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. Contractors and professional painters will want to invest in a commercial pressure washer. These can top $2,000 or more and produce up to 5,000 PSI, though some slightly less powerful yet still very good models are available for less. For homeowners that use a power washer for 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. A less-powerful gas model, or a quality electric power washer for moderate clean ups, such as washing a car, can be had for still less, $150 to $200. If you just want to wash down some outdoor furniture or play equipment, an electric, handheld model, at about $100 or less, could 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.
How handy are you? The 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.
Watch your gas. Gas-ethanol fuel blends are sold across the country. While that fuel is fine (or at least acceptable) for heavy automotive engines, it can play havoc with small gas engines used in outdoor equipment such as pressure washers. In general, with care, 10 percent Ethanol fuel can be used, but 15 percent Ethanol fuel sold in some areas should be avoided. In any case, check the manufacturer's recommendations regarding fuel requirements and engine maintenance and be sure to follow them to the letter as failure to do so will likely void the warranty on a pressure washer's gas motor.
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 commercial gas pressure washer may not be powerful enough to knock out mold and caked-on dirt without a little elbow grease thrown in.