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Pressure Washing Tips for Absolute BeginnersMay 11th, 2021 by
Just because you can’t see the dirt and grime on the exterior of your home doesn’t mean it’s not there. The accumulated dirt isn’t a reflection of your home maintenance ability. It just happens. Like it or not, your house is always exposed to the elements.
But that doesn’t mean you have to sit idly by as grime dulls your beautiful home. Instead, you can use a pressure washer to remove years of dirt and bring your home’s exterior back to life.
Sounds easy enough, right? Hold up. There’s a caveat.
Pressure washers can cause damage if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s important to do your homework before getting started. And if you’ve never used a pressure washer, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll explore …
- The different kinds of pressure washers
- The type of power washer you’ll need for your job
- Which type of nozzle you should use
- General power washing safety tips
- How to clean specific surfaces
Ready to get started on your own project? Keep reading for a crash course in power washing.
Gas or Electric Pressure Washer?
Pressure washers work by using a pump to increase the pressure of water flowing through the attached hose. That pump can be powered by gasoline or by electricity.
There are pros and cons to both options.
Gas Pressure Washers
Gas-powered washers typically provide higher PSI (pounds of pressure per square inch) and GPM (gallons of water per minute) than the electric version. That extra power means they clean surfaces much more quickly.
Pros of Gas Pressure Washers
- Gas-powered pressure washers can produce a wide range of PSI and GPM levels. Not only can they clean faster and more efficiently than electric models, but you’ll have more options.
- Gas pressure washers are cordless. If you aren’t near a power outlet, you’ll still be able to work.
Cons of Gas Pressure Washers
- Gasoline engines—even small ones—require consistent maintenance. You’ll need to periodically change the oil and make sure you use the proper fuel additives if you plan to store the machine for an extended period of time.
- Gasoline engines are louder than electric engines. Plus, they produce emissions. Also, you should never use a gas-powered pressure washer indoors or in covered spaces.
Electric pressure washers
Electric washers can be more convenient than their gas-powered peers in some circumstances. Plus, you don’t have to worry about gas fumes.
Pros of Electric Pressure Washers
- Electric pressure washers do not produce harmful emissions. If you had to, you could use one indoors—though you would want hearing protection and a reliable way to remove the water.
- An electric engine means you don’t have to worry about oil changes and other maintenance tasks.
Cons of Electric Pressure Washers
- An electric pressure washer simply cannot produce the power of a gas-powered model. If you need to clean a large or especially dirty area, an electric pressure washer will take much longer to complete the job. (And you may not see the results you hoped for.)
- Because they require a power outlet, electric pressure washers are not as portable as gasoline versions.
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What Size Pressure Washer is Best?
Regardless of whether you choose a gas or electric pressure washer, you’ll also need to make a decision about the size of the engine.
Like any other engine-powered machine, the size of the engine determines the total power of the unit. A small engine will not be able to produce the water pressure or the gallon-per-minute output of a larger engine.
Generally speaking, pressure washer engines are categorized in four ways.
Light-Duty Pressure Washers
Light-duty pressure washers produce water pressure levels under 2,000 PSI. If you only plan to clean the occasional outdoor household item, a small deck, or a patio, a light-duty electric pressure washer is perfectly sufficient.
Medium-Duty Pressure Washers
Planning to clean your home’s siding, driveway or fencing? You’ll want a medium-duty pressure washer. A pressure washer of this size produces water pressure levels between 2,000 and 2,800 PSI.
Heavy-Duty Pressure Washers
If you know you’ll be cleaning large areas of concrete or needing to reach a second story, a heavy-duty pressure washer may be your best bet. Heavy-duty pressure washers reach pressure levels of between 2,900 and 3,300 PSI.
Professional Pressure Washers
Planning to do a lot of pressure washing? Are you preparing your home’s exterior for a repainting job? If so, consider investing in a professional-grade pressure washer. The extra-heavy-duty engine is designed to handle big jobs that take hours to complete. These power washers produce water pressure levels of 3,300 PSI and higher.
Regardless of which pressure washer you choose, remember to take the GPM measurement into account, too.
Which Nozzle is Best for Your Job?
While the size of the pressure washer’s engine determines the machine’s overall power, the nozzle you choose determines the angle of the water stream.
The angle is important because it affects what the water stream can do. A narrow-angle spray is more powerful than a large-angle spray.
Nozzle Color Coding
Luckily, pressure washer nozzles are universally color-coded.
A red tip is the narrowest angle—zero degrees. This tip creates a water stream that can do a lot of damage, so be careful. Don’t use a red-tipped nozzle up close on any surface.
Yellow tips create a spray with a 15-degree angle. Reach for this nozzle when you need to pressure wash concrete around your house.
A green tip produces a 25-degree spray. This works well for all-purpose household pressure washing. This is the nozzle to use if it’s time to wash your car or clean mildew that’s accumulated on your patio furniture or deck.
Perhaps the most user-friendly nozzle, a white tip produces a 40-degree spray. Use the white tip if you’re planning an exterior home cleaning day. A white-tipped nozzle is suitable for windows and siding.
Producing a spray angle of 65 degrees, a black nozzle is the gentlest. In fact, this spray is so light that it typically won’t remove dirt or stains. Instead, use this nozzle when you just need to wet a surface.
Specialized Nozzles & Attachments
For even more efficient cleaning, consider using an attachment that was designed specifically for the job you need to complete. Here are some popular pressure washer attachments.
This attachment uses a spinning bar to distribute the high-pressure stream of water over a larger surface area than a single spray. This is helpful for cleaning large sections of concrete, like a driveway.
Also called a turbo nozzle, a rotary tip produces a spinning zero-degree water stream. This nozzle is especially useful for removing difficult stains and grimy buildup.
Pressure Washing Broom
Similar to a surface cleaner attachment, a pressure washing broom divides a single water jet into two or three jets for more power and a larger cleaning area.
An expandable wand will give you more reach when you need to clean surfaces up high without using a ladder.
A soap/detergent reservoir attaches to the pressure washer and adds cleaning solution into the jet of water. Be sure to use the right nozzle for this job. A water stream that’s too strong will force soap into the surface, which can cause damage.
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How to Pressure Wash
Pressure washing can be a messy job—and dangerous if it isn’t done correctly. It’s important to take the time to adequately prepare.
Pressure Washing Safety Tips
Here are the safety tips we recommend for beginners and pros alike.
Eye & Hearing Protection
Pressure washers are loud. Plus, the high pressure of the water means debris and water will spray back toward you. Be sure to wear eye and hearing protection.
Use Both Hands
Until you gain confidence with the pressure washer, hold the wand securely with both hands so that it won’t fly out of your grip.
Don’t Get Too Close
Keep the spray tip approximately 18 inches away from the surface you’re cleaning to minimize the risk of damage.
What You Shouldn’t Pressure Wash
If you’re thinking about power washing siding (or any other painted surface) that was painted before 1978, don’t. Contact a professional power washer instead.
Old paint can flake off when pressure washed. Paint from before 1978 may contain lead. Lead paint chips and dust are dangerous when inhaled or accidentally ingested.
Make sure you’re keeping yourself, your family, and your pets safe, first and foremost.
Cleaning Wood With a Pressure Washer
Pressure washing is a fantastic way to bring your wood deck or fence back to life. As a bonus, it’s a project you can easily complete in a weekend.
Here’s what you’ll need.
- A gas-powered pressure washer—you can use an electric power washer, but keep in mind that the job will take longer
- A green-tipped nozzle for a 25-degree spray
- The wood sealer of your choice
If this is your first time working with a pressure washer, we highly recommend you do a spot test before beginning your project in earnest. Most fences and decks are constructed from relatively soft woods, such as pine or cedar. It’s easy to strip off more of the surface than you intended.
Here are our tips for getting results you’ll be proud of.
- Move the pressure washer’s wand in an even, up-and-down motion.
- For the most even cleaning, try not to let the spray linger in any one place. As you’re getting the hang of it, you may need to make a couple of passes over the same spot. That’s a much better option than getting too aggressive and damaging the wood.
- Don’t stop the spray in the middle of a board. Wait until you’re at the top or bottom.
- Likewise, don’t start spraying in the middle of a board.
- Use overlapping strokes to avoid visible lines.
Once you’ve finished pressure washing, it’s time to seal the wood to protect it from the elements. But first, let the wood dry for at least a day.
Cleaning Concrete With a Pressure Washer
Obvious stains and mildewed areas on concrete are relatively easy to spot, but everyday dirt buildup is frequently overlooked. You likely have no idea how dirty your driveway is, for example.
If you’d like to pressure wash your own concrete driveway, walkway or patio, here are the supplies you’ll need.
- A high-GPM pressure washer
- A yellow-tipped nozzle for a 15-degree spray
- Cleaning solution specially formulated for use on concrete
- A stiff scrubbing brush
- Protective gear—goggles and gloves, at minimum
- Concrete sealer
You’ll need a very high-pressure stream of water to clean concrete, so it’s important to protect yourself from any flying debris (including pieces of concrete) worked loose by the water.
Here’s how to pressure wash concrete safely and efficiently.
- Thoroughly sweep and brush off the surface before you start.
- If your driveway has been stained by motor oil or any other fluid, pretreat those areas by using the stiff brush to scrub the stains with concrete cleaning solution.
- When you’re ready to pressure wash the surface, be sure to use the right nozzle. A narrow spray will have the most cleaning power.
- If stubborn stains need more help, add soap to the pressure washer’s detergent reservoir and switch to the nozzle labeled “soap.”
Particularly tough stains may need a few passes with the pressure washer. Once you’re satisfied, let the concrete dry completely before applying a sealer.
While this last step isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s the best way to help keep the concrete looking good for the next few years.
Cleaning Siding With a Pressure Washer
Siding, especially vinyl siding, is prone to dulling and mildew growth. Luckily, the best way to brighten your home’s exterior is a thorough pressure washing.
Here’s what you’ll need to complete the job.
- A gas-powered pressure washer
- A green- or white-tipped nozzle
- A soap nozzle
- A long-handled, stiff-bristle brush
- House exterior cleaning solution
To get started, take a tour of the outside of your house. Keep an eye out for loose pieces of siding, cracks, and other breaches that could admit water during the cleaning process.
These problem areas should be patched up before you pressure wash.
Once you’re ready to start cleaning, follow these steps.
- Attach the soaping nozzle to the pressure washer’s wand and fill the machine’s detergent reservoir.
- Use the pressure washer to apply soap to the siding. If your house has any especially dirty areas, you may need to either pretreat them and/or use a scrub brush to loosen the dirt or mildew.
- Switch to the green- or white-tipped nozzle to rinse the siding. Both of these nozzles produce a stronger, higher-pressure stream of water, so rinsing away the dirt and soap and clearing any tough stains should be much easier.
Depending on the size of your home, this job may take a while. Don’t rush, especially if you need to use a ladder. If the job takes a few days or weekends to complete, so be it. Your safety is the most important consideration.
Depending on the weather and other environmental factors, you will most likely need to wash your siding every couple of years.
The Bottom Line
If instant gratification is your thing when it comes to cleaning and home maintenance, you may find pressure washing to be very fulfilling.
On the other hand, you may decide that pressure washing is just too much hassle. And that’s okay! It’s a dirty job, and you’re virtually guaranteed to get soaking wet. If you’d rather let someone else take care of the pressure washing, contact a professional specialist for help.
With some water and a little elbow grease, your home will be as clean on the outside as it is on the inside.