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With spring cleaning season officially underway, revamping your home exterior is just as important as tidying up inside — though you need the right tools. Pressure washers are power tools that can scrub dirt and grime off major outdoor surfaces by pressurizing water from a hose using electric motors or gas engines.
Pressure washers “can be extremely effective at removing tough stains or mildew on house siding, garage floors, wooden decks, brick and concrete patios, outdoor furniture, vehicles and even grills,” said Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy. Experts told us that April and May are the best months for investing in a pressure washer — which can cost anywhere from $90 to over $700 — as it’s just before the summer rush when many manufacturers tend to sell out.
Types of pressure washers
Electric pressure washers use an electric motor or pump to boost the water pressure from your garden hose. According to David Steckel, a home expert at Thumbtack, electric pressure washers are more cost-effective, typically more lightweight and better for non-specialist use.
Gas pressure washers, on the other hand, are gas-powered machines that are commonly used by professional pressure washing services. Gas pressure washers are more expensive — usually at a price point above $300 — heavier, noisier and bulkier than electric pressure washers. They’re also more powerful than electric machines, making them a more efficient option for large surfaces with tough stains and dirt like decks, concrete and siding, and they don’t require a power outlet. But Steckel warned that the intensity of gas pressure washers can ultimately do more harm than good by stripping away paint and other material. He recommended sticking to an electric pressure washer if you’re looking to do casual maintenance at home or if you aren’t a power tools professional.
What to consider when buying a pressure washer
A pressure washer’s specific features can determine its strength and reliability when cleaning different types of outdoor surfaces. Depending on the pressure washer you get and its adjustability, you can clean several spots: fences, decks, cars, windows, boats, patio furniture and the list goes on. When shopping for a pressure washer, experts recommend considering the following features:
Pounds per square inch (PSI): Used to measure the water pressure and a water stream's ability to strip away debris, the PSI varies by type of pressure washer. The higher a pressure washer's PSI, the more powerful the water pressure is.
- Light-duty pressure washers usually have a PSI between 1,300 and 1,900
- Medium-duty pressure washers are typically between 2,000 to 2,800 PSI
- And heavy-duty machines have a PSI above 2,800
Gallons per minute (GPM): This refers to the water flow from the machine’s unit to the nozzle and has to do with the rinsing power that washes dirt away. The higher the GPM, the faster the pressure washer will rinse away debris.
Nozzle size: The size of the nozzle determines the pressure and spread of the water. According to Carson, nozzles typically come in four or five sizes and “the smaller the nozzle, the more power you will get.” You can buy nozzles individually, which range from a 0-degree to a 65-degree size. The narrower a nozzle, the more powerful the water stream. And while a wider nozzle uses less pressure, the spread is wider, which can make the job faster if the stains aren’t too tough. “Make sure you avoid zero-degree nozzles unless you are a professional — these have a higher chance of causing damage to surfaces and even injury,” suggested Carson.
Adjustable wands: This accessory lets you adjust the spray width or the water pressure of your machine without changing the nozzle each time.
Portability: Electric pressure washers typically weigh between 15 and more than 60 pounds, while many gas-powered pressure washers weigh well over 100 pounds, so wheels will make transporting the machine onto cars and boats easier.
Detergent tanks: Pressure washers can feature an on-board detergent tank, which holds a cleaning solution that’s pressurized with the water and released through the spray gun with the touch of a switch. If the pressure washer doesn’t come with a detergent tank, you can use a siphoning hose to mix the detergent in with the water. However, Carson noted to never use bleach through your pressure washer since it can ruin and break your machine.
Best pressure washers in 2021
Keeping in mind the guidance from home cleaning experts, we compiled the best pressure washers to consider using on your outdoor space.
Best electric pressure washer: RYOBI
This electric pressure washer from RYOBI is a medium-duty machine with 2,300 PSI, 1.2 GPM and a built-in detergent tank for powerful and routine cleaning. It includes a brushless induction motor, which is typically quieter and lasts longer than the universal motors on pressure washers. However, it does weigh 49 pounds, making it heavier than other typical electric pressure washers. If you do hope to move it around, its large wheels and 25-foot high-pressure hose makes it easy to transport to different areas of your outdoor space. RYOBI also offers a 3-year limited warranty to repair and replace damaged parts.
Best gas-powered pressure washer: Simpson
This heavy-duty Simpson power washer is a powerful and durable option for professional use, with a steel frame and 4,400 PSI. It includes a flexible 50-foot-long hose and a 31-inch spray wand for tackling hard-to-reach places, and comes with five different nozzles, from a zero-degree nozzle to a gentle soap nozzle. Simpson’s manufacturer warranty includes a five-year pump warranty, a three-year Simpson engine warranty and a 90-day accessory warranty.
Best compact pressure washer: RYOBI
This one from RYOBI is a more affordable option compared to most pressure washers — priced at under $100 — and is lightweight, weighing a little over 16 pounds. The handle at the top of the machine makes it a portable option for using inside a car or a boat. It includes three nozzles: a 15-degree nozzle, a soap nozzle and a one-fourth-inch turbo nozzle that, according to the brand, makes cleaning up to 50 percent faster.
Best durable pressure washer: DEWALT
Designed for professional use, the DEWALT gas-powered pressure washer features 13-inch premium tires that can withstand frequent use on difficult terrain, a tough steel frame that resists corrosion and 4,000 PSI. The brand claims its flexible 50-foot steel-braided hose resists abrasion three times more than rubber. The DEWALT pressure washer also includes an adjustable unloader, which sends pressurized water flow through the bypass and fine-tunes the pressure of the machine to accommodate certain jobs.
Bestselling pressure washer: Sun Joe
With a 4.5-star average rating from more than 29,000 reviews on Amazon, this bestselling machine from Sun Joe is both portable and powerful, generating up to 2,030 PSI. It includes two removable on-board detergent tanks that hold 0.9 liters of cleaning solution, a 34-inch wand and a 20-foot-long high-pressure hose. This pressure washer also features a Total Stop System designed by the brand to automatically shut off the pump when the trigger isn’t being held to both save energy and help the pump last longer.
More tips for using a pressure washer
While pressure washers have several uses, they can be extremely dangerous if used improperly. Carson suggested “wearing long sleeves, pants, boots, gloves and goggles when operating the machine to mitigate the chance of injury.” Steckel added to keep the pressurized water away from your body since it can definitely “break skin." He also mentioned to avoid using one while on a ladder due to safety concerns.
For initial pressure washing — especially after a long winter of minimal outdoor maintenance — Steckel suggested hiring professionals to avoid having to purchase an expensive and intense machine.
“The best way to do it is to set yourself up for success and start with a clean slate,” said Steckel. “A pro comes in with a super intense gas-powered washer and brings you back to essentially brand new by removing a single micro millimeter, and they're quite accurate.” Afterward, buying a less expensive electric pressure washer makes the cleaning “really easy for you to maintain on a seasonal basis.”
Experts also recommend testing the pressure settings in a safe and discreet area before utilizing it on your desired surface. Steckel suggested starting your pressure washing early to avoid using the machine near a freshly planted garden or flower bed, but not too early where heavy rain can cause your surfaces to be muddy again quickly.
UPDATE (April 9, 2021, 12:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article included the Greenworks 1500 PSI Electric Pressure Washer. After the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced April 9 that the same pressure washer had been recalled due to safety concerns, mention of it has been removed from the article.