Vehicle Washing

A guide to pressure washers and vehicle washing systems

Vehicles are operated in some rather harsh environments and are subjected to a continual bombardment of dirt and grit, acid from bugs and bird droppings and potentially abrasive and corrosive elements. Over time, these contaminants can chemically etch a vehicle’s surface, leaving permanent damage, which could ultimately lead to rust and corrosion.

Temperature accelerates the problem. Metal retains heat when sitting out in the sun, thereby increasing the chances that these “irritants” will cause permanent stains when left on a vehicle.

Along with keeping a vehicle looking good, regular washings help protect a vehicle’s finish. Plus, a clean vehicle is easier to perform maintenance and service on.

Maintaining clean vehicles also enhances a company’s public image.

There are a number of options for washing vehicles. Two of them are automated vehicle washing systems and pressure washers.


Commercial and industrial pressure washers come in a wide range of types and models to suit different needs and applications. So, how do you make sure you get the right pressure washer for your cleaning job?

Asking three basic questions will ensure that the right choice, says Rick Dunn, vice president, sales and marketing with Karcher Commercial, a world leader in cleaning equipment and the premier brand of hot and cold water pressure washers in North America. They are: 1. What are you cleaning? 2. Where are you cleaning? 3. How long will you be cleaning?


There are two categories of pressure washers: hot and cold water. Some pressure washers are available with a “steam combination” option where the hot-water flow is restricted in order to create a “wet steam” effect.

Pressure washers come in portable, skid-mounted, stationary cabinet and trailer-mounted systems for on-site cleaning.

“If you’re cleaning engines, automotive parts or anything else with oil or grease, your best option is a pressure washer that generates hot water,” Dunn advises. “Like the dishes in your sink, hot water cuts grease and grime; cold water only pushes it around.

“While there are a few applications - such as detailing an automobile engine - that require steam, it has been proven over the years that hot water under pressure is a much more effective method of cleaning.”

For simply blasting away soil, caked-on mud or even stripping paint, a cold-water pressure washer will work just fine, he says. “A cold-water pressure washer with the right detergent often can solve most cleaning problems.”


Where you are doing the pressure washing is a factor. Washing indoors or outdoors can make a big difference in cleaning options, many of which “can dramatically impact your wallet,” says Dunn.

Other considerations are portability and power source.

“If you’re cleaning indoors, you’re limited on your energy sources,” he observes. “For instance, indoors you’re confined to using an electric motor to drive the high-pressure pump. The electric motor limits your portability because you’re constantly tethered to an electrical outlet.”

If hot water is needed indoors, you’re further restricted to the type of heating fuel you can use because of fumes from fossil fuels, he adds. Choices are electricity, natural gas or liquid propane (LP) - which require hard plumbing and must be vented to the outdoors.

For cleaning outdoors, there are pressure washers powered by electricity, gasoline or diesel. Typically, the electric-powered models are more economical, but the gasoline-powered pressure washers are a lot more portable because there is no electric cord.

“For outdoor cleaning with hot water, you can heat the water with diesel - the most popular - kerosene or fuel oil, in addition to the indoor energy sources of electricity, natural gas and LP gas,” says Dunn. Portable electric-powered and diesel-heated models continue to be the most popular hot water models for most customers that only need limited mobility.

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