How to use a Pressure Washer Safely and Effectively

Find out how to use a pressure washer around your home. Learn about preparation, applying cleaning solution, which nozzles to use, techniques, and safety tips.

A high psi washer mechanism can be a fantastic tool to speed clean and remove tough stains from your home’s siding, deck, and walkway. A power cleaner may seem pretty simple to use; you just turn it on, point and spray, right? However there are several important things you can do to ensure that you are using your machine as efficiently and safely as possible.

A high intensity cleaner contraption can fire out a stream of water that is 100 times greater than your 40 psi (pounds per square inch) garden hose. A pressure washer can easily tear wood fibers and even drill a hole in a wood board. Nobody wants a hole in their deck or siding from improperly using their force washer device. So you need to be careful when you use one.

According to US Consumer Product Safety Commission each year over 3,100 people are forced to go to the hospital because of power washer injuries. Some of the injuries include lacerations to the fingers and hands, thermal burns, back and shoulder strains, and chemical burns to the eyes. There have also been a few fatalities due to electrical shocks.

Take Precautions before you start your Machine

Before you start power cleaning you need to review your owner’s manual and make sure you understand all of the safety precautions listed there. Every make and model is different. Then always conduct a quick inspection of the machine to make sure all of the hoses are connected properly and there is no damage or defects in the plug or electric cord, if you are using an electric model.

If you have a gas powered machine then be sure to check your spark plugs each spring. Change out any old ones and make sure there are none that are eroded. This will help to ensure that the engine will start easily and it will make your washer more fuel efficient.

Form your Plan of Attack

A few tips use on pressure washer

You should do some basic planning before starting your job, just as you do for any home project. If you are going to be scrubbing your deck then you should try to start close to your house and work away. This should help to prevent deck dirt and debris from getting blow against your house and potentially damaging your siding and just generally making a mess.

If you are going to be power scrubbing your siding, then you want to work from the top of your house to the bottom because the dirty water will flow down the sides. This will also help you to avoid making streak marks in the surface where you’ve cleaned. The same gravity flow principal applies to your driveway. Try to work downhill, blowing dirt and debris away from your home and out to the street where the drains can take it away.

You should also protect any areas that could be damaged either on your deck or on your home. This includes things like light fixtures or windows that could be broken, or vents where water could flow. You’ll want to seal up your vents and try to cover up and protect your windows. Light fixtures can be removed if you need to. Also be aware of air conditioners, heat pumps, and open electrical areas or outlets and try to cover these up if they are in the line of fire.

Decide on Soaps and Cleaners

A Few Tips On How To Use Your Power Pressure Washer Cleaner Safely and Effectively

No matter what you’re cleaning, using some type of cleaning solution can help make the process much easier. This is especially true on dirty decks. When you use cleaning solution, you don’t have to use as much pressure on your machine and it helps make it easier to do a nice, even, professional looking cleaning job.

Many pressure washer models have buckets for you to add cleaning solution. Some electric models will even have two buckets so that you can add two types of cleaning agents. Other models may have a tube that you connect to the machine and then place inside another bucket of cleaning solution. The machine will then draw the cleaning solution out of the bucket and shoot it out onto the surface you are cleaning.

Whichever method your model uses, cleaning solutions can be great for softening up dirt and grease before you start with the heavy power washing. Most machines will come with a special tip or adjustable nozzle that will allow you to gently spray the cleaning solution onto the surface. You don’t want to spray it at high pressure because it will just bounce off the surface and have little to no effect. You need to have the cleaning solution soak in a bit. I like to leave it on my deck for fifteen minutes or so to give it a chance to work before I start my pressure cleaning.

Don’t use bleach as a cleaning agent as it can damage parts of your machine. Also do not use hot water in a cold operating machine, thinking that it will clean faster. It will only cause damage to your washer.

Pick Your Wand and Attachments

Many heavy psi clean-up mechanisms will come with different wand or nozzle attachments. Others may just have one wand with an adjustable tip. I like to have multiple tips to choose from that are task specific. An adjustable wand is nice but I often have a hard time getting it exactly where I want it. You also have to the option to go out and buy some extra tips if your washer doesn’t include the one you need.

The tips work pretty simply. The narrower the opening in the hole, the greater the pressure that is built up, and the more power is produced. The nozzle tips are intuitively color coded making them pretty easy to identify.
pressure washer nozzle

SILULCM 5Pcs Pressure Washer Spray Nozzle Tips DUS-025 Multiple Degrees 1/4 Quick Connection Design 2.5 GPM for Pressure Washer

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  • The black tip uses the least pressure at 65 degrees and is used for applying soap and cleaning solution.
  • The white tip offers slightly more pressure but is very safe at 45 degrees and can be used for easy jobs like cleaning your car or bicycle, and cleaning out your gutters.
  • The green tip comes in at 25 degrees and is still pretty safe. It can be used for cleaning larger areas, including your big deck, and flushing leaves and debris from walkways.
  • Yellow tips are stronger and mean caution at 15 degrees. These can be used like a scraper to take off dirt, grease, and paint. They are also good for driveways and patios.
  • Finally red tips are the strongest and most dangerous of the tips at zero degrees. Use them cautiously for the toughest of jobs like removing stains from concrete or steel and shooting out weeds from sidewalk cracks. Don’t use them on wood.

Your owner’s manual will tell you the best uses for each type of tip. Uses can vary from model to model based on the model’s psi and gpm (gallons per minute) specifications.

Depending on the job you’re doing, you may also want to use an extension or telescoping wand. An extension wand attaches to the end of the nozzle and is used to reach high places, like the uppermost siding sections on your house. There are also specific extension wand attachments for cleaning your gutters. Whenever you need to clean high places, always opt for the extension wand or similar attachment. It’s very dangerous to try to use force scouring equipment on a ladder with just the standard nozzle. The power of the washer could shoot you right off the ladder!

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A surface cleaner is another attachment you can use for large, wide open areas, and to help spread cleaning solution. A variation on this called a surface cleaner will help you keep a consistent distance between the tip of the wand and the surface area you are cleaning.

Kärcher - Universal 15" Surface Cleaner Attachment - For Gas Pressure Washers - 2600-3200 PSI - 1/4" Quick-Connect

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Another type of nozzle that you’ll find is a turbo nozzle. This will fire water out under high pressure at zero degrees but at an angle. The nozzle will then rotate in a circular pattern which lets you cover more area in a faster amount of time. As this type of nozzle can be very powerful you should limit its use to the most difficult stains and other hard jobs like peeling paint or cleaning concrete.

M Mingle Turbo Nozzle for Pressure Washer, Rotating Nozzle and 5 Tips, 1/4 Inch Quick Connect, 3600 PSI, Orifice 2.5

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Gear Up

A Few Tips On How To Use Your Pressure Washer

It may sound like overkill, but after reading about some of the accidents that can happen when using a power washer I think it’s best to err on the side of caution. That means putting on safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes and wearing gloves. It’s pretty easy for dirt and debris to ricochet and shoot back and injure you.

I used to just pressure clean in flip flops but I think I may start to use some old tennis shoes just in case I accidently shoot the stream across my feet. It’s easy to get distracted, look away for second, and shoot yourself in the foot, especially if you’ve been working for a while.

If you have a gas model, they can be pretty loud, 85 decibels, which is slightly lower than your lawnmower. If you’re going to be out blasting away at your siding for several hours, then you may want to go on and use some headgear or earmuffs to protect your hearing.

Time To Get To It

Make sure you attach the hose and turn on the water before you start the engine on your machine. If you are using an electric model be sure to plug the electrical cord into a wall socket that matches the prong pattern. A three prong plug should go into a three prong outlet for example.

I always like to test a small area before I go all out. If you are totally new to high pressure cleaning you may even want to practice on some old boards. I also like to start as far back as I think I can, within reason, to get the job done. I also like to start on a higher spread setting or wider tip angle. If I can get the surface cleaned standing four or five feet away and using a wide angle spray setting, like the white 45 degree nozzle tip, then all the better.

A Few Tips On How To Use Your Pressure Washers

After I do a small test area, I check to see if the settings and distance are cleaning the surface appropriately. If not, I move a little closer and try again. Once I get the right distance and spray settings then I can settle in to my slow, methodical passes back and forth until the area is clean and looking brand spanking new.

I always try to be careful and maintain a constant, even distance from the tip of the pressure washer and the cleaning surface to prevent streaks. I’m also careful to bring the nozzle very gently up and off the work area. If you pause the high psi cleansing contraption, even momentarily in one spot, you can scar the wood and leave a streak. So always try to slightly arc the wand up and away from the surface when you finish a section. If you need to move the wand to a new position, just take your finger off the trigger, stop the water stream and move the wand over to where you need to be.

There are a bunch of how-to videos up on YouTube that show you how to pressure wash just about anything from decks to cars to your roof. Some are better than others, but if you want to learn more about the specific techniques and the motion used to pressure clean different areas then that’s the place to go.

When you’re taking a short break from cleaning, always click on the safety lock for the trigger on the wand to prevent any accidental firing of the water stream. This could happen from somebody bumping the nozzle or even when you pick it up to start power washing again.

After a nice high pressure cleaning, an old deck will look amazing and you’ll really feel good about the cleaning you’ve done.

Things To Avoid

It’s pretty much common sense but you still need to tell people; do not fire the pressure washer at other people, or pets. It may be fun to shoot a hose at someone during the summer, playing around, but a powerful high intensity scrubbing instrument is no joke. You can really hurt someone or a beloved pet. So be careful.

Never use a non-pressurized water source for your power scrubber. Standard washers are not designed to suck water from a standing source, like a pond or stream. Doing so can damage the unit. This is usually not a problem as most people just screw on a garden hose to their washer and to the outside water faucet on their home, which already naturally has pressure. Some units, however, are designed specifically to take water from non-pressurized sources and will say so in their promotional material. Other machines can pull water from standing sources with an attachment.

Don’t leave the nozzle on your machine closed for more than a minute or so while the engine is running. Pressure can build up and cause damage to the pump. This is especially true if your machine uses a pressure actuated unloader. Unloaders of this type keep the hose at full pressure all the time.

You can tell if you have this type as soon as you pull the trigger because it will kick. Pressure wash down mechanisms are designed this way because you can get jobs done faster. The other type of unloader is a flow actuated unloader which take a few seconds to get up to full pressure when you pull the trigger.

Don’t use your washer to clean the sidewalls on your car tires. According to Popular Mechanics you can damage your tires. Just use your garden hose and a sponge or scrub brush. Also don’t try to power wash your car engine either as that can cause damage as well. When using your washer on the outside of your car make sure you have it on a lower pressure setting and use a wide angle spray.

Putting Your Pressure Washer Away So It Will Be Ready For Next Time

After you’re done power cleaning and turned off the engine of your machine, you need to fire the spray gun one last time to relieve any pressure that has built up. Use the same precautions as you would when the machine is on, as the little bit of pressurized water left in the nozzle can still pack a powerful punch.

Then go and shut off the water supply and disconnect all of the hoses and attachments. Make sure you empty out any liquids that are left in the pump, including any cleaning solution you used. Then roll up your cords and hoses for storage until next time.

You can store your machine in a safe, cool, dry, well ventilated place like your garage or shed. If you have a gas powered device don’t store it inside the main part of your house as gas fumes can be released that are dangerous. If your storage area is not heated and you live in an area where it gets below freezing in the winter, then you’ll need to winterize your washer to keep it from freezing. Your owner’s manual will tell you more about how to winterize your unit.

Alfred Harper
Alfred Harper

Alfred Harper is a former consultant and product expert at a company producing cleaning equipment. He was working at this position for more than 10 years and has gained incredible experience and knowledge as he has tested almost all pressure washers brands and models and became an expert in this field. Now, he is writing reviews and how-to articles about pressure washers and makes a great contribution to the Pressure Washers company to help people to choose the best cleaning equipment for home use.

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