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Published: Dec 18, 2022 15 min read
Courtesy of Generac

There’s no better tool for eliminating grime than a pressure washer. And while to some degree cleaning is always a chore, blasting away dirt and muck with a pressure washer can incredibly satisfying.

A pressure washer essentially super powers your regular garden hose thanks to a motorized pump that accelerates water flow. This, along with the included pressure hose and a nozzle that narrows down the water's exit area, results in a jet-like stream that can remove anything from recent dirt on tires to years-old chewing gum on a sidewalk.

Pressure washers can be used for light tasks. Most have a small soap tank; through pressure and a specific nozzle, the soap gets pulled into the hose and is pushed out along with the water. This works great for cleaning garages, decks and, most commonly, cars.

Nevertheless, they’re also designed for more demanding endeavors like removing oil stains from a driveway, scraping off mold from a roof, and even stripping paint from walls.

But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. As satisfying and fun as it can be to see dirt erased from your car or your deck get a fresh facelift, it’s important to understand just how powerful pressure washers can be. If you don't use them properly, injuries and property damage can occur.

Using too powerful a machine, or a nozzle with too much pressure, can lead to accidentally removing paint off a wall or car, removing the coating on shingles, or the grout between tiles. Watch out with electronics too, or anything involving cables (such as your car’s engine or a BBQ grill) as the fine pressurized stream could damage the insides and render them useless or cause accidents.

Finally, watch out for your own body. It’s not an urban myth: pressure washers are strong enough to break the skin and cause severe injuries.

To control the power depending on what you wash, some machines have a valve to adjust pressure, and on most you can control the force by changing nozzles and dissipating or focusing the water flow.

Pressure washer buying guide

Here are some things to consider both when you're shopping for a pressure washer — and when the time comes to actually use it.

• Pounds per square inch (PSI). This is the most common measurement of force, so naturally, pressure washers use this to quantify and advertise power. The higher the number, the more powerful the machine, or the more “stripping power” its water stream will have. Residential/consumer pressure washers range from 1,000 to 3,000 PSI; commercial washers can reach up to 7,000 PSI.

• Gallons per minute (GPM). GPM measures water flow, or how much water a machine actually pushes out by the minute. A more powerful machine will be able to pump more water through the washer’s narrow pressure hose. This is what gives the washer its rinsing power. The more water it pumps out, the more dirt and grime it can break down and push off, and the more water and soap you’ll have around to actually clean and disinfect the surfaces. GPM can vary from 1.0 to 2.7 on residential machines, and go all the way up to 5.0 on commercial-grade models.

• Cleaning units (CU). Cleaning units is an overall rating of a pressure washer’s cleaning prowess. Though you won’t see it officially mentioned in product listings, it’s used by experts (and reviewers) to evaluate washers’ overall capabilities. It’s calculated by multiplying the PSI with the GPM. However, when choosing a washer, you still need to think about PSI and GPM individually, depending on the use. PSI will provide stripping power, while GPM delivers rinsing power. If you rely more on detergent, you have more use for GPM than PSI. If you just want to peel dirt off the wall or floor, you can do with less GPM but more PSI. The CU is just a simpler way to compare pressure washers’ general performance.

• Nozzle tips. Nozzle tips are nearly as important as the actual cleaning units when washing any surface. Nozzles determine pressure and stripping capacity by obstructing the area water is allowed to come out of. Common tips are 0°, 15°, 25° and 40°. These degrees measure the water stream’s coverage.

By using a 0° tip, you can peel away paint (or skin if you accidentally spray yourself), but it will cover a very small area. As you go higher, the less pressure the water exerts, but the more area it covers. You’ll also sometimes find 65° nozzles, mainly called “soap nozzles,” which have very light force and build up pressure inside the hose, thus pulling detergent from the tank. Some models also come with a turbo nozzle, which is the most effective: it has a 0° jet too, but it rotates in order to cover more area with more pressure.

• Power source. Like many other power tools, most pressure washers use gas as fuel. This makes sense: gas still provides the most power for heavy duty and commercial-grade tasks, and it’ll keep you up and running during outages, emergencies, or jobs far from electricity.

However, there are electric pressure washers as well. They tend to be less powerful but still forceful enough to provide deep cleaning. There’s some benefit to these as well: there’s no refilling needed and they don’t produce emissions.

Finally, there are the lithium-ion battery-powered models. They’re even weaker than corded electric pressure washers (most being well below 1,000 PSI), but they are certainly portable and convenient.

Power washer or pressure washer: What's the difference?

The terms "power washer" and "pressure washer" tend to be used interchangeably. You’ll find that our selections for the best power washers are simply pressure washers equipped with water boilers.

Be aware that anyone using a power washer (or pressure washers) should take sensible precautions. For one thing, pressure washers themselves can be dangerous because of how powerful their jet streams can be. Potential injuries can be more severe when you add scalding water into the mix.

Also, using streams of hot water to wash objects that have sealing agents or glue, like windows, could damage them. Washing cars with very hot water can likewise be risky for the seals; and, in some cases, the window glass could even crack.

Fortunately, there are usually ways to adjust these devices to get the temperature and controls just right for the task at hand. Hot water pressure washers can be used without heating the water at all, and some have simple dials to raise or lower the temperature.

Before starting any job, do some research on your power washer’s capability and whatever it is you plan on cleaning, to determine whether it’s safe to proceed. And when considering which power washer to buy, it’s important to think about how you’ll use it, and perhaps pick one that’s versatile enough to safely handle many different cleaning situations.

Best pressure washers

1. Best overall: Ryobi 3600PSI Honda GX200 Gas Pressure Washer

Courtesy of RYOBI

PSI: 3600 │GPM: 2.5 │Total CUs: 9000 │Engine warranty: 3 years

Retailing for $700, the Ryobi 3600PSI Honda GX200 is definitely pricey, but having both Ryobi and Honda in its name is a big plus. Like other quality pressure washer manufacturers, Ryobi — one of the best known brands in the business — uses Honda engines, which are known for reliability and longevity. In addition, this model also offers a three-year warranty and a durable triplex pump (over 10 times the lifespan of the more common axial pump).

Considering all this, the model’s 3,600 PSI almost feels like a bonus. While this might not sound like much, it’s more than the majority of washers around the $700 mark. Its 2.5 GPM leaves a little to be desired, but it’s not low either, with most of its direct competition only reaching 2.7 and providing less power and less durability.

This 3,600PSI model includes a 35-foot hose and five nozzles (including a not-so-common 5° tip). It doesn’t have a turbo nozzle in the package, and its handle is close to the ground, so you’ll have to bend every time you want to move it.

2. Editor’s pick: Simpson Clean Machine 61083 Gas Pressure Washer

Courtesy of Amazon

PSI: 3400 │GPM: 2.5 │Total CUs: 8500 │Engine warranty: 2 years

Simpson has been making pressure washers for over 50 years. They’re known as trustworthy, durable, and offer a solid two-year warranty. The Clean Machine features a maintenance-free pump. This is important for a few reasons. Pumps are an integral part of the washer, and they often last a shorter period than the motor itself due to overheating, corrosion, or mineral buildup. Simpson addresses some of this with its proprietary pump technology, which is designed to prevent leaks, lubrication failure, and unreachable buildup, resulting in less constant lubrication or cleaning.

Most of the unit, along with its frame, is powder-coated to avoid rust, which can be a concern when dealing with water. This machine is tough and durable, but most importantly: it is powerful. For only $318, you get 3,400 PSI of force, more than any of its competitors at that price range, and a very good 2.5 GPM. Although there are some similarly priced models with slightly higher water flow, it’s hard to beat the Clean Machine’s total cleaning units.

It comes with a 25-foot abrasion-resistant hose, and four nozzles — unfortunately, no turbo is included. However, be aware that it's a bit awkward to move around, as the machine has to be tilted forward.

3. Best for low prices: Sun Joe SPX2598-MAX Electric Pressure Washer

Courtesy of Amazon

PSI: 2000 │GPM: 1.6 │Total CUs: 3200 │Engine warranty: 2 years

When all you want to do is wash the dirt off from your driveway or your car tires, a simple electric washer will do the trick. The Sun Joe SPX2598-MAX, which you can often find for less than $100, offers a whole lot for its price. At 2,000 PSI, it can easily take care of most tasks around the house, without gas or emissions. The vertical, suitcase-like design makes it easy to store, while its mere 17 lbs. make it a breeze to move. There are only three nozzles, but they are very easy to attach and remove due to their quick-connect design. The hose length is below-average (20 feet), and it’s housed in all plastic, so it’s important to not leave it out in the sun too long.

Overall, though, the Sun Joe offers both convenience and ease of use:. If you’re looking for a no-frills washer that does the job and is easy to store and maneuver (and is easy on your wallet), take a close look at the SPX2598-MAX.

4. Best electric pressure washer: Greenworks GPW2200 Electric Pressure Washer

Courtesy of Amazon

PSI: 2200 │GPM: 2.3 │Total CUs: 5290 │Engine warranty: 10 years

Electric pressure washers aren’t as powerful as gas models. You won’t often find electric washers with more than 2,500 PSI, and most don’t go over 2.0 GPM — when they do, they can cost more than $1,000.

However, at 2,200 PSI and 2.3 GPM, the Greenworks GPW2200’s power is comparable to gas-powered washers within its price range. For under $300, and often found at $250, it's competitively priced, especially considering the 10-year warranty on the motor, a far longer period than any other pressure washer, gas or electric. The rest of the unit has a three-year warranty, which is still a bit longer than the competition’s average of two years. It also has a brushless motor (which aids in longevity due to less friction) and voltage adjustment for each task.

This Greenworks washer might not be the most powerful, but for those worried about fumes, keeping gasoline around the house and overall environmental health, it’s a worthy option that doesn’t skimp on cleaning power. The package brings a 25-foot hose and five nozzles, including a turbo tip.

5. Best handheld pressure washer: WORX WG620 Hydroshot Cordless Portable Power Cleaner

Courtesy of Amazon

PSI: 320 │GPM: 0.5 │Total CUs: 160 │Engine warranty: 3 years

Battery-powered tools have made big tech leaps in recent years, and that includes pressure washers. Highly competitive pressure washer brands like Ryobi have a powerful, 1,500 PSI battery-powered model, albeit for a hefty $500 price tag. WORX, on the other hand, has been consistently offering and upgrading the Hydroshot series: handheld pressure washers that combine the convenience of battery power with a comparatively accessible price, ranging from $80 to $200.

The WG620, sometimes on sale for around $100 with the battery, reaches 320 PSI; this doesn’t sound like much when compared to gas or electric machines, but that’s actually 5 to 15 times more powerful than a regular garden hose, depending on your home’s water pressure. That’s a pretty welcome upgrade for cleaning day. Then there are the undeniable perks: it occupies very little space, you can move with it easily and, of course, it has rechargeable and removable batteries. The nozzles are also attached in a showerhead-like format, so you can just turn it to change degrees.

Sure, you do still need to connect it to a hose, but the cons are easily outweighed by the pros: no cables, no fumes, and no trips to the gas station when the power goes out.

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