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Pressure Washer Buying Guide

Learn about pressure washers and how to choose the best type for your home. These machines can make quick work of many outdoor cleaning jobs.

Woman Using a Pressure Washer to Clean a Sidewalk.

Pressure Washer Basics

All pressure washers share similar functionality. Water enters the machine at low pressure. A gasoline engine or electric motor powers a pump, which drives the water through a hose and a spray tip or nozzle at higher pressure. This process offers more cleaning power than a garden hose and allows you to efficiently clean a variety of outdoor items.

Electric Pressure Washers

Electric Pressure Washer.

Electric pressure washers are good for small, light projects, such as cleaning patio furniture and sidewalks. They're quieter and lighter than gas models. The electric motor starts with the flip of a switch and runs cleaner than a gas engine.

Some electric pressure washer manufacturers specify 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. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for connecting an electric pressure washer to a power source. If your pressure washer is compatible with an extension cord, use only the type specified by the manufacturer and see Power Cord Safety Tips.

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Caution

When using an electric pressure washer, keep the electrical connections dry and off the ground. Don't touch the plug if your hands are wet.

Gas Pressure Washers

Gas Pressure Washer.

Gas pressure washers offer more power and work better for larger, tougher jobs such as cleaning driveways, garage floors and siding. They also give you greater mobility, since they don't require you to be close to a power outlet. Gas pressure washers typically crank with a manual pull-start, but some models feature an electric starter.

Gas models need the right fuel — follow the manufacturer's requirements and read Fueling Outdoor Power Equipment for tips on keeping your machine running properly.

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Pressure Washer Capabilities

Multi-Duty Gas Pressure Washer.

Pressure washers range from light-duty to extra-heavy-duty models. Make sure the one you choose is appropriate for the type of work you need to do. The pressure output in pounds per square inch (PSI) of the device is a factor in determining the kind of duties it can efficiently handle.

  • Light-duty pressure washers create from 1500 to 1900 PSI. They work best for cleaning patio furniture, sidewalks and stairs, but can also handle cars or trucks and larger jobs such as cleaning decks, patios and driveways.
  • Medium-duty pressure washers generate between 2000 and 2800 PSI. Medium-duty machines are best for cleaning surfaces such as fences, decks, patios, garage floors and driveways.
  • Heavy-duty pressure washers put out between 2900 and 3200 PSI. These pressure washers work well for many cleaning jobs, including small areas like sidewalks, large areas like driveways, and jobs such as cleaning garage floors and stain removal.
  • Extra heavy-duty pressure washers offer 3300 PSI and up. These models handle many of the jobs of heavy-duty machines, but can also help you prepare surfaces for paint.

 In addition to the PSI rating of the pressure washer, pay attention to the water flow rate, measured in gallons per minute (GPM). Use both PSI and GPM ratings to determine the cleaning power of a pressure washer. The greater the combination of the numbers, the more area you can efficiently clean.

Multi-duty pressure washers, available in gas and electric models, let you adjust between high pressure for deep-cleaning and high flow for extended reach and delicate surfaces.

Pressure Washer Features and Specifications

Gas Pressure Washer.

Understanding terms and features will help you find a pressure washer that can handle your cleaning jobs.

  • A rating for cubic centimeters (cc) on a gas pressure washer or amps (A) on an electric pressure washer indicates power output.
  • Axial cam and triplex are two pump types. You'll find axial cam pumps on most pressure washers designed for homeowner use. Maintenance-free axial cam pumps simplify operation. Pressure washers intended for frequent, commercial use will often have triplex pumps, which have a longer life expectancy and greater efficiency.
  • Interchangeable nozzle tips provide predetermined pressure and flow settings. Tips with narrow sprays provide more pressure and less coverage, while wider sprays provide greater coverage at lower pressure. There are also low-pressure tips designed for applying detergent.
  • Adjustable wands allow you to change the spray pattern from narrow (higher pressure) to wide (lower pressure) without changing the nozzle tip.
  • Interchangeable wands are preset for different cleaning types. With these models, you change the wand rather than changing or adjusting the nozzle tip.
  • Rotating nozzles combine a powerful spray with a circular motion.
  • Chemical or detergent injection allows use of cleaners and other chemicals designed for pressure washers, either from an onboard tank or by means of a siphoning tube.
  • Onboard detergent tanks make using pressure washer chemicals more convenient.
  • Unloaders and thermal relief systems are features designed to reduce pressure and heat buildup that could damage the pressure washer.

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Pressure Washer Accessories

Woman Using an Extension Wand to Pressure Wash Siding.

Some pressure washers can work with optional tools and accessories, helping you clean more quickly and with better results:

  • Brushes let you apply scrubbing power to cleaning projects.
  • Extension wands and spray tips for second-story cleaning help you clean home exteriors.
  • Angled wands can work with extensions to reach gutters.
  • Surface cleaners with spinning jets can help you clean driveways and sidewalks.
  • Pressure washer chemicals are available for different types of cleaning. Use only those recommended by the pressure washer manufacturer. Some manufacturers have specific chemicals approved for use in their equipment.

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Using a Pressure Washer

Man Pressure Washing Patio Furniture with an Electric Pressure Washer.

Procedures for using pressure washers vary depending on what you're cleaning, but here are some general things to remember:

Stand on a stable surface where you have good balance and solid footing.

Wear the eye protection specified by the pressure washer manufacturer and wear hearing protection when using a gas pressure washer.

Never leave a spray gun unattended while the pressure washer is running.

Use the correct nozzle or spray setting. Using a nozzle or setting that concentrates too much power can damage some surfaces, especially wood. Check the manual to find information on spray settings and how far the spray tip should be from the surface you're cleaning.

Be aware of where you're directing the spray. Never point the spray gun at people, animals or plants. Keep the spray away from electrical fixtures, power sources and power lines.

For more information on using a pressure washer, see Pressure Wash Your Home Exterior, Pressure Wash Decks and Fences and Pressure Wash Vehicles and Boats.

Caution

Always follow the pressure washer, accessory and chemical manufacturers' use, maintenance and safety instructions, including instructions on safety gear.

Pressure Washer Maintenance Considerations

Pressure washers need proper care for efficient operation and long life. All models require procedures such as general inspection and pump care. If you store a pressure washer where temperatures drop below freezing, you need to take steps to prevent the pump from freezing. Other maintenance varies by model. A gas pressure washer requires more maintenance than an electric model, including air filter, oil and spark plug changes. See Pressure Washer Maintenance to get an idea of the types of maintenance these machines require.