Gas vs. Electric
Gas models have one huge advantage: They clean faster, due to much higher pressure and flow rates. They can handle any job a homeowner can throw at them, including heavy concrete cleaning.
Electric models have all the other advantages. They're much smaller and half the weight of a gas machine. They start up as soon as you squeeze the trigger and shut down as soon as you let go. So you won't have any gas hassles or starting issues, and you'll never have to worry about pump damage from extended idling. And since there's no exhaust, you can use them indoors.
If you need maximum power and want to get the job done fast, go with gas. Otherwise, enjoy the convenience of an electric pressure washer.
Two Critical Ratings
Pressure washers carry two ratings that reflect their cleaning power: pressure, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), and water flow rate, which is measured in gallons per minute (gpm). A machine with lower ratings can do almost all the jobs a more powerful machine can do. But a machine with higher ratings will clean much, much faster.
Although higher pressure cleans faster, don't allow small differences in psi to drive your decision on which machine to buy. You probably won't notice much difference between 2,800 and 3,000 psi, for example. The gas models we tested range from 2,500 psi to 3,100 psi; the electrics from 1,700 to 1,800 psi.
What They Can and Can't Do
Pressure washers are great for removing deep-seated dirt, grease, peeling paint and even graffiti from concrete, asphalt, siding, decks, lawn furniture, garbage cans, boats and trailers, and outdoor power equipment. Electric models can remove light stains and dirt from concrete but may not have enough oomph for the heavy stains.
With accessories, you can turn your gas-powered pressure washer into a wet sandblaster or use it to power a water broom or a mechanical sweeper. Add a telescoping extension wand and gutter cleaner (such as the General Pump Giraffe) and you can clean your second-story siding and gutters without climbing a ladder.
But pressure washers are also very good at destroying items around your home. The high pressure can break windows, gouge wood siding and decking, and force water behind siding and flashing, causing extensive damage. They work great for blasting mud off your car or truck but leave a fine film of dirt behind. A regular garden hose and wash mitt actually work better for normal car washing.
The Hose Matters?A Lot
All high-pressure hoses are a hassle to wrestle with, but some are stiffer and more stubborn than others. If the hose fights you during setup and storage, you'll dread using the unit. And we encountered a few really bad hoses. The best ones were flexible, unrolled easily and didn't retain much coil memory. The worst ones were thick and bulky and retained their coil memory, making them a hassle to work with and store.
Dial Nozzles are Great
Pressure washer nozzles come in two varieties: individual snap-in quick-change nozzles and a dial-type multi-spray pattern nozzle. We found no difference in performance. But for convenience, the dial nozzle wins the contest hands down.
The number of nozzles included with the machine varied by manufacturer. The Powerhorse unit came with just two nozzles, one for soap and one for spray. Other machines had three, four or five nozzles. Additional nozzles are available at most home centers.
All the gas machines we chose used a standard nozzle coupling. If the gas machine you like comes with individual nozzles, you can convert it to a dial style. However, some electric units use a proprietary hose, gun and nozzle fitting, making it much more difficult to find additional or replacement accessories and parts.
Variable Pressure vs. Fixed
Most pressure washers run at maximum pressure all the time, but some let you turn down the pressure for delicate surfaces. This is a nice feature, but you can get the same effect just by using a wider spray pattern and holding the nozzle farther away from the surface. Or buy an add-on pressure regulator like the Simpson Dial-N-Wash.
Pneumatic Tires Roll Better
The machines with pneumatic tires were the easiest to move around, especially on steps and gravel. But they need occasional reinflation. Plastic or molded rubber wheels get stuck much more readily.
Higher Hose Connections Are Easier
The pumps and hose connections on vertical-shaft gasoline engines are mounted at the bottom of the unit, near the ground. The pumps on horizontal-shaft engines sit about 8 in. higher. The designs work equally well. It's just a matter of convenience when attaching the garden and high-pressure hoses. If you have bum knees or trouble bending over, that slight height advantage makes it easier to connect hoses.
Soap Tanks Are More Work
Pressure washers provide the best results when you pretreat with pressure washer soap. Some machines include an onboard soap tank. We initially thought that was a great idea. But we found it to be a nuisance overall. We had to constantly refill the tank on large jobs. And afterward, the tank needed to be cleaned out (dried soap can damage the pump).
Instead, we prefer the siphon tube approach. Just shove the end of the tube into a gallon of cleaner and start soaping. When you're done, rinse the siphon tube, cap the jug and call it done. You can convert a machine with an onboard tank by disconnecting the tank tube and installing a siphon tube/filter accessory to the soap port on the pump.
Best Ways to Kill Your Pressure Washer
Don't ever do these things to your pressure washer.
- Leave water in the pump and hose over the winter
- Let it idle for long periods (gas models)
- Kink the garden hose while washing
- Fail to clean the pump inlet screen
Choosing a Pressure Washer
A pressure washer has a simple mission: to blast out water at super-high pressure. All of the machines we tested did that without trouble and performed as promised. So aside from pressure and flow rates, we found that features made the real differences between models. Some models were just plain more convenient to use than others. Keep clicking to find out what we learned:
RYOBI NO. RY14122
1,700 psi ? 1.2 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? 35-ft. cord ? Three nozzles ? Three-year warranty ? 32 lbs. ? Onboard soap tank
This unit is an all-around winner, not only our favorite machine but also the most affordable. This small compact unit comes with a high-quality flexible hose and a very attractive price. It also has the best warranty of all the electric machines.
BRIGGS & STRATTON POWERFLOW+ No. 020559
1,800 psi ? Up to 4 gpm ? 26-ft. hose ? 35-ft. cord ? 7-in-1 dial nozzle ? One-year warranty ? 30 lbs. ? Onboard soap tank
In addition to the extra-high flow rates and the high-quality dial nozzle, this model includes a hose reel. However, the hose is larger to carry the extra flow, and that bulk makes it harder to wind onto the reel.
CRAFTSMAN NO. 020561
1,700 psi ? 1.3 gpm ? 39.5 lbs. ? 26-ft. proprietary hose ? 35-ft. cord ? Three proprietary nozzles ? One-year warranty ? Proprietary onboard soap bottle ? Onboard steam cleaner
This handy pressure washer also includes a built-in steam cleaner. For really tough dirt, apply soap, then steam, and finish the job with a blast from the pressure wand. We didn't like the proprietary soap bottles and found the hose reel difficult to operate.
GREENWORKS NO. 51012
1,700 psi ? 1.4 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? 35-ft. cord ? Five nozzles ? One-year warranty ? 46 lbs. ? Dual onboard soap tanks
Flexible hose and smooth hose reel. Lots of nozzles and two soap tanks for different soap formulas.
KARCHER K3 FOLLOW ME
1,800 psi ? 1.3 gpm ? 15-ft. proprietary hose ? Proprietary nozzles?variable and turbo ? One-year warranty ? 15 lbs. ? Onboard soap tank
We liked the portability of this unit so much that we had to create a special award. It's not only small and easy to store but is less than half the weight of most electrics. Karcher had portability in mind when it designed this machine. Instead of being mounted on a cart, the unit has four wheels, so it follows you around as you wash (you have to uncoil the garden hose so it doesn't kink). Or just pick it up and carry it with you—it weighs only 15 lbs.
SIMPSON NO. MSH3125-S
3,100 psi ? 2.5 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? Five nozzles ? One-year/Two-year warranty ? Pneumatic tires ? Siphon tube ? 65 lbs.
This unit shares our Best Overall award with the Ryobi. The beauty of this machine is its simplicity. The pump connections are higher off the ground and out in the open, making this machine the easiest and fastest to set up, especially if you have knee issues or have trouble bending over. The pneumatic tires give the smoothest ride of all the machines. The hose is very flexible and includes double O-rings for a better seal. Powered by a Honda horizontal-shaft engine with a manual choke.
RYOBI NO. RY80940B
3,100 psi ? 2.5 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? 5-in-1 dial nozzle ? Three-year warranty ? Flat-free tires ? Onboard soap tank ? 65 lbs.
Like the Simpson, this machine impressed us enough to win our Best Overall award. Its hose is our favorite by far. It's the easiest to unroll, lies flat and rolls up easily for storage. The fold-down handle is brilliant in its simplicity—just pull the spring-loaded pin and fold. The large wheels make the machine easy to move. It's powered by a Honda vertical-shaft engine. Our only beef is that the pump connections are right at ground level.
TROY-BILT NO. 020568
2,800 psi ?2.3 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? Four nozzles ? Two-year warranty ?Flat-free tires ? On-board soap tank ? 63 lbs.
This unit doesn't have any bells or whistles. It's just a solid machine with enough pressure and nozzles and flow rate to handle just about any job you'll encounter. Powered by a Briggs & Stratton vertical-shaft engine with an automatic choke, it does the job, and at a great price.
GENERAC OneWASH NO. 6602
Adjustable pressure 2,000 to 3,100 ? 2.8 gpm (at max psi) ? 30-ft. hose ? Three nozzles ? Two-year warranty ? Flat-free tires ? On-board soap tank ? 68.5 lbs.
Generac tried to do it all with this machine and succeeded in many ways. Its best feature is the variable idle speed that lets you adjust the pressure from 2,000 to 3,100 psi. The folding handle stores the hose and gun components. That's something other machines don't provide. However, the hose has a strong coil memory and the wheels are hard plastic, giving it a very rough ride. Powered by a Generac horizontal-shaft engine.
BRIGGS & STRATTON POWERflow+
3,000 psi ? 2.5 and 5.0 gpm ? 30-ft. hose ? 7-in-1 dial nozzle ? Two-year warranty ? Flat-free tires ? Onboard soap tank ? 60 lbs.
The single best feature on this machine is its high flow rate. Just turn the 7-in-1 dial nozzle to either the 25?+ or 40?+ setting and the pump shifts into high gear. Use the higher volume spray to sweep soap and debris off your siding or driveway. This machine is powered by a Briggs & Stratton vertical-shaft engine with an automatic choke. Due to the higher flow rates, this unit uses an extra-thick hose. We found that hose difficult to unroll and store, and its coil memory was a problem.
POWERHORSE* NO. 1577110
3,000 psi ? 2.5 gpm ? 25-ft. hose ? Two nozzles ? Two-year warranty ? Pneumatic tires ? Siphon tube ? 75 lbs.
Built in-house by Northern Tool, this machine has a proprietary horizontal-shaft engine. The pump connections are out in the open, making it easy to connect hoses. The pump also has a built-in variable-pressure regulator so you can adjust pressure to fit the job. Plus, the pump isn't sealed for life like on all the other machines. So you can actually change the oil and possibly extend the pump life. We were disappointed with the stiff hose and coil memory, and the fact that it came with only two nozzles.
*exclusively from Northern Tool
PACIFIC HYDROSTAR* NO. 69734
2,500 psi ? 3 gpm ? Five nozzles ? 26-ft. hose ? 90-day warranty ? Pneumatic tires ? Siphon tube ? 95 lbs.
This machine comes with all the nozzles you'll need, along with a high flow rate, and a built-in pressure regulator. However, the 3-gpm flow rate comes at the expense of pressure. At 2,500 psi, it's the lowest of the group. Powered by a proprietary horizontal-shaft engine, it's also the heaviest of all the gas models, weighing in at 95 lbs. We were disappointed with the 90-day warranty. But the machine frequently goes on sale.
*exclusively from Harbor Freight
CRAFTSMAN GRIP & GO NO. 020573
3,000 psi ? 2.7 gpm ? 30-ft. hose ? 5-in-1 dial nozzle ? Two-year warranty ? Flat-free tires ? Proprietary onboard soap bottles ? 62 lbs.
This is the machine to buy if you or your family members can't deal with pull starting. Just flip the switch and squeeze the trigger. The auto start-up and shutdown feature also eliminates pump damage caused by extended idling. We didn't like the soap injection system because it uses proprietary soap bottles that are available only at Sears. But you can retrofit the unit with a standard siphon tube/filter. Because the battery must be plugged in year-round, you'll need an AC outlet in your storage area. It's powered by a Briggs & Stratton vertical-shaft engine with an automatic choke.