A pressure washer (also called a “power washer”) is a high-pressure sprayer used to clean surfaces. They are used by professionals in a range of different applications. General contractors use them to wash mud and dirt off of jobsites. Large construction and engineering firms will use them for regular maintenance of their fleets and heavy machinery. Farmers use them to spray down agricultural equipment and barn floors. And of course homeowners use them to clean siding, decks, driveways and sidewalks. There is a wide range of designs and understanding the various options can help you pick the best pressure washer for you.
Pressure washers can be categorized in two ways: power source (gas vs. electric) and temperature (hot water vs. cold water).
Gas vs. Electric
Pressure washers are powered by either a gas engine or an electric motor. Gas engine pressure washers tend to be more powerful and effective than electric models. They do emit fumes, however, and shouldn’t be used in small, enclosed spaces. Electric models are best suited for smaller jobs and household applications. Professionals should generally steer clear of electric pressure washers, because they don’t produce the power necessary to take on commercial-grade operations. Homeowners who plan to use their pressure washer frequently should also consider gas powered models, as they will last longer and perform better.
Cold Water vs. Hot Water
Pressure washers are available in cold water-only or hot water models (you can also turn the heater off on the hot water models so they spray cold water). Cold water pressure washers are good choices for cleaning mud or dirt off of floors, patios and driveways. They are also effective at aggressive material removal, like wet sand blasting or paint stripping. To clean heavy equipment or machinery like work trucks, tractors, trailers, etc., or for blasting things like grease stains off a concrete floor, you need a hot water model. It effectively cuts through substances like oil and grease. The heating units make hot water models heavier, more expensive and more complicated to maintain. Essentially, cold water pressure washers are good if you just need force, and hot water washers are best for deep cleaning applications. (Homeowners rarely need hot water models.)
Have questions about PSI and GPM? Our Before You Buy section explains how these affect your pressure washer’s performance. We even have a chart that breaks down how much pressure you need to wash your car, siding, sidewalk and more.
|Cold water pressure washers are good for spraying mud or dirt off of floors, patios and driveways. They provide “brute force” for material removal and are also good choices for things like wet sand blasting and paint stripping. They are not good choices for cleaning grease and grime.|
|Electric power washers are generally less powerful and should only be used for light duty applications or homeowner-related tasks. The one advantage of electric pressure washers is they don’t emit fumes, and so are safer to use for indoor applications. Shop Electric Pressure Washers.
Fixed / Natural Gas
|These are pressure washers that are installed in a wash bay to clean large masses of equipment. They are ideal for cleaning fleets of vehicles, manufacturing facilities, farm equipment, etc. They are more expensive, but are also very customizable machines, so clients can get exactly what they want. (For more information on or to purchase these types of pressure washers, call us at (866) 597-3850.)|
|Gas pressure washers are ideal for professionals and homeowners who plan to use them regularly for heavier duty tasks. They are designed to be powerful and are suited for long-term, repeated performance. Like all gas-powered machines, they do emit fumes and therefore should not be used in small, enclosed spaces. Shop Gas-Powered Pressure Washers.|
|Hot water pressure washers are used to cut through substances like oil, grease and grime. They are ideal for cleaning heavy equipment or machinery like work trucks, tractors, trailers, etc., or for blasting things like grease stains off a garage floor. You can turn the heater off on hot water models so they also spray cold water. The heating element makes hot water models heavier, more expensive and more complicated to service than cold water models. Homeowners rarely need hot water pressure washers.|
|Trailer-mounted models are completely self-sufficient, meaning you don’t need an external power source or water supply to run them. These are intended for professional cleaners and large-scale operations with multiple remote sites. General contractors who need to hose down jobsites and wash their trucks should be fine with a regular gas pressure washer.|
|Homeowners looking for electric models should check out the AR Blue Clean AR390. This model is affordably priced and has a higher quality pump than you usually find in consumer-grade pressure washers. It has a 1.5 HP motor and delivers 1.6 GPM at 1800 PSI. This model is suitable for homeowners who need to wash their car and deck a few times a year.|
|Homeowners who have larger areas to clean (pool decks, long walkways, house siding, etc.) will be better suited with a gas powered pressure washer like the Karcher G2600XH. This model has a 190cc Honda GC engine. The commercial-grade pump has a brass head for better durability and delivers 2.5 GPM at 2600 PSI. This washer will give you reliable performance and a longer pump life, but at a lower price point than models with consumer-grade engines.|
|If you have a hobby or small business and need to use your pressure washer more frequently, you should to look at the “Prosumer” tier of pressure washers. These machines are made with higher quality pumps and interval parts than consumer-grade models, and are designed for heavier use. The AR Blue Clean AR767 Prosumer washer has a 2 HP electric motor and a triplex plunger pump that delivers 2.1 GPM at 1900 PSI. The electric motor makes it suitable for indoor spaces like workshops and garages. The Generac 5998-0 Prosumer series provides a bit more power. It has a 420cc OHV engine with a horizontal shaft. The industrial-grade triplex pump has ceramic-coated pistons for durability, and delivers 4.0 GPM at 4000 PSI. This model is more expensive than consumer-grade pressure washers, but if you need to use your washer frequently, it’s a good investment.|
|Professionals should consider Mi-T-M’s CW Premium Series features high-quality components from top manufacturers. The General brand pump has ceramic plungers, a thermal relief valve, forged brass manifold and external bypass system. The 3899cc Honda OHV engine has low-oil protection. The CW-3004-4MGH delivers 3.5 GPM at 3000 PSI, and the CW-4004-4MGH delivers 3.5 GPM at 4000 PSI. These models are great for professionals who clean siding or have to blast away dirt and mud from jobsites.|
|Professionals in the automotive,agricultural, transportation or heavy construction industry should invest in a hot water pressure washer to breakdown oil, grease, grime and animal waste. Mi-T-M’s HSP Series features a triplex piston AR pump with a thermal relief valve, forged brass manifold, and stainless-steel and brass unloader valve. These models have a maximum outlet temperature of 200°F. The HSP-3504-3MGH has a 389cc Honda OHV engine and delivers 3.3 GPM at 3500 PSI.|
Axial Water Pump: Designed for light to medium use and best suited for residential use.
Belt Drive: A method of powering the pump, where the pump is connected to the engine by a belt. The friction of the belt slows the pump a bit and decreases efficiency. It also prolongs the life of the pump by reducing wear on its components and by distancing it from the heat of the engine.
Direct Drive: A method of powering the pump, where the pump is directly connected to the engine. This allows the pump to run at the same speed as the engine and increases efficiency, but it also increases wear on the pump’s components and shortens its life.
GPM: Gallons Per Minute. The measurement of water volume. A pressure washer’s GPM and PSI are what determines its cleaning ability.
HD Pumps: A new generation of Heavy Duty (HD) pressure pumps that feature more durable, longer lasting components and significantly improved performance over other pumps
Nozzle: The tip of the washer. The nozzle does the actual cleaning. Wider sprays lower the ability to cut through dirt and grime. More localized sprays are better equipped to break through dirt and grime.
PSI: Pounds per Square Inch. The measurement of water pressure. PSI and GPM are what determine a power washers cleaning ability.
Triplex Water Pumps: Used for heavy-duty and commercial washers
Once you've answered the basic questions (gas vs. electric, cold vs. hot water), there are 3 key specifications to consider when purchasing a pressure washer: horsepower, volume and pressure.
- Horsepower: HP should be your primary concern. The engine’s HP is what creates the volume (measured in GPM) and the pressure (measured in PSI). Manufacturers often increase the PSI without increasing the actual volume and/or power of the pressure washer, which doesn’t provide any real benefit. If you have sufficient HP, the GPM and PSI should be in line with what you need. Homeowners who want to clean siding, sidewalks and driveways should look for pressure washers with around 5 HP or 110 volts. If you just want to wash your car, you can get by with less than this. Professionals should buy a gas pressure washer with at least 6.5 HP. (13 HP is the most popular option for professionals.)
- Volume (GPM): Volume measures how many gallons of water the pressure washer expends per minute. It enables you to figure out how quickly the power washer will wash away substances from surfaces.
- Pressure (PSI): PSI is the least important of these three, but manufacturers tend to market it as the most important feature. Don’t fall for this. They can create a high PSI by simply making the hose smaller, resulting in a very low volume of water. Even with high pressure, the low volume means it will take longer to finish any cleaning job.
Suggestions for Professionals
If you need a pressure washer for professional applications, or if you need to clean several large areas around your home, there are a few additional things you should look for.
Before you make a purchase, always check the brand of a pressure washer’s pump. Most pressure washer manufacturers buy their pumps from companies that specialize in this technology. (It’s similar to the way a DeWALT or Winco generator will have a Honda engine.) Pumps from the top manufacturer (Karcher, Legacy, AR, Comet, General, etc.) have excellent performance, and they also have spare parts available for repairs. If you can’t find the name of the pump, it’s likely cheaply made and low quality. Another way of gauging the quality of a pump is by its component parts. Pumps made with industrial-quality components like brass heads, ceramic plungers and thermal relief valves will be more durable and should be easier to service in the future.
Horizontal Shaft vs. Vertical Shaft
Another important spec for pressure washers is the direction of the engine shaft. Vertical shafts tend to be cheaper, less durable and have a shorter product life. Horizontal shafts are more expensive, but last longer. If you use your pressure washer more than three times a year, stick to horizontal shaft machines.
Pressure washers are like any other tool: you usually get what you pay for. Decent professional-grade models start around $400. Consumer-grade machines can be found for as low as $99 to $200, but they are a bad investment for professionals. You may save money initially, but consumer-grade pressure washers aren't designed for heavy use. Jobs will take longer and the machine will wear out fairly quickly. Invest in a pressure washer that will give you reliable, durable performance, even under heavy use.
What kind of pressure washer should I use to clean my car and my deck?
If you need a pressure washer for cleaning your deck or siding a couple times a year, then look for a cold water model with about 5 HP or 110 volts. Gas models tend to perform better than electric models, but if you really want an electric power washer, make sure you get one with a pump from a top quality manufacturer. (AR, Karcher, Legacy, Comet and General are all good choices). The Generac 5987-0 Gas Powered Pressure Washer and the Karcher K3.740 Electric Cold Water Pressure Washer are both good options for consumers.
What kind of nozzle should I get for my pressure washer?
The nozzle that comes with most pressure washers (known as a fan or “vario” nozzle) is fine for household applications like washing cars and siding. There are also several job-specific nozzles and attachments that can make your pressure washer more effective. These are some a few of the more popular attachments.
- Rotary Turbo Nozzles: Also known as a “dirt blaster” nozzle. These are necessary for aggressive cleaning of concrete or brick surfaces, sidewalks, driveways and patios.
- Extension Wands: Lets users clean high places like roofs and gutters without using a ladder. They can be up to 24 feet long.
- Sand Blast Attachments: For aggressive material removal or paint stripping.
- Concrete Surface/Flat Surface Cleaners: They work like a vacuum or floor polisher. Once the attachment is on your pressure washer, you simply push the machine along and it cleans the floor as you go. They are much more efficient than spray nozzles for large spaces like warehouses.
Is it okay to use bleach in a pressure washer?
No. Never put bleach in your pressure washer. It could damage the equipment and ruin it. Only use cleaning agents that are specifically formulated to work with pressure washers.
How should I store my pressure washer?
Keep your pressure washer in a clean place, away from anything that could cause a flame. Usually sheds, garages and basements are okay, as long as they are well-kept. If you have a gas-powered pressure washer, the gasoline should be emptied for safety reasons. When storing your pressure washer in the winter, make sure you thoroughly drain the machine of any remaining water, and store it indoors if possible. Extreme cold can damage the components, even if they are free of water.
Can I hook my pressure washer to a hot water supply?
No. Do not run hot water through a cold water pressure washer. The components are not designed to withstand heat and will degrade.
I have more questions!
We'd love to help. Give us a call at 866-597-3850 (Monday - Friday, 8am to 5pm CDT). Or email us at email@example.com.