How to Use a Pressure Washer: A Step-by-Step Guide
You’ve probably seen those stark before and after pictures online of a thorough cleaning of something like a walkway, a statue, or a building. The before looks like the subject is absolutely covered with years of caked on grime and nastiness, and in the after it looks completely pristine and shining like it had just been created recently. It can seem astonishing that anyone is capable of cleaning something in such a drastic manner. To scrub off all that dirt and filth would take so long by hand that to do so would be an unrealistically colossal task. That cleanliness isn’t brought about by human effort, however; instead, it’s the result of human ingenuity. You could clean your own patio, garage, car, or whatever else you might need to just as effectively. All you need to do so is a simple pressure washer. Like all tools, however, a pressure washer can be dangerous, so if you want to use one to clean your property, you should know exactly what you’re doing with it. But once you know how to use one, you’ll find a pressure washer to be an invaluable tool that will save hours of your time, and allow you to clean your property more thoroughly than ever would have been possible otherwise.
How Does a Pressure Washer Work?
Have you ever put your thumb over the business end of a hose? Moments prior the water would have been gushing out in a lazy gurgle, but once you cover part of the hose, the water starts spraying out like a laser. This is because of some of the fundamental properties of pressure. A certain amount of water is going to escape the hose every second, due to the pressure created by the water moving behind it. If the opening is wide, then the water can go through at a slower speed. As the size of the opening restricts, however, the speed that the water is vacated goes up, in order to make sure that the amount of water passing through the exit every second stays the same. A pressure washer works on the same principle but ramped up to industrial levels.
A pressure washer functions by pumping large amounts of water through a very small aperture in the pressure washer’s hose. To accomplish this, the washer needs two things: a strong enough power supply, and access to enough water to provide the pressure the machine is calling for. This means that the washer needs to be hooked up to a water pump that’s capable of delivering water fast enough to be measured in gallons per minute (GPM). By accumulating that large amount of water in the relatively spacious tank of the washer, then forcing it through that tiny hose, the pressure washer is able to generate truly impressive levels of force. The lowest end pressure washers can spray water at 1,300 pounds per square inch, or PSI. The stronger pressure washers out there can blast away gunk with over double that much force.
Gas Vs. Electric
You can get two different types of pressure washers, one that is powered by gas, another that is powered via electricity. The difference between the two is similar to the difference between many gas vs. electricity options. The gas version is more powerful, but it costs more, is louder, is generally worse for the environment, and, obviously, consumes gas when you use it. Electric pressure washers, on the other hand, function much more quietly, have less of an environmental impact, and cost less, but don’t have nearly the same capabilities as the gas ones. Electric pressure washers are the ones that can pump at about 1,300 PSI; gas-powered ones can easily reach 3,000 PSI and beyond. Although gas-powered pressure washers are generally more easily accessible, if you don’t have an industrial level job ahead of you, you probably want to get an electric pressure washer. They are also usually smaller, which makes them easier for storage.
Using a Pressure Washer
Now that you’ve got a primer on what pressure washers are and how they work, here’s an in-depth guide on using your pressure washer.
Step #1: Make Sure You Have the Pressure
If you’ve used your washer before, you can skip this step entirely, but you want to do this the first time that you try to use the washer or, ideally, before you purchase a washer that you aren’t able to use. Find out how many GPM are necessary for the washer to function properly. Once you know that, you can determine if your own flow of water will be enough to cover that. Assuming you’re connecting the washer to your garden hose, you’ll want to grab a stopwatch (or, more likely, the stopwatch app on your phone) and time how fast the hose can deliver water. Find 5 or 10-gallon pails, something that can measure the amount of water exactly. Time how long it takes to fill up a bucket, and do a little bit of math (gallons in the container divided by the amount of time it took to fill it) to determine your hose’s GPM. If it’s more than the required amount for the washer, then you’re good to continue.
Step #2: Set Up the Washer
Before you get the washer going, you want to make sure it’s set up properly. That means doing a few things. First off, you’re going to want to make sure that every connection is completely tight. That means hooking the hose up to the washer so that there are no leaks at the source. In addition, if you’re planning on using any attachments (like a cleaner fluid attachment for cleaning a car), attach them now, before the machine’s on. Before you turn the washer on, turn the water on, with the system open, in order to get rid of any air pockets. Until you turn the machine on, when you hold down the trigger on the nozzle, water should be able to flow through normally; if it’s not coming out, you’ve got a blockage in the system. Here’s also the best moment to check one last time to see if there are any leaks.
Step #3: Turn On the Washer
This step will be different depending on if you have a gas or an electric washer. The first thing you need to do is connect the pressure washer to its source of fuel. With an electric pressure washer, this just means plugging the washer in; if the machine is gas, though, then you’ll have to put gas into the machine manually (or at least check to make sure there’s still gas in it from last time). Make sure that the nozzle is on the lowest setting, or you’ll have a solid amount of recoil the first time it sprays. If you have a gas machine, then pull the ripcord to get the washer started. If it’s electric, you’ll just have to flip a switch.
Once you’ve got the machine up and working, you need to be sure that you are using it properly. When using a pressure washer, there are a few rules. Rule #1 is don’t point it at yourself or anyone else, ever, under any circumstances. Think looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. Aside from that, most of the things you need to keep in mind are to make sure you clean effectively and don’t break anything. Anything that you are cleaning, make sure that you hit it at an angle with the water; head on water will damage materials, and push dirt in further, whereas glancing hits will blast the dirt and filth away. Put down tarps to protect anything you don’t intend on cleaning with the pressure washer. Don’t aim the washer at anything that can break, including porcelain, clay, and glass. Do not underestimate the power of the water; it can cut flesh or smash glass easily. Clean whatever surface you are washing in steady, even strips, in order to assure you get an even clean with no streaks. Similarly, if you are cleaning a wall, or something else that is up and down, clean from top to bottom to make sure you get everything. Focus on small areas at a time, making sure to entirely clean one spot before moving onto the next. Finally, never leave the pressure washer running for more than a few minutes when you aren’t using it. That much pressure backing up without release can seriously damage the machine.
When storing the device, in the summer, you simply need to put it out of the way; in the winter, however, you should try to store it inside to avoid freezing the pipes in it. If inside storage isn’t an option, you can keep it from freezing by using antifreeze, particularly the type designed for recreational vehicles, in the washer. Whenever you’re using a pressure washer, make sure to keep safety in mind. That means wearing eye protection, long sleeves, pants, and close-toed shoes. It’s easy to underestimate the washer, since it’s just water, but pressure makes that water potentially deadly.
- Family Handy Man – How to Use a Pressure Washer
- Your Mechanic – How to Clean Your Car with a Pressure Washer
- DIY Network – How to Use a Power Washer