Pressure-Wash Like a Boss With Our Ultimate Beginner's Guide

If you love a good before and after, then prepare to fall in love with pressure washing. Here's how to get it done quickly, safely and efficiently.

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: MachineHeadz/©Getty Images

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

PSI, Explained

How much power do you really need? Well, it depends on what you're cleaning. A pressure washer's power is measured in rated flow and what's called PSI (pounds per square inch). A flow of three gallons per minute and a pressure of 3,000 PSI are plenty to get most tasks done, like cleaning sidewalks, boats and cars. Anything under 3,000 PSI may take a bit longer.

Rent or Buy?

If you have a tough job one or two times a year, then renting a pressure washer is cost efficient. For more frequent use, you may want to consider buying a unit to avoid the time involved in picking it up and returning it to the rental center, especially a heavy, gas-powered unit.

Electric or Gas?

Deciding between an electric or gas pressure washer is fairly simple. If you need a lot of power, can handle moderately heavy equipment and are fine with loud noises, then a gas-powered model might be right for you. If you’re doing frequent light-duty cleaning and prefer a lightweight unit that’s quiet and easy to start, then a well-reviewed electric model may be the way to go. Keep in mind, the dirtier the surface, the more power you need. An electric model may be easier to maneuver, but it will take a lot longer to get the job done. No matter which one you choose, make sure the unit has a solid warranty on the pump and engine.

Know Your Nozzles

Most pressure washers come with a variety of nozzles, usually ranging from 0 to 40 degrees (the angle of the spray stream). The lower the degree, the more powerful and narrow the stream. For example, the red nozzle is the strongest and should only be used on surfaces like concrete and stone. Ease into it! Don’t blast an old brick, painted or soft wood surface with the red nozzle or you may end up with a gouged spot. Always choose the widest-angle nozzle to get the job done, and avoid any damage to the cleaning surface.

Protect Yourself

Pressure washing is fun and ... messy. The water stream is around 80 times as powerful than a garden hose, so plan your outfit accordingly. Stick to wearing pants and boots, and don’t forget the eyewear!

Safety First

While pressure washing can be fun, it's important to stay safe.  Keep water away from electrical outlets, and use extension cords approved for wet conditions.

Cover Plants + Furnishings

A blast of water from a pressure washer can destroy plants and flowers. Cover nearby plants and patio furniture with a tarp or drop cloth to avoid damage or splash-back.

Capability + Caution

It’s easy to get carried away when you discover the cleaning power in that wand, but you should never pressure wash anything with delicate or easily breakable surfaces. Think: thin glass, aging brick, plants, your feet, pets, etc.

Solutions for Problem Areas

Most units have a reservoir and special nozzle for spraying soap or cleaning solutions onto a surface. Depending on what you’re cleaning, there’s probably a special cleaning solution that can make the job a bit easier. Degreasers are great for driveways, and a multipurpose house wash will help remove grime from your home’s patio or siding. For an extra boost, scrub the suds in and leave them on a few minutes before rinsing.

Remove: Mildew

Slimy mold, moss, algae and mildew are common issues that are easily cleaned up with a pressure washer. For stubborn areas, consider pre-treating with a solution formulated for this type of dirt and grime.

Remove: Grease

If you’ve got a nasty driveway with oil and grease stains, never fear! A degreaser can help you get the concrete looking great in no time.

Clean: Gutters

A pressure washer can speed up the process of gutter cleaning, but safety is key. If you’re on a ladder, make sure you’ve gotten comfortable using the unit and know the force of the spray before you begin. Also, be careful to avoid shooting the water stream directly under the shingles.

Clean: Cars

A pressure washer can make car washing much faster and more enjoyable. Plus, it’s a quick way to remove stubborn mud, dirt and salt deposits. Just be sure to use the gentler 40-degree nozzle on the paint. For tires and wheels, you can amp up the intensity.

Clean: Outdoor Furniture

A pre-soak with soap, then a strong rinse with the pressure washer can keep your patio furniture and cushions looking like new. Just be careful with painted surfaces; too much power will chip the paint.

Clean: Kids' Playset

Another great way to put that washer to work is to use it on your kids' playsets. Go with a 40-degree nozzle to start. Plastics and woods can be soft and damaged if you’re not careful. Pre-treat with a vinegar-based cleaning solution, then rinse from the top down.

Document Your Skills

There’s a lot to love about pressure washing. Stay safe, and remember to take those before-and-after shots to document your impressive cleaning skills.

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