What the best pressure washer does

  • Gas pressure washers are powerful. For impressive cleaning, gas pressure washers blast 2,500 psi or more. But bigger doesn't always mean better. Experts warn that getting a machine with a higher psi than recommended for your job is not only overkill, but it can even be damaging. Select a higher-psi model with care.
  • Electric pressure washers are best for light-duty cleaning. With 1,300 to 2,000 psi, electric pressure washers are powerful enough for most consumers' cleaning. With a lower water pressure, the spray wand is easier to handle and less likely to scar surfaces.
  • Adjustable water spray. There are two ways to alter water pressure and scope: Use an adjustable spray nozzle or change the spray tip. Either method lets you adjust the spray from a hard-blasting jet to a broader fan-spray for better cleaning and protection from potential damage.
  • Easy set-up and maneuvering. Moving a pressure washer with large wheels and storage for the trigger, power cord and water hose feels effortless in comparison to bulky, awkward models. A well-balanced pressure washer rolls easily and doesn't tip while you are spraying.
  • Protects the pump from overheating. The best electric pressure washers stop the pump as soon as the trigger is released; high-quality gas pressure washers use a thermal relief valve to circulate cool water through the pump when you aren't spraying. Both methods keep the pump from overheating, which is a leading cause of pump failure.
  • Built with high-quality components. Experts say that triplex pumps with stainless-steel or ceramic plungers are the best pumps. Durable and long lasting, they're superior to less-expensive axial cam or wobble pumps, which are typically just replaced when they wear out. The best motors for electric pressure washers are induction motors, which are quieter, run cooler and last longer than universal motors.
  • Warranty coverage. Pressure washers don't have very long life spans -- the best models last several years. That being said, be sure to look for an electric pressure washer with a minimum one-year warranty. Gas pressure washers should have two- or three-year coverage.

Know before you go

Plastic parts are easy to replace. Two pieces that receive the most common quality complaints (among all pressure washers) are plastic water connections and water hoses. But they are easy to fix. To prevent leaking, replace the water connection with a brass fitting or wrap the threads with plumber's tape. Upgraded water hoses -- like a steel-braided line -- are less likely to kink and easier to handle than plastic water hoses.

Even maintenance-free pumps need care. If you plan to store your pressure washer (during the winter, for example) it's essential to use a pump saver or pump guard. Run this chemical through the pump to lubricate the pump's seals. For best results, store the pressure washer in a place that doesn't reach freezing temperatures.

Gas engines require extra maintenance. Just like cars, gas pressure washers need the occasional tune-up. When you store the pressure washer for the season, use a fuel stabilizer to keep any remaining fuel from separating into varnish (which damages the fuel system).

Electric pressure washers need heavy-gauge extension cords. Experts say it's best not to use an extension cord, but if you need the extra distance from the outlet, make sure you are using the right cord: a 14-gauge cord for up to 25 feet or a 12-gauge cord to reach up to 50 feet.

Consider safety. Even small pressure washers are powerful enough to cause harm. Wear closed-toed shoes when operating a pressure washer and never aim the spray directly at people or pets.

Some jobs still need hand tools. Even with a gas pressure washer, the spray may not be powerful enough to knock out mold and caked-on dirt without a little help. "I find that I get the best results when I use a pressure washer in conjunction with hand tools" like scrub brushes, says Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics.

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