Blast away dirt and grime with this versatile cleaning must-have
Pressure washers make light work of many cleaning tasks; from cars to bikes, to garden furniture. They’re one of the most versatile outdoor power tools that you can keep to hand and are invaluable for keeping garden paving, patios and decks in good condition. You’ll also be reassured to know that using a pressure washer can help to reduce your water usage, as they use considerably less water compared to completing the same jobs with a standard hose pipe.
With the wide range of models that are available, it can be difficult to pinpoint the right one for your home and garden needs. Thankfully, they all do essentially the same task, but some models are better adapted for certain uses.
Before you begin
What will you be washing?
Most high pressure cleaners are suitable for washing cars, bikes and bins. They’re also great for removing dirt and moss and mould growth from decks, paths and patios and for cleaning sheds and outbuildings. It’s important to remember that they are not recommended for cleaning brickwork or windows as the high pressure could cause damage.
To make the most of your pressure washer, look for accessories designed to help with different tasks. All pressure washers come with a standard spray head for general cleaning tasks, but specialist attachments will make all the difference, as will the detergents you use. For example, a patio cleaner attachment will help to make light work of hard surfaces and textured paving, returning your patio to former glory. Car wash brushes are perfect not just for cars but also bikes and motorcycles. The soft bristles are gentle on delicate paintwork but also help you to reach into nooks and crannies – ideal for wing mirrors, hub caps and bicycles.
There are a couple of considerations to take into account when using pressure washers. If you’re looking to undertake high pressure cleaning projects, eye protection and sturdy boots are recommended as you’ll be surprised how much dirt can be removed and how far this can fly. It’s also good sense not to use pressure washers near children and pets, as high pressure water can be dangerous. Lastly, if you’re using an electric model you must use an RCD (Residual circuit breaker) with your pressure washer. This might be part of the outdoor electric socket, plugged into the socket or built in to an extension lead.
Choosing the right pressure washer for your needs means getting the right combination of power supply, water pressure and water flow. Whilst the power supply is an important consideration in terms of which pressure washer is most convenient for you, the water pressure produced will determine whether it can complete the tasks you’ll need it for. Answering a few simple questions should help you to make the right decision.
Electric or petrol powered?
Most pressure washers are electric powered. All you need to do is plug the main unit into a suitable outdoor power socket with RCD protection and away you go. The advantage here is that your pressure washer is always ready for use, provided you’re within reach of a power supply. Don’t forget that an extension lead suitable for outdoor use (and protected from water splashes) can increase your working area.
Petrol powered pressure washers come into their own if you have a larger garden, or regularly need to use your washer away from home. You’re not tied to a power supply, ideal if you want to work in different areas of your property. There’s also a reduced risk from trailing power cables which can be a plus. Petrol powered washers also tend to be high powered and therefore suitable for some of the tougher jobs you might want to tackle. Power is measured in horsepower (Hp) as well as water pressure; the greater the horsepower the more powerful the engine. Powerful machines will be able to cope with working at higher pressures and for longer periods of time. Naturally, you’ll need to remember to have sufficient fuel to hand when you want to use it – invest in a sturdy fuel container to safely transport this.
Water pressure is measured in bar, and pressure washers are classified according to the maximum water pressure they generate – for example you might choose a 120 bar pressure washer. The greater the number, the higher the pressure. As a general rule, the higher the pressure, the more suitable the tool is for cleaning stubborn dirt and harder surfaces – such as paving and concrete. Lower pressure cleaners generally offer up to 110 bar pressure and are ideally suited for cars, bikes and garden furniture where higher pressures aren’t needed and delicate surfaces like paintwork will come to no harm. Look for 120 bar pressure or more for high power cleaning. Don’t forget that most pressure washers will allow you to vary the pressure, so a higher pressure machine does not necessarily mean you can’t use it for tasks requiring lower pressures.
Water flow rate
All high pressure cleaners are assigned a water flow rate, which describes the number of litres used per hour in l/h. Whilst the pressure is most important in understanding how well as pressure washer cleans, the water flow gives an indication of how if performs when rinsing. If you’re looking to speed up tasks like car cleaning, higher water flow rate can be helpful.
It’s worth remembering that before you start using your pressure washer, you’ll need a hosepipe to supply it with water, and an RCD protector to protect against electric shocks.
This is the workhorse of your pressure washer, allowing you to control and direct the flow of water. Look for an ergonomically designed handle with easy to use trigger switch that you feel comfortable holding.
Lances are attached to the trigger gun to provide additional control over the water flow. Depending on the model, they can be used to increase or decrease the water pressure without increasing water usage.
Specialist brushed for washing cars and bikes can help you get the best finish– and make light work of hub caps, wheel arches and more.
Cleaning paving, concrete and paths can be a messy task, but using a patio cleaner attachment can help to reduce this. This tool concentrates the power and water flow onto a small area to really deep clean, and can be easily manoeuvred as you clean, reducing the time-taken and mess made.
The hose which connects the main unit to the trigger gun is a vital piece of kit. It’s worth considering whether the length supplied with the pressure washer is suitable for the jobs you’ll be tackling most often. If you have a larger car, patio or paved area, a longer hose will be helpful as you’ll need to move the main unit less often.
Handles and wheels
If you plan to tackle larger tasks, such as patio and deck cleaning, or will be storing your pressure washer away from where you’ll be using it, look for a handle and wheels. This will make it easy to move around before and after a job as well as manoeuvre mid-task.
A useful feature to reduce water usage. Auto start/stop machines use the trigger on the spray gun to start and stop the flow of water, rather than using a switch on the main machine. You can move into the position where you want to begin working before you start using water – saving water and detergent.
If storage space is at a premium consider a model with integrated storage for lances and spray guns. Not only does this reduce the amount of space you'll need to store the washer, but it will mean all your tools are to hand – speeding up your cleaning task.
Detergent tanks and systems
Using the right detergent with your pressure washer will make cleaning quicker and easier, with longer lasting results. Some models come with a detergent tank which allows you to pre-fill with the cleaner of your choice. Others use more sophisticated cleaning systems with interchangeable detergent bottles that allow you to quickly switch detergent as you move from one job to the next. Either way, look for a system that is compatible with the cleaners you’re most likely to use, and a control mechanism (usually a dial) so you can use just the right amount for the job.
These are a great way to reduce your home water usage, as they allow you to draw water from a water butt or tank rather than a tap. These are ideal for homes with a rainwater collection in place, or occasions when a tap may be a long way off – such as larger gardens. Using a suction hose to run your pressure washer with rainwater also means that you can continue to use your washer during a hosepipe ban.
You might need
In order to operate any pressure washer, you’ll need a hosepipe to connect your washer to the mains water supply. Whilst you don’t need a specialist product, you’ll need make sure it’s the right diameter and long enough to reach where you’ll need it. If you’re going for a longer hosepipe, consider one supplied with a hose reel – it’ll keep things neat and tidy whilst working and make storage easier.
Electric pressure washers
To work safely with water and electricity you’ll need to equip yourself with an RCD protector to use in conjunction with your power supply.
If you’d like to increase the area you can work in around your home, an extension lead suitable for outdoor use will be helpful, as you can work further away from your power supply.
Petrol pressure washers
If you’re choosing a petrol powered model you’ll need to be able to safely transport and store fuel as well as fill your machine. A sturdy petrol can and funnel can help to make this task easier.
Whilst you can use your pressure washer with reasonable success without any detergents, using one will help to speed things up and ensure more efficient cleaning. They are usually applied under low pressure and rinsed under higher pressure, after being left to work for a short time. Detergents can also be invaluable when cleaning hard-to-remove substances such as oil and grease from driveways or bicycles. They’re designed for use outdoors, so you can rest assured that the cleaning products are safe to use in your garden.
- For decks and garden furniture Choose a wood care detergent that is formulated to remove moss and other vegetation that tend to build up on wood, as this will help to make light work of their removal. Some products also contain ingredients to care for the wood, protecting it from deterioration.
- For driveways, paths and patios A cleaner designed for use on these surfaces will help with moss and algae removal, returning your paving and surfaces to their original finish.
- For cars, bicycles and motorbikes A specialist car cleaner is best. Not only is this gentle on paintwork, it will help to dissolve oily and greasy marks as well as muck and mud.