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Pressure Washer Buying Guide

Pressure Washer.

Pressure washers are great tools for cleaning a variety of outdoor items. While they're 10 to 50 times more powerful than a garden hose, they use up to 80% less water. Learn about pressure washers and make sure you get the perfect tool for your project.

Pressure Washer Types

Electric pressure washers are light-duty models that work well for smaller cleaning projects. They're typically quieter, lighter and easier to start than gas models.

Many electric pressure washer manufacturers instruct that their devices be plugged directly into an outlet using the built-in cord, with no extension cord. Take this into consideration when determining where you need to be able to clean. See the manufacturer's instructions for connecting an electric pressure washer to a power source.

Gas pressure washers range from medium- to extra-heavy-duty models. They offer the benefit of more power. They also give you greater mobility, since they don't require you to be close to a power outlet. Gas pressure washers use either a manual pull-start or, on some heavy-duty models, an electric starter.

Don’t use gas-powered pressure indoors or in an area that does not have proper ventilation.

Pressure Washer Power

Pressure Washer Duty Ratings.

You can look for a pressure washer based on the type of jobs it can handle, ranging from light duty to extra heavy duty. The pressure output in pounds per square inch (PSI) of the device is an important factor in determining the kind of duties it can handle.

You can also find multi-duty pressure washers in both electric and gas models that can put out different PSI levels.

Choosing a Pressure Washer

Pressure washer selection chart.

Pressure washers are available for all levels of use from weekend projects to heavy-duty commercial applications. Cars, trucks, patio furniture, sidewalks, fencing, garage floors, driveways and houses are all candidates for pressure washing. However, each doesn’t share the same cleaning requirements. Consider what type of work you'll be doing, as well as where you'll be doing it. Find a pressure washer that best suits the projects you want to accomplish.

Pressure Washer Specifications

Pressure washers share similar key parts. A gasoline engine or electric motor powers a pump, which compresses water and drives it through a hose to exit from a spray wand or gun at a much higher pressure than when it entered the pressure washer. Beyond the common components, it's important to understand terms and features to find the best pressure washer for your cleaning jobs.

HP (horsepower) measures the power of a gasoline engine. Amps (amperage) measures the power of an electric motor. Higher HP or higher amps means more power.

PSI and GPM are measurements that help you determine the cleaning power of a pressure washer. PSI (pounds per square inch) measures the water pressure the unit can deliver. GPM (gallons per minute) refers to the water flow rate. Multiplying PSI by GPM gives you an indication of the cleaning power of the pressure washer.

Axial cam and triplex are two pump types. Typically you'll find triplex pumps on pressure washers designed for commercial use, due to their longer life expectancy and greater efficiency.

Adjustable wands allow you to change the spray pattern from narrow (higher pressure) to wide (lower pressure).

Interchangeable wands let you swap between different spray types.

Interchangeable nozzle tips provide predetermined pressure and flow settings. You can select the tip based on your cleaning project. The wider the spray or fan from the tip, the lower its ability to cut through dirt. A zero-degree tip provides intense power. Fan angles of 15 to 25 degrees cover larger areas, combining stripping and washing power. Fans of 40 degrees or more are generally used for simple washing.

Rotating nozzles combine a powerful spray with a circular motion.

Chemical / Detergent Injection allows use of cleaners and other liquids designed for pressure washers, either from an onboard tank or by means of a siphoning tube.

Water-level sensors / indicators help prevent pump damage

Oil-level sensors / indicators on gas-powered models help prevent engine damage.

Unloaders and thermal relief valves are safety features designed to reduce pressure and heat buildup.

You can also look for gas engines that don't require priming or a manual choke and pressure washers that include kits to help clean second stories.

Some pressure washers can work with optional add-ons to help you get your work done in less time. Brushes, extension wands and surface cleaners with spinning jets fit some models, helping you get your work done in less time.

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Using a Pressure Washer

Depending on what you’re cleaning, each application has its own specific procedure. Here are some general things to remember:

  • Always use the correct nozzle or spray setting. Using a nozzle or setting that concentrates too much power can damage some surfaces, especially wood.
  • Use the chemical recommended by the manufacturer. Some manufacturers have detergents and waxes approved for use in their equipment. Different formulas are available for cleaning houses and decks, degreasing, as well as washing and waxing vehicles.
  • Work from ground level rather than on a ladder when cleaning a house. Use accessories, such as spray-arm extensions and brushes, for this type of project.

Cleaning results vary based on:

  • Detergent use
  • Distance from the surface you're cleaning
  • Water pressure
  • Spray fan angle
Safety must be your main concern when using a machine combining pressurized water, detergents or other chemicals and electricity or gasoline. Follow the manufacturer's operating, maintenance and safety instructions, including instructions on safety gear.