A high-pressure water cleaner can refresh tired-looking surfaces.
Got mossy tiles or dirt-encrusted concrete to clean? A high pressure water cleaner could be the answer.
How does it work?
A pressure cleaner, also known as pressure washer or water blaster, is essentially a water pump, powered by an electric motor that takes in water (from the garden hose) and uses the pump to accelerate the water to high pressure which is released when you pull the trigger.
Various cleaning nozzle attachments can be fitted to control the spray of water and are ideal for cleaning different surfaces. Compared to scrubbing with a brush or broom, powered high pressure cleaners are a relatively fast and very effective way to clean heavily soiled areas, including: mossy or lichen-covered tiles, stained paving and paths, and dirt on car wheels and bodies.
Remember to spot test before getting started to make sure it won’t damage the surface.
How to use a pressure cleaner
- Connect the garden hose to the cleaner
- Turn on the water supply
- Attach the right nozzle for the area you’re cleaning
- Hold the nozzle about a metre away from the surface (closer if you want more pressure)
- Move the lance (or wand) in a sweeping or circular motion on a 45° angle to avoid splash back
- For cleaning walls, start from the top and work your way down to avoid streaking
- Never use a ladder for hard-to-reach places, instead use an extension pole
Key features to look for
The nozzles supplied can make a real difference to what you can clean. The usual types available are:
Also known as a turbo nozzle, this attachment is ideal for heavily soiled areas such as footpaths and driveways. This makes a circle of pressurised water, often in an intermittent pulse that causes vibrations. Be mindful that using this nozzle can leave behind circular water marks on the area. You may need to go over the area a couple of times to avoid this.
If you shake this nozzle you’ll hear a rattling sound, that is the rotating part of the nozzle that sits loose inside the nozzle. It spins when water flows through it causing the rotary spray action.
This provides a wide spray of water and is suitable for large areas that are not too dirty, such as the painted walls of a house. The spray can often be adjusted to form a tight spray, but use caution with this setting – it can strip paint away if used too close to a painted wall.
This produces a very tight beam of water. It’s good for removing stubborn spots as the pressure is concentrated in a small area. However, be careful when using this nozzle. Concentrating too much in one spot can potentially cause damage to the surface being cleaned.
Also known as a patio brush, this provides a gentler but very effective clean for paths and patios. If you have a patio, this is the attachment for you. It doesn’t come standard with all pressure cleaners but can usually be purchased as an optional accessory. In our experience, we found the rotary brush only required one action over sandstone paths for effective cleaning results.Lance length
The lance (the rigid bit you hold to direct the spray) should be long enough to comfortably hold the tip near the ground without stooping.
A long hose from the cleaner body to the lance makes the unit easier to use.
Hose and lance storage
Onboard storage on the cleaner keeps it neat and tidy when not in use.
These attach to the lance. Useful options include a patio brush for scrubbing a deck or paved area, and fixed or rotating brush heads for cleaning cars.
A built-in detergent applicator makes it much easier to use detergent when necessary.
Automatic cut off
This means the cleaner only runs while you hold down the trigger. It serves as a safety feature and lets you move more easily from place to place without spraying water everywhere, and also saves on energy use and wear and tear.
Also check if the cleaner has a safety lock on the trigger, meaning you won’t accidentally start the cleaner.
Effective wheels make it easier to manoeuvre the cleaner.
Power cord length
Electric pressure cleaners draw their power from a standard home power plug. A long cord length makes it easier to move the cleaner around a bigger area without changing power points or using an extension cord.
A cordless (battery-powered) cleaner might suit some people, especially if it matches the batteries you already have for other cordless power tools. In our experience testing these models, the battery life only lasts long enough for small cleaning jobs.Water usage
High-pressure water cleaners use a fair amount of water – around 320L to 520L an hour.Noise
High pressure water cleaners are quite loud – in our test we’ve found them to be between 78 and 86dB. For comparison, a typical vacuum cleaner measures about 72dB, while traffic on a busy road measures about 80dB.Pressure cleaners and paint
Follow the instructions carefully when using pressure cleaners on paintwork, whether on a house or vehicle. They’re all capable of removing paint rather than cleaning it, especially if the paint is already damaged or flaking. In fact they are handy for removing flaking paint when you’re preparing a surface for a new coat of paint.
If you only need a pressure cleaner for a one-off job, it makes sense to rent the equipment and pay less than $100 a day. But cleaning ground-in dirt is not a quick job; so if you have a lot of serious soiling to deal with, it might be worth spending a bit more and hiring a more powerful commercial or industrial machine, or even paying a professional to do it for you.
Of course, if you’re going to need the pressure cleaner on a regular basis, it’s probably worth buying one of your own.