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Choosing and Using a Pressure Washer

By Pat Curry
8/9/2014 8:22:59 AM

Pressure washers are wonderfully tools that quickly handle tasks that would take hours of backache-inducing work if done by hand. It's amazing what you can clean with a well-directed, pressurized stream of water. Here is what you need to know before you head to the store.

Major mess: It would take hours to clean this garage floor by hand. Photo courtesy of Thompson's Water Seal.

Types of Pressure Washers

Pressure washers come in two basic categories based on how they're powered: electric and gasoline. The electric units are more for home use, such as washing cars, boats and patio furniture, and generally generate 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, although the high-end models can be quite powerful. They start at about $100 and require virtually no maintenance. Professional cleaners and painters use gas-powered units that generate 2,500 to 5,000 PSI of pressure. They're ideal for big jobs, like scraping loose paint from the house before re-painting. They start at about $300-and can into the thousands-and need to be maintained like other lawn equipment.

Jeff Wilson, a regular host on HGTV and the DIY Network and a consultant for Thompson's Water Seal, is sold on electric models for at-home use. "If you need a gasoline-powered one, you can rent one," he says. "They're dirty, they're messy, they're loud and they're dangerous. If the thing will sit most of the time, it will age as it sits. Gas will get gummy, and you'll have to winterize it. After five or six years, you'll put it at the curb."

If you just have one job to do, such as pressure-washing your house before you paint it, consider renting. Plan on spending $50 to $70 a day.

Cleaning power: A pressure washer is the perfect tool for removing the dirt and grease embedded in the concrete. Photo courtesy of Thompson's Water Seal.

Performance Factors

There are four basic elements to pressure washer performance: pressure, flow rate, temperature and tip size, says Justin Sucato, president of Carrara Companies, a cleaning, restoration and construction company based in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The most important of these elements are pressure and flow rate. Pressure dislodges dirt, grease, mold and other contaminants, and the water carries them away. Pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Flow rate is measured in gallons per minute (GPM). The higher the pressure and the more gallons per minute that a unit produces, the more powerful it will be.

Temperature relates to hot-water or cold-water pressure washers. Virtually all pressure washers made for home use are cold-water, says Andrew Pierce, director of marketing for EveryPressureWasher.com, an online store that sells anything and everything to do with pressure washers. The benefit of a hot-water pressure washer, Sucato says, is that the hotter the temperature, the less cleaner that's needed. For professionals (and homeowners, too), that saves money on cleaning supplies.

Tips, or nozzles, come in four sizes, Sucato says, and they are measured in degrees: zero, 15, 25 and 40. The zero, or red, tip is a blaster. It provides the most intense cleaning power and needs to be used very carefully to avoid injury and damaging the surface to be cleaned. Actually, it's best saved for use by professionals, Sucato says.

The 15-degree, or yellow, tip is good for powerful cleaning, such as removing paint and grease. The 25-degree, or green, tip, is good for general cleaning of dirt, mold, mildew and algae. The 40-degree, or white, tip is a rinsing tip and also can be used for cleaning lightly soiled areas.

For more information on how to use pressure washers, continue reading at Renovate Your World.

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