How To: Washing A Car Without A Pressure Washer

What if you don’t have a pressure washer? You can either buy one (prepare a tidy sum) or read this article to the end. Today you will learn the 5 best ways to wash your car without using a pressure washer.

These are the alternatives to a pressure washer:

  • Rinseless wash
  • Active Pump Sprayer
  • Hosepipe Foam Sprayer (Garden Hose + special nozzle)
  • Waterless wash
  • Two Bucket method

Rinseless Wash

This is a technique that allows you to wash a car without rinsing it at the end. The method comes in handy when there’s no access to free-flowing water, water hose, etc. Despite all the beauty, rinseless wash requires a proper technique and works well only for light to medium soiled cars.

Rinseless Wash Is Good If:

  • Your state has a strict water-aware policy
  • You don’t have access to a garden hose, washer pressure
  • Washing in a garage with no water access
  • You live in a condo, multifamily, or another water-closed place

How to Rinseless Wash a Car

The whole procedure consists of 3 steps. Which are pre-wash, washing, and wiping off. Yet the product you apply to your car during a rinseless wash and your technique will largely determine whether the car stays dirty or shines like new.


One of the most popular rinseless products according to many people is Optimum No Rinse Wash & Shine (ONR) by Optimum Polymer Technologies. The chemistry behind ONR is complicated… In short, the product penetrates the dirt molecules, wraps them in a special shell, and lifts them to the surface. The process is very important when millions, if not billions of molecules are involved. In practice, this means a clean car without scratches. What’s more, such a wash requires no rinsing, hence the name. 

To make ONR even more effective, it’s recommended to use Big Red Sponge. This is a special sponge that pulls dirt away from your car. The dense, yet light and soft structure of the sponge, combined with the cross-cut pattern, allows you not to worry about scratches. 

Finally, to wipe the car off at the end you’ll need a microfiber towel. Generally, you want very dense rags about 400 or more GSM (grams per square). The Eagle company produces some 500 GSM towels called edgeless microfibers. Thick & plush towels, that’s what you should strive for.

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Pre-Wash: Prior to ever having to touch the panel make sure to pre-soak it. This way you’ll avoid scratches and swirls. One of the ways to do pre-wash is to use an active pump sprayer. Fill it up with an ONR solution (dilute ONR as recommended on the label). Pump the sprayer up to pressurize the system, and pull the trigger. Once you’ve sprayed ONR over the car, let it dwell for 5 to 10 minutes.

Rinseless Wash: Take a 5-gallon bucket with a grit guard installed. Grit guards make sure all the dirt and contaminants stay at the bottom. So, your washing solution remains clean. 

  • Fill the bucket with a cleaning solution by diluting 1 ounce of ONR to 2 gallons of clean water (should look like the genie came out of the lamp, not dirty-like pale blue color)
  • Wring the Big Red Sponge out until it’s barely dripping
  • Spread ONR over the surface using straight lines

Wiping off: Wipe the surface dry with a dense & plush microfiber towel. Make sure to avoid circular moves. Use only straight lines to dry the car’s paint. Once the vehicle is dry, you can use a drying aid to protect the paint. 

Active Pump Sprayer

Another way to treat your car is by combining an active pump sprayer with some kind of chemicals. For example TFR (traffic film remover).

For those who do not have access to a high-pressure washer, hand-held sprayers can be an alternative. Their capacity may vary, but it’s always enough to wash a car. The pressure in the tank is created manually, using a piston located at the top. It takes as little as 30 seconds to reach full pressure, and a safety valve will tell you the optimal pressure. Unfortunately, one full pump covers only a few areas. You’ll have to repeat the process 4-5 times to cover the entire surface of the car.

A sprayer usually consists of several parts. The liquid tank, spraying hose, and the pump at the top of the unit. The general principle of operation is based on the use of manual force. You create pressure manually using the pump, then you pull the trigger. The pressure created will spray the liquid from the tank onto the surface of your car. It’s worth noting that there are not only manual sprayers. You can also buy an electronic device with a built-in battery, making it easier to use this metho. (some kind of alternative to a cordless power washer).

It’s advisable to use the smallest sprayer size possible (enough to cover your needs). The smaller the tank volume, the less effort you will have to put in. For a standard pre-wash procedure, 1 or 2 gallons should be sufficient.

Hosepipe Foam Gun

Referring to the foam gun means that you don’t need a pressure washer at all! It connects to a standard garden hose. So, if you don’t have a pressure washer but have running water — this is an option.

There are three main parts of a foam gun  — spray nozzle, trigger, and tank for a solution. A foam gun mixes chemicals and water in the separate built-in tank, resulting in a soapy, frothy solution. The water comes into the container through a normal hose, from a common pipe. 

Foam guns can be connected to a garden hose through a quick release. It makes transitioning easy. Especially if you’re using some nozzles to water plants, etc. The idea is simple  — take off any nozzle and switch on a foam gun within seconds. 

Foam guns are often combined with a two-bucket method. Make sure to read a detailed comparison of these two methods here. 

Waterless Car Wash 

As the name says, this type of wash requires either a small amount of water or no water at all, depending on the product you use. So-called waterless washing products are usually provided in a spray-bottled form, to be spread onto the surface of your car. The main properties of a waterless car wash are to clean, shine and protect the car. 

When Waterless Car Wash Is Helpful?

  • You don’t have access to water
  • Your state restricts excessive water waste.
  • You’re looking for an alternative to a washer pressure

What Do You Need To Waterless Wash Your Car?

Perhaps, the waterless wash has the lowest equipment entry-level, compared to other types of washing (with a pressure washer, foaming equipment, etc). You only need a high-quality microfiber cloth and proper chemicals. Choosing a rag is fairly simple  — the denser & softer the better. But the chemistry… not so clear-cut. Check this link to discover a comparison of TOP 13 waterless wash products.

Once you are all set up, it’s time to take some action. The technique behind this method consists of the following steps:

  1. Spray the product onto the surface 
  2. Grab a microfiber and wipe in a straight line in one direction. NEVER use circular motions.
  3. Flip the cloth over and buff off the excess product. Use straight lines or an “S pattern” technique
  4. Additionally, you can use some lightly waxed products to provide generous protection after the wash.

Probably the biggest question about this method is “Do waterless wash scratch the car’s paint?”  Well, the argument sounds pretty reasonable. In fact, it may seem that the water wets the surface and thus protects the paint. But what if you remove the water, won’t the protection disappear? 

Water does indeed moisten the paint, creating room for the sponge to maneuver safely. However, there are better lubricants available. As you might have guessed, manufacturers have thought of this ahead. Any waterless wash product includes lubricants and polymers that prevent scratches on the car body. As long as you use the right technique and chemicals, your paint is safe.

Bear in mind that this method is pretty much a classic washing technique. Meaning that you should use the same rules. For example, start from the roof and work your way down, or don’t press too hard when buffing off. When you’re wiping the product off the surface, make sure to always use a clean side of your microfiber cloth. If it gets too dirty, switch to a new and clean microfiber cloth. 

Two Bucket Method

The classic washing method, which involves two separate buckets, washing mitts, and grit guards. The idea is to manually apply cleaning agents to the car body. One of the buckets should contain water and the other should contain a special shampoo. 

The concept is very straightforward, you wet the wash mitt in the bucket with the cleaning solution and wash the vehicle. Then you soak the dirty wash mitt in clean water and then dip it in the bucket with the shampoo. Repeat the cycle until the car is clean.

Afterward, you have to rinse the car in order to remove the soapy solution from the paint. The two-bucket method is great if you have water available. Otherwise, it is not a good choice.

Do You Need A Pressure Washer To Wash A Car?

In general, there is no need for a pressure washer to wash a car, but it makes washing the car much easier. There are several alternatives to using a pressure washer like using waterless washes, hand-held foam guns, and more. Rinsing can also be performed without a pressure washer.

There are at least 5 safe ways to wash your car without using a pressure washer. If you’re a novice car enthusiast, simple alternatives like waterless wash or rinseless wash will do the trick. Especially for the adventurous, there are more advanced methods in the form of a hand pump, hose nozzles, or … pioneering high-pressured detailing kegs!

Key Takeaways

  • A pressure washer is replaceable, you can use other methods
  • Despite the method, use only straight moves to wash a vehicle
  • Always read recommendations on the label of washing products
  • Big Red Sponge maximizes ONR efficiency
  • Dense & plush towels = safe waterless wash
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge