What PSI is Safe To Wash Your Car?

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ideal PSI for washing cars

More powerful doesn’t always mean better, and that’s especially true if we talk about the PSI of pressure washers for washing cars. In this post, I’ll explain to you what’s the ideal pressure washer PSI for washing cars and what’s the upper limit that you shouldn’t go above.

Key Takeaways:

  • The ideal PSI of pressure washers for washing cars is anywhere between 1200 and 1900 PSI.
  • I don’t suggest going above 2200 PSI because it may damage the car’s paint.
  • Newer cars are more resistant to high PSI pressure washers.
  • Self-service car washes use up to 1500 PSI pressure washers.

Ideal Pressure Washer PSI for Washing Cars

Power washers that range between 1200 and 1900 PSI are the best and safest 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. 

PSI stands for pounds 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

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 cars. 

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. 

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 for washing cars

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. 

Reducing PSI on Gas-Powered Pressure Washers

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 powerful for washing vehicles, and you should adjust PSI to the “safe” range.

Reducing PSI by Using 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.┬áIf you’re looking to buy pressure washer nozzles, here's a great deal on Amazon.

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. 

Don’t Keep The Wand Too Close To The 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 a 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 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. 


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.

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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