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Pressure Washing Soaps, Detergents, & Chemicals

The Complete Guide

Pressure washing with the right soaps, detergents, and chemicals can make a huge difference when cleaning your outdoor surfaces.

Whether you’re trying to remove dirt or algae stains from brick walls and concrete driveways, get rid of mildew buildup on decks and patios, or want your windows to sparkle like new again, pressure washing with the added cleaning power of soap, detergent, or another cleaning chemical can be one of the quickest and easiest ways to do it.

This comprehensive guide will share everything you need to know about choosing a suitable soap, detergent, or other cleaning chemical for your pressure washing job.

So, if you’re ready for spotless results every time – let’s dive in!

Quick Answer
Pressure washing is a powerful and efficient way to clean various surfaces, but choosing the right cleaning solution is crucial to achieving the best results.

Soaps, detergents, and chemicals are all commonly used in pressure washing, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Soaps are generally milder and less likely to damage surfaces, but they are not as effective at removing heavy dirt and grime. Detergents are stronger and more effective at cleaning but can be harsher on surfaces. Chemicals such as bleach, ammonia, and acid cleaners are powerful cleaning agents for specific tasks, such as removing mold, mildew, and heavy grease.

When choosing a cleaning solution for pressure washing, it’s important to consider the type of surface you will be cleaning and the amount of dirt and grime you need to remove. It’s also important to read the instructions and warning labels on cleaning products to ensure proper dilution and use and to follow safety precautions when handling chemicals.

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Types of Pressure Wash Soaps, Detergents, & Chemicals

Common Pressure Washing Cleaning Products

Various cleaning products can be used in pressure washing, depending on the type of surface you’re cleaning and the level of cleaning needed.

When choosing a cleaning solution for pressure washing, it’s important to consider the type of surface you will be cleaning and the amount of dirt and grime you need to remove.

It’s also important to read the instructions and warning labels on cleaning products to ensure proper dilution and use and to follow safety precautions when handling chemicals.

We advise checking the compatibility of a particular cleaning product with your pressure washer, as not all products will be compatible with all machines.

Here are some common types of cleaning products often used with a pressure washer:

  • Acid Cleaners & Descalers – These cleaning solutions contain acids such as hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, or citric acid, which are highly effective at removing hard water deposits, lime scale, and rust. Typically very corrosive, acid cleaners and descalers should be used cautiously to prevent injury or damage.
  • Alkaline Cleaners – These contain alkaline compounds such as sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and ammonia, and they are known for their powerful degreasing and cleaning properties. Alkaline-based products effectively remove stains, dirt, and grime and can also use them to descale surfaces.
  • Degreasers – These cleaning solutions effectively remove grease, oil, and other organic contaminants from surfaces. For various cleaning applications, such as engines, machinery, equipment, and floors, degreasers can be solvent, water, or emulsion-based. Depending on their required end use, they can also be acidic, alkaline, or neutral pH based.
  • Detergents – The most commonly used pressure washer cleaning products, they help break down and remove dirt, grime, and other surface stains. Detergents are available in various formulations, with some specifically designed for surfaces such as concrete or wood.
  • Disinfectants – Disinfectant solutions kill or inactivate harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi on surfaces. Often used in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, food processing facilities, and households to maintain a hygienic environment, different disinfectants are available, including quaternary ammonium compounds, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine, and alcohol-based solutions.
  • Oxidizing Agents – These cleaning solutions contain chemicals that can oxidize (or burn) organic matter, such as stains and discolorations, and convert them into water and carbon dioxide. Commonly used for cleaning and restoring surfaces, such as removing rust, stains, and discolorations from surfaces like concrete, metal, and wood, examples of oxidizing agents include chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, and oxygen bleach.
  • Rust Removers – Rust removers are cleaning solutions that contain chemicals that can dissolve and remove rust from metal surfaces. Commonly used to clean and restore metal surfaces, they dissolve the rust and leave these metal surfaces clean. Rust removers can be acidic or alkaline based, and it’s important to choose a specific rust remover that is appropriate for the type of metal and the amount of rust present.
  • Soaps – Soaps are cleaning solutions made from a combination of fats or oils and an alkali, such as sodium hydroxide, and they’re often used to clean surfaces that aren’t heavily soiled or greasy. Soaps produce lather when mixed with water, which helps to lift dirt and grime away from surfaces. They are generally milder and less likely to damage surfaces than other cleaning solutions, for example, detergents, but they are not as effective at removing heavy dirt and grime.

Common Pressure Washing Cleaning Chemicals

Considering how many products are available that you can potentially use with a pressure washer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an even wider range of chemicals used to formulate these products, either in isolation or various mixtures, depending on their required usage.

Here are some of the common types of chemicals used in pressure washer cleaning products:

  • Ammonia – Ammonia is a strong alkaline cleaning solution that effectively removes dirt, grime, and stains from various surfaces. It is particularly effective at cleaning glass and stainless steel; however, we don’t recommend using high-pressure water from a pressure washer on these surfaces as it can increase the risk of breaking the glass or damaging the appearance of the stainless steel.
  • Bleach – Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite to go by its chemical name, is a chlorine-based compound known for its effective disinfecting and sanitizing properties. Typically used in small, highly diluted amounts, bleach is particularly effective when mold or mildew is present, as it eliminates it and prevents future growth.
  • Citric Acid – Citric acid is a weak organic acid used as a cleaning agent in various applications. Derived from citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges, it effectively removes stains and rust from surfaces such as concrete, wood fencing, decking, and more.
  • Oxalic Acid – Oxalic acid is a weak organic acid commonly used to remove rust, stains, and discolorations from a wide range of surfaces, including wood, metal, stone, and ceramics. It is also used as a descaler and can remove hard water stains, brighten and restore the color of wood, remove stains from stone, and remove iron and other stains from various surfaces.
  • Potassium Hydroxide – Potassium hydroxide is another alkali chemical often used for pressure cleaning. Also known as caustic potash, it can break down and remove grease, oil, and other organic materials and forms a core ingredient in cleaning products like heavy-duty degreasers and soap.
  • Sodium Hydroxide – Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, can be used in pressure cleaning for heavy-duty cleaning tasks, such as degreasing concrete, brick, and metal surfaces. It is a strong alkali, and when dissolved in water, it creates a highly effective cleaning solution that can break down and dissolve grease, oil, and other organic materials.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite – Sodium hypochlorite, or bleach as it’s more commonly known, is a chlorine-based compound with effective disinfecting and sanitizing properties. Typically used in small, highly diluted amounts, sodium hypochlorite is particularly effective when mold or mildew is present, as it eliminates the spores and prevents future growth.

Soap vs. Detergent: What’s the Difference?

Both soap and detergent are substances used to clean, but they are made from different compounds and have slightly different properties.

Let’s look at each one in turn:

What Is Soap?

Soaps are substances used to cleanse and remove dirt and oils from surfaces.

In the case of pressure washers, soaps are typically mixed with water in the pressure washer’s detergent tank, which is then applied to the cleaning surface after it exits the pressure washer’s nozzle.

There are many different types of pressure-washing soap to choose from; each formulated for specific cleaning tasks. For example, there are soaps specifically designed for removing dirt and grime from surfaces and those recommended for removing mildew, algae, and other stains. Pressure-washing soaps are also available for delicate surfaces, such as those that are painted or easily scratched.

Manufacturing soap involves combining fats or oils with an alkali; the most common alkali for soap is sodium hydroxide. A chemical reaction occurs between the alkali and the fats, referred to as saponification, resulting in soap and glycerin creation.

Soap is typically biodegradable and less harmful to the environment than other cleaning products, such as synthetic detergents, given that soap is made using natural ingredients and breaks down easily in the environment.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that some commercially produced soaps may contain synthetic ingredients or additives, and, in these cases, the soap won’t fully biodegrade.

It’s also worth noting that the minerals present in hard water can react with soap and leave a film or residue on surfaces you’re cleaning, which is why some people recommend using a water softener in areas with hard water to help prevent this problem.

It is vital to use the appropriate soap for the surface and stain you want to remove. Always check the product label and consult the pressure washer’s manual before using any pressure washing soap, as improper use could lead to damage or surfaces that aren’t sufficiently clean.

What Is Detergent?

A detergent is a cleaning product that also removes dirt and grime from surfaces.

Detergents are similar to soaps in that they are a mixture of chemicals, but they are formulated differently and have different properties.

The essential ingredients in detergents are surfactants, which lower the surface tension of a liquid allowing it to penetrate and remove dirt and grime more effectively. Detergents also include additional enzymes and bleaches, which boost their cleaning power.

Pressure-washing detergents come in many forms, such as powders, liquids, and gels. As with soaps, mixing occurs with water in the pressure washer’s detergent tank, which is then applied to the cleaning surface after it exits the pressure washer’s nozzle.

Detergents are more effective than soap at cleaning in hard water because the ingredients in detergents can react with the minerals to keep them from forming a scummy residue.

Whereas soaps are typically biodegradable and safer for the environment, detergents are synthetic cleaning agents that usually aren’t biodegradable and can harm the environment.


How Do You Use Cleaning Products With a Pressure Washer?

There are various methods for adding cleaning chemicals to your pressure-washing process.

These include:

  • Using a detergent bottle attached to the gun.
  • Using a pressure washer with an onboard detergent tank.
  • Applying cleaning products directly to the surface, for example, using a garden sprayer.

It’s important to consider the type of surface and the level of cleaning needed when deciding which method to use.

Let’s look at each method in more detail:

Using a Detergent Bottle or Onboard Detergent Tank

Some pressure washers require a separate detergent bottle attached to the nozzle of the pressure washer gun to apply cleaning products, while others come with an onboard detergent tank, providing more convenience and ease of use.

Here’s how to add chemicals to a pressure washer in both cases:

  1. Fill the detergent bottle or tank with the appropriate cleaning solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Attach the detergent bottle to the gun of the pressure washer, making sure it is securely in place (if using a separate detergent bottle that you attach to your pressure washer’s nozzle).
  3. Turn on the pressure washer and adjust the pressure and nozzle settings for the surface you are cleaning.
  4. Hold the gun of the pressure washer at a safe distance from the surface you are cleaning, and apply the cleaning solution.
  5. Apply the cleaning solution to the surface in a back-and-forth motion, overlapping each pass slightly.
  6. Allow the cleaning solution to sit on the surface for the recommended time according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  7. Rinse the surface thoroughly with water to remove all the cleaning solution and dirt.
  8. Repeat the process if necessary, or move on to the next area you need to clean.
Applying Cleaning Products Directly to the Surface

In certain situations, applying the cleaning solution directly to the surface you’re cleaning may be more effective than using the detergent bottle or tank on your pressure washer. You can typically do this by pouring the diluted solution from a bucket, although using a garden sprayer may be more effective.

Applying pressure washer cleaning chemicals directly to the ground can effectively clean large pavement or concrete areas, such as driveways, sidewalks, and patios.

However, it’s important to be cautious when using this method, as applying cleaning chemicals directly to the ground can be dangerous, and it can potentially damage the surface or the surrounding environment if not done correctly.

Here’s how to add pressure washer cleaning chemicals directly to the ground:

  1. Choose the appropriate cleaning solution for the surface and the level of cleaning needed.
  2. Dilute the cleaning solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Protect surrounding plants and vegetation by covering them or leaving a sufficient distance between them and your pressure washing spray or chemicals.
  4. Apply the cleaning solution to a small area using a slow, steady motion.
  5. Allow the cleaning solution to sit on the surface for the recommended time according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Rinse the surface thoroughly with water to remove all the cleaning solution and dirt.
  7. Repeat the process until you’ve finished cleaning the entire area.

It’s important to note that different cleaning solutions may have different instructions for use. Always be mindful of the environmental impact, too, ensuring you follow local regulations regarding the disposal of used cleaning solutions.


Residential vs. Commercial Pressure Washer Chemicals: What’s the Difference?

Residential and commercial pressure washer chemicals differ in their strength and intended use.

Residential pressure washer chemicals are typically suitable for mild to moderate dirt and grime, with these chemicals being safe for use on various surfaces, including wood, brick, concrete, and vinyl. They’re often less concentrated and less caustic than commercial-grade chemicals, making them less likely to damage surfaces or harm plants and landscaping. They’re also generally safe, easy to handle and come in various formulas to clean surfaces like decks, patios, driveways, etc.

Commercial pressure washer chemicals, on the other hand, are intended for heavy-duty cleaning tasks such as removing oil and grease from industrial equipment, graffiti from buildings, and heavy staining from concrete. These chemicals are usually much more concentrated than residential-grade chemicals. They typically contain powerful degreasers and caustic agents that can quickly break down and remove tough dirt and grime. They are also typically more expensive than residential-grade chemicals.

It is very important to read the label and use the appropriate pressure washer chemical for the task at hand. Improper use of chemicals can damage surfaces and cause injury to yourself or others around you while you’re pressure washing. Always wear suitable protective gear to reduce the risk of using pressure-washing chemicals.


How to Use Soaps, Detergents & Chemicals Safely While Pressure Washing

Pressure washing involves using a high-pressure stream of water to clean surfaces. Sometimes, soaps, detergents, or chemicals are added to the washer’s detergent tank to help boost cleaning power.

It’s essential to use these soaps, detergents, and chemicals safely when pressure washing to avoid potential hazards to yourself, others, and the environment.

Some pressure washer cleaning solutions will be more dangerous and potentially harmful than others, so it’s vital to follow the specific safety advice for whichever cleaning product you use.

Here are some general guidelines for using soaps, detergents, and chemicals safely while pressure washing:

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the chemicals you are using. These instructions will provide important information on safely handling, storing, and using the cleaning chemicals.
  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling and using the chemicals, including gloves, goggles, a respirator, and protective clothing, as necessary.
  • Only use the cleaning products in a well-ventilated area to help prevent the buildup of dangerous fumes.
  • Keep cleaning products out of reach of children and pets.
  • Only mix cleaning products if you are sure it is safe. Some chemicals in the products can react together to create dangerous compounds.
  • Properly store the cleaning products in a cool, dry place, away from heat sources, and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Be familiar with the local, state, and federal regulations that apply to the use and disposal of the cleaning products and chemicals you use.
  • Be ready to take appropriate action in case of an emergency, such as knowing the location of the nearest eye wash station and having the phone number of the local poison control center on hand.
  • Do not pressure wash surfaces if you suspect or know that chemical or hazardous waste is present.
  • Clean up any spills or leaks immediately and dispose of the cleaning products or chemicals properly.

The Alternatives to Using Chemicals for Pressure Washing

There’s no denying the benefits of using soap, detergents, and other chemicals when tackling the toughest pressure-washing jobs, but other options are available that will enable you to achieve a similar result without using harsh chemicals.

These alternatives may be a good option for anyone looking for a more environmentally friendly or natural option:

  • Pressure washing using hot water – Using hot water alone can effectively remove dirt and grime, especially if the surface is not overly soiled. Hot water can also help break down and remove oil and grease more effectively than cold water, so using hot water can be an excellent way to boost your pressure washer’s cleaning power without using chemicals.
  • Pressure washing using a higher pressure setting – Another way to boost your pressure washer’s cleaning power is to use a higher pressure setting, if available. By upping the pressure, you can increase the force of the water as it exits the nozzle to break down and remove tougher dirt and grime from surfaces without needing to rely on cleaning chemicals.
  • Pressure washing using natural or eco-friendly cleaning products – Natural and environmentally-friendly cleaning products are available for pressure washers, formulated from natural plant or mineral-based ingredients without any harsh synthetic compounds. These products are safe for the environment and are a viable alternative for those who prefer not to use chemicals in their cleaning tasks.
    It’s important to note that these natural cleaning solutions may not be as effective as chemical cleaning agents in removing dirt and stains and may require more effort in addition to some manual scrubbing or the use of hot or higher-pressure water for more demanding cleaning jobs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I Use Bleach in My Pressure Washer?

Whether or not you can use bleach in your pressure washer depends on the specific unit.

Some manufacturers don’t recommend using bleach as it could damage the pressure washer’s seals and other internal components. You can still use bleach in these cases, but instead of adding it to your pressure washer’s detergent tank, you can spray it wherever you’re cleaning using a garden sprayer or other spray bottle, which helps boost the cleaning power without risking damage to your pressure washer.

Always use bleach safely, as it is a hazardous substance that can cause injury to yourself or others and damage the surface you’re cleaning if not diluted sufficiently. Adequately diluting the bleach is arguably more critical in cases where you can add bleach directly to the detergent tank, as using too high a concentration could damage your pressure washer, as discussed above.

2. Is Ammonia Safe to Use for Pressure Washing?

Ammonia is a strong alkaline compound that effectively removes dirt, grime, and stains from various surfaces.

It can be hazardous, however, and typically requires special handling, transportation, and disposal. Because of this, you should follow certain safety precautions when using ammonia, such as wearing protective gear, including gloves, goggles, and a mask.

It’s worth noting that ammonia is particularly effective at cleaning glass and stainless steel. While it is possible to pressure wash these surfaces using sufficiently diluted ammonia, we don’t recommend using high-pressure water from a pressure washer on glass or stainless steel. The risk of breaking the glass or marring the appearance of the stainless steel is too high in these cases.

3. Can I Use Disinfectants in a Pressure Washer?

Yes, it is possible to use disinfectants in a pressure washer, provided the pressure washer has a detachable foam cannon or a chemical injector, which would allow you to mix the disinfectant with water and create a foam or spray solution to apply to surfaces.

It’s important to note that many disinfectants have different instructions and mixing ratios. It’s important to follow mixing instructions and ratios to ensure you get the most benefit from whichever disinfectant you’re using for pressure washing.

4. Can I Use Acid Cleaners and Descalers in a Pressure Washer?

Yes, you can typically use acid cleaners and descalers in pressure washers. These solutions are best suited to cleaning heavily soiled or greasy surfaces, such as engines, concrete surfaces, and heavy equipment.

Acid cleaners and descalers are highly corrosive, and you should take special precautions when using them, including wearing protective gear and neutralizing the acid after use.

It’s important always to read the instructions and warning labels before using any cleaning products containing acids. Never use these cleaning solutions on delicate surfaces sensitive to acid, for example, aluminum or painted materials.

5. Can You Use Any Soap in a Pressure Washer?

We don’t recommend using ordinary soap in your pressure washer.

You should use a soap specifically formulated for pressure washers, as these will be compatible with the high-pressure water stream emitted from the pressure washer’s nozzle without causing damage to the machine.

6. Can You Use Any Detergent in a Pressure Washer?

As with soap, we don’t advise using regular detergent in your pressure washer.

Instead, we recommend choosing a pressure-washing detergent specifically designed for pressure washers. The benefit of these pressure washer-specific detergents is that they’re compatible with the machine’s high-pressure output, improving its ability to remove dirt and stains while protecting against damage to the pressure washer’s internal components.


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In Summary

In conclusion, using soaps, detergents, and chemicals can make pressure washing quicker and easier by helping to remove tough dirt, grime, and stains versus cleaning with water alone.

We recommend choosing the right cleaning products for the job, as depending on the surface you’re cleaning or the type of dirt and stains you’re removing, there is likely a specific pressure washer soap, detergent, or chemical available.

We advise checking the compatibility of a particular cleaning product with your pressure washer, as not all soaps, detergents, and chemicals will be compatible with all machines.

It’s also crucial to use pressure washer cleaning products safely and responsibly, following label instructions and taking proper precautions to avoid accidents and protect your health and the environment.

As discussed in this article, natural and eco-friendly cleaning products compatible with pressure washers are available, formulated from plant-based or mineral ingredients instead of harmful, synthetic compounds and chemicals.

While eco-friendly solutions are generally safer for the environment, they usually aren’t as effective for removing dirt and stains, given that they aren’t as powerful as some chemical cleaners, requiring more elbow grease when tackling tougher dirt and stains.

Using an appropriate pressure-washing soap, detergent, or chemical can make your pressure washing a breeze and help ensure that your surfaces will look their best for years to come.


toolcrowd expert writer profile image
Author: Jack Burton
Pressure Washing Specialist Writer, ToolCrowd
Jack's journey into the world of pressure washing began over two decades ago, driven by a deep-rooted passion for revitalizing properties and a commitment to delivering exceptional service.
In 1996, Jack embarked on his own venture in pressure washing, with a clear goal in mind: to combine top-quality workmanship with dependable reliability. He specializes in a wide array of pressure washing techniques, adept at handling projects ranging from quaint residential homes to extensive commercial properties. For Jack, pressure washing is more than just cleaning — it's about caring for and preserving each property with meticulous attention.
Jack's approach to business is simple yet effective: prioritize the client's needs above all. Whether it’s a single clean-up or regular property maintenance, he tailors his services to meet the unique requirements of each client. Recognized as a go-to consultant in the field of pressure washing, Jack is always ready to offer his expert advice.
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