Is It Time To Invest in a Pressure Washer?

Updated: Jun. 07, 2023

Considering investing in a pressure washer? Learn all about these useful tools and which one might make sense for you to buy.

The first time I observed a pressure washer in action, I was 10 — and instantly fascinated.

My dad just bought a beefy model and fired it up in the front yard. He attached the most concentrated spray nozzle, then let loose a narrow blast of water on a scrap of 2×4 in the grass. When the mist cleared, he shut off the washer and picked up the wood to show me a ragged hole torn right through the board, big enough for my finger.

I remember asking Dad if the pressure washer was “a water gun for grownups.” Thankfully, he quickly stressed this wasn’t a toy to point at another person. As the years passed, I watched him grab the pressure washer to make quick work of many tough cleaning jobs, like washing our large wraparound deck and blasting hardened residue off the manure spreader we used in our pasture.

After growing up and building a house of my own, I promptly bought a pressure washer. I’ve used it once or twice a year for everything from washing the car to freshening the cedar shingle siding. It’s probably saved me dozens of hours of work.

Are you thinking of investing in a pressure washer? Learn all about them so you can decide if one makes sense for you.

How Do Pressure Washers Work?

Pressure washers feature an electric motor or gas engine that pressurizes water in an onboard tank. That water, expelled through a trigger-equipped handheld wand at high speed, can be used to wash or clean things. Pressure washers feature two hoses — one connecting to an outside tap (usually a garden hose), and a heavier-duty one between the machine and the wand.

Water pressure varies based on the size and power of the machine. Most pressure washers come with an array of nozzles that vary by flow rate and spray pattern, allowing the pressure washer to adapt to different jobs.

How To Use a Pressure Washer

If it’s an electric model, make sure it’s fully charged or plugged in. If it’s gas-powered, top off the tank and be sure you’ve got enough fresh oil in the reservoir.

Select the correct nozzle tip for the washing job you have in mind and pop it onto the end of the wand via the quick-release fitting. Connect a standard garden hose to your pressure washer, then start it up and begin.

Some jobs made easier by a pressure washer include:

  • Washing your deck: For best results, use a 40-degree spray nozzle (generally the white one) and keep the tip of the wand at least a foot from the surface you’re sprayed. This nozzle doesn’t spray with much pressure so you’re less likely to damage your decking.
  • Washing your concrete driveway or patio: Go with a 25-degree straight or 0-degree rotary nozzle. These spray with enough pressure for a serious deep clean. Concrete is one of the few surfaces that can withstand the blast without damage.
  • Washing wooden or vinyl house siding: As with the deck, the less forceful 40-degree nozzle cleans without damaging softer surfaces like wood or vinyl. The wide spray pattern covers lots of ground quickly. To avoid damage, be sure not to spray in one place too long.
  • Washing your car: The 65-degree soap nozzle works great here, especially if your model comes with a built-in soap dispenser. The gentle spray won’t damage your vehicle’s paint, but the ample flow rate will clean it much quicker than hand scrubbing.

Electric vs. Gas Pressure Washer

Gas pros and cons

  • More power: Individual models vary, but gas pressure washers generally average twice the flow rate (expressed in gallons per minute, or GPM) and twice the water pressure (in pounds per square inch, or psi) as electric models.
  • More noise: Gas pressure washers are much louder than their electric counterparts. Always use ear protection.
  • More maintenance: Gas washers need to be winterized at the end of the season, which includes draining the gas tank and changing the oil. Spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters, etc. also require regular inspection and replacement.
  • More convenient to use: You’ll refuel your gas model less frequently than a battery model requires recharging. You’ll also avoid tripping over a plug-in model’s power cord.

Electric pros and cons

  • Less noise: Electric pressure washers are much quieter than gas models. They won’t disturb your family or neighbors.
  • Less power: Here at my homestead, I’ve tackled some nasty cleaning jobs that needed the full power of my gas-burning model. In my experience, electric models aren’t strong enough.
  • Less maintenance: Electric washers still need to be winterized, but you don’t have to mess with gas or oil. Plus, fewer things go wrong on electric models.
  • Less convenient to use: Cordless electric pressure washers require frequent battery changing. Plug-in models present a tripping hazard and require you to work near a power source.

Which Pressure Washer Should I Buy?

Here’s what you should consider when shopping for your first pressure washer:

  • Power: The most powerful pressure washers top out around 4,000 psi and four GPM. I’ve personally found my 3,000 psi, 2.4 GPM model more than sufficient for every cleaning job I’ve tackled. If you’re only planning the occasional light cleaning job, you could easily get by with less power than this.
  • Price: Pressure washers retail from $300 to $2,000 or more, depending on power and features. Gas models are generally more expensive.
  • Maintenance: Electric pressure washers require much less maintenance than gas. If you live in a city and only wash your deck and car occasionally, save yourself the noise and trouble and go electric.
  • Accessories: Read the find print before buying to learn which nozzles a particular machine comes with. A set of all five standard nozzles gives your washer the most versatility.

Pressure Washer Maintenance

  • Winterizing: This includes removing all the water from inside your machine at the end of each season (or replacing it with a plumbing line anti-freeze). For gas models, it also involves draining the fuel tank and changing the oil.
  • Air and fuel filter changes. Only necessary for gas models. Check these filters every few months, changing them as needed.