A pressure washer (also called a power washer) can be the perfect device for blasting through your outdoor cleaning chores and saving you the time and hard labor of scrubbing. It's far more effective than a garden hose on cars, boats, lawn furniture, play equipment, decks, masonry and siding. Some can even remove algae, mold, mildew and mulch stains. Pressure washers work by means of a pump powered by an electric motor or a gas engine -- so your work is mostly confined to pulling the trigger on the spray gun.
The best pressure washers use different spray tips or an adjustable wand. This enables you to get the right amount of water pressure for each job. The nozzle options should range from a fan-like spray that is easy on painted surfaces to a blast for scouring mold and grime. The type of pump is one indication of the pressure washer's build quality. Experts say triplex pumps are the best, lasting longer than axial cam or wobble pumps. Three measures 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; and cleaning power is the figure you reach when you multiple psi by gpm. Keep in mind, however, that a higher psi isn't always the best choice, as some surfaces and products can be damaged by high pressure. Experts recommend that you match the size of your unit to your outdoor cleaning tasks.
Pressure washers are affordable enough to own, so you'll have it when you need it. Years ago it was common for many homeowners to borrow a pressure washer or rent one for the day when it was time for spring cleaning. Manufacturers now offer many highly affordable consumer-grade models, making it a more popular product to own. Prices start as low as about $90 for an electric pressure washer and about $225 for gas models. More expensive models often use high-grade components for a longer life span, but reviewers say reliability and quality aren't always included with a high price tag. However, for heavier jobs, you'll want to buy the best model you can afford to avoid disappointment.
Gas pressure washers are the most powerful consumer-grade power washers. If you have some big jobs to do, a gas power washer may be a good investment. They are more expensive than electric pressure washers and you'll incur additional expenses because they need oil and gas. They're also noisier and not as easy to use. However, if you regularly rent pressure washers for things like power washing your entire house, a big deck, cement driveways or pool decks, or do a lot of paint prep, the unit will pay for itself very quickly. And you can work at your own pace, without the stress of a rental return hanging over your head.
Electric pressure washers are great to have around for everyday cleaning. They may not be able to blast stains off the driveway (although some can), but electric pressure washers are affordable, easy to use and are great for a wide variety of tasks. Many owners say they use them to clean the inside of their barbeque grills, remove rust and dirt from bikes, and even refresh dingy outdoor toys.
No matter what model you own or choose to buy, keep in mind that because of their ability to shoot out water in an intense and powerful stream, pressure washers can inflict injury. We read several reports of significant lacerations by owners who let their fingers get in the path of the stream. It goes without saying that users need to use great caution when operating a power washer -- and wear protective clothing and goggles as well.
And while we're on the subject of outdoor cleaning, now may be a good time to spruce up the look of your home in other ways as well. If painting is on your list of chores, be sure to check out our reports on exterior paint and interior paint. A pressure washer is a great tool for pre-paint prep!
ConsumerSearch editors scoured hundreds of reviews to find what owners and experts have to say about each unit's performance, features and ease of use. The results are our picks for the best electric and gas pressure washers, and the best budget picks as well -- so you can get the most for your cleaning dollar.