If you’ve ever used a pressure washer, you know how fun it can be to use that firehose-level water power to zap everything from oil stains to bird droppings from a driveway, patio, or deck. It used to be that you’d have to rent a pressure washer due to their high cost, but in the past decade or so power washers have become much more affordable and accessible to buy. But you want to buy the right one, and there are a lot of considerations to take into account. Here’s what to keep in mind when looking to buy the best pressure washer for your needs.
What is a pressure washer?
A pressure washer is a type of power tool which runs off either electricity or gas. It’s also sometimes referred to as a pressure cleaner or power washer. It works by using a motor that powers a pump, forcing water at high pressure through a concentrating nozzle. This high-pressure spray offers excellent cleaning power, and can quickly blast away dirt and grime from surfaces such as decks, driveways, and patios, among others. Pressure washers can also be used for cleaning outdoor chairs, siding, and other items with far less elbow grease and in far less time than using a bucket of soap and a scrub brush.
How do pressure washers work?
Pressure washers work by using a motor that powers a pump, forcing water at high pressure through a concentrating nozzle. This creates a high-pressure spray that makes it quick and easy to clean various surfaces around your home. Pressure washing also offers general sweeping to help remove large debris from surfaces, in addition to deep cleaning surfaces.
What kinds of pressure washers are there?
Not all pressure washers are created equal, and there are a few different types. Mainly, there are electric pressure washers, gas-powered pressure washers, and commercial pressure washers. Electric-powered pressure washers run off electricity and require access to a power outlet, while gas-powered washers run off gas. Commercial washers are longer-lasting and pack more power thanks to a higher PSI rating. Commercial pressure washers are almost exclusively gas-powered.
Which is better: Gas or electric pressure washers?
Whether you go with a gas-powered or an electric-powered pressure washer will depend on a number of factors. You want to consider how you’ll be using the machine and what you’ll be cleaning with it. Most residential applications can be tackled with an electric washer, though those with more high-intensity cleaning needs and larger areas will appreciate the extra power that a gas power washer provides.
Electric pressure washers are convenient, light-duty machines that tend to be cheaper, quieter, and more portable than their gas-powered counterparts. This makes them ideal for residential jobs such as cleaning fencing and removing grime from siding. They’re also safer to use indoors, since there is no exhaust.
Gas-powered pressure washers often deliver higher pressure than their electric counterparts – more than 3,000 PSI. This makes them ideal for deep-cleaning concrete, stripping paint, and more high-intensity cleaning jobs. Unlike electric pressure cleaners, they create a loud sound and emit harmful exhaust fumes while running.
What kinds of surfaces can be pressure washed, and what kinds can’t or shouldn’t be?
You can use a pressure cleaner to wash various surfaces, including:
You should avoid using a pressure washer on some surfaces, including:
Electrical panels and meters
Painted surfaces (unless you’re stripping the paint)
What should I consider when choosing a pressure washer?
Not all pressure washers are created equal. A pressure washer should provide enough power to clean surfaces without damaging them, in addition to being lightweight and easy to operate. Here’s what to consider when evaluating the options for the best pressure washer for your needs:
Power. Perhaps the most important feature when comparing pressure washers is how much power it offers – as this is one of the best indications of how well it will clean. The simplest way of figuring this out is to use a formula to determine the machine’s cleaning units (CU). (Sometimes it’s listed on the box, sometimes not.) Simply take the machine’s pounds per square inch (PSI) and gallons per minute (GPM) ratings and multiply them. The more CU, the more cleaning power a machine has.
PSI. PSI is very important when pressure washing, as the higher the PSI, the more force the water will have on the surface you're cleaning. Too high a PSI and you can easily damage the surface you’re trying to clean. Pressure washers in the 1,000-2,000 PSI range are considered light-duty, while those in the 2,000-2,800 range are medium-duty. Pressure washers above 2,800 PSI are considered heavy duty.
GPM. GPM stands for gallons per minute, and is also known as the water flow rate. The higher the GPM, the faster the cleaning process as more water is released. Conversely, the lower the GPM, the longer the cleaning process will take.
Nozzles. Pressure washers generally come with either 3-4 color-coded nozzle tips, or sometimes a dial-type multi-spray pattern nozzle. Nozzles range from 0° (which shoots a direct jet of water onto the surface, in an area the size of a quarter) to 65° (which uses a larger opening to decrease velocity and increase hose pressure). The lower the nozzle range, the more high-powered the spray, and the more easily you can damage the surface you’re power washing.
Hot vs. cold water. Cold water pressure washers are generally less complicated to use, more affordable, and more portable than their hot water counterparts. However, a hot water pressure washer requires less water and cleans better with less soap. You can also use a hot water pressure washer to sanitize surfaces.
Portability. Lightweight and compact pressure washers are easier to carry around and store. Otherwise, you can look for a model with an integrated wheel system for added convenience and maneuverability.
Price point. Finally, consider how much you are willing to spend on a pressure washer, as they can vary in price from $100-$500 or more.
How much PSI do I need to power wash my driveway, deck, or concrete?
In order to clean a driveway, you’ll want to look for a pressure washer somewhere in the range of 2000 and 2800 PSI at 2-3 GPM. Pressure washers with these specs tend to be medium to heavy-duty. If you opt for a lighter-duty pressure washer, you might still be able to clean your driveway – it just may take more passes, and ultimately more time.
In order to pressure wash a deck, you want a machine with around 1300 to 2000 PSI at 2 GPM. Pressure washers with these specs tend to be light-duty, but you can also use a medium or heavy-duty pressure washer to clean your deck – just be mindful of the spray power.
To clean concrete, you’ll want a medium or heavy-duty washer anywhere from 2000-3000 PSI with a flow rate of at least 2.5 GPM.
What about safety when it comes to pressure washers?
Safety is a very important consideration when it comes to using a pressure washer, as they deliver a highly concentrated and powerful high-pressure stream of water. This can cause serious injury and damage property if not used carefully. You should never spray your pressure washer closer than 6-inches to whatever it is that you’re cleaning. You should also avoid using the 0-degree nozzle in order to prevent damage or injury.
The pressure washing process requires more than simply getting a machine and blasting away. You can cause significant damage to surfaces, including pitting, lines, and surface degradation, which may result in additional problems and costly repairs.
Do I need an expensive pressure washer to get my job done?
While it’s true that pressure washers come at all sorts of price points from the budget-friendly to splurge-worthy, you don’t have to break the bank to get a pressure washer that meets your needs. The major difference between prices when it comes to power washers is features, including nozzle attachments, and PSI + GPM. A lighter-duty (see: less expensive) pressure washer is adequate for most home uses, you just might need to go over the area more than once. Around 2,000 PSI hits the sweet spot of light and medium-duty cleaning needs, with plenty of options in price points to suit everyone.