How will you use your power washer? The answer will determine how much power you'll want and how much money you'll need to spend. If you have big cleaning jobs or want to prepare a surface for painting, you may want to opt for a gas-powered model with a psi of 3,100, which can run $400. If you just want to wash down some outdoor furniture or play equipment, an electric, handheld model, at about $100, may be just the answer.
Do you need multiple spray tips? If your outdoor cleaning involves both light- and heavy-duty tasks, you may prefer a model with multiple spray tips so you can choose the right water pressure for each job. On the other hand, if you mostly have routine household cleaning, you may be happy with a model that has one adjustable-spray nozzle, maybe combined with an extra, turbo nozzle for times when you need more power.
Is durability important? If you're buying an electric power washer but you want one that will last, look for a model that has a triplex pump with stainless-steel or ceramic plungers, which experts say is superior and longer lasting than an axial cam or wobble pump. The best motors for electric pressure washers are induction motors, which are quieter, run cooler and last longer than universal motors.
How handy are you? Two pressure-washer parts that prove most troublesome to consumers are plastic water connections and water hoses. But these are easy to fix, especially for do-it-yourselfers. To prevent leaking, replace the water connection with a brass fitting or wrap the threads with plumber's tape. If you're not the kind who likes to fiddle with devices, know that upgraded water hoses -- like a steel-braided line -- are less likely to kink and easier to handle than plastic water hoses.
How much maintenance can you handle? Just like cars, gas pressure washers need maintenance, which includes checking the engine oil, changing the engine oil, and servicing the spark plug according to the manufacturer's prescribed schedule. If you're not up to this kind of maintenance routine, consider opting for an electric model.
What features do you want? Many models have features designed for greater convenience, such as a detergent dispenser, onboard storage pockets, a hose reel and a design that makes for easy storage. But more features will raise the price, so make sure to pay for those you really want and will use.
How important is size and weight? If you're going to be carrying the pressure washer around, or you want to store it on a shelf, look for a lightweight, handheld model. If you need the power of a gas model, however, keep in mind that some machines have an upright design or a foldable handle, which can reduce the storage space they require.
How much time do you have? Experts say that for many household jobs, a less expensive, electric power washer will work as well as a more powerful gas one -- it will just take you longer to finish up. It's also true that even a gas pressure washer may not be powerful enough to knock out mold and caked-on dirt without a little elbow grease thrown in.
If you live in California, the assortment of gas-powered pressure washers available to you is smaller than that available to residents of other states. That's because gas-powered washers need to comply with air-quality standards set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to be sold in that state. Information about CARB compliance is posted on manufacturer and retail websites and at http://www.arb.ca.gov. We are not aware of other states that may be considering adopting such tough standards -- but with air pollution remaining a prime concern in this country, this possibility certainly exists.