What PSI is Safe To Wash Your Car? (Detailed Answer)


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Using more powerful pressure washers doesn’t mean that you’ll get better cleaning results. It could even lead to paint damage if you use a pressure washer with too much PSI. How much PSI (pounds per square inch) is safe to wash your car? I’ll thoroughly answer that question today, so you don’t have to search all over the internet, or even worse, buy the wrong pressure washer and potentially damage your vehicle. 

To safely wash your car, you should use pressure washers that have anywhere between 1200 and 1900 PSI. Of course, slight deviations in PSI aren’t a problem but try sticking to that range. 

I don’t want you to damage your car’s paint, which costs hundreds of bucks to fix, and that’s the reason why I’m writing this article. Companies always market “more powerful” pressure washers as the best solutions. However, having more powerful tools doesn’t always mean better results when it comes to car detailing. It can even be a problem, though.

How Much PSI is Safe To Power Wash a Car?

PSI stands for pressure per square inch. It’s the unit used to measure the power of a pressure washer, aside from GPM and Wattage. It’s one of the most important things you should check when buying a pressure washer for car detailing. 

As I already said, power washers that range between 1200 and 1900 PSI are the best for washing vehicles. I like to use something closer to 2000 PSI because the PSI reduces a bit when it exits the wand and touches the car’s paint. 

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to auto detailing. There’s no need to use a 3000 PSI pressure washer. Yes, it will remove the dirt a bit quicker, but you’re risking damage to the paint and other car parts, especially if you’re washing some older car. 

Related: Best High-Pressure Washers For Car Detailing in 2021 (Under $200)

A 1200-1900 PSI pressure washer is more than enough to successfully and properly wash your vehicle, no matter how dirty it is. With the right tools and products, you’ll be able to lift any dirt from the car and get the perfect shiny car look. 

Also, a more robust pressure washer tends to cost more. If you’re like me, you won’t spend extra money to buy something that won’t benefit your auto detailing business. 

How To Reduce PSI on a Pressure Washer?

If you already have a pressure washer with more than 2000 PSI, you might want to know some tips and techniques to reduce the pressure it works on. 

Pressure Washer Options – For Gas Powered Ones

Electric pressure washers primarily work in the range of 1200-2000 PSI. They usually don’t have any settings that you can adjust regarding the PSI. 

On the other side, if you have a gas-powered pressure washer, there’s a big chance that there’s a setting where you can adjust the PSI to your desired amount. 

So, if you have a gas-powered pressure washer, make sure to check the owner’s manual and adjust the PSI so that it’s safe for washing vehicles. Gas-powered pressure washers are fantastic, but they’re always too strong for washing vehicles, and you should adjust PSI to the “safe” range. 

Nozzles

By using proper nozzles, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of PSI that hits the surface. It won’t reduce the actual pressure washer PSI, but it will spread the spray at the desired angle.

When it comes to washing cars, the best nozzle to get is a 40-degree nozzle. That’s the sweet spot for cleaning vehicles. A 40-degree nozzle means that the water will spread over a 40-degree area instead of spraying in one direct place. 

Also, a 25-degree nozzle is okay too, but I’d stick to the 40-degree one all the time. It’s just much safer for your vehicle. Here’s the image below that I made to understand the different types of nozzle angles better. If you’re looking to buy pressure washer nozzles, here’s a great deal on Amazon (check now).

difference between various pressure washer nozzles, explanation, infographic

Other Important Tips For Pressure Washing Your Car

I want to address two essential tips that you should always follow when pressure washing your vehicle. These two tips are even more critical if you have a too powerful pressure washer (+2000 PSI). 

By using these methods, you’ll reduce the impact of the water on the vehicle’s surface, so make sure to check them too. 

Keep The Wand Far From Car

You never want to keep the wand too close to the car’s paint when washing it. That’s especially important if you have an extremely powerful pressure washer.

Even with the “optimum” range PSI (1200-1900), you still want to keep the wand at a safe distance. I like to keep it around 10 inches away from the car when washing it.

However, if you’re using a 3000 PSI device, I’d move even further away. I’d keep it at a 15-20 inch distance from the vehicle with that powerful device. That’s a great way of reducing the PSI that hits the car’s surface. 

Keep The Wand at Higher Angle

You should never direct the wand to the car at a 0-degree angle. You should angle the power wash wand too. I like to keep it above, around 20 to 40 degrees. 

When you keep the wand angled, you’ll reduce the impact on the car’s paint, but it will help remove dirt more quickly since it’ll just slip off the surface. Also, when washing at an angle, the water from the pressure washer will go beneath the dirt, lifting it in no time. 

Average PSI Statistics Table

I decided to make a statistic table to better show you the average PSI of various car washes (garden hose, pressure washer, self-service car washes, automatic car washes). That way, you’ll know how much PSI each method has (on average) and which tips you could implement to make it safe for your car’s paint. 

Just to make it clear, those are the general numbers, and deviations are possible. These numbers are the most common ranges for the exact car wash type. 

Car Wash TechniqueAverage Range of PSI
Garden Hose200-500 PSI
El. Pressure Washer1200-2000 PSI
Gas Pressure Washer2500-4000 PSI
Automatic Car Wash1000-1200 PSI (at close range)
Self-Service Car Wash1000-1500 PSI
Average ranges of PSI

FAQ

Do I need a powerful pressure washer for cars?

No, there’s no need to buy the most powerful pressure washer out there. You could do more harm than good. I wrote a thorough guide for buying a suitable pressure washer for cleaning vehicles, so make sure to check it out.

Is 1000 PSI too low to wash the car?

I think you’ll need a bit more PSI to wash your car properly, but it’ll do the job. You may need more time to clean all the dirt, but it’s totally fine. However, if you can, buy a +1500 PSI pressure washer, which is the sweet spot.

Why do I need a nozzle attached to the pressure washer wand?

Nozzles spread the water at a specific angle. They help to spray the water over the surface evenly. You can choose anywhere between 0 and 60 degrees. A 40-degree tip is the best one for washing vehicles.

Will a 3000 PSI pressure washer destroy car paint?

In most cases, with newer cars, it won’t happen. However, I would never do that since there’s always a chance of damaging the car’s clear coat, which is expensive to fix. 3000 PSI pressure washers are for heavy-duty tasks and shouldn’t be used to wash vehicles.

Is 2000 PSI too much to wash the car?

No, even though it’s a bit higher than my recommendation, it’s still safe for 99% of the vehicles out there. However, if you’re washing some older car with the questionable condition of the paint, be careful.

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