If you’re considering buying a pressure washer, a quick search around the internet shows that it’s not quite as simple as buying a toaster. Let’s take a look at 9 things to look for when buying a pressure washer. Depending on the frequency of use and the type of cleaning to be done, there are a wide range of choices. It can be difficult to decide on what features are important for what you’re cleaning, where you will be using it, and your budget. This should help you navigate the options and choose a model that is right for you.
- Electric or Gas?
As with many of the variations on a pressure washer, how you plan to use it will help determine whether you want an electric or gas model. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two:Electric
An electric model is typically less powerful than a gas model. Electric pressure washers tend to have a maximum of 1,700 – 2,000 PSI, compared to 6,000 PSI or more in some gas models. Also, electric pressure washers are more lightweight, making them more portable.
If cost is a factor, an electric model is likely to be one of your first options, as gas models can cost three to four times as much.Pros:
Electric models are cheaper than gas models, often times a lot cheaper.
Electric models require less routine maintenance, and don’t require gas or oil.
Electric models are often far lighter than models with gas motors. If you need to haul your pressure washer around, an electric model can be much easier to take with you.Cons:
While not requiring gas or oil, an electric washer does require a power cord. Though an electric model will be lighter, and easier to take with you, a power cord can limit your mobility during use. This can potentially be offset by a longer hose, but should still be taken into consideration. The use of extension cords, though common, is not recommended, meaning you will need to keep your washer close to the power supply.
Electric models also tend to have a shorter lifespan than gas models. However, it could be argued that replacing a cheaper unit can be made up for by not needing to purchase gas, oil, and routine maintenance.Summary
An electric model may fit your needs if you need a pressure washer for general, infrequent home use. If you’re just looking to knock the dirt off your siding every once in a while, or shine up your vehicle on the weekend, an electric model may be a good fit. They’re typically not made for frequent, intensive use, but can handle small tasks efficiently, and at an affordable price.Gas
Gas models have a much wider range of power and application. Gas models can run anywhere from 1,000 to upwards of 7,000 PSI. The stronger PSI means much more cleaning power and less time required to do the job.
If you are using your pressure washer in a commercial application, then you definitely want to go with a gas washer. Even if you won’t be using it commercially, if you use your washer frequently, and for extra large jobs, you should probably consider going for a gas powered machine.
Most of the benefits of a gas model come at the cost of routine maintenance, fuel, and oil. If you’re not good with having equipment maintained, a gas model can end up costing you far more than the initial price tag.
So, if you do go with a gas model, and maintenance isn’t your strong suit, it would pay you to set up a good maintenance routine and get good at it. You’ll be glad you did. With a proper maintenance schedule in place, you should get many years of service from your new machine.Pros
While gas models are heavier, they have much more mobility than electric models. Since no power cord is required, your unit won’t be tethered to an outlet for use – you can use it anywhere you can take it.
Gas models can potentially provide far more PSI than electric models. More PSI creates the potential for more cleaning power.
With proper routine maintenance, gas models can last for years. This is especially helpful if your washer will be used frequently.Cons
Gas models are often significantly more expensive than electric models. Though the lifespan, capabilities, and mobility factor into the cost, the price tag is often the first thing we see, and last thing we forget.Vtg,NSYNC,1999,Winterland,Concert,T,Shirt,L,1-Men-5-Tops
Gas models are significantly heavier than electric models. Particularly if you have physical limitations, this can be a major downside of a gas model for some.Summary
If you need a washer for commercial or frequent heavy use, a gas model is by far your best option. A gas model has the potential to handle the heaviest jobs (depending on which other options you choose). If you’re willing to spend some extra money for a gas model, the mobility, capability, and lifespan can easily make up for the higher price tag.
- Cold or Hot Water?
Most pressure washers, especially consumer models, run cold water, meaning that the water is not heated by the washer as it passes through the system. In most cases, a cold water model can do everything you need.
Cold water models are cheaper, with a more simple construction than hot water models, because fewer components are required. Cold water models are easier to maintain, and usually have the capability to provide more pressure than a hot water model.Hot Water
As the name implies, a hot water model heats the water as it passes through the system. Aside from this, there is little difference in function compared to a cold water model. Hot water models have more complex components, require more maintenance, and are bulkier than cold water models.
Not only is the washer itself bulkier than a cold water model, but the price tag is bulkier as well. A hot water model can run as much as double the price of a cold water model.Which Do I Need?
If you will be using your pressure washer to clean grease and oil, a hot water model may be best. For example, if you would be cleaning things such as engine components or other automotive parts.
If cleaning grease and oil isn’t a major thing on your to-do list, then a cold water model could handle your needs just fine.
- Wands, Tips, and Nozzles
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When purchasing a pressure washer, a sometimes overlooked consideration is the wand. Depending on your desired use, the wand can be an important choice.
A few things to consider when shopping:Type of Wand
Commonly, the pressure washer wand will add about three to four feet to your reach. However, if you need to reach beyond the first floor of your house, or an area that you can’t easily get to, a telescoping wand may be a good option. These can add significantly more reach, often around 20 feet.
One downside is, electric models often come with plastic wands, which are much less durable than metal wands.Nozzle Connection
Some models offer varying types of connections for nozzles. A wand with a quick connect nozzle can be a great option if you will be changing nozzles often for varied applications. Beware though, some brands have proprietary nozzles and accessories, which can make it difficult to find what you need.
Before you make your purchase, see what nozzles come with the machine and see if any after market nozzles are available to fit that machine.Tips/Nozzles
The nozzle you use on your pressure washer will vary depending on what you’re cleaning. Nozzles are classified by the degree of angle of spray that they produce. The wider the angle, the less the impact, and the greater the area covered.
Making sure you have the right nozzle for the job is extremely important. Using a 0 degree nozzle on your car could have devastating consequences. You could strip the paint right off any area you hit with it. For this reason it’s important to know which nozzles your model will come with. Here’s a breakdown of the various types of nozzles and their uses:
0 Degree Nozzle (Red Tip)
A 0 degree nozzle is a direct jet, and the strongest spray, covering an area of less than an inch upon impact. This nozzle is best used when you’re cleaning items that are extremely durable, such as concrete or metal. As long as you’re dealing with something that you’re sure won’t be damaged, a 0 degree nozzle can get rid of the most stubborn dirt. When using a 0 degree nozzle, always be sure to start at a distance, and test on a small area of the surface to be cleaned.
15 Degree Nozzle (Yellow Tip)
A 15 degree nozzle is a spray tip, covering a wider area than the 0 degree nozzle, with less force. Though this nozzle has less force than a 0 degree nozzle, it is often still quite strong, and caution should be used. This nozzle is also best used on durable materials, and since it covers a wider area, can be an effective way to clean these materials quickly.
25 Degree Nozzle (Green Tip)
A 25 degree nozzle is the most common nozzle for general household usage, such as vehicles and siding. It has a greater area of coverage than a 15 degree nozzle, and less impact.
40 Degree Nozzle (White Tip)
40 degree nozzles are less common, but are one of the most gentle nozzles for general use. If you plan on cleaning fragile surfaces, you should start with this nozzle before using a nozzle with more impact.
Soaping Nozzle (Black Tip)
If you plan to use detergent with your washer, you will need a soaping nozzle. This is a 65 degree nozzle capable of pulling detergent. It creates a wide and extremely gentle stream. You won’t use this for cleaning – it’s only intended for applying detergent prior to cleaning.
A turbo nozzle is a great option if you need the impact of a 0 degree nozzle, but a wider coverage area. This nozzle rotates the spray, covering an area in a cone shape, covering approximately the same area as a 25 degree nozzle. Given the force of this nozzle, the same cautions used with a 0 degree nozzle should be taken when using.
If you expect to be changing your nozzle often, an adjustable nozzle may be something to look for as you shop. This is similar to the attachment on your garden hose, where you can cycle between various spray patterns, and allows versatile, on-the-spot change when needed.
A Reminder: If you’re not sure which nozzle you need for the job, always be sure to start with the widest degree nozzle, spray from a distance to start, and test on an inconspicuous area before cleaning. If you start washing with a nozzle too strong, you may end up regretting it!
Hoses come in varying lengths. When purchasing a pressure washer, especially an electric model, you want to make sure that you have adequate hose length. This is the only potential means to make up for the limited mobility that comes with a power cord.Diameter
The diameter of hose that you can use is determined mostly by the PSI you will be operating at. There are two common diameters of hose. Most consumer models use 1/4 hoses, which are usually rated up to 3,200 PSI. Most professional models, and many gas models in general, use 3/8 hoses, which can be rated upwards of 10,000 PSI, and allow more GPM (gallons per minute).
As we will discuss later, PSI is not the only consideration when it comes to rating how efficiently your pressure washer can clean. If two washers run at the same PSI, the one using more water (thus, a higher GPM) will clean more efficiently. When considering the hose diameter, the biggest factor in your choice will be how efficiently you need the washer to clean.Material
Not all hoses are created equal, and this is best seen in the material the hose is composed of. There are three main materials used in pressure washer hoses.PVC
PVC hoses are the most common, and are what you are likely to get in a consumer model. These hoses are affordable and light, but are not very flexible and tend to curl and kink more than other materials. Particularly since these hoses are less flexible, curling and kinking can be even more difficult to deal with in a PVC hose.Rubber
Rubber hoses are less common than PVC, but certainly have benefits. They are more flexible than PVC, and they also provide less kinking and curling than PVC hoses. Rubber hoses are heavier than PVC hoses as well.
The biggest downside to a rubber hose is that it can mark up surfaces that it touches. Depending on what you’re washing, this can be a major downside. The purpose of a pressure washer is to clean, and if your hose is making marks on everything it touches, you may just be undoing the work you’ve done!Polyurethane
Polyurethane hoses are a coated steel braided hose. These hoses are very strong, and they provide the flexibility of rubber hoses without marking the surfaces they come into contact with. These hoses are less common, but can be a great choice if available.Connections
It’s important to note the connections used on your pressure washer hose. Hoses and wands can have varying connections. There are quick connect options available, both male and female, as well as standard connections. Especially if you plan on purchasing additional accessories such as wands for your pressure washer, it’s important to know what connections the hose that comes with your model requires.
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As with any major equipment purchase, it’s important to know what (if any) warranty accompanies your purchase. Does it come with a manufacturers warranty? Does the retailer provide a warranty?
No matter what warranty comes with your pressure washer, be sure to read the fine print before purchasing. You want to be sure that the warranty covers the pump and motor – some warranties do not. If a warranty covers the chassis, but not the engine and pump, you’re looking at a sizable bill to replace the engine or pump in the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, you’re going to be left purchasing an entirely new unit. Always be sure to read the fine print, and ensure that the most troublesome components to replace are covered!
- PSI, GPM, and CU
The acronyms on a pressure washer’s description can be both intimidating and confusing, but this is some of the most important information to consider when deciding which model is best for the job.
PSI (Pounds per Square Inch)
PSI (Pounds per Square Inch), is the amount of pressure that your pressure washer produces. Since the purpose of a pressure washer is to wash with pressurized water, the higher the PSI, the more capable the unit is to clean.
Consumer models range from around 500 PSI, to 4,000 PSI, while professional models range from around 1,000 – 7,000 PSI. Tougher dirt requires more PSI. When deciding what PSI you want your pressure washer to operate at, you’ll need to consider what you’re cleaning, and how dirty it is.
Pressure washers with 2,500 – 3,000 PSI can generally cover most residential uses. If you need a pressure washer to wash your car, you likely won’t need beyond 2,000 PSI. In heavier, more intensive usage, such as paint stripping, 4,000 PSI and beyond will be needed.
Though more is better, knowing what you will be using your pressure washer for, and choosing its PSI carefully can save you money by ensuring you’re not paying for unnecessary power in your unit.
GPM (Gallons Per Minute)
As mentioned previously, PSI isn’t the only thing to consider in measuring the unit’s efficiency. Increasing the amount of water pumped out of the pressure water per minute (which is the GPM – Gallons Per Minute), can dramatically increase the washer’s cleaning efficiency. Just as a higher PSI can deal with tougher dirt, more water can deal with tougher dirt.
The GPM may also be important to consider if you live in an area that limits water usage. If you can do the same job in the same time with a washer with a higher PSI and lower GPM, that may be an option to take into consideration.
CU (Cleaning Units)
The CU (Cleaning Units) of a pressure washer is figured by multiplying the PSI by the GPM. This number helps us to see how the PSI and GPM together affect the capability of the washer during use. All other things considered, when buying for general use, this will be the number most worth your consideration.
- Wobble Pump, Axial Cam Pump, or Triplex Plunger Pump?
The pump will be one of the main components on your pressure washer, and great care should be taken to choose a pressure washer that has the right pump for your goals. There are three main types of pumps used in pressure washers.Wobble Pump
A wobble pump is a pump containing a wobble plate connected to a drive shaft. The plate wobbles, hence the name, allowing the pistons to rise and fall, pulling water in as they rise, and pumping water out as they fall. Being a direct drive shaft pump, it runs at the same speed as the engine, since it is connected directly to the drive shaft. This heats the pump up, shortening the lifespan.
This pump is used in lower PSI models. The pump is self-priming, and can run dry. This pump is more cost effective initially, but has some major downfalls.
A wobble pump is much less efficient than an axial cam or triplex plunger pump. A wobble pump is around 70 percent efficient, while the triplex plunger pump is around 90 percent efficient. As stated above, it is used in lower PSI models, and doesn’t allow the capability that other pump styles allow.
The greatest downfall of a wobble pump is that it cannot be repaired. When the pump goes out, it must be replaced entirely. The lifespan of a wobble pump is usually around 300 hours.
A wobble pump is an affordable option for general and infrequent use, but the short lifespan coupled with the inability to repair the pump can create more difficulty if the pump goes out. If you’re using your pressure washer primarily for the occasional weekend car wash, or a seasonal siding wash, the wobble pump may be a reasonable option.Axial Cam Pump
An axial cam pump is also a direct drive shaft pump. It includes an angled swash plate that is fixed. The swash plate allows the pistons to rise and fall as the cylinder spins – pulling water in as they rise, and pushing it out as they fall. Some pumps allow you to change the angle of the swash plate, varying the amount of water that is expelled.
The axial cam pump is a middle-of-the-road pump used in models under 3,500 PSI. The axial cam pump has many benefits compared to the wobble pump. An axial cam pump can be repaired, has approximately twice the lifespan of a wobble pump, and can allow for both greater PSI and GPM.
Like the wobble pump, an axial cam pump is a direct drive shaft pump, which causes it to run at the same speed as the engine, which shortens the lifespan. If the pump is not properly balanced, it can create excess vibration, adding an extra step of maintenance.
The axial cam pump has greater capabilities, lifespan, and can be repaired, making it a better option than the wobble pump for most uses. Though a bit more expensive than a model containing a wobble pump, the benefits are generally worth the extra cost. If you need greater PSI and GPM, and plan to use your pressure washer more frequently, an axial cam pump is certainly a better option than the wobble pump.Triplex Plunger Pump
A triplex plunger pump is used in most professional model pressure washers, and for good reason. The triplex plunger pump runs on a belt drive, with a crankshaft pumping water through the system with three plungers (hence the name).
The greatest downside of a triplex plunger pump is the cost. This pump will cost significantly more than either an axial cam pump or a wobble pump. The cost of this pump does not come without benefits, however.
The greatest benefit of the triplex plunger pump is that it can run for thousands of hours with proper maintenance. Compared to the mere 300-hour lifespan of a wobble plate pump, or the 500-800 hour lifespan of an axial cam pump, the triplex plunger pump is by far the best option for frequent heavy use.
A triplex plunger pump has a greater lifespan because it runs cooler than the other two pump types. Since it is a belt-driven pump, and is not directly attached to the engine, it runs at a lower RPM, which allows it to run cooler.
A triplex plunger pump is also around 90 percent efficient, by far the most efficient pump type available. Most parts can be repaired, which also factors into the longer lifespan of the pump. Triplex pumps are used in most models that run beyond 3,000 PSI.
If you plan to use your pressure washer frequently, have some exceptionally dirty jobs to tackle, and don’t mind some maintenance for the sake of a long-lasting pump – a triplex plunger pump is likely the option you need.
- Belt Drive or Direct Drive?
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As mentioned above, wobble pumps and axial cam pumps are direct drive pumps, while a triplex plunger pump is a belt-driven pump. There are benefits to each type of drive, and you will be limited to your choices based on which pump type you decide on.Direct Drive
A direct drive has the pump attached directly to the drive shaft. This makes them more compact, and they include fewer components – meaning they require less maintenance.
Direct drives are cheaper, but they also have a shorter lifespan, since they run at the same RPM as the engine, and thus running at a higher temperature. Direct drive pressure washers are better for infrequent use, and for users with tight space limitations.Belt Drive
A belt drive runs much like your car, with a crankshaft turned by a belt connected to the engine. A belt drive is more expensive, but the longer lifespan can help offset this. It requires more maintenance than a direct drive, but runs at a lower RPM, thus running at lower temperatures. The belts and pulleys in the drive help absorb vibration in the unit. A belt drive is considered less efficient than a direct drive, but the efficiency of the triplex plunger pump makes up for this.
If you’re planning to use your pressure washer quite frequently, and want a greater lifespan, the belt drive with a triplex plunger pump can easily offer what you’re looking for.
Even if your primary use for your pressure washer will be at home, portability is an important factor. If you have physical limitations, space limitations, or will need to use your pressure washer at various locations, there are a few things you will need to take into consideration when shopping.Weight
Weight becomes an important factor if you will be moving your pressure washer around your property, or loading it into a truck or trailer. As mentioned above, electric models (typically with PVC hoses), are often much lighter than gas models.
The difference in weight will make it easier to load your unit into a vehicle to use in places other than your home. An electric model may be a better choice for those with physical limitations or those who only need to do light work.Size
Available storage space and whether you will be transporting your pressure washer with a car/SUV, truck, or trailer will help determine how much impact the size of the unit has.
Electric models are not only lighter, but typically smaller than gas models. Cold water models are often smaller than hot water models, because they have fewer components to the system. The size of the hose is also a factor in deciding how your unit will fit into your storage space.
The type of pump and drive will make a small difference in the size of your pressure washer as well. A belt drive with a triplex pump will add a bit of size to your pressure washer compared to a direct drive with either a axial cam or wobble plate pump.
However, if you’re buying a pressure washer with a belt drive and triplex plunger pump, you’re likely not as worried about space.Mobility
Mobility is an important consideration for a pressure washer. While an electric model will typically be lighter and smaller, you will be tethered to an electric outlet, and depending on the job you’re trying to accomplish, you may not be able to get a hose long enough to offset this downside. Extension cords are generally not recommended for use with electric pressure washers, which can limit you even further.
Besides this, many electric models don’t have wheels like their gas counterparts. The smaller size and lesser weight certainly help offset this, but still leaves you carrying your washer where it needs to go. Even with significantly less weight than a gas model, not having a wheeled chassis can make it more difficult to get where you need to go.
A gas model offers the greatest mobility. If you need to use your pressure washer in an area that doesn’t have an electric outlet (such as an outbuilding or a fence that sits further from your home), or you don’t have exterior outlets around your house, then a gas model will be the best option. A gas model will have a wheeled chassis (unless it is a truck mount), helping to offset the extra weight and larger size of the model.Summary
If you’re comfortable carrying your unit around, don’t mind being tethered to an electrical outlet, and are more concerned about storage space and weight of the unit, an electric model will be the way to go. If you’re going to be using your pressure washer a significant distance from an electrical outlet, and are less concerned about storage space and weight of the unit, a gas model will be your best option.Conclusion
Buying a pressure washer isn’t as simple as buying a toaster. It’s important to know exactly what you’re planning to use it for, where you’re going to use it, and what your budget is. Hopefully with these 9 things to look for when buying a pressure washer, you are armed with the knowledge you need to make the right choice! Happy shopping!
For ideas on pressure washer tasks, check my articles on “Best Pressure Washer For Vinyl Siding” or “What Size Pressure Washer Do I Need To Clean Concrete“.