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Improving Your Home: Cleaning up with a new pressure washer

Pressure washers can help you with a wide variety of tasks year after year, and they’re probably more affordable than you thought — and they even do windows.
By Paul Bianchina Published: June 21, 2014

If you’d like to have a tool around your house that will do everything from gently cleaning off an awning to blasting off loose paint from siding and decks, look no further than a pressure washer.

Pressure washers can help you with a wide variety of tasks year after year, and they’re probably more affordable than you thought — and they even do windows.

A pressure washer is about 25 to 100 percent or more powerful than a garden hose alone, but is easy to use and, with the proper common-sense precautions, also safe.

An electric motor or gasoline-powered engine is used to run a small, high-efficiency pump. A garden hose is attached to one side of the pump to supply the water from any exterior faucet, and a high-pressure hose, wand, and spray nozzle are attached to the other side of the pump to do the washing.

Shopping for one

As you might expect, what you’ve paying for with a pressure washer is the quality and power of the pump and the engine. Gas engines are rated in horsepower, from as little as around two to over six or seven, and almost all of them have a simple recoil pull-rope starter. Electric units, while easier to use and maintain, have less power and are more limited in their uses.

More important than the horsepower of the engine, however, is how powerful the pump is. Pumps are rated in two ways: PSI (pounds per square inch, a rating of pressure), and GPM (gallons per minute, a rating of water flow). Both are important considerations, and the higher each number is, the more powerful the pressure washer is.

Lighter-duty electric units will be in the 1,500-to1,800-PSI range at about 1.5 GPM, and smaller gas units will typically be in the 2,100-to-2,300-PSI range, and will move around 2.0 to 2.2 GPM of water. These are best suited for washing cars, patio furniture, smaller decks and patios, barbecue equipment and similar tasks. In this range, expect to pay under $150 for an electric washer, and between $250 and $300 for a gas one.

Larger units will be in the 2,500-to,3,500-PSI range at about 2.5 GPM and up, and you can expect to pay $400 and up. They'll do everything the smaller units will do, as well as cleaning siding, removing paint, and more.

You can continue to go up in both PSI and GPM, depending on what work you need to do — heavy-duty cleaning or paint removal, for example — and prices can start getting up toward the $1,000 mark.

The engine and pump are mounted on a metal frame and obviously represent quite a bit of weight, so another consideration is portability. Some of the lighter-duty models utilize a frame with a handle but no wheels, an inconvenience if you plan to move it around very much. Better units have wheels — the bigger the unit, the bigger and more rugged the wheels — along with folding handles, on-board storage for nozzles, and quick-connect hose fittings.

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