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Grime Busters: DIYers Guide to Pressure Washers

Spring is the time of year when most of us fling open the windows and begin dusting furniture, scrubbing floors, painting walls, and clearing clutter from closets. But go outside and you’ll find plenty of outdoor surfaces that need a little spring-cleaning, too.

After a long, cold winter nearly everything outside seems to be covered with dirt, dust, decaying leaves, algae, grease, mud, or mold. Now you could attempt to clean these surfaces with a garden hose and scrub brush, but there’s a much faster, easier, more efficient method: use a pressure washer.

A pressure washer, sometimes called a power washer, is a compact water-blasting machine that can clean virtually any outdoor surface. There are many different sizes and styles of pressure washers, but they all work basically the same: A high-pressure pump takes water from a garden hose and forces it through a long hose that’s equipped with a trigger-operated spray wand. The wand accepts interchangeable spray tips that produce different spray patterns, ranging from a wide fan spray to a very narrow beam. And most models also have a reservoir that holds liquid detergents or degreasers.

Note, too, that all pressure washers are rated according to the pounds per square inch (PSI) of water pressure produced, and the gallons per minute (GPM) of water delivered. Now you might think that it’s best to go out and buy the biggest, most powerful pressure washer on the market, but that’s not true. The best approach is to first determine the type and size of surfaces you clean on a regular basis, and then shop for a pressure washer that can handle those cleaning jobs. Here’s a brief look at the three most common sizes of pressure washers.

Light-duty pressure washers are the smallest, most compact of all pressure washers. They have electric motors and are extremely quiet and lightweight. Electric pressure washers are also the easiest to use. Simply attach the garden hose, plug in the power cord and start spraying. This type of pressure washer (shown below) usually produces between 1,200 and 2,000 PSI and delivers between 1.0 to 2.0 GPM. In 10 minutes you can clean approximately 10 to 40 square feet of surface.

Light-duty pressure washers are well suited for cleaning patio furniture, cars, trucks, boats, stairs, short walkways, windows, small patios, and garage doors. Expect to pay about $100 to $350 for an electric light-duty pressure washer.

Medium-duty pressure washers are the most popular size sold to homeowners. They’re powered by a gasoline engine and feature a nice combination of power, speed, portability, and cleaning capability. Medium-duty pressure washers are typically rated between 2,100 and 2,600 PSI and between 2.2 to 2.3 GPM. In 10 minutes you can clean approximately 40 to 90 square feet.

With this size pressure washer (left) you can easily clean everything a light-duty pressure washer can, plus RVs, fences, garage floors, large decks and patios, retaining walls, driveways, lawn tractors, and long walkways. Medium-duty pressure washers cost between $250 and $500.

Heavy-duty pressure washers are professional-grade machines that are designed to clean the grimiest, greasiest surfaces. They’re driven by powerful gasoline engines and can produce between 2,650 and 4,200 PSI and deliver between 2.3 to 4.0 GPM. In 10 minutes you can easily clean 90 to 120 square feet. Caution: These are loud, powerful machines that can damage surfaces and harm people if used improperly. Be sure to read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions and precautions before using.

A heavy-duty pressure washer (right) can clean everything that a light-duty and medium-duty machine can, plus two-story houses, farm equipment, oil and grease stains, and large, multi-level decks. Expect to pay about $550 to $1,500 for a heavy-duty pressure washer.

If you’re still not sure which size pressure washer to buy, go to a local tool-rental dealer and rent a light- or medium-duty machine. Use it for a weekend and by Sunday night you’ll have a pretty good idea if it meets your needs.

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