To power through your outdoor cleaning chores, you need more than just a garden hose -- pressure washers can clean cars, lawn furniture, decks and siding faster and better. They use a pump powered by an electric motor or a gas engine to deliver at least 15 times more water pressure than your tap.
Years ago it was common to borrow a neighbor's pressure washer or rent one for the day. Manufacturers now offer many consumer-grade models, starting at about $200 for electric pressure washers and about $400 for gas models. More expensive models often use high-grade components for a longer life span, but reviews say reliability and quality aren't always included with a high price tag.
The best pressure washers use different spray tips or an adjustable wand to get the right amount of water pressure for each job -- ranging from a fan-like spray that is more delicate on auto paint to a focused blast for scouring mold and grime. The type of pump is an indication of the pressure washer's build quality. Experts say triplex pumps are the best, lasting longer than axial cam or wobble pumps.
Three numbers indicate how powerful a pressure washer is: Pounds per square inch (psi) is the force of the water; gallons per minute (gpm) is the amount of water the unit uses. Multiply psi by the gpm to calculate cleaning units. A higher psi doesn't always mean a better pressure washer, so it's important to match the size of the unit to your cleaning tasks. "As with any other piece of outdoor power equipment, you have to select the right machine, then use it correctly," advises Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics.
There are no current professional comparison tests on pressure washers, so we analyzed hundreds of owner reviews to select the best pressure washers. Retail websites including Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, PressureWashersDirect.com and Lowes.com have the most thorough owner feedback. At PressureWashersDirect.com, editors also personally review and answer questions about many pressure washer units. We found additional information on how to select the best pressure washers at Tools of the Trade and Popular Mechanics.