For a long time I have been watching both amateur and professional detailers post pictures of their car covered in a thick layer of foam and been jealous of their results – my basic Gilmour Foam Gun that connects to a regular hose spits out plenty of soap, but did not achieve anywhere near the same results. These professionals achieving the super foamy “covered in snow” washes were using special foam guns (also referred to as foam lance, or foam cannons), and not just a basic sprayer like the Gilmour gun. Wanting to achieve similar results, but not wanting the bulk and hassle of a gas-powered pressure washer, I started by buying an $80 electric pressure washer by Greenworks and saw a big upgrade in the amount of foam I saw over a regular garden hose attachment, but still nothing like what the pros use.
Alas, I stumbled upon the world of electric pressure washers to see what upgrades are available. I started by using a smaller orfice and better soap, and that helped improve the output but still wasn’t *quite* there. The problem is that most foam lances require a minimum of ~2 gallons per minute (GPM) for optimal results, and while most “budget” electric pressure washers cannot meet that standard and the smaller orfice is a “hack” to try to mimic that similar pressure and water/soap ratio. The pros like Obsessed Garage recommended going with pressure washer setups that cost $800-$2K, and that seemed like too much money to get a little more foam – so for a while, I kept this setup and all was fine.
The Ultimate At-Home Setup: Active 2.0 with Upgrades
This all changed about a year ago Active introduced their Active 2.0 electric pressure washer that is specifically designed to be optimal for washing cars and has a 1.9 GPM rating, making it PERFECT for the job without breaking the bank on a professional-grade pressure washer. The Active 2.0 pressure washer did come with its own foam/soap adapter, but to give my experiment the best chance of succeeding I also picked up a Chemical Guys TORQ Professional Foam Cannon and a gallon of their specially formulated Honeydew Snow Foam Cleanser, which set me back another $99. I’ve been using this setup for over a year now, and continue to be super pleased and impressed with the results – so I’ve updated this post to reflect the latest & greatest gear and recommendations.
You can pick up my current/recommended setup on Amazon here:
Thanks to Amazon Prime, my new toys arrived in a little under two days, and it was time to see if this would all work. The foam cannon instructions advise to use 1-3 ounces of soap, which is difficult to gauge, so I just put about about a finger width of soap in the bottle and fired it up…over time I’ve gotten better at tinkering with the ratio, and dare I say I’ve often had too much foam where the car was almost difficult to wipe down with all of the residue clinging to the car…some of the pros diligently measure out the foam each time, but generally I think you can just eyeball it until you find the right ratio that works for you.
Electric Pressure Washer Comparison
Option 1: Greenworks (budget) pressure washer:
Option 2: Greenworks with upgraded orface:
Option 3: Active 2.0 pressure washer
Electric Pressure Washer vs 2 Bucket Method
As a longtime follower of the two bucket method of cleaning a car, I discovered this foam cannon really minimizes if not eliminates completely the need for a wash mit in the first place for basic washes. I decided to skip using a mit and just see how clean the car would be after. I sprayed on the foam, waited ~5 minutes for the foam to do its work, then pressure washed it off…low and behold, the car looked spotless! Had all of this bucket filling and mit-scrubbing madness been a mistake? This was both easier AND quicker.
Thinking maybe I was just lucky since my car was already pretty clean by most people’s standards (and coated with CarPro Reload sealant), I tried it out on my wife’s car next. Her black Ford Focus hadn’t been washed in ~2 months, and it really showed. I refilled the foam cannon with a decent amount of soap (my first attempt ran out of suds about 80% of the way through), sprayed the car in foam and waited about 5 minutes like before, then sprayed everything off – and once again the car looked just as clean as the two bucket method I had been employing previously. Amazing!
If the car really is soiled, I still recommend using a microfiber to wash it – but the trick is to use as little pressure as possible. You want to agitate the dirt, but you don’t need to rub it off…just loosen it. For the wheels, you should still pre-treat using a dedicated wheel cleaner, followed by a wheel brush, and then you can use the foam cannon as your finishing step.
So my $300 experiment turned out to be a great success. My compact and fairly low PSI & GPM electric washer was able to achieve plenty of pressure to get the job done without being a nuance or requiring any fossil fuels, and the Active 2.0 took things to the next level. Beyond just a new toy, the benefits of this setup are a long list, too:
- No scrubbing = no risk of marring your paint
- Less time to wash
- Much less water used
- Easy clean-up
- No buckets needed
- Pressure washer can be used for other things (patio, driveway, etc.)
- Easier to clean hard to reach areas (wheel wells, undercarriage, etc.)
- No need to scrub wheels or use harsher chemicals to eliminate brake dust
- Professional level results
- Cool “snow foam” pictures for Instagram
Pressure Washer Upgrades for Washing Cars
If you already have a pressure washer and want to take things to the next level, here is the gear you should consider:
- A longer hose – I recommend this 50 ft option from Uberflex. The standard hose isn’t long enough to get all of the way around the car, and you don’t want to the hose to be rubbing up against the pain when you stretch it as that will only mar the paint further.
- Quick connects – this just helps hook up your pressure washer easier, reducing the amount of setup time you’ll need so that you can spend more time with the actual washing. I used these, but they’re all the same as long as you have the right size for your fittings.
- A good hose to go from the spicket to your pressure washer – avoid the cheap, collapsable kind as that can give less water flow to the pressure washer, limiting its GPM. I bought this one from Giraffe Tools.
- A stubby gun with a swivel – this just helps you move around quicker, and have a little less stain on your hand.
- Good soap, microfibers, wheel brushes, and other detailing supplies – check out this post for my mega-list of recommended products and supplies, as well as where to buy them.
From there, a cool storage rack can be nice – I’ve seen people wall mount these to keep them off the ground and out of the way. You can also pick up a pressure washer hose reel to keep everything neat & tidy when not in use, but they’re rather spendy at $100 for something that won’t actual improve the quality of the wash, so personally I haven’t opted for that.
While I’m sure a gas-powered pressure washer would achieve even better results, the electric pressure washer achieves at least 80% of the results and is only about 20% of the cost. For the amateur detailer like myself that has limited space and budget, it’s a perfect solution. If you don’t have any outlets or space, a Gilmour Foam Gun & Two Bucket method is fine too, but if you want to step it up a notch without breaking the bank, then an electric pressure washer and Chemical Guns or MJCC foam gun/lance is a great solution.
Got any tips for a newbie at using a foam cannon? Have a favorite soap?
Give me some pointers in the comments!