There are lots of good uses for pressure washing but the important questions we’ll answer here are whether it makes sense to do the pressure washing yourself? and if you’ll be doing it, should you buy or rent a pressure washer.
WHEN to Use a Pressure Washer
Pressure washing, also called power washing, is most often used to clean surfaces prior to painting a house with wood siding or to clean large exterior surfaces like a driveway, sidewalks, the deck before you stain it or vinyl siding. It’s important to make sure that surfaces you plan to clean will not be damaged by the pressure.
For example, the power of a pressure washer will strip off loose paint so unless you’re planning to paint your home, you don’t want to pressure wash it. This was a hard lesson for me to learn when I owned a handyman business as I got to cover the cost of painting the back walls of two customer's homes, due to carelessness by my technicians.
Here are the most common ways a pressure washer is used for home maintenance. It's possible but risky to pressure wash brick and masonry, using a low setting of 500 to 1,000 PSI. Very old brick houses are not recommended and if you're unsure, hire a professional.
- Washing your home’s siding when the material is vinyl, metal and some types of masonry BUT NOT wood, hardboard, brick or stucco siding which can be easily damaged by the pressure.
- Carefully repairing wood siding and trim for painting, by removing all loose paint.
- Preparing wood decks and porches for a new coat of stain and/or sealer.
- Cleaning composite decks, railings and stairs which don’t have to be painted.
- Cleaning outdoor furniture which is meant to get wet.
- Cleaning your roof, especially when you’ve got moss and lichens growing there.
- Cleaning concrete driveways and sidewalks.
Special Note: If your home was built prior to 1978, it may have been painted with lead paint and special rules must be followed in how you deal with lead paint.
WHY Use a Pressure Washer
Using a pressure washer will save you time when done right. The added pressure over what your garden hose can deliver, helps separate the dirt from the surface where it has attached itself. You’ll also want to use a pressure washer that allows mixing detergent or chemicals into the spray. This helps remove the dirt or living creatures which attach themselves to building materials. While much of the hard work will be done by the pressure washer, there are instances where you will need to scrub mildew first, typically because it has been left too long (multiple years).
WHO: Do-It-Yourself or Hire a Pro?
While there are hundreds of articles and videos online that offer tips on “how to” pressure wash your house” … few people stop to consider whether it makes sense to do it themselves. Where it makes sense to own a lawn mower that you use every 1 to 2 weeks, does it make sense to buy a pressure washer that you only use 1 or 2 times a year. You’ll need room to store it (about the same size as a small lawn mower), you’ll need to maintain the motor and you’ll need to drain the water so it doesn’t freeze over the winter.
Operating a pressure washer takes time to learn – which tip to use for each application, how to maneuver an electric pressure washer with both garden hose and electrical cords attached and the right detergent and/or chemicals to get your home or deck clean. There are adjustable extension handles you can use for most 2-story homes but a ladder will be needed for 3-story houses. Home owners who don’t spend lots of time on ladders, will have difficulty operating this equipment safely and should call a professional.
You’ll need to learn how close to hold the nozzle from the house or deck, to get it clean without causing damage. With decks, you need to learn to keep the nozzle moving in a uniform pattern to avoid streaks due to differing pressure. Most important, you need to learn how to avoid directing water where it can cause hidden water damage. This requires working from the top down, as your roofing shingles and siding are designed to shed rain water. With vinyl siding you also don’t want to point the wand towards the seams where the siding panels overlap.
Safety is key when doing any type of home maintenance, and more so where water is involved. When using a pressure washer, you should always wear safety glasses and keep the wand and water away from yourself, as well as electrical fixtures and wires around your home.
A pressure washer is just one tool you'll use when completing projects on your spring home maintenance checklist. Review the list and prioritize what's most important like home safety, addressing water damage and saving energy.