Pressure Washer Buying Guide

It's time to remove all that dirt and grime that has settled on your deck, siding or even your car. For those of you who think that rainfall does a fine enough job, unfortunately, it does not. Horizontal surfaces collect and harbor pollutants that require a bit more elbow grease than mother nature can deliver. The easiest, most effective way of cleaning these surfaces is with a pressure washer. These machines come in a variety of styles and sizes. And, with additional attachments, they can be used for more than just cleaning your deck. For homeowners and contractors, these machines have become a necessity.  Pressure washers are versatile, economical and powerful tools.

Purchasing a pressure washer is a wise investment. Its versatility around the house or job site can reduce time and energy tremendously. From cleaning your deck and pumping out water from your pool to removing debris from compacted pipes, these tools have more uses than you may think. Many manufacturers sell additional attachments that allow for a host of other uses.

The best method we found to make all pressure washers easier to use while cleaning deck surfaces is with the use of an attachment called SprayglideTM. This new "cool tool" attaches to any pressure washer spray wand via a VelcroR brand fastening system. Sprayglide helps the operator maintain the proper distance from the surface, saving your deck and your back. The Sprayglide adjusts height to accommodate different pressure washer PSI output, for any surface material, all while supporting consistent cleaning and running the length of your PW hose (25-50 ft.).

For those of you who live in areas where water is scarce, pressure washers are very economical and do in fact conserve water when used appropriately.  For most projects, a pressure washer will use 80 percent less water than a standard garden hose with a flow restrictive nozzle. Comparatively speaking, a pressure washer can use less water than it would take to fill a bathtub. Conserving water has become an area of great concern nowadays.

There are a host of pressure washers on the market today. Almost every equipment manufacturer has its brand on a pressure washer. There are gasoline-powered, electric-powered and diesel-powered pressure washers. Some even have heating coils that produce hot water. So, how do you know what machine is right for you? First, you need to ask yourself - 1. How often will I use it, and 2. what will I use it for? As previously mentioned, there are a variety of uses for such an item around the house, farm or job site. Most pressure washers are divided into three classes: light duty, standard duty and industrial or heavy duty. Usage is metered by the number of hours of use, much like boat motors. If you expect to use it less than 500 hours, then a standard duty would be right for you. However, if you are a deck refinishing contractor expecting to use your machine for 1,000 hours or more, then a heavy duty is more in line with your needs. If you don't really think you'll need a pressure washer all that much, then renting is always an option. The cost is about $50 a day and, depending on your chore list, you can usually accomplish everything you set out to do in a day.

The next thing you want to look at is PSI (pounds per square inch). PSI is a standard whereby the force of water is measured from 12 inches from the nozzle. For softwood decks like redwood or cedar, 1200 PSI is enough. Anything more than that and you risk damaging or removing wood material leaving behind a raised grain. Hardwoods and composite can handle a bit more PSI, but not much. Where increased PSI is important is when you are working elevated areas where the machine is considerably lower than the structure you want to clean. For example, if you have a balcony deck structure that is 20 feet off the ground, you should consider using a machine that delivers a greater PSI. The machine needs to work much harder to force that water up to the required area. Most machines, but not all, have a throttle whereby you can control the force generated. Remember, you'll have a better finished product working in proximity to the project. Shooting the water long distances diminishes the PSI, and reduces the efficiency of the machine.

Let's look at the anatomy of a pressure washer. All pressure washers have some basic components. First, they have an engine or, in the case with electric pressure washers, a motor. This mechanism drives the pump. The pump is what pressurizes the water. For engines and motors, the thing to look at is the horsepower. The greater the horsepower, typically the greater the amount of PSI the pump can deliver. The greater the horsepower, the less stress the motor has to endure to operate.

Gas motors are most common. They have some pro and cons, however. They are heavy in weight. Also, gas motors require maintenance. They need periodic oil and filter changes. They also tend to vibrate, which means if you use them ON a deck (not recommended) the homeowner will feel the whole house shake. Also, gas motors tend to be noisy.

Electric motors have come on the scene recently, and they are far more quiet. They do not require maintenance and can be somewhat lighter and easier to maneuver. They do, however, require a tremendous amount of power to operate. Most need a designated 20 AMP circuit to draw an average of 17 amps, excluding the initial draw. So, depending on the way a house is wired, you may find yourself tripping some breakers. Also, they should not be used with extension cords more than 10 gauge. If you use anything higher, you run the risk of burning the motor out. Electric motors are somewhat more costly, but no where near as costly as diesel. Diesel engines are about twice the cost for a gasoline engine. As time goes on, we think electric motors will become more and more prevalent. 

The next component of importance is the pump. Again, the pump is what pressurizes the water. Pumps also typically require some maintenance. If you store the pump in a place that may freeze, you will need to winterize. Otherwise, you risk damaging the internal parts. Pumps come in a variety of models. Some are wobble, some axial and some are camshaft.  Camshaft driven pumps are optimal. Many also have features such as chemical injectors. This feature is nice in that it allows the operator to apply cleaning solutions through the machine's pumps. The injector is a great time saver, however,  some chemicals can harm or corrode internal parts. Another thing to consider when looking at pumps is the connection it has with the engine. Direct drive is common now, but there are still some out there that run on an indirect or belt system. Direct drive is the most efficient as there are no belts to slip. However, when a direct drive breaks, it usually requires you to send the whole machine back to the manufacturer for repairs. Most pumps are contained in an aluminum housing. The housing is good in that it reduces the overall weight of the machine, but reacts badly with some chemicals. More on that later.

Next, you have the high-pressure hose. This item is standard on all pressure washing machines. It is usually 3/8" fabric woven and rubber encased. Hoses today usually come with a quick connect coupler, which allows for ease in assembly.  The biggest thing to pay attention to with the hose is its condition. Remember, there is pressurized water in that line. A weak spot or crack can cause serious damage to you or an object. The other thing to pay attention to is marking. The hoses have a tendency to leave marks. The rubber sheathing tends to deteriorate, and the vibrations from the pump can leave black marks all over your finished product, if you are not careful. They have non-marking hoses now. If you are a deck refinishing contractor, it is worth the investment to purchase some of these hoses.

The final two components are the gun and the lance. The gun is the on/off switch. Guns are very important. If you recall above, there was mention of an aluminum and chemical reaction. The gun's internal components are susceptible to corrosion if you run chemicals directly through your pump using the chemical injectors. Most guns have brass parts and these are good, but depending on the chemicals you use, you may want to invest in a gun with stainless steel internal parts. Guns should always be checked for good working condition. If the gun malfunctions, you run the risk of serious injury.

The lance is actually a two-part component. The wand, which is the shaft, is usually metal (aluminum) and comes in a variety of lengths. The standard wand is 36 inches. But, if you require longer, let's say for railings or balcony fascia, you may want to purchase an extension wand. The last part of the lance is the nozzle. The nozzle focuses the pressurized water into a stream. Nozzles come in a variety of sizes and styles. They too are a very important component of a pressure washer. The choice in the nozzle depends primarily on the task you want to accomplish. Nozzle types vary depending on machine type and manufacturer. Most nozzles contain two sets of numbers. The first set of numbers indicates the capacity size. This is the diameter that the water enters the nozzle. The second set of numbers indicates the spray angle in degrees  that the water leaves the nozzle. A zero degree expels the water in a stream. This nozzle has forces that will actually penetrate soft materials and are reserved for reaching distant objects like under eaves. After that, nozzles typically increase in angle size by about 15 degrees. A 25-degree nozzle is good for general cleaning. A 40-degree nozzle is preferred for deck cleaning, especially softwoods. Many manufacturers color code their nozzles for easy recognition. Be sure to check the owner's manual to verify the angle for each color. Choosing the correct angle for the job is critical in forecasting the efficiency and quality of your work. Some additional nozzles include blasters, which deliver several streams of water at once. These can be useful for cleaning certain things, but should not be used on decking.

Accessories can help accomplish some tasks and increase the versatility of the machine. Items such as a telescoping extension/wand, remote control chemical inlet injectors, power scrub brushes, drain cleaning systems or even pump reversal units can bring new uses for a pressure washer. Pressure washers have come a along way in a short time in cost, efficiency and power. Cleaning deck surfaces is just one of the many applications for such a machine. Next time, we will discuss how to use a pressure washer correctly to clean your deck. In the meantime, go out and get one. You will be surprised at how many uses it has.

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