How to Choose a Pressure Washer and Get Your Home Sparkling Clean

Updated May 18, 2022
A person pressure washing a patio of a house
Photo: PaulMaguire / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Dust and grime are no match for the right pressure washer

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Your home’s exterior goes through a lot, including dust in the wind, pouring rainstorms, and ice melt all winter long. The good news is that a nice pressure washing can have your dingy siding and deck gleaming like new. For the best results, though, you need to know how to select the best pressure washer for your home.

We’ll run down everything you need to know before purchasing a pressure washer and getting to work.

Decide if Renting or Buying a Pressure Washer Is Best

While you may be tempted to swipe your card and get to spraying down your home, you’ll first need to consider if buying or renting a pressure washer is the right choice for you. If you’re only going to use it a few times a year and don’t have room in your shed for yet another tool, renting a pressure washer or hiring a local pro to pressure wash your home might be best. 

However, if you often find yourself with dusty siding, dirty plastic playsets, and a grimy garage floor and feel confident cleaning these up on your own, then buying a pressure washer might be a worthy investment.

Learn the Difference Between Power Washing and Pressure Washing

If you’ve got your heart set on buying, it’s helpful to understand the differences between power washing and pressure washing.

Though you might think that the terms are pretty much interchangeable, in fact, there’s quite a bit of difference between power washing and pressure washing. Both power washing and pressure washing are good for big jobs that require a lot of cleaning force. Both are also typically done on highly durable exterior surfaces, and both involve very high water pressure.

However, the key difference is that power washing involves heated water, whereas pressure washing doesn’t. Power washing can often achieve better results in less time than pressure washing because the pressurized water's high temperatures help break down organic material more rapidly. 

Still, though, you need to use caution when power washing because not all exterior surfaces can withstand the heat. In general, it’s best to reserve power washing for exceptionally tough materials, such as concrete, stone, and masonry.

Additionally, both power washing and pressure washing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, so keep this in mind. Always use caution when using these tools.

Pay Attention to Gallons Per Minute (GPM) and Pressure Per Square Inch (SI)

You’ll want to consider the flow of the water from your pressure washer, measured in gallons per minute (GPM), and the pressure of the washer, measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). The ratio of GPM to PS helps to determine both the machine’s cleaning capacity and its efficiency. For typical residential use, the GPM will range between 1.0 and 4.0. You typically won’t require a higher GPM rating unless you do regular (and heavy) commercial cleaning work.

Standard machines with a GPM of between 1.0 and 4.0 can easily handle a wide variation in PSI, ranging from as little as 500 to 4,200. So, even with the same GPM rating, you can still have your choice of light, medium, or heavy-duty models. 

Compare the Cleaning Units 

Whether you’re choosing a power washer or a pressure washer, the cleaning capacity of your machine will be measured in cleaning units. The machine’s cleaning units (CU) are calculated by multiplying the PSI and the GPM. Thus, a unit with a GPM of 3.0 and a PSI of 3,000 will have 9,000 cleaning units. 

For lighter jobs, the ideal CU will range between 1,500 and 16,000. This range is usually best for general residential use.

For medium and heavy jobs, including frequent residential use and commercial use, then the ideal CU will range from 2,400 at the low end to more than 30,000 at the high end.

Look at Electric vs. Gas Pressure Washers

A man using a pressure washer on the exterior of a house
Photo: Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

Choosing between electric and gas pressure washers will be one of your biggest decisions. 

Electric

Because electric pressure washers generally hold less water, they’re generally best for light work only. Electric pressure washers may be best for vehicle washing and clearing the gunk off your outdoor furniture and the kid’s outdoor toys. However, be sure to do your research and spot test before going in with a pressure washer.

Most electric units have a PSI of between 1,400 and 2,000 and a GPM ranging from 1.1 to 1.75.

Gas

On the other hand, gas pressure washers can handle middle, heavy, and extra heavy-duty work. 

Medium-duty gas washers usually have a PSI of 2,100 to 2,900 and a GPM of 1.8 to 2.6. They’re usually best for washing heavily soiled vehicles or for cleaning patios, decks, fences, boats, and siding. If you’re looking to pressure wash your home primarily, this could be a good option, though be sure to check with your siding and decking manufacturer to make sure pressure washing is a safe cleaning option. 

Heavy-duty gas washers have a PSI ranging from 3,000 to 3,300 and a GPM of 2.3 to 2.8. With these beasts, you can not only do some heavy vehicle washing, but you can also clear off patios, siding, decks, fences, and boats that have a bit of caked-on dirt and grime, 

Extra heavy-duty gas washers have a PSI between 3,400 and 4,000 and a GPM of up to 4.9. These are often professional-grade units designed to handle tough work. They’re often used, for instance, to clean construction sites or to maintain truck fleets.

Consult the Pros

If you’ve shopped around and you’re still not sure what kind of pressure washer will best meet your needs, you might call in a professional pressure washing company. They can assess your job and provide a cost estimate for professional power or pressure washing. Then you can decide once and for all if you prefer to DIY your pressure washing project or have them take it off of your hands.

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