Looking for the Best Pressure Washer? Our 2020 reviews and buying guide are a great place to start!

updated: August 13, 2020

Are you in the market for the best pressure washer to meet all your home cleaning needs? Our detailed power washer buying guide is here to help get homeowners on the right track. But before rushing out to make a purchase, it’s a good idea to know what pressure washers are, and what they can do for you.

Man has been washing his home.
Pressure Washer will save you hours of labor.

Window shutters, patio furniture, driveways, decks are all magnets for dirt, dust, and grime. They only get dirtier by the day, and removing the built-up grime can be back-breaking work. A pressure washer can save you a ton of the hassle, time, and elbow grease that come with other methods of removal. They’re powerful enough to blast away days, weeks, months, and even years of accumulated grime in a matter of moments.

Pressure washers, also known as pressure cleaners, power washers, and jet washers, are powerful machines that use water at extreme pressures to clean. Even a basic pressure washer is powerful enough to land any unfortunate person in its way in the emergency room! As such, caution is not only a recommendation, it’s a necessity.

They’re deep-cleaning, dirt-demolishing beasts that will save you hours of labor. This is the heavy artillery you bring out when you deal with stubborn, accumulated grime. There are two primary types you can choose from – electric pressure washers and gas pressure washers. They ultimately do the same jobs. So, what makes each one unique? Let’s find out!

How to determine power ratings (PSI, GPM and CU)

Pressurized water cleans the dirt.

CU, PSI, GPM are essential acronyms when you are shopping for a pressure washer.

  • PSI stands for Pounds Per Square Inch
  • GPM stands for Gallons Per Minute
  • CU stands for Cleaning Units

Most homeowners tend to focus on PSI as if it was the most important factor. However, that’s not the best measure of a pressure washer’s overall efficiency. The most effective way to determine the overall efficacy of a pressure washer is by measuring the unit’s CU, or Cleaning Units, which is a number calculated by PSI times GPM.

Man cleans a wall using Pressure Washer with a soap.

Here’s the simple formula to remember:
PSI x GPM = CU

PSI is the machine’s pushing force, while GPM refers to the water flow rate. A higher GPM means greater water usage. With an ordinary garden hose, the PSI is low while the GPM is high, yet the opposite is true with pressure washers.

For example, if a pressure washer has a PSI of 1500 and a GPM of 1.6, the CU is 1500 x 1.6 = 2400. Compare this to a standard garden hose, which has a PSI of 60 and a GPM of 8 (480 CU). You’re getting five times less cleaning while using five times more water! That’s not efficient at all!

Any device that achieves a higher CU score, particularly those with a lower GPM, is more efficient because it uses less water overall. That said, if you want to clean concrete or other tough-to-clean areas, ensure your pressure washer has a PSI of at least 2000. If you only plan on cleaning patio furniture and the like, 1500 PSI should be plenty.

Electric vs. Gas Pressure Washers

Man cleans a fence.
Electric Pressure Washers

Electric pressure washers, as the name implies, are powered by electricity. They’re perfect for routine household cleaning, taking on lighter-duty jobs such as vinyl siding like a champion. They’re also relatively low maintenance machines overall. However, they do require a constant connection to the power outlet, limiting how and where you’re able to use them.

The pros and cons of electric pressure washers include:

PROS

    Electric pressure washer PROS:

  • Cheaper than gas machines on average
  • Avoid excessive fuel costs
  • No emissions
  • Low maintenance
  • Lighter and quieter
  • Don’t require winterizing
Electric Icon
CONS

    Electric pressure washer CONS:

  • Less powerful
  • Longer cleaning time
  • Cord limits cleaning area
  • Attachments and components commonly made from plastic
Electric Icon

Man washes his van.
Gas Pressure Washer

Gas-powered machines offer the greatest cleaning capability among pressure washers and cleaners. They’re designed for heavy-duty projects, such as cleaning farm and industrial equipment. They’re also great at tackling general purpose jobs such as cleaning concrete, driveways, decks, and more.

PROS

    Gas pressure washer PROS:

  • Ideal for tougher buildup such as tree sap, old chewing gum, grease, etc
  • With no power cord to worry about they can be easily maneuvered
  • Tend to have metal nozzles and wands, making them more durable
Gas Icon
CONS

    Gas pressure washer CONS:

  • Much noisier than their electric counterparts
  • More expensive on average
  • Higher-maintenance devices
  • Must be winterized
  • Increased risk of etching, splintering, and gouging wooden surfaces.
  • Can’t be used indoors at all
Gas Icon

What’s the deal with nozzles and degrees?

The angle and focused intensity of a pressure washer water jet are vital to the machine’s performance. Both are, in part, controlled by which specialized nozzle is attached to the end of the wand. In fact, the right nozzle may be more important than a high CU score. Regardless of your washers CU score, the correct nozzle used properly will easily get the job done.

Different brands sell different types of nozzles, with some offering a single all-in-one nozzle. The all-in-one nozzles are adjustable and can be rotated to get the desired settings. Most provide a set of color-coded interchangeable nozzles with five different types:

Pressure Washer Nozzles.
  1. Red Nozzle – A zero-degree nozzle, restricting water to a single pin-pointed jet. It is meant for only the hardest cleaning jobs. In fact, you may never want to use it at all. Consumer reports recommend against their use to avoid the risk of significant injury or property damage.
  2. Yellow Nozzle – A 15-degree nozzle that diffuses water over a larger area, making it less damaging. However, it’s still powerful enough for heavy-duty stripping and cleaning.
  3. Green Nozzle – The 25-degree nozzle is the most commonly used, and it’s excellent for general cleaning.
  4. White Nozzle – The 40-degree nozzle diffuses the water force over an even larger area than the Green and Yellow tips. If you need to clean some delicate or semi-damaged surfaces, this is a good place to start. It’s even suitable for cleaning glass, provided you are not holding it too close.
  5. Black Nozzle – A 65-degree nozzle commonly known as the soap nozzle. With most pressure washers, this is the nozzle needed when you want to apply soap.

What can you clean with a pressure washer?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, we need to first mention safety to all homeowners. The high pressure water coming from a pressure washer can easily damage delicate, fragile surfaces, such as skin! Never, ever point the spray at yourself or anyone else, or it will result in serious injury.

With that out of the way, the question remains – what can you clean with a pressure washer? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it’ll give you a better idea of what a good pressure washer is and what it can do for you. Keep in mind these surfaces are listed in order of pressure needed, from lighter duty to heavier duty:

Pressure Washer has been used to clean a bicycle.
  • Garbage cans
  • Motorcycles
  • Patio furniture
  • Bicycles
  • Garden Tools
  • Cars, trucks, and vans
  • Lawnmowers
  • Grills
  • Pressure Washer has been used to clean a patio furniture.
  • Boats
  • Gutters
  • Vinyl siding
  • Fences
  • Swimming pools / hot tubs
  • Brick walls / stairs
  • Decks & patios
  • Concrete driveways

Some interior surfaces, such as ceramic tiles, can be cleaned with a pressure washer as well. However, you should only ever use an electric pressure washer for this purpose, or anything else indoors. Remember, gas-powered washers have carbon monoxide exhaust which can be harmful or fatal.

Power Washer Engines

The motor in an electric pressure washer can be universal, induction, or water-cooled. The universal motor is a cheaper option, while also being portable and lightweight. This makes universal motor pressure washers perfect for smaller jobs such as cleaning patio furniture.

A collage illustrating various engine types of pressure washers.

Induction motor washers tend to be durable and quiet, offering decent performance at a reasonable cost. Water-cooled pressure washers are incredibly reliable and usually have an extended motor life. However, this quality comes at a cost, as they’re the most expensive option available.

Gas pressure washers, on the other hand, are powered by more powerful engines, very similar to what you might find on a lawnmower. The size of the compression chamber of an engine determines its power, which are measured in CCs, or cubic centimeters. As a general rule-of-thumb, the bigger the chamber, the greater the force produced.

There are two main engine variants found in gas pressure washers buying guides, Direct Drive and Belt Drive:

  • Direct Drive – Compact and affordable, but continuous use for over four hours a day can lead to overheating. They also tend to vibrate a lot and are quite loud.
  • Belt Drive – Large, and can be used continuously for hours without overheating. The belt helps to absorb vibrations, helping reduce wear and thereby extending the engine’s life.

Soaps & detergents

While you can certainly use a pressure washer without any surface cleaner for lighter jobs, soap and detergent have their uses and can easily help speed up the process. While not always the case, soaps tend to be made from natural products such as plant and animal fats, making them safe to the touch. Detergents, on the other hand, tend to usually be made from man-made chemicals.

Briggs & Stratton Multi-Purpose Cleaner

Different pressure washers have different methods of dispensing soap. Some have built-in dispensers, while others have them attached to the hose. A downstream detergent injector is easier on the pump because it joins with the water after it exits the pump, reducing wear over time. Be sure to read your owner’s manual to find what cleaning agents work best for your washer to avoid any accidental damage or premature wear.

Depending on the job, keep an eye for cleaners with these ingredients. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, merely a starting point:

  • Vinegar– windows, door handles
  • Citric acid– concrete driveways, wood decks
  • Oxalic acid– rust removal
  • Bleach– sanitizing and disinfecting
  • Sodium hypochlorite– stain removal, disinfectant
  • Sodium hydroxide (caustic)– removes grease, oil, etc
  • Ammonia– cleans glass and stainless steel

Hot or cold water?

Most pressure washers on the market use cold water straight from your garden hose. While there are a few hot-water pressure-washers available, they are not affordable options by any means. Even on the more reasonable end of the spectrum, a decent heated pressure washer comes with a hefty price tag. So while hot water does clean more efficiently than cold, we generally don’t recommend a hot-water power-washer for general home usage.

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Man cleans his car using electric pressure washer.

Electric pressure washers are a great option for almost any homeowner. They are very capable of removing the typical grime from a wide range of surfaces. They are powerful enough to clean lawn equipment, vehicles, patio furniture, gutters, driveways, decks, and more.

Electric pressure washers generally have a PSI range of 1200 to 1700. In comparison, gas pressure washers tend to have a PSI range of 2000 up to 2800 PSI.

If you want the most efficient electric pressure washer available, make sure you purchase one with a water-cooled motor, as well as high PSI and high GPM.

Electric pressure washers are lightweight and relatively easy to carry around. Since they are less powerful, they are also less likely to cause damage to property. However, do keep in mind that pointing any pressure washer water-jet at anyone will cause serious injury.

PROS

    Advantages of electric pressure washers:

  • Lightweight and easier to handle
  • Quieter than gas, especially those with brushless induction motors
  • Suitable for indoor use since they do not produce exhaust
  • Easy to store, and doesn’t need to be winterized
  • Cheaper than gas on average
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CONS

    The disadvantages of electric pressure washers:

  • Generally less powerful
  • Limited cleaning range (maximum tends to be around 50 feet)
  • Accessories typically made of plastic, making them less durable
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Orange extension cord.

While some people use extension cords to increase their cleaning reach, most manufacturers don’t recommend their use. Also, any time you’re pairing electricity and water there’s a risk of electrocution if everything isn’t used properly.

Additionally, an extension cord may shorten the life of your pressure washer and even void the warranty of some models. Be sure to always consult your owner’s manual before using an extension cord for warnings and proper usage guidelines.

If you MUST use an extension cord, make sure it’s at least 12 gauge wire plugged into a GFCI outlet with an intact grounding pin. However, if all you need are a few more feet to work with, it’s much safer to simply use a hose or wand extension.

Our comprehensive review list for 2020 focuses on the very best models available on the market today. We base our reviews and comparisons on the following criteria, ensuring you have the tools you need to make the best decision possible:

    3 electric power washer models from the Karcher
  • Price
  • PSI / GPM / CU (cleaning power)
  • Warranty
  • Weight
  • Extra nozzles (onboard storage is a big plus)
  • Plastic or stainless wand
  • Wheels – larger and pneumatic wheels provide the best stability and maneuverability
  • Plastic or brass couplings for hose attachment
  • Cord and hose length – minimum 20-foot hose and 30-foot cord
  • Hose and cord storage

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Man cleans a porch with a pressure washer.

Gas pressure washers are heavy-duty machines, and are not suitable for indoor use. Powered by combustion engines, the larger the compression chamber, the more power these pressure washers generate. Gas-powered washers generally have a PSI range of 2000 to 2800, but can reach as high as 4000 PSI. Gas pressure washers are favored over electric washers for heavier-duty cleaning jobs because of this massive boost in power.

Gas pressure washers are so powerful that they can skillfully remove extremely stubborn residue such as tree sap, chewing gum, or even old paint. They’re best suited for use on tough surfaces such as driveways, decks, walls, etc. However, the extra power also comes with extra risk, as these machines have the potential to be very dangerous.

Contractors and professional handymen tend to prefer these units over electric models, as they don’t require a power outlet and typically offer significantly higher PSI required for heavy-duty jobs. Gas pressure washers are not just for the professionals, however. Over the years, the performance gap has been closing between cheaper gas washers and expensive electric washers. If you’re already familiar with how to care for gas lawn mowers or weed whackers, you’ll easily be able to handle the maintenance needs of a gas pressure washer.

PROS

    Advantages of gas pressure washers:

  • Not powered by electricity, giving them unlimited reach
  • Capable of cleaning large areas rapidly
  • Incredibly versatile
  • Ideal for cleaning tough stains and surfaces
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CONS

    Disadvantages of gas pressure washers:

  • Commercial models are more expensive on average. Industrial models are even more costly
  • Not suitable for indoor use due to carbon monoxide emissions
  • Very loud and heavy
  • Must be winterized before storing
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Gas pressure washers use engines to power their water pump, with two main types of engine/pump systems – direct-drive and belt-drive.

Direct-drive is more affordable and compact. However, they are prone to overheating after extended use, generally anything over four hours a day. They also tend to vibrate more and are often much louder.

Belt drive concept.

Belt-drive systems tend to be bulkier, resulting in a heavier, more expensive washer. The belt, however, extends the life of the engine by mitigating vibration and reducing RPM. It can run at a lower temperature and won’t overheat with extended use, easily running up to eight hours in a single day!

While most gas power washers operate with cold water, you can find hot-water gas power-washers that heat water up to 140 degrees F. This high temperature is really useful in breaking up tough dirt and buildup. However, these units tend to be extremely expensive, often starting at over $1500.

Our 2020 review presents some of the best models currently on the market. We’ll focus on some of the most crucial criteria so you can better find the one that fits your project needs and budget:

  • Price
  • PSI / GPM / CU (cleaning power)
  • Warranty
  • Weight & carriage frame
  • Gas models.
  • Extra nozzles (on board storage is a big plus)
  • Plastic or stainless wand
  • Wheels – larger and pneumatic wheels provide the best stability and maneuverability
  • Plastic or brass couplings for hose attachment
  • Cord and hose length – minimum 20-foot hose and 30-foot cord
  • Hose and cord storage

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How to Use a Pressure Washer Safely and Efficiently

Nothing beats pressure washing years’ worth of grime and build-up from a dirty surface. From mildew to tree sap and even old chewing gum, a pressure washer is your best friend in removing these stubborn sticky messes. Pressure washers are gas or electric powered machines that rely on water pressure to produce the cleaning power needed for such dirty jobs.

They do this by pumping water through a very narrow hose and wand, which increases in pressure the narrower it gets. On the wand is a hand-squeezed trigger that activates the jet. Some pressure washer wands feature an adjustable nozzle, while others have separate detachable nozzles. Both types allow for more control over the angle and pressure needed for different tasks.

Regardless of what kind you have, it’s important to remember how dangerous these machines can be. Be sure you carefully follow any and all of the safety rules and guidelines offered in your devices owners manual. In general, here are a list of things that you should do and you should not do while using a pressure washer:

Man wearing protective boots while using pressure washer.
The Do’s and Don’ts
PROS

    Do’s:

  • Wear sturdy footwear, long pants, and goggles
  • Start with the widest spray angle
  • Hold the nozzle at least two feet away from the surface, only getting closer if needed
  • Turn off the engine and drain excess water before changing your nozzle
  • Perform a test on a small, unseen patch to ensure the surface is suitable
  • Always read the manufacturer’s manual
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CONS

    Don’ts:

  • Never point it towards anyone, including yourself and animals
  • Never use extension cords
  • Never use your washer closer than six inches from the surface you’re cleaning. It can quickly puncture your car’s tire, damage the paint, put holes in wood, etc
  • Never leave the engine running for long without pressing the trigger, or it will overheat
  • Never pressure wash from a ladder
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General Steps

To ensure that you are using your power washer efficiently, follow the tips below:

Man prepares the pressure washer for cleaning job.
  • Make sure you sweep off any debris or dirt lying on the surface
  • Securely connect the water inlet and the garden hose
  • Check for any leaks in the hose connection
  • Release air pressure from the wand by squeezing the trigger
  • Ensure that the faucet is turned on fully
  • Turn on the machine. For the gas machines, pull the starter cord
  • For about a minute, let the water run through the machine. This will prime the device properly. However, never leave the washer idle for more than three minutes or the engine can overheat
  • Use a low-pressure nozzle first and work your way up later
  • Ensure you are holding the wand with both hands while your feet remain firmly on the ground
  • Start at least two feet away from the cleaning surface. Hold the wand at a 45-degree angle and move in a side-by-side motion

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Author
Alex owns a home improvement and restoration company in Vancouver. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management from Saskatchewan Polytechnic and is a NARI Certified Remodeler. His team does a wide range of home restoration products, both interior and exterior.
image description Comments
Siya
July 22, 2020 at 11:57 am

Hey, such a great article you had posted. I think that would help me a lot to choose the best pressure washer. Thanks for sharing this post. Keep posting like this. Good wishes.

Denese R. Rutledge
March 15, 2020 at 2:33 pm

Great article, Thanks for writing about the best Pressure Washer. Reading your article I know a lot of new things and I also chose which item I need to buy.

image descriptionAdd comment

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