. The water jet can loosen oil from the car, causing the oily water to get into the ground or sewage system. Even the oil-free waste water must not be allowed to run off into the sewage system or an open body of water.  To be on the safe side, find out about the relevant regulations from your local authority. 

Washing a car with a pressure washer: step-by-step instructions

A man and young boy sitting on the truck bed of a pick-up, with a STIHL RE 130 plus pressure washer beside the vehicle

Summary: how to wash a car with a pressure washer

  • You can wash your car effortlessly and efficiently using a pressure washer.
  • Always wear personal protective equipment while you work, as directed in your operating instructions.
  • When washing your car, use a low pressure setting on your pressure washer, hold it at a shallow angle to the vehicle and make sure it's a sufficient distance from the surface so that the paint is not damaged. Use the fan jet nozzle.
  • First remove leaves and twigs by hand., then rinse the car with the pressure washer to remove coarse dirt.
  • Spray car shampoo onto paintwork and treat stubborn dirt on the wheel rims with wheel rim cleaner. Attach a wash brush to the pressure washer to gently wash the car, or alternatively use a soft sponge. Finally, rinse the car with plain water and dry thoroughly.