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These machines can make quick work of many outdoor cleaning jobs. Here's how to choose the best type of pressure washer for your home.
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 are good for small, light projects, such as cleaning patio furniture and vehicles. 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.
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 offer more power and work better for larger, tougher jobs such as cleaning decks, patios and, depending on the model, second-story exteriors. 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.
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.
In addition to the pressure washer PSI rating, pay attention to the water volume the machine delivers, measured in gallons per minute (GPM). While higher PSI provides deeper cleaning, higher GPM means better cleaning and rinsing of difficult-to-reach surfaces. 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 let you adjust between high pressure for deep-cleaning and high flow for extended reach and delicate surfaces.
Some pressure washers can work with optional tools and accessories, helping you clean more quickly and with better results:
Procedures for using pressure washers vary depending on what you're cleaning, but here are some general things to remember:
Always follow the pressure washer, accessory and chemical manufacturers' use, maintenance and safety instructions, including instructions on safety gear.
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.
As an alternative to a standalone pressure washer, you can find an outdoor power equipment system that handles a variety of outdoor maintenance projects with a single engine (bottom right of the image). The engine powers several optional attachments — pressure washer, mower, leaf blower and snow blower — reducing maintenance requirements and storage space. See this Troy-Bilt system — available exclusively at Lowe's — in action.