Pressure washers are ideal for thoroughly and powerfully cleaning almost any surface that is covered with caked-on dirt, grime and grease. They aren’t meant to be used like a garden hose — you have to know how and when to use one so that you get the job done safely and cleanly. Whether it’s your deck, siding or driveway that requires extreme cleaning, pressure washing your home is a great way to keep things looking new and a power washer is the machine you need.
Step 1: Choose the Right Pressure Washer
There are two basic kinds of pressure washers: gas-powered and electric. Gas-powered models are more powerful and mobile because they don’t require an electrical plug and extension cord. Electric models are typically less expensive and lighter to carry and have trigger-activated engine on/off function.
You want a machine with a pressure level between approximately 1,300 and 1,600 pounds per square inch (PSI) for general cleaning of your home’s exterior surfaces, such as siding, sidewalks, patios and patio furniture. A machine with pressure level between 1,800 and 3,000 (PSI) is for more serious work like stripping paint or stain off of siding and decks. Some jobs could require more power though, so do your research to figure out how much power you think you need. Ask an expert at your local True Value hardware store for advice, if needed.
Check the washer’s cleaning power by looking at its cleaning power units (CPU). This rating assesses cleaning power by multiplying PSI by the gallons per minute (GPM) it uses. You want a pressure washer with the highest CPU, in addition to your other considerations such as cost.
Step 2: Set Up the Pressure Washer
Prepare the washer for use by assembling it, if needed, as directed by the manufacturer. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before operating the washer. Connect the washer to your water spigot with a garden hose. Be sure that the hose is not kinked and that the connection is tight. Loose connections can be dangerous under pressure. Squeeze the trigger of the washer wand to release any air inside before you turn on the water. Turn the valve on your water spigot so that water turns on. For a gas-powered unit, fill the washer’s reservoir with gasoline to the recommended amount. For an electrical washer model, connect the unit to power.
Step 3: Activate the Pressure Washer
Select a nozzle for the tip of the wand. Choose a nozzle that is appropriate for the job you’re doing. The nozzle determines the amount of direct force with which the water will be expelled from the washer. Check your owner’s manual for the appropriate suggested uses for each of the nozzles included with your washer. The included nozzles provide you with varying amounts of pressure for the job, from a narrow, laser-like stream to a force a bit more powerful than a garden hose.
If you need to attach an extension wand to reach high or out-of-reach areas, do this before connecting the nozzle. Some home pressure washing jobs may require using chemicals or detergents. Add these before turning on the washer, as directed by the manufacturer.
Set the wand to off or low before starting up the washer to avoid losing control of the wand when water begins to gush. Squeeze the wand trigger and then turn on the washer.
Pressure washers expel water at great force and can cause injury. Do not aim the washer at animals or people and be sure you are in control of the wand when the machine is activated.
Wear heavy gloves for hand protection.
Don’t use a pressure washer while standing on a ladder.
Wear safety glasses when using a pressure washer to avoid being sprayed in the eyes with debris.
Do not clean windows or other glass surfaces with a pressure washer.
When operating a gas pressure washer, consider wearing ear plugs to protect your ears from the prolonged engine noise.
Step 4: Begin Pressure Washing
Before you begin pressure washing your home, test the spray before hitting your target area. Stand at least 4' away and gradually move the point of the wand toward the desired cleaning area, making slow, deliberate passes over it. Stop and see if the area has been cleaned or stripped (if you’re using the washer to strip paint). If it is not, move closer and repeat. When you’ve found the ideal distance, begin cleaning again with slow movements of the wand until you’ve cleaned or stripped the desired area. If you used a detergent or chemical, let the solution work into the area and then rinse the area with a water-only stream from the washer, or water from a garden hose. You should always start with a lower pressure when unsure of the effects it may have on surfaces. You can then switch nozzles or change your standing distance to increase pressure, if needed. In most cases, it is not advised to hold the wand tip closer than 12" from the surface you are cleaning. The highest pressures from a washer can be damaging to siding, wood decks or similar surfaces if used incorrectly, while high pressure settings can be ideal for cleaning surfaces such as concrete.
If you’re cleaning an area with adjacent plants or patio furniture, move them or cover them with drop cloths or tarps to protect them from the force of the spray and any detergents you may be using.
When spraying vertical surfaces, such as siding, start spraying at the top of the wall and work downwards so that dirt and debris washes down and won’t leave residue or streaks where you’ve already cleaned.
Point the wand at a downward angle to reduce direct pressure on the surface and prevent potential damage.
Use only biodegradable cleaning solutions to avoid ground contamination.
Step 5: Finish Up
When you’ve completed your home pressure washing tasks, turn the washer off and then turn off the water at the spigot. Squeeze the trigger on the wand until all water has been expelled. Disconnect the garden hose from the washer. After every pressure wash job, especially one where you used chemicals, it’s best to again rinse washed surfaces with a garden hose to ensure that all dirt, debris and chemicals have been rinsed away. Use your garden hose to rinse off any plants or other adjacent objects that may have been splashed with debris or chemicals.
Great work on pressure washing your home! Now you have the skills and the know-how to properly clean your home’s exterior surfaces with a power washer.
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