From a greasy barbeque grill or a dusty car that needs cleaning to a deck or a whole house that’s ready for painting or refinishing, pressure washers can be wonderfully useful tools to speed up the process and improve results. But selecting the right kind of pressure washer and then using it correctly can seem like an overwhelming task, and used incorrectly they can damage both property and people. So, here are a few commonly asked questions about pressure washers that should help:

What is a pressure washer? Quite simply, a pressure washer is a machine that increases water pressure and then distributes the water in a controlled manner. Pressure washers have a connection for a garden hose to provide incoming water to the machine. An electric- or gas-powered pump increases the water pressure and sends it out through a high-pressure hose to a handheld gun. Attached to the end of the gun is a metal wand to help you better direct the water where you want it to go. The end of the wand is tipped with an interchangeable nozzle that concentrates the water stream in different fan patterns.

How are pressure washers rated? Whether powered by a gas or an electric motor, pressure washers are rated in two ways – water pressure and water flow. Water pressure is rated in pounds per square inch (PSI), and indicates how much pressure is available for cleaning. In general, the more pressure the machine delivers, the greater the capacity it has for breaking the bond between the dirt and the underlying surface. Of equal importance to the pressure is the amount of water being delivered, which is rated in gallons per minute (GPM). The more water the pressure washer delivers, the faster the debris that is being removing can be washed away. Both water pressure and water flow are important considerations in determining the proper pressure washer for the job, and both contribute to how quickly you’ll get the work finished.

How much pressure do I need? Here are some generally accepted guidelines for how much pressure is needed for various tasks:

  • Cleaning cars, boats, bikes, outdoor furniture, lawn equipment: 1,000-1,800 PSI;
  • General-purpose cleaning of siding, decks, patios, driveways: 1,200-2,600 PSI;
  • Heavy cleaning, paint stripping, construction and farm equipment: 2,660-4,000 PSI.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an electric-powered pressure washer? Electric pressure washers are smaller, lighter and can be operated without the hassle of gas cans, fumes and noise associated with any type of gasoline-powered engine. Because there is no carbon monoxide produced they can also be used indoors. On the down side, they are limited in both pressure and water flow and are suitable only for occasional, non-commercial uses. An example of a good, general-purpose electric pressure washer for around the house would be Husky’s 1800 PSI Power Washer, which is compact, portable, and easy to set up and use. It also has a convenient detergent tank as well as built-in GFI circuit protection for safety. By comparison, this unit will provide 1,800 PSI of pressure with a flow of 1.6 GPM, so it’s good for washing the car, cleaning off decks, patios and driveways without damage and other residential cleaning projects.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a gas-powered pressure washer? Gas pressure washers offer more power and more portability, and are the more common choice for projects ranging from heavier residential uses to commercial and industrial applications. They are much more versatile and longer-lasting then electric units and can be used in heavy duty, daily operations on construction sites, farms, and other applications. Disadvantages include more maintenance and a little higher difficulty of setup and operation, higher weight and noise levels, and they are limited to exterior uses only.

You will find a lot more choices in gas-powered pressure washers then you will in electric. For residential and light commercial uses, one good example would be the Husky 2200, which is portable, compact, and sets up quickly. This washer offers 2200 PSI, and has a retractable handle and an enclosed chassis to make it more durable for transporting.

What are some of the dangers? Pressure washers are capable of delivering an extremely strong, highly concentrated stream of water. Used incorrectly, that concentrated stream can crack siding, break windows, push water into walls and other cavities, cause considerable grain damage to decks and other wood, blast out grout and mortar, and create other structural havoc. More importantly, they can seriously injure a person, and especially need to be kept away from children (who can be pretty fascinated by them). 

It is extremely important that you read and completely familiarize yourself with all the safety and operating instructions that come with the machine.  Use the lowest pressure and the widest nozzle that will do the job, and NEVER point the spray at anyone.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

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