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Home » Machinery & Mowers » Pressure Washers - Choosing the Right Machine

Pressure Washers - Choosing the Right Machine

A Pressure washer offers an environmentally friendly solution to many difficult cleaning tasks.

There are two basic types of pressure washer. The domestic electric models that populate most garden sheds, and the heavy duty models which are usually petrol or diesel powered.

How pressure washers work.

All pressure washers work using the same basic principles. Water is taken into the machine and then pumped and forced through a small orifice (nozzle) at the end of a handheld lance. The nozzle causes resistance leading to a build up of pressure. The pump is designed to continue delivering the water at high pressure, giving you an effective cleaning tool.

Choosing a pressure washer.

The first step is to decide exactly what you need the pressure washer for and to identify the cleaning tasks you are likely to have. If you require a machine purely for washing the car, then you won’t be needing the same performance as a machine designed for cleaning large areas of paving.

There are two important factors when considering the performance of a particular model - pressure and flow rate.

Compare a pebble hitting a fence at 50 mph and a brick hitting the same fence at the same speed. Which would do the most damage? The same principle applies to the cleaning performance of pressure washers. High pressure is useless without adequate quantities (weight) of water. For maximum performance, you need a good flow rate combined with adequate pressure.

Electric pressure washers

If you want a pressure washer for a range of domestic tasks, i.e. cleaning the patio, driveway, walls, garden furniture, bins etc, and you want it to last, look for a machine with a flow rate of at least 8 litres per minute (500 litres per hour) combined with a pressure of around 120-140 bar (1740-2000 psi). Anything less than this and bigger cleaning jobs will become slow and frustrating.

The range from Stihl includes some decent pressure washers ideal for regular use. Also worth a look are the Bosch machines.

For one of the best selections of electric pressure washers on the Internet, including a huge range of Karcher machines, try Tooled Up.

Many of the cheap domestic models are really only designed for occasional use. The typical life span of these machines is often less than 50 hours use and the cost of any major repair will probably outweigh the initial cost of the machine; in effect they are throw-away machines. However, if cleaning the family car is your main priority then power and prolonged use are not major factors - go for one of the cheaper models - but don’t expect it to clean your driveway and patio each spring and last very long.

Expect to pay between £200-400 for a decent electric pressure washer able to withstand regular use. A better option for regular use may be something like the Ryobi petrol powered pressure washers.

Petrol powered pressure washers.

For the contractor or the property owner who requires something a little more robust, then the most sensible option is a petrol (or diesel) powered pressure washer. These machines are designed for more regular use than most electric models and they also offer far more in the way of cleaning efficiency. These machines have the obvious advantage of not being connected to the electrical mains which means you can work in all weathers, plus the working range is limited only by the length of the water supply hose.

When looking at petrol powered models, pay close attention to the flow rate of the machine. You will need to test the flow rate of your mains water supply to ensure it can keep pace with the flow rate of the machine. Simply run the outside tap into a container for 60 seconds and measure the quantity of water delivered. This will tell you the flow rate of your mains supply.

If the mains flow rate is less than the machine requirements, you will need to run the water supply into a large container (a plastic barrel or bin) from which the machine can draw the water via suction. This method allows a supply buffer and prevents the pump from running dry. Bear in mind you will have to keep an eye on the water level in the container and temporarily stop working when the water level gets low.

Cleaning options with a pressure washer.

Since the 1950s, air quality in the UK has improved quite substantially. In combination with a milder climate, this has led to an increase in moss and other growth on many exterior surfaces such as roofs, patios, driveways and garden furniture.

Many hard surfaces can be effectively cleaned using a pressure washer. It is not usually necessary to use chemicals unless you are dealing with grease, paint or oil. Patio cleaning is often carried out yearly at many properties simply because the build of algae and dirt occurs so quickly. Most patios and driveways need cleaning at least every two years to stay looking smart and to remove a slippery surface which can pose a safety risk.

Garden furniture can brought back to life as well. Teak and other hardwood items can benefit from a gentle clean with a pressure washer, just remember to re-oil the timber afterwards to maintain a deep colour. When cleaning any timber with a pressure washer, always use a fan nozzle and not the rotating 'turbo' nozzles which are designed for cleaning patios and concrete. Timber decking can also be cleansed of moss and algae, just remember to use a low pressure setting or keep the lance a couple of feet away from the surface otherwise you may damage the fibre of the wood.