Tool Essentials: Pressure Washer – On the House

Tool Essentials: Pressure Washer

By on June 2, 2015
pressure washer

Pressure washers can be a great investment for your tool arsenal. What are pressure washers?

When we were teenagers we worked before and after school at our father’s car lot. We detailed the cars and did minor motor repairs. One of our favorite tools was a steam cleaner that ran on diesel fuel. Given enough commercial strength detergent there wasn’t anything that wouldn’t come clean when fully exposed to its forceful spray. You name it. We cleaned undercarriages, motors, transmissions, and every other grease ridden nut and bolt. They all shined like new when we were done. Unfortunately, steam cleaners had a tendency to explode. Not to mention the fact that we were in constant fear of being burned, blinded or other wise seriously maimed.

That was in the 60’s long before anyone realized that there was a new technology on its way to the American home known as the pressure washer. Did you ever drive into one of those do it yourself car washes? The kind where you put several quarters into a box and you got a high pressure spray mixed with detergent? Followed by a clear water spray that lasted for an additional few minutes? That was one of our first experiences with a devise that – 25 years later – would become a tool as common to construction as a hammer or saw.

So what’s a pressure washer? A machine that mixes water from a garden hose with air from a compressor to form a fine, high pressure spray of water capable of cleaning just about anything. The water is sent from the machine to a cleaning wand via a high pressure hose. At the end of the wand is a removable tip. Each tip is designed to create a different spray pattern. You name it and it can be cleaned with a pressure washer. Windows and their frames. Your driveway and your front walk. Any concrete anywhere – horizontal or vertical. Your car, it’s tires, the motor or transmission. Your garden tools and your wheelbarrow. Your barbecue, a basketball, even your youngsters dirty sneakers.

In their hay day there was one size – Big. They were priced out of most folks reach and were first popularly used commercially by painters for removing paint.

Pressure washers are really powerful. Once we were chatting with one of our crewman who was preparing a house for paint with a heavy duty pressure washer. He turned to respond to our question and in the few seconds that it took him to answer he had inadvertently cut a hole in a piece of redwood plywood siding – five-eighths of an inch thick. This is one tool that will definitely get the surface clean.

Since then there have been major advances in the world of pressure washers. Today, one can find them in every size, shape and form. Smaller units range in price from $200 to $500. Larger machines sell for as much as $2,000. Truck-mounted industrial models sell for literally tens of thousands of dollars.

There are two values that are used to measure the power of a pressure washer: air pressure and water flow. Air pressure is generated by an on-board compressor and is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Water is provided by a garden hose and its rate of flow is measured in gallons per minute (GPM). To find out how powerful a pressure washer is simply multiply its PSI rating times it GPM rating. For example, 1,000psi x 1.2gpm = 1,200 – a very low power rating. Another example, 3,000psi x 6gpm = 18,000 – a very high power rating. Our first example at a power rating of 1,200 is great for washing cars and other light cleaning jobs. Our second example at a power rating of 18,000 is the machine that does it all. From cleaning motors to removing paint to washing window screens, the big unit cleans everything.

The nice thing about a pressure washer is that it doesn’t use much water and uses only a very small amount of electricity to operate. They are reasonably safe – especially compared to a steam cleaner or a sand blaster – and except for losing a removable spray tip now and then the pressure washer is dependable and low maintenance.

Before you go shopping for a pressure washer, there are a couple of special features that you should know about. For example, better pressure washers have an injection port that can be used to draw in a liquid detergent or pesticide. Any liquid actually. How about that. You can use your pressure washer to spray your apple tree for moths and then use the same machine to wash the chemical overspray off your neighbor’s car. Only in America! Some larger machines have a pressure adjustment. Here, you can regulate the amount of pressure and therefore easily control the force of the water at the tip of the machine. When a machine doesn’t have a pressure regulator you are forced to vary the distance between the tip and the surface being cleaned to regulate the force. It isn’t impossible to control but easier when the machine can be adjusted.

Finally, be sure to check out the interesting array of tips that are available. There is even one that pulsates – using less water and power to do the same job. You can even purchase a window washing accessory. You may also want to consider hiring residential and commercial pressure washing services.

We don’t like to use chemicals to control insects in our yard. As a result, our home gets covered with spider webs every year. Using a pressure washer we can completely clean our home’s exterior in just a few hours. And there isn’t a better tool for cleaning window screens and patio furniture.

Before you buy, rent one. You’ll be hooked after one use. Then, see if a pressure washer doesn’t become one of the most handy cleaning tools you own. And, good luck!

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