Does your home’s vinyl siding need some TLC? Learn how to pressure wash a house with this simple guide.
Exterior surfaces naturally catch more dirt and grime than a home’s interior. Constant exposure to the elements can really do a number on surfaces like vinyl siding. Mildew, for instance, can take hold and spread quickly in wet conditions. Textured vinyl is more prone to collecting dirt. Light-colored siding shows dirt more than dark siding. Homes in certain locations can be a hot mess of dirt collection, such as newly developed neighborhoods, dusty roads, and subtropical climates.
Take a look at your siding. If it started out white and is now a sickly shade of brown or green, it needs a good washing. Years ago, that meant a full bucket of soap and water, a scrub brush and hose. Today, you’re lucky to have the option of pressure washing.
Pressure washers take a ton of time and effort out of exterior cleaning. However, they’re not for the faint of heart. If you feel better hiring someone for the job, keep in mind that the average cost of a professional pressure washing is $270, with some services running past $600. Hiring someone makes sense to a lot of homeowners, especially those who are elderly or disabled.
Renting a pressure washer is another option, but those will cost you up to $75-$100 per day at most home centers.
If you’re physically able and budget-conscious, you can purchase a good pressure washer for less than a few rentals and for less than one professional cleaning. The trick is finding the right one for your needs.
What kind of pressure washer do you need?
Power washers come in two basic types – gas and electric. For a one-story home, a good electric model will usually do the trick. For two-story homes and those with a lot of square footage, a gas pressure washer will serve you better.
Gas will give you more power, but you really only need 1300 to 1600 PSI for most exterior cleaning needs, including vinyl siding. Gas pressure washers usually range from 2000 – 4000 PSI and cost more than electric.
We’ve covered the pros and cons of both types in our power washer reviews. Go find one that suits your home and budget.
You’ve got the perfect pressure washer. Now what?
That siding isn’t going to clean itself, so it’s time to get down to business. Let’s dive into the step-by-step essentials of washing vinyl siding.
- Safety first – Pressure washers can create a HUGE amount of water pressure in one small stream than can severely injure you and your surfaces. We’ve covered all the safety basics in our Pressure Washer Beginner’s Guide. So study and learn before you even unbox the machine. Remember to:
- Always wear closed-toed shoes, goggles, and pants.
- Never ever touch the spray or aim it at anyone.
- Stay off ladders!
- Prep your work area – Set yourself up for success by making sure your home’s perimeter is protected and safe for you to move around. Consult our beginner’s guide for even more work area prep tips.
- Remove all tripping hazards and objects that can be damaged, including furniture, flower pots, toys, and tools.
- Cover vents and all exposed electrical outlets and light fixtures.
- Close any open windows.
- Cover plants so they won’t be damaged from the spray or detergent. For those you can’t cover, wet them down well and keep them wet to dilute any chemicals and prevent damage.
- If you have mildew – Depending on how bad it is, you may need to do a bleach treatment before you wash the whole house. Mix one part bleach with 10 parts water in a spray bottle. Spray over the mildew and let sit briefly. Rinse away with a sponge and clean water, a garden hose, or a low pressure setting on your pressure washer.
- Apply the detergent solution – If your vinyl is just dusty and has no set-in dirt or mildew, plain water may be enough. Most of the time, you’ll need soap to get a thorough cleaning. Make sure you’re using a detergent that’s made for pressure washers. Anything else could damage the machine and/or could be an environmental hazard. Try a non-toxic detergents. Follow the instructions in your machine’s owner manual to correctly add the detergent to the tank.
- Add the soap nozzle (usually black) to the end of the pressure cleaner wand.
- Apply the soap mixture with smooth, straight, overlapping strokes.
- Around windows and doors, try to spray from their edges at an outward angle to prevent water from getting trapped in the cracks.
- Work your way from the bottom to the top & try to hold the wand at a straight or slightly downward angle to prevent water from getting trapped under the siding. For a second story house, use a wand extension to achieve a good angle.
- For stubborn dirt, attach a rotating or scrub brush to the wand and scrub gently from the bottom up.
- Work in small sections – You don’t want the detergent to dry on any areas. So work in small sections of a few feet at a time. Windy conditions will dry it faster, so take that into account. If it’s drying too fast, keep rewetting the surface until you’ve let the soap sit long enough.
- Let the detergent sit for 2 – 3 minutes – While the soap is doing its thing breaking up the grime, switch your nozzle to a higher pressure (15 – 20 degree tip).
- Empty the cleaning solution from the machine and hold the trigger on the wand. Spray the ground until all traces of soap are gone.
- Now rinse from top to bottom. Hold the wand approximately 18 inches from the siding, being careful to hold the wand at a straight or slightly downward angle.
- If you see any stubborn dirt, try moving a little closer to the surface, but be careful that you don’t damage the siding. Use a scrub brush to remove anything that just won’t budge.
- Let the siding air dry – Start early on a warm sunny day so there’s enough sunlight to help dry the siding. For any shaded areas, tight corners, etc., try drying with a chamois.
How often should you clean your siding?
The general rule of thumb for cleaning vinyl siding is about once every 2 years. Cooler, wet climates may require once a year to keep mildew from getting out of control. For small areas that are prone to grow mildew and accumulate dirt, spray them every so often with a bleach solution, scrub with a brush or sponge, then rinse. You may be able to extend time between full pressure washer cleanings to 3 or 4 years with timely touchups.
When NOT to pressure wash vinyl siding
If you have a home that was built pre-1978 and hasn’t been renovated with new siding since then, the exterior could contain lead paint. Local building codes may require you to hire a professional to remove it. Pressure washing or sanding it away is a danger to the environment and yourself.
Same goes with asbestos. Pre-1970s homes sometimes have what looks like concrete panels at the base of the house. Those could contain asbestos. Disturbing it with pressure washing or any other activity could stir up asbestos fibers which are dangerous to breathe in.
If you have an older home that could contain either lead paint or asbestos, it’s worth getting it tested before you try to pressure wash any exterior surfaces.