Can I Pressure Wash In California?

Over the last decade, California has experienced severe drought conditions that have led to unprecedented water restrictions across the state. With pressure washing requiring significant amounts of water, California residents have had to adapt to new regulations regarding when and how pressure washing can be done.

This article provides an overview of pressure washing regulations and best practices for California residents and businesses. We’ll cover topics like obtaining permits, following water usage rules, using environmentally safe chemicals, noise restrictions, and special considerations for homeowners associations and commercial operators.

With mindful preparation and care, pressure washing can still be done legally and responsibly even in drought-prone California. But it’s important to follow the latest state and local guidelines to avoid fines, water waste, and other issues.


Pressure washing is legal in California for both residential and commercial use. However, there are some regulations around licensing, permitting, and environmental considerations that need to be followed.

In general, pressure washing is allowed on private property without any type of license. Property owners can pressure wash their own driveway, patio, house siding, etc. without needing a license. However, if providing pressure washing as a paid service to customers, you must have a valid California contractor’s license with the Classification C-61 Limited Specialty license 1.

For commercial pressure washing, such as office buildings, restaurants, retail stores, etc. you must also have a valid C-61 license. The C-61 classification allows for exterior cleaning and water blasting of any kind. This includes the use of chemicals, abrasives, steam, sand, plastic beads, wood chips, baking soda, or other media 1.

In summary, pressure washing is legal in California but requires proper licensing if providing as a commercial service. Individual homeowners can pressure wash without a license.

Water Usage Regulations

In California, pressure washing businesses must follow regulations on water usage due to drought conditions and conservation efforts. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, regulations prohibit allowing wastewater from pressure washing to drain into streets, storm drains or other waterways leading to the ocean. This includes pressure washing driveways, sidewalks, homes, pools, etc. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to $10,000 a day (What are the Pressure Washing Regulations in California?).

New laws also set limits on total indoor and outdoor water usage, measured in gallons per person per day. These limits start at 55 gallons in 2022 and gradually drop to 50 gallons by 2030 (California’s Water Regulations). Pressure washing businesses need to be aware of these restrictions and plan their water usage accordingly.

The state prohibits runoff not just from pressure washing but any outdoor water usage like irrigation. Businesses must take steps to prevent runoff such as using high efficiency washers, sweeping/collecting water, utilizing runoff collection systems, and washing during dry weather (Frequently Asked Questions). Proper planning and equipment can help pressure washers comply with California’s regulations.

Obtaining Permits

In California, you may need to obtain permits or licenses to legally operate a pressure washing business, depending on the scope of work. For basic residential pressure washing, no license is required. However, if you are charging over $500 for a job, you will need a contractor’s license such as the C-61/D-38 license for sand and water blasting contractors [1]. Obtaining this license requires at least 4 years of journeyman experience and passing exams. You can expect to pay around $300 for the application and licensing fees [2].

For commercial pressure washing jobs, you will likely need a business license from your city or county. The requirements vary by location, but often involve registering your business name, obtaining insurance, and paying licensing fees. It’s important to check with your local municipality to understand the specific regulations in your area.

Environmental Considerations

When pressure washing in California, it’s important to consider the environmental impact and take steps to prevent pollution.

A major concern is wastewater runoff. The high-pressure water jets used in pressure washing can pick up debris, chemicals, oils, and other contaminants on surfaces. If this wastewater flows into storm drains or waterways, it can be extremely damaging to the environment.

California law prohibits allowing wastewater from pressure washing to enter the storm drain system. Doing so may result in fines up to $25,000 a day (Pressure Washing – Department of Toxic Substances Control.

To prevent runoff, pressure washers in California should use containment pools or berms to capture wastewater. The wastewater can then be filtered and discharged properly. Any debris or sludge should be collected and disposed of safely. Proper runoff management is key to conducting pressure washing activities in an eco-friendly manner.

In addition to runoff management, pressure washers should use biodegradable, non-toxic chemicals and minimize water usage. Following best practices can allow this useful cleaning process to be done safely and sustainably.

Chemical Usage

In California, there are strict regulations around the chemicals and soaps that can be used for pressure washing due to environmental concerns. The main governing body overseeing chemical use is the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). According to the DTSC’s guidelines on pressure washing, “It is illegal to discharge wastewater from pressure washing into storm drains, waterways, or onto the pavement or ground. All wastewater must be collected and disposed of properly”

The DTSC recommends using biodegradable, phosphate-free cleaners whenever possible. They also advise avoiding cleaners that contain sodium hypochlorite, hydrofluoric acid, muriatic acid, sodium hydroxide, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene or MTBE due to their toxicity. Any wastewater containing these chemicals must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Additionally, the DTSC states that “Local wastewater agencies may have additional regulations regarding acceptable wastewater discharges to the sanitary sewer.” Pressure washing companies should check with local authorities to ensure full compliance with chemical regulations.

According to an article on Legal Beagle, “In California, it’s against the law to allow wastewater from power washing to flow into storm drains and natural bodies of water. Doing so is considered an illegal discharge under the federal Clean Water Act.” [1]

Noise Regulations

pressure washing equipment spraying water to clean a surface

California has statewide noise regulations that limit allowable noise levels and restrict the hours that noisy activities can take place. The California Noise Control Act states that excessive noise is a serious hazard to public health and sets maximum noise levels for various land uses [1].

Most local ordinances prohibit loud noises during nighttime hours, typically between 10pm and 7am on weekdays and 11pm or midnight to 8am on weekends [2]. Pressure washing would likely be considered a noise nuisance if done outside these allowable hours.

Noise limits are also in place. For residential areas, the acceptable exterior noise level is typically 50 decibels during the day and 40 decibels at night. Commercial zones allow for higher noise levels of around 60-65 decibels [1]. Pressure washers can produce 75-95 decibels, so careful attention must be paid to allowable noise levels.

Homeowner Associations

Homeowner associations (HOAs) in California have special rules when it comes to pressure washing. In September 2021, the State Water Resources Control Board issued a fact sheet stating that HOAs cannot require homeowners to pressure wash the exterior of their homes, vehicles, and concrete surfaces during a declared drought emergency.

This is based on California Civil Code Section 4735(a), which prohibits HOAs from fining or assessing homeowners for reducing or eliminating the watering of vegetation or lawns during a drought emergency. Pressure washing is considered a non-essential use of water.

However, HOA architectural guidelines may still require exterior surfaces to be maintained in clean, sanitary, and attractive condition. Homeowners should check their HOA’s specific rules regarding pressure washing and work together to find reasonable alternatives that conserve water.

Commercial Pressure Washing

Companies and individuals who provide pressure washing services commercially in California need to follow some additional regulations beyond what residential pressure washers require.

First, commercial pressure washing businesses must register with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) and obtain a C-61 Limited Specialty license specifically for pressure washing [1]. This involves passing a trade exam, demonstrating experience, and paying licensing fees. Licensed contractors must also carry general liability insurance and bonding.

Commercial pressure washers in California must follow all federal and state environmental regulations, including proper containment and disposal of waste water [2]. They cannot discharge untreated wastewater into storm drains or waterways. Many cities and counties also require additional permits for commercial pressure washing services.

Businesses should be aware of noise ordinances, restrictions on hours of operation, and regulations for transporting and storing pressure washing equipment and chemicals. Following all regulations helps ensure public and environmental safety.


Pressure washing whether for residential or commercial purposes is legal in California within the proper guidelines. The key regulations to keep in mind relate to water usage, obtaining necessary permits, noise limitations, and utilizing environmentally safe chemicals and processes. Homeowners should check with their HOA prior to pressure washing. Overall, pressure washing is an effective cleaning method that can be used safely and legally if done properly with care for the environment and neighbors.

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