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Can Pressure Washers Cut You?

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Can Pressure Washers Cut You?

Pressure washers are a great tool for cleaning off outside areas that have layers of dirt on them. The high powered water stream allows for great results with minimal scrubbing, which makes it ideal for any project. When you are using pressure washers, you do want to be careful, though, as the high-pressure water stream can be harmful to you physically.

Can pressure washers cut you? Yes, pressure washers can absolutely cut into your skin if they make contact. Actually, lacerations are the most common injury from a pressure washer, followed by bruises, eye injuries, and punctures. 

How deep of a laceration can a pressure washer cause, though? While most injuries are simply a touch deeper than paper cuts, things can get pretty deep if safety measures are not taken seriously or done correctly, and unfortunately, even if safety is of the highest degree, accidents can still happen. 

Can A Pressure Washer Cut Your Finger Off?

Generally, using the correct safety equipment and procedures, you won’t ever need to know if a pressure washer can cause extreme injury to your body.  

However, on the slight chance that you are not using proper technique, or maybe you just have an accident, you need to be aware that pressure washers do have the ability to severely lacerate your finger and even cut it off. While most injuries are not this severe, this can absolutely happen to anyone. 

How Many PSI Will Cut Off a Finger?

Human skin can be lacerated at 1,160 PSI; most home pressure washers range from 1,500 – 4000 PSI. Once you hit 2,901 PSI, you will fully penetrate all layers of the skin, effectively reaching the fatty tissue layer. It takes 7,542 PSI to fully cut through bone, so thankfully, with a traditional pressure washer, you won’t likely see your finger cut off just from the pressure washing incident. 

However, once you reach the bone, after cutting through skin, fatty tissue and muscle, the chance of nerve damage and infection are so incredibly high, you have a minimal chance of keeping your finger. 

Most injuries that reach the bone cause such nerve damage, you lose function to that finger and have to have it amputated due to lack of blood loss. So, while you are not likely to cut your finger off while pressure washing your house, it can cause your finger to be cut off in a later scenario. 

However, one major thing you can do to reduce the risk of having something amputated is to clean the injury fully with warm, soapy water, and follow the care instructions you are going to be given when you come home from seeing a healthcare professional. Following all those instructions to the best of your ability will reduce the risk of infection. 

Safety and an Ultra-high Pressure Washer

While most people only handle a home pressure washer, there are careers that require you to use a high-pressure washer. These careers mostly focus on using these to clean huge machines or areas that get covered in materials that would be far too difficult to scrub off. They are used to clean aircraft, tanks, and other large machinery. 

These pressure washers can have pressures that reach as high as 40,000 PSI.  You are required to wear specially made PPE (personal protective equipment) and take several safety classes before you are allowed to use these high-pressure washers. However, mistakes still happen! 

These kinds of pressure washers can easily cut off a finger. At 40,000 PSI, you can punch a hole through steel. You could very easily lose a digit, or even a limb if you make a mistake using one of these pressure washers. 

Are Pressure Washers Dangerous?

Due to the number of injuries that hospitals see from pressure washers, they are considered extremely dangerous.  However, in most situations, those who have been injured by the pressure washers were doing one of three things.

  • Not using them properly
  • Not wearing safety equipment
  • Not pressure washing materials that were able to withstand the pressure.

These three scenarios can cause catastrophic injuries and sometimes loss of limb.  But they are very easily avoided and extremely easy to remedy.  

When using the equipment correctly, wearing the correct PPE, and if you do your research and only use a pressure washer on materials that can handle it, you will reduce the danger to almost 0%. Pressure washers are not dangerous just because they are made that way, they are simply not used right, and people are not taking the right precautions.

Can a Pressure Washer Kill You?

With a normal home pressure washer, the average injury won’t be deadly immediately.  However, during the healing process, if your wound is not taken care of properly, it can become infected, which can be deadly. Most home pressure washers only have enough PSI to severely damage a digit or limb, which can be easily remedied and healed by a doctor, and your body. 

Unfortunately, the paint of contact is a large contributing factor to the severity of an injury with a pressure washer. While having an injury on your arm or leg may not be deadly, an injury on your head, chest, or back can cause long-term damage or death much quicker than other injuries.  If you are sprayed on your back, you can damage your spine, causing paralysis or death.  

If you are hit on your head, or the pressure washer causes you to fall, you can cause brain damage or a brain bleed that can cause death. If you are hurt on your chest, this can cause immediate heart issues which can throw you into cardiac arrest, and end in death.  While these are extremely unlikely circumstances with home pressure washers, they are not injuries that are impossible to succumb to. 

More Risks and Precautions

Now, if you are routinely around an ultra-high powered pressure washer, they are substantially more dangerous.  As I discussed, they have the ability to go up to 40,000 PSI, which can punch a hole straight through structural steel. Any physical contact with these pressure washers can immediately sever a limb or damage an organ, depending on where the point of contact is.

Mostly, receiving an injury with one of these machines, if PPE is not used correctly, will ultimately lead to death or long term injuries. The PSI of a high-powered pressure washer is far too great to allow for small or minor injuries. Damage to the head, chest, or back area will most likely result in paralysis, or death within hours to days after the injury is received. 

Most of the time, barring extremely unfortunate circumstances, using proper PPE, follow the instructions associated with your pressure washer, and listening to your doctor in the event of injury can all prevent death from occurring. There is also a multitude of safety tips you can follow to help ensure the avoidance of injuries to you or someone who is around you while using a pressure washer.

Safety Tips for Using a Pressure Washer

When preparing to pressure wash anything, you need to be aware of the risks and the safety measures you can take to keep yourself out of harm’s way. Here are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of injury to almost 0%.

Get prepared and think it through.

Take a few moments before starting the job to plan it out and make sure you can complete the task with the tools you have. One of the common issues that leads to a pressure washing injury is getting halfway through a task, realizing you are missing something, but then trying to finish it anyway with only the tools you have. 

If you think through the task before you start, you would probably find things you are missing, which would reduce the risk of you completing a job with the wrong tools.  Therefore, reducing the risk of something going wrong and possibly injuring yourself. 

While it can be frustrating and cause you to lose a bit of time, it is much better to stop the task, get the correct tool, and then finish the job. You may also find you don’t have enough time to complete the job, this is fine, but figuring this out at the beginning can also help you to not rush yourself. 

Put safety first.

Identify the hazards of a job before starting. Sit back and look at your job you have to complete. Identifying hazards before you start allows you to make a plan to avoid them and not be surprised. Are there any hazards? You want to look for several different things like:

  • Windows –– Broken glass can occur and cause severe cuts.
  • Electrical panels – Electric shock can occur and result in death.
  • Meters – Can damage meters, or even cause electric shock.
  • Dogs or children – Dogs and kids don’t know the dangers of a pressure washer and may try to play with it. This can cause extreme injury to the most important parts of the body.
  • Trees – Can cause falling limbs, or simply damage the tree
  • Height – The PSI of your pressure washer can push you off your ladder and cause fall damage.

Note: Materials that shouldn’t be pressure washed. You could ruin a portion of your house, or cause injury due to flying debris.

Get informed.

Read the user manual of the pressure washer you are using. Knowing exactly how to work the pressure washer is key to making sure accidents don’t happen. If you go to turn the pressure down but end up turning it up, that is when big injuries can happen.

It’s also important to just know how to handle the pressure washer; you need to make sure you are fully in control of the nozzle, so nothing is sprayed haphazardly. 

Know your nozzles.

Start spraying the object with the widest angle nozzle from 2-feet away and only adjust nozzle and distance if needed. Every nozzle is a different spray angle, which changes the PSI, and they are all color-coded, so it is a code used by every pressure washer. 

  • Red-tip:  0° pinpoint angle
  • Yellow-tip: 15° medium jet spray
  • Green-tip: 25° general lifting and cleaning
  • White-tip: 40° gentle fan spray
  • Black-tip: Soaping tip, wider orifice, and 65° misting spray

Avoid using the red tip if possible, as it will be the most powerful pinpointed spray, therefore possibly being the one that can cause the most injuries.

Do a test run with your nozzle.

Always provide ample clearance between you and your object before spraying the first time with a different nozzle.  This allows you to get a feel for how powerful the sprayer is so as to not use too much force or make any mistakes.

Avoid working with heights and ladders.

If you are on a ladder, even 3 feet high, the pressure from the washer can cause you to fall. Even a fall from 3 feet can be detrimental if you hit your head.

Don’t operate your pressure washer in an enclosed space.

Pressure washers can emit Co2, which can cause a lack of oxygen and, eventually, loss of consciousness and death. You need a well-ventilated area to run your pressure washer in, outside in the open air is the most recommended.

Never aim the nozzle anyone.

When using a tool, its common practice for people to use it to point while it is in their hands. Be very aware not to do this while using a pressure washer. It only takes one second of the spray to cause an injury.

Use the safety latch when not spraying.

While reading your manual, you should be made aware of a safety feature that allows the gun or nozzle to not be used unless the safety latch is taken off. This allows for kids or other adults that may not know how to use it, to not injure someone by accident

Be aware of the temperature of the engine and motor after use.

The engine and motor of a pressure washer can get very hot, hot enough to burn your hand severely, so touching it after you are done using it is not the right move. Wait for it to cool down, unplugged, and then put it away.

Release the pressure.

After turning off the pressure washer, always release pressure by squeezing the trigger before unhooking the hose. If there is any built-up pressure, air or water could shoot at you when you unhook the hose to take it apart. If you aren’t still wearing your goggles, this can damage your eyes.

Always wear protective equipment.

There are very specific types of protective clothing and equipment you should wear while pressure washing. Wearing these will allow for protection even in case of a mistake

In the event that you are using a high-power pressure washer, using PPE can save your life or a limb.  The PPE you wear when using one of these machines is made to protect you from the most extreme circumstances

Safety Equipment for Pressure Washing

When using a pressure washer, it is recommended that you wear protective clothing and certain gear to protect your body.  Wearing this equipment makes up for any human error or malfunction of the pressure washer that could cause the body harm.

Safety helmet
When using a pressure washer, debris and dirt will fly around at high speeds due to the force of PSI.
Sometimes, large pieces of whatever you are cleaning can also fall, and if it is above your eye level, it can hurt your head.  Wearing a helmet protects you from all of the above. 
Closed-toed shoes or steel toe boots
Never pressure wash while wearing open-toed shoes.  While you may think it is not a big deal, if you accidentally run the stream over your toe, you could lose it. Simply wear protective shoes.
Gloves
The most common place for injury with a pressure washer is the hand. If you are wearing gloves, this greatly reduces the risk of cutting into your skin.
Ear protection
Always wear some type of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. The loud noise from the pressure washer engine can cause hearing damage.

The user is not the only one who needs to wear these, even if someone is doing work several feet away; they also need to be wearing ear protection. 
Safety glasses or goggles
When pressure washing something, there is always a chance for dirt or debris to fly through the air and cause eye issues. Wearing goggles simply protects your eyes from things that the pressure washer is spraying off.

Again, the user should not be the only one wearing these.  The stream of water can cause dirt and debris to fly several feet so anyone who is working nearby also needs to wear goggles or safety glasses. 
Face protection visor
This is essentially a shield for your face. This covers everything that your goggles do not. 

This protects your nose and mouth from inhaling debris or dirt that may be flying through the air as well as possible impacts from debris.  
Pants
Debris and dirt will fly off whatever you are cleaning at incredibly high speeds.  Simply the dirt and debris can cut your leg pretty deep. However, having pants on can reduce your risk of injury. 

Pressure Washer Injury Assessment

In the unfortunate case of an injury from a pressure washer, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that the injury is taken care of effectively and as quickly as possible and avoiding further injury.

All injuries should be evaluated by a health professional as soon as possible.  While the external injury may not look severe, internally, there could be much larger injuries or problems that are not obvious. You will most likely be administered antibiotics or a tetanus shot. At the moment of injury:

  1. You must immediately acknowledge the injury and notify someone near you as soon as possible.  If you are not near anyone, asses the injury yourself first.
  2. Once you figure out how bad it is, you will need to clean the area immediately.  It is recommended to call a family member or friend to come to help you, and possibly take you to the hospital or a doctor’s office.  
  3. You need to clean the area with soap and water as quickly as you can. Removing debris from the site is critical.
  4. Pat the area dry with a clean towel, then apply a clean bandage or towel to cover the wound and stop the bleeding. You want to make sure a bit of pressure is applied to help the clotting process. 
  5. Once a healthcare professional has taken a look at your injury, follow all at-home care instructions to the best of your ability.
  6. Asses how the injury occurred and allow yourself to figure out what safety measures could have been taken to ensure this does not happen again. 

What Items Are Safe to Pressure Wash?

After preparing your safety equipment, and preparing your workstation, you can get ready to pressure wash your area.  However, did you know that some materials and objects cannot be pressure washed? Doing so can cause damage to the object or injury to yourself. Overall, pressure washers are best used for:

  • Outdoor grills – Pressure washing can help get the grease and burnt stuff off, but you want to let it air dry before trying to use it again. 
  • Outdoor furniture – However, it is not recommended to use on wood or plastic that has dry rotten.  Usually, it will eat away at the furniture and make matters worse.
  • Lawn mowers
  • Boats
  • Trailers
  • Mountain bikes
  • Fencing – Once again, not recommended to use on wood fences. 
  • Home exteriors – Some siding is not made to withstand high pressures. It is always good to check with your siding type before pressure washing it. 
  • Front Entrance walkways and stairs
  • Concrete or tile patios
  • Driveways and garage floors

What Things Shouldn’t Be Pressure Washed?

Most people use pressure washers for these uses to make cleaning easier on their time and wallet.  Pressure washing easily moves dirt, stains, and other things out of the way and brings things almost back to like new. However, there are definitely some things you should never use a power washer on.  

  • Cars
  • Anything wood – The high pressure can cause wood to splinter or take off any seal that is on the wood.
  • Electrical panels and meters – Pressure washing can cause electric shock resulting in loss of consciousness, heart issues, and sometimes death. 
  • Asphalt shingles – Pressure washing will remove the granules that protect your roofs.  It is also dangerous to pressure wash in such a high area.
  • Air conditioners – The intense stream of water can crush the delicate fins, which can cause restriction to the airflow; this can shorten the life of your AC unit.
  • Lead paint – Pressure washing lead paint can cause paint chips to fly, and you could inhale, or accidentally ingest some paint. This could cause long term issues, or if you inhale or ingest enough, lead poisoning can occur. 
  • Old mortar – Anytime older houses or fixtures are pressure washed; you must be careful of the loose material that can be washed away. This can cause bricks or building material to come loose and cause foundation issues. 
  • Living things – Pressure washing living things can cause injury and possibly death to whatever is sprayed. You need to have a clear spraying area before beginning to make sure no one is injured or in the way. 
  • Things you want to stay painted – Sometimes, people use a pressure washer to remove paint off of a painted surface to lessen the amount of sanding they have to do.  However, if you want something to stay painted, pressure washing will only take off the paint, or begin the chipping process which can cause problems later on. 
  • Windows – While it may seem like a great way to clean windows, pressure washing windows will most likely lead to broken glass, which can also lead to injury. 
  • Vehicles 
    • Exterior:  Pressure washing your vehicles can also seem like a really easy way to clean off mud or tree sap. However, the pressure can cause small dents, chip the paint, or knock-off small parts if the car is older or well used. 
    • Under the hood: Using a pressure washer under the hood can also cause water to be forced into cracks and crevices that water should not be, causing your car to not run well, or in some cases, not run at all. 
  • Gutters – While gutters are meant to withstand rainstorms, they are not meant to withstand the pressure of the stream of water that a pressure washer will make. The high pressure stream of water can cause cracks or holes in your gutters, not allowing them to hold water, or work correctly. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, pressure washers can be a great asset to your backyard arsenal of cleaning tools. Using the right PPE and knowledge allows for an easy cleaning routine, and no injuries to worry about.

If you are informed, confident, and smart with your skills and approach, you should have no problem handling a pressure washer.  However, it should always be in the back of your mind, that these are not toys and can easily become dangerous, and sometimes deadly. 

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