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Selecting a Pressure Washer

Cleaning a large horse trailer with a hose and bucket might take an hour or more, but a pressure washer can cut that job down to about 20 minutes.

Not only are they fast, but they're versatile. A pressure washer can clean nearly anything from tractors to motors and from garage floors to garbage cans.

A pressure washer works by using a gas or electric motor to power a pump that turns your garden hose into a power washer. It consists of three elements: an engine to generate power; a pump to force water supplied from your garden hose; and a nozzle to accelerate the water.

Pressure washers range from entry-level electric models for light jobs such as cleaning outdoor furniture or automobiles to powerful gas­powered pressure washers with higher pressure and greater water flow for big jobs, such as cleaning a home's exterior.

Use this guide to help decide which pressure washer will do the job for you.

Cleaning Power

The first thing you'll notice about pressure washers is that they're rated by water pressure, or PSI (pounds per square inch), and water flow, or GPM (gallons per minute).

PSI determines how much force is applied to break down stubborn dirt and grime, while GPM is the amount of water that runs through the system, providing the muscle to remove it.

CP = PSI x GPMThe pressure washer's cleaning power (CP) is determined by multiplying the PSI and GPM, so the higher these numbers are on a pressure washer, the faster and more effective it cleans.

The CP indicates a machine's overall performance and is useful when you go to compare pressure washers.

Where Will You Use It?

Pressure washers use either a gas or electric motor to power the pump. The model you choose should depend on where and how you plan to use it.

Electric pressure washers are more economical and are ideal for small, infrequent projects, such as cleaning outdoor furniture or automobiles. They will need a nearby electrical outlet.

Gas-powered pressure washers provide more power, flexibility, and cleaning speed. They're more appropriate for frequent users and for big cleaning jobs.

Use this chart to help you decide which might be the best type of pressure washer for you.

Pressure Washer Performance

OCCASIONAL USE

Cleaning Power (CP)

For Cleaning

Cleaning Speed

1400-2100 PSI
1.8-2.1 GPM

Outdoor furniture, lawn equipment, car, truck, or boat

Fast

 
OCCASIONAL — FREQUENT USE

Cleaning Power (CP)

For Cleaning

Cleaning Speed

2200-2600 PSI
2.2-2.5 GPM

Decks, patios, driveways, sidewalks, home siding

Faster

 
FREQUENT — DAILY USE

Cleaning Power (CP)

For Cleaning

Cleaning Speed

2700-3700 PSI
2.6-3.2 GPM

All purposes

Fastest

 

Time-Saving Accessories

Get the best use of your pressure washer with the right accessories.

Attachments include: wand extensions; nozzles designed specifically for gentle, general, and turbo cleaning; and spray tips made especially for hard-to-reach areas, concrete, painted surfaces, windows, and screens.

Using the correct attachments will make any cleaning job easier and more efficient.

Cleaning Detergents

A pressure washer's detergent injection system provides better cleaning results by using cleaning detergents to help break down dirt and grime. Use only detergents made specifically for pressure washers.

Using detergents that are not approved for a pressure washer — chlorine bleach, for example — voids the warranty, may damage the pressure washer, and may not be environmentally sound.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Can I use any pressure washer to clean any surface?

Yes, but different projects require different combinations of pressure and flow for the best results. Use the nozzles to control the pressure and flow for each project.
 
How can I be sure not to damage a surface with a pressure washer?
 
Always start with the pressure washer on a wide­ fan setting and stand well away from the surface. Move closer and adjust the nozzle to narrow the water stream until it's cleaning like you want.
 
Can I siphon water from a lake or holding tank to operate the pressure washer?
 
Not a good idea. Most pressure washers are not designed to be used in this manner. Lake water contains sediment and other materials that can clog the unit. Siphoning water from a holding tank with a machine not designed for siphoning will severely damage the pump. Siphoning requires a heavier pump complete with special fittings.
 
Can I hook my cold-water pressure washer to a hot water supply?
 
Do not hook any pressure washer to a hot water supply. Doing so immediately voids the warranty and ultimately damages the pump.