Autumn consists of a myriad of colorful leaves coating every surface within eyesight of a tree. During winter, salt, mud and other grime penetrates everything. In the spring, flower petals – once beautiful on trees and bushes – lay rotting on the ground and staining otherwise clean surfaces. It seems like the world is trying to damage and discolour all of your outdoor surfaces for the majority of the year.
You have tried scrubbing on your hands and knees which, while effective, is exhausting and time consuming. You break out the hose, but even with your thumb partially over the end it simply does not generate enough force to remove anything that is even remotely adhered to your patio or driveway.
Eventually, you get frustrated and head to the local Homebase, Wickes, B&Q or maybe even Argos to find something to hire or buy that will quickly strip all the accumulated grime away. You stop at an impressive looking power washer, raised on a pedestal, under a halo of light. It is exactly what you are looking for…
As the price of pressure washers (also known as jet washers or power washers) has dropped, more of us have opted to purchase over renting or getting a local chap to do it. Unfortunately, the sheer number of options can be absolutely overwhelming.
Fear not. This guide will break down every aspect of the pressure washer, from the components and specs to the accessories and jobs, as well as price comparisons and deals, to help you narrow down the washer that is best for you.
Quick Start & Table of Contents
Quick Start Menu
- Components & Spares
- Power Types
- General Tips
- Maintenance / Clean-up & Storage
This guide is over 5,000 words long and takes approximately 20 minutes to read.
We highly recommend using the table of contents to help you navigate this page!
Table of Contents
A Quick Look at the 10 Best Selling Pressure Washers on the Market
Let’s take a quick look at the best pressure washers on the UK market. Kärcher are by far the most popular brand – I own the K2 Full Home Control, which I snagged from B&Q when on offer last year. I think I paid about £70 for it, but this gives you an idea as to what most people are paying for their new washers. It’ll also give you an insight into the current review rating and brand.
Components & Spares
At first glance, pressure washers can be a little overwhelming, particularly petrol ones, with all the tubes and ports, and parts in general. However, these machines can be broken down to a few key components that we’ll discuss below.
Body and Pump
The body of the washer houses the pump that takes water from a garden hose or other water reservoir and accelerates it to high speed. This pump is powered either via electric motor or by petrol engine, and the power it generates is measure in Watts.
The hose carries the accelerated water from the pump to the lance. It is reinforced far more than a typical garden hose as it must handle high pressure without stretching or bursting.
Take extra care and attention when pulling the hose or transporting it. A minor tear or cut in the hose will result in high pressure water going everywhere (if you’ve got my luck, it ends up completely drenching you and leaving your phone as an expensive paperweight).
The lance consists of a handle with a trigger attached to the hose on the back and a long and rigid rod on the front. Squeezing the trigger on the handle allows water through the rod and out the nozzle.
The nozzle at the end of the lance restricts the flow of the water and increases its velocity to its final working level. The nozzle acts as the pressure washer equivalent of placing your thumb partially over the opening of a hose to make it spray further and faster.
Here are a few common terms you will come across when looking at the specs of each washer, as well as what they mean. It’ll help you learn how a pressure washer works!
- Power (measured in Watts) – This refers to the output of the engine or motor of the washer. Washers with higher power are able to generate more pressure. While power does affect the performance of the washer, it is better to use pressure and flow rate to compare various washers. A poorly designed and high wattage washer that doesn’t generate much pressure won’t be nearly as effective as a premium low wattage washer that can really put out a lot of water at a high speed. This is term is acknowledged here simply because of how common it is in the technical specifications of pressure washers.
- Max Pressure (measured in Bar) – Washers are described by their max pressure and their operating pressure. Max pressure can be somewhat misleading, as even the best pressure washers tend to only reach max pressure briefly when they have started up and when the sprayer isn’t being used. For reference, under 50 bar would be considered low pressure and would be used for gentle cleaning, such as washing cars or old brick. Above 200 bar would be for the most heavy duty of jobs like cleaning out the inside of an old grill. Even the most powerful pressure washers don’t go much higher than this.
- Rated Pressure (measured in Bar) – Rated pressure offers a more accurate description of how the washer will behave when in constant use. A higher pressure will clean tougher grime and will clean faster, while lower pressure should be used on less durable surfaces.
|Task||Low (50-80 bar)||Medium (80-130 bar)||High (130 bar+)|
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- Flow Rate (measured in liters per hour or lph) – Flow rate show how much water is being sprayed out of the washer while in use. A higher flow rate will get jobs done more quickly, but will be harder on your water bill. 300 lph is considered the low end of flow rate, while close to 1000 lpm is the high end.
Cleaning Power Units
- Cleaning Power Units (CPU) – This is simply pressure multiplied by volume flow rate. By converting flow rate and pressure to CPU’s you can more easily compare different washers directly.
Maybe you’re trying to minimise your carbon footprint and you’ve got access to a nearby socket so naturally you’ll want an electric pressure washer, or perhaps you want a petrol washer, known for its high pressure and lack of electrical hazards.
Either way, you have a lot to think about as you start narrowing down your options; the first being the power source.
The biggest advantage to a petrol powered washer is the pressure it produces. Petrol power washers can reach over 200 bar of pressure; enough to strip away the most resilient grime. This high pressure also allows these washers to excel at getting large jobs done quickly. At the end of the day, nothing excels at raw performance like a petrol washer.
The same high pressure that allows petrol washers to excel at cleaning also makes them more dangerous to use. The spray generated by these washers can gouge wood, damage worn stone, break glass, strip paint, or even injure people and pets. It is always important to maintain safe practices when using any pressure washer, but even more so when dealing with the level of pressure generated by petrol engines.
The greatest downside to petrol motors rest in the amount of maintenance necessary to keep them running at peak performance. Oil must be checked and changed periodically, tune-ups must be done, and the entire machine must be “winterised” every time there is a risk of being exposed to below zero temperatures.
Another flaw of petrol powered washers is the noise they produce. As long as the jet washer is producing pressure, the motor is producing noise up to 110 decibels. This is well above the recommended level at which you should start to use hearing protection. This is almost as loud as a motorbike being revved or a jackhammer being run in close proximity.
- Powerful (up to 200 bar)
- Highly Portable
- Best Petrol Pressure Washer
- Loud 110dB+
- Requires Regular Maintenance
Our Best Petrol Pressure WashersTable could not be displayed.
While electric pressure washers typically generate around half the pressure of a petrol washer, they are usually more than enough to handle anything you can throw at them. The also tend to cost less than their petrol counterparts and are significantly lower maintenance.
While all pressure washers are limited in mobility by their distance from a water source, electric washers also have their power source to contend with. Electric power washers are powered either by cord or by battery. Corded washers must be within range of a power outlet, but can run indefinitely while plugged in. Battery powered washers are some of the most portable pressure washers, but generally have short run times and don’t generate as much pressure as corded or petrol powered washers.
Electric jet washers do have the benefit of being quieter in use. They tend to run at around 75 decibels, and only generate noise when the trigger is being pulled to spray water. It is still recommended that you wear hearing protection while operating one of these washers, but it isn’t as important as when using a petrol fueled washer.
Electric pressure washers are also significantly more affordable than petrol washers both in initial cost and long term ownership. They also need far less maintenance, making them a perfect first washer for any homeowner.
- Low Maintenance
- Cheaper to Purchase
- Not as Noisy
- Less Pressure than Petrol Counterparts
- Needs Access to an Electrical Socket (Portable Washers excluded)
Our Best Electric Pressure Washers
Last update on 2021-01-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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Portable Manual Washers
There’s not much to say about these! If you’d rather go manual, then there are a fair few options to pick from.
Last update on 2021-01-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
So you have purchased your first jet washer. When you first remove it from its packaging, you notice it comes with a variety of colourful plastic and metal pieces. Except for the colours, each looks roughly the same. You are anxious to get started spraying, so you select one of these nozzles at random and get to work… (we’ve all done it)
You go to spray a patch of concrete with a few ceramic plant pots on it. Upon depressing the trigger, a lance of water leaps forth and shatters one of the pots. The line of water does successfully remove the scattered dirt, and any other grime, but only in strips a couple of centimetres wide. Perhaps this nozzle was the wrong choice for the job you start to think to yourself.
While the motor does take the water from the hose and increase its velocity, it is the nozzle that creates the incredibly high pressure that you see when you pull the trigger. The nozzle also shapes the jet, and different nozzles are used for different tasks.
Before diving head first into a job, always spray a test area to start and make adjustments until you are reassured the nozzle you have selected will not damage the surface you intend to clean.
The typical nozzle on the end of the lance is simply a small metal piece with a shaped hole in it. A smaller the diameter hole will result in a higher pressure jet, and the shape of the hole will determine the angle of spray.
Washers typically come with a few angles to swap in and out of the lance, which is as simple as unscrewing one and screwing in another. Standard nozzles are come in 0°, 15°, 25°, and 40°.
Nozzle orifice diameter is a more varied than spray angle so read the manual for your specific washer when deciding what size to use. Smaller diameter nozzles produce more pressure and clean dirtier surfaces faster, but they can damage softer materials and put strain on your washer’s engine or motor. A larger diameter nozzle is more forgiving, but it will take longer to clean an area. Again, test on an inconspicuous area before diving into middle of your patio or driveway.
A 0° nozzle creates a powerful and linear spray of water. This jet is best used for the absolute toughest of stains, such as caked on gum or mildew, or for more destructive tasks, like spraying down a wasp nest. This nozzle should never be used on a surface that has the potential to be damaged including wood, painted surfaces, glass, etc.
15° to 40° nozzles will produce a line of spray. The narrower angle nozzles will generate more force, but a wider nozzle will cover more area. Think about the material of what you are cleaning; the softer the material, the wider the nozzle you should use.
If you find yourself with a plethora of small washing jobs around the house with each one requiring a different nozzle, you may want to look into getting a variable nozzle. These nozzles consist of each angle sprayer all mounted on one head. By simply spinning the head, you have a new nozzle to work with. From a performance standpoint, variable nozzles aren’t any better than each individual nozzle, but they do add some level of convenience.
Rotating nozzles, also known as turbo nozzles, take the power of the 0° nozzle and the rapid cleaning of the 25° and combine it into one. Rotating nozzles consist of a linear jet being spun so rapidly that the spray appears to be conical. These nozzles can reduce the time needed to clean a large surface by half – or more! These nozzles are best for large cement surfaces or tough metal.
This nozzle allows you to control the shape of the nozzle beyond that of the fixed angle nozzles. By rotating this nozzle you can vary the stream from a 0° jet to a wide and gentle line, with everything in between. This is especially useful if you want to change angle without swapping nozzles constantly.
You can see the different standard nozzle types supplied with the Wilk’s Pressure Washer below.
General Tips for Use
“How hard can it be?” you ask yourself as you pull the trigger for the first time on your brand new washer. You glanced at the manual and watched some neat videos online, so you are basically an expert. You then proceed to strip some paint off your car as you clean it, move the dirt around on your porch instead of removing it, and then blast a bird feeder off its stand.
Anyone can pick up a washer and spray a bit of dirt off a deck, but it takes some skill to make that deck look like the day it was built. Here are a few things you can do to improve your own abilities, and in no time at all your neighbors will be asking for the number of the professional you hired to clean your property.
Read the Manual
Your first reference for pressure washer use should be the instruction manual that comes with it. As each washer is operated slightly differently, your manual will help you navigate the ins and outs of your specific tool, and help you take care of it most effectively.
Determine Your Goals
This is the first thing you should ask yourself before starting the job. Are you simply spraying leaves off the porch? Are you cleaning years of built up residue off your grill? Are you spraying down the siding to return it to a freshly-painted look?
What you are trying to determine is the following:
- What materials will you be spraying, and how durable are those materials?
- How large of a surface are you spraying?
- How much grime has built up on the surface?
- Is the area you are cleaning highly visible or not?
The answers to these questions will help guide you to what nozzle, water pressure, or other accessories you should use.
Start Far Away, Then Move In
Once you have selected a nozzle and gotten your washer up and running, stand a couple of meters back from the area you want to clean and begin spraying in a sweeping motion. Gradually move closer until you can see the filth begin to dissipate. It is best to start somewhere innocuous, on the chance you get too close to the surface, or the nozzle you selected isn’t ideal for the task at hand.
Work in broad, uniform strokes
If you have ever pressed a felt pen against one spot on a sheet paper for too long and left a large blot, you know the importance of keeping the pen off the paper when not moving. The same technique applies to power washing.
Sweep the tip of the nozzle back and forth in a controlled manner while you depress the trigger. It should be moving slow enough to be cleaning the surface, but not so slow that is leaving distinct lines as it passes.
This can take some practice to get down, so start with wider angle nozzles, and switch to narrower ones as you gain confidence.
Do Multiple Passes
Just like how a wall is not painted properly in one pass, neither is a patio cleaned in one go. Once you have gone over an entire surface once, go back and spray it again. Focus on removing any lines created by the spray and on removing debris that was stripped from the surface, but not thrown clear of it. It can also help to switch to a wide angle nozzle for the second pass.
Take Your Time
Jet washing can be as satisfying as peeling the plastic off a new piece of electronic’s screen, so take your time. Enjoy that feeling of methodically removing the dirt and grime from the surface and restoring order from chaos.
So you have done a few jobs with your power washer, and gotten really confident with a couple of the fixed nozzles. You are satisfied with how they are performing, but not floored by them. Sometimes cleaning the gutters is difficult with the lance, and pebbles get thrown everywhere when you spray the path next to your rock garden. Well, luckily for you, there is a specific tool for almost any job imaginable. The first time you use a patio cleaner attachment and experience exactly how easy these “chores” can be, you vow never to go without the appropriate accessories again.
Sometimes you need more than just a powerful stream of water to get particularly greasy or oily scum off a surface. This is where a detergent attachment comes in handy. You have two options for these attachments.
The first is a lance attachment which consists of small container filled with detergent attached near the handle of the lance. When on, the flowing water pulls liquid detergent into the stream and applies it to the surface. Generally, lance detergent attachments, also known as foamers, also reduce the pressure of the spray making them one of the options that are safe for use on cars.
The second option comes in the form of a detergent container attached to the body of the pressure washer. These can be turned on or off and feeds detergent into the hose. These setups use whatever nozzle you have on the lance, so the spray is pretty much the same, just with more suds.
When using detergent it is important to make sure the detergent isn’t allowed to dry and to wash it off completely before allowing the surface to dry. The properties that allow detergent to be so effective at stripping off grime also make it potentially damaging if left on some surfaces for days at a time.
Patio Cleaner Attachment
If you plan on spending a large amount of time washing vast areas on the ground or live in a glass house, then consider a patio cleaner attachment for your washer.
These long attachments reach to the ground and help maximise cleaning efficiency over a circle while containing the spray and any debris thrown about in the process.
These attachments have the additional benefit of great ergonomics, allowing you to do a large amount of cleaning in relative comfort.
Brush attachments are exactly what their name implies – a brush at the end of the lance. These also help contain spray and debris, and they allow you to add some mechanical action to the mix. Like the foamers, these attachments also reduce pressure making them safe to use on more easily damaged surfaces.
Some brush attachments even rotate using the spray of the water, similar to the rotary nozzle. This takes any pressure off of you to scrub the surface; merely hold the brush against the surface and it’ll do most of the work for you.
This is more an attachment for your garden hose, but it does help your washer last longer. Adding a water filter in-line with your hose will remove any debris from the system which could cause premature wear to your pressure washer. Just make sure to check the filter periodically to keep it from restricting water flow to the washer.
There pretty much exists a different type of lance for any type of job you can imagine. There are quick release lances for easy swapping, long lances for hard to reach areas, hooked lances for the undercarriage of cars or gutters, and lances of different materials. You should experiment to find what works best for you.
You pull on your rubber boots and gloves, you have the washer and cords raised off the ground, you are wearing eye protection and ear protection, and you have set the washer to the exact specifications for the job at hand. You may look a little ridiculous, but it is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with minimizing risk around power tools.
Pressure washers may not seem as dangerous as a chainsaw or anything involving fire, but they carry their own fair share of risks. Fortunately, these risks are easy to minimise. Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure the most positive practice pressure washing possible.
The number one rule to keep in mind when using a power washer is to only point the washer at things you want sprayed.
Some industrial cutters actually use powerful jets of water to cut metal with high precision, and while jet washers don’t reach the same pressure as their industrial counterpart, they can still do some damage.
The biggest hazard come from pointing the washer at living beings where the water can push debris into their skin which can result in infections are other trauma. Other things to watch out for are fragile objects like glass, pottery, or the errant lawn gnome which can shatter under the blast of the washer. Lastly, watch out when spraying on or near gravel or other loose objects. These can be thrown a fair distance by the washer’s jet. Brushes and patio attachments can help contain potential debris.
Anytime you mix water and electricity there is a risk of electric shock. Here are some things you can do to minimize the risk of electric shock when using an electric power washer.
- Inspect your equipment before use. Make sure the power cord is completely undamaged with no breaks or fraying in the insulation covering it.
- Avoid spraying anywhere near cords or outlets. Pressure washers have a tendency to get water everywhere, but being aware of your surrounding will minimize the amount of water that could reach an electrical source.
- Make an effort to keep electrical junctions off the ground. The easiest way to do this is to place a milk crate or other porous container directly under the spot where the power cable meets an extension cable. By doing this you will make it so the cord can get wet without being as likely to short with the ground.
- Wear insulated rubber boots and gloves. With the ground around you inevitably soaked, keeping yourself insulated from it goes a long way in protecting you in the event of a short.
- Install GFCI outlets (or adapters) to plug your washer into. These outlets have a built in failsafe that will cause them to cut off power in any unusual circumstances. This is probably the most effective failsafe for if water does ground an electrical source.
With pressure comes the risk of instant pressure release, also known as an explosion. This is generally very preventable simply by using the jet washer strictly as laid out in the user manual, and by regularly inspecting equipment for any defects. Things to check include the hose, seals, and any visible point where two parts meet that hold water. If you notice anything leaking water or an area that is wet that shouldn’t be, simply replace the part.
It is important to note that if there is some equipment failure an explosion isn’t actually likely. A vast majority of the time the affected area will just rupture and spray water or the machine will stop working. However, it is important to prepare for the worst (Sod’s Law and all that).
Maintenance, Clean-up, and Storage
Winter is right around the corner, so you take the time to drain your washer of water, add a fuel stabilizer, and store the whole contraption properly. Come spring, you pull it out and with a single pull of the starting cord it roars to life. You are able to get done what you need to with no wasted time or effort.
You happen to spot your neighbour who wasn’t so diligent. Now he’s winded from yanking on the cord, and when it finally does start, the hose bursts and douses everything within ten meters – including him.
Preparing for Winter
The most important thing you need to do for your pressure washer, especially if it is petrol powered, is winterising it. As jet washers have water saturating some of their components, freeze damage is a real risk that can destroy your washer during the winter months. If you want the best for your pressure washer then here are some simple steps that will help ensure the longevity of your washer.
- (For petrol washers) Add a stabiliser to the fuel and run the engine for several minutes. This will allow the stabilizer to penetrate the entire washer and will prevent your fuel from freezing or depositing a varnish.
- Hook your washer up to a clean water source and spray it for a minute to remove any residual detergent or other contaminants. Then disconnect the source and continue to spray until the system is empty of water.
If your washer has a detergent tank or attachment, empty it out and fill it with clean water. Run the clean water through the detergent lines to flush them out as well.
- Add antifreeze to the pump inlet. This will further protect seals and other temperature sensitive parts.
- Store the washer in a warm location. While you have done everything you can to protect it from freezing, it doesn’t hurt to keep from exposing it to freezing temperatures to begin with.
You should always consider going through the process of winterization if you don’t plan on using your washer for more than a month or so, even in warmer times of the year (although the antifreeze may not always be necessary). These simple steps will help ensure your washer will serve you well for many years to come.
After each use of your jet washer, simply disconnect the water source while the washer is still running, and spray until water stops coming out. This will drain the water from the system and release any built up pressure.
Coil your hose in large loops while making sure no kinks form. Store out of the sun and preferably in a warm and dry location. Some washers have racks on them to hold the hose, or you can consider getting a hose reel to make the process even easier.