The Biggest Differences Between Soft Washing and Pressure Washing

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated August 30, 2022
Pro power washing an outside stone patio
Photo: Marina Lohrbach / Shutterstock

When it's time to restore the luster to your home, you should carefully consider the advantages of pressure washing and soft washing

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You probably know that keeping your home looking its best requires regular cleaning. However, the toughest stains and grime sometimes require the intervention of special equipment or expert help, like soft washing or pressure washing. Soft washing and pressure washing typically use the same tools, but they differ in fundamental ways that make them appropriate for some tasks and not for others.

Comparison of soft versus pressure washing, with soft wash using low-pressure nozzles

What’s the Difference Between Soft Washing and Pressure Washing?

When paint, mold, algae, mildew, and stains prove to be beyond the reach of scrubbing or household cleaning solutions, it might be time to turn to pressurized water. For more fragile surfaces, or those involving adhesives, soft washing is the best way to achieve a new sheen without harming delicate areas. Highly durable materials, such as concrete, can be pressure washed into looking pristine.

Soft Washing

A soft wash incorporates special low-pressure nozzles on the end of a pressure washing gun or wand. Soft washing involves using a biodegradable chemical that removes the biological elements (mold, algae, pollen, dirt, moss) and other stains without damaging surfaces on your home or killing your plants.

Not only does the soft washing method clean surfaces, such as your roof, deck, patio, siding, or fence, safely and thoroughly, it also maintains paint and masonry longer.

Pressure Washing

Traditionally used for exterior cleaning jobs, a pressure wash cleans by spraying water at a very high PSI—much higher than that of the soft washer. Available in electric or gas-powered models, the PSI for a pressure wash can range from 1300-3100 PSI. Like soft washing, pressure washing also uses cleaning solutions to help wash away grime and dirt. Some models, like the soft washers, have nozzles to change the shape the spray makes (and increase or decrease pressure as needed).

The only parts of your home that you should pressure wash at full bore (4000 psi) are those made of concrete, using a surface cleaner that defuses pressure through two nozzles.

What About Power Washing?

Power washing is identical to pressure washing, except the water is heated. This can make a big difference, as there are few more powerful grime fighters than a blast of high-pressure water at temperatures that break down organic matter in a flash.

Soft Washing vs. Pressure Washing: Which is Better?

You should decide whether to soft wash or a pressure wash based on what you need to clean. While it’s extremely efficient, the strength of pressure washing can damage many surfaces.

Can Withstand Pressure Washing

  • Concrete driveways

  • Treated wooden decks

  • Vehicles

Better for Soft Washing

  • Vinyl, cedar shake, or wood panel siding

  • Roofs

  • Paver, brick and tile

  • Stucco

Cost

Both pressure washing and soft washing are done with a commercial pressure washing machine, which should be used on all jobs. 

For a soft wash, the commercial washer will properly distribute and dilute cleaning solutions during pre-rinse and apply the proper volume-to-pressure ratio for the appropriate surfaces. 

Since professionals use the same machine for both processes, the costs of pressure washing and soft washing are similar, whether you’re bringing in a pro or taking the nozzle into your own hands. 

Hiring a Professional

Hiring a professional to pressure or soft wash your home will run you around $250 to $500 on average, but the cost can be as high as $1,000 if you have special materials in play, such as brick.

Renting a Washer

If you want to rent a pressure washer, it’ll cost $40 to $100 per day. The same price applies to soft washers, with optional items such as tripods and extensions adding $10 each.

DIY vs. Hiring a Professional

You can hire a local professional pressure washer to pressure wash or soft wash your home. A local power washing company will know exactly what combination and nozzle extensions to use to achieve the proper pressure, volume, and chemical mixture to clean all surfaces thoroughly, effectively, and safely.

The machines are available for rental, but even confident DIYers should make sure they thoroughly understand the different processes and the risks involved before going it on their own. Even a thin stream of high-pressure water can pose a threat to life and limb. Before setting out, carefully consider the pros and cons of do-it-yourself pressure washing

Which Is Best for Your Home: Soft Washing vs. Pressure Washing?

Choosing between pressure washing and soft washing is all about the materials you’ll be cleaning and their surroundings. 

Pressure washing is most appropriate for strong and less porous materials. It’s perfect for walking surfaces, like stone pathways, patios, and sidewalks—where the high-pressure blast can clear out algae, mold, and other contaminants from the deepest nooks and narrowest grooves.

You should only consider heated power washing for the most-durable, least-fussy surfaces, like concrete. It’s especially useful for large areas, like a long driveway, or where there has been serious build-up of the toughest matter, like grease, mold, or moss. 

For more delicate parts of your home, you’ll want to stick to soft washing. This means anything painted; areas adjoining rooted plants; materials adhered with mortar and sand, such as brick, paver, and tile; stucco; and vinyl, cedar shake, and wood panel siding. Additionally, while a roof might strike some homeowners as capable of withstanding the strain of a pressure wash, it can damage shingles, so you’ll want to opt for soft washing here too. 

It’s worth considering the difference between DIY and a pro job here too. Some areas, such as wood decks, can be pressure washed by an experienced operator but face a greater risk of damage from a first-timer. When in doubt, call in the experts. 

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