There's a long list of cleaning jobs outside that can be made easier with a pressure washer. While all of these jobs can be tackled with chemical cleaners and elbow grease, a pressure cleaner does them in a fraction of the time and with much less effort.
It connects to the garden tap (or a bucket or water tank) and reduces the water flow while amplifying the pressure, which is then released in a hard jet when you pull the trigger. “A pressure washer provides 50 times more power and uses 80 per cent less water than a garden hose,” says Jo Clark, marketing manager for Karcher. Plus, while most machines include a detergent dispenser, many jobs can be tackled with water alone.
The most common uses for a pressure washer include cleaning cars and windows, outdoor furniture, eaves, driveways and decks – just make sure you choose the right setting to avoid breaking a window or gouging into the deck. “We suggest starting with a soft setting and working up, depending on the task,” says Jo. “Soft pressure settings are suitable for timber surfaces; medium for cars, trucks and 4WDs; and high settings are for hard surfaces such as concrete and masonry areas.”
Use with care on painted surfaces, as they can damage the paint – but this also makes them fantastic as a paint-prepping tool. Use a gentler setting and a fan nozzle to wash the surface in preparation for painting, turning it up to a higher setting and using a tighter spray to lift flaking paint.
Power washers are measured in psi, which stands for pounds (of force) per square inch. Most domestic electric models offer between 1600 and 2600psi, which is adequate for most household jobs.
Electric models are quieter and more compact than petrol versions. Petrol-fuelled washers are handy where access to power is tricky, and are also generally more powerful than electric, with a psi of more than 3000. They're also a better option if the machine will see frequent or extended periods of use. The size of the zone you want to clean, and how often, is also a factor.
For small areas that you'll only clean occasionally, a model with a brush motor should be sufficient. For larger areas, opt for one powered by a brushless (induction) motor; though generally pricier than the alternative, they are more suited to heavier use and will last longer.
If portability is a factor, a mobile outdoor cleaner like the Karcher ‘OC 3' runs on a battery, sprays water from its own little tank and is small enough to pack in the car. But the trade-off is power; a washer this size is designed for boots and bikes, rather than paths and patios.
If you won't be using the washer for anything more challenging than spritzing loose dirt from the patio or gutters, a water jet hose attachment might be adequate. This attaches to the garden hose and increases the tap pressure from approximately 50psi to around 250psi, enough for light cleaning jobs.
Washers usually come with a few nozzles and brushes, but extra ones can be bought, such as a soft brush for cleaning the car, bike or boots. Before starting, test the washer in an inconspicuous area, particularly when using on less durable surfaces like wood or a soft stone.
Direct the spray at a 45-degree angle and at the maximum distance to clean the surface without damaging it; start further away and move in slowly towards the surface as needed. Once finished, turn off then disconnect the power, turn off the tap, squeeze the trigger to release any pressure in the hose, then detach from the water supply.
Tip: Standing on a ladder to use a pressure washer is a big no-no. To tackle jobs at a height, invest in an extension kit.
Exercise caution to avoid injury. Wear closed shoes and glasses or goggles (in case debris shoots back at you). Hearing protection is recommended when using a more powerful model, as they can get quite loud.
Be particularly cautious when using pencil nozzles, which direct the water in a concentrated jet, as this can cause as much damage to skin as it does to paintwork or soft wood. A good safety measure is to always use the widest spray angle that will get the job done.
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