3 Tips to Remove Paint from Metal With a Pressure Washer

Most metal surfaces can be safely stripped of paint using any common pressure washer. However, great care must be taken to implement the correct water pressure, nozzle tip, and detergent according to the particularities of the surface material and paint in question.

Where traditional washing or scrubbing just won’t do, pressure washers are a must-have. By blasting highly pressurized streams of water at a surface of choice, they are capable of neatly stripping off almost any kind of dirt or debris. But is a pressure washer strong enough to remove paint from metal surfaces?

Used properly, power washers can clean almost any kind of surface without much effort. However, the job is not as easy as pointing the hose in the right direction and hitting a big, red button. If you don’t want to accidentally take off more than just some old paint, read on to discover the essentials of how to properly use a pressure washer.

Construction man using pressure washer to remove paint from metal

Related Reading: What Size Pressure Washer Do I Need To Clean Concrete?

How To Remove Paint From Metal With a Pressure Washer

By propelling water at a precise target under pressure hundreds of times that of the air around us, power washers can easily clean nearly any surface. The process of paint stripping using a pressure washer is fairly simple. As long as you set up the machine properly and observe the right safety precautions, you should be able to remove almost all types of paint from metal in a pinch.

There are many factors that can influence the overall success of your cleaning job, though.

Let’s take a look at some of them below.

1. The Importance of PSI

When shopping between different models of pressure washers, you won’t see any number thrown around as frequently as the PSI measurement. It is usually the most prominently advertised feature of a washer, but what does it do exactly?

PSI stands for pounds per square inch, and it is a unit of pressure. In the case of a power washer, it is a description of the water pressure, which affects how sensitive or aggressive the washer will be towards the target surface.

Since commonly used metals such as steel and aluminum are quite strong and paint is relatively tricky to remove once it has settled in, you would be smart to opt for a washer towards the higher end of the PSI spectrum.

This means aiming for a PSI rating of 2,000 and up, generally speaking. Be aware though that past 4,000 PSI, you will not only be seeing diminishing returns in terms of cleaning power but also in terms of price. Therefore, staying somewhere within this range of PSI ratings should give you a good baseline for cleaning paint off of metal surfaces.

2. Nozzles, And How to Use Them

Every common pressure washer comes bundled with an assortment of nozzles, or spray tips.

These can affect the washer’s efficiency greatly. Therefore, being familiar with them is crucial.

Usually, nozzles will be color-coded, which makes it easier to choose between them depending on your needs.

  • The red nozzle is the most aggressive. It is also referred to as the 0-degree nozzle because it forces the water out of the hose through an extremely narrow and straight opening.
  • The yellow nozzle is a 15-degree spray tip, casting water in the shape of a narrow cone. This makes the impact on the cleaning surface noticeably softer, while also cleaning a larger area at the same time.
  • The green nozzle uses a 25-degree spread, casting water over a much more sizable area, and also being less aggressive.
  • The white nozzle spreads at 40-degrees, making it an excellent choice for lathering large surfaces with water in a short amount of time.
  • The black nozzle is the widest at 65 degrees of spread. It also has a much bigger opening than any of the other tips, shooting out water (or detergent) at a reduced velocity.

From red to black, each spray tip serves its own, unique purpose. When you begin applying your detergent and water, you should start from the wide end of the spectrum, with a black or a white nozzle, and then work your way up only as necessary.

The red 0-degree nozzle should hardly ever be required, as its narrow stream makes cleaning large areas extremely time-consuming. You should also never underestimate its aggressiveness  – even metal is not indestructible and can be accidentally damaged by applying water too forcefully.

3. Choosing The Right Detergent

While it is the water that actually does the cleaning when using a pressure washer, your choice of detergent can make the job a lot easier – or harder.

For the application of cleaning paint from metal, choose a detergent made for cleaning vehicles, such as cars, RVs, or boats. These detergents will be capable of preserving the quality of the metal while also, when used in conjunction with the right spray tips, being powerful enough to remove paint.

Pressure Washer Safety Guidelines

As with any large cleaning job, you should assess what you are working with beforehand when removing paint from metal with a pressure washer. Take note of these basic safety guidelines that apply to pressure washer use.

  • Always maintain a safe distance between you and the surface you are trying to clean – between 12 and 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) is optimal
  • Wear protective gloves and goggles
  • Always start on low pressure settings and work your way up
  • Remember to never use excessive pressure settings or incorrect nozzles to prevent accidents
  • Remember to clear the area surrounding your target surface of any furniture or other objects that could be accidentally damaged by debris
  • Cover any nearby windows – pressure washers can easily shatter glass
  • Note that wet surfaces, especially metal ones, can get very slippery, so use proper safety footwear and, if necessary, a harness

Also, remember to be ready to improvise and adapt depending on your unique circumstances and the environment around you. For example, if you are trying to clean a piece of tall, slanted metal roofing, don’t try to install your washer up there if the surface isn’t safely walkable.

Instead, opt for hose attachments, extension cables, and other accessories that allow you to use the washer while keeping a safe distance from a ladder.

Continue Reading: What Pressure Tip Should You Use For A Car? [ANSWERED]