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How to Use a Pressure Washer Properly

Regular maintenance will prolong the life of anything you own. A good cleaning can be certainly included in that routine. From boats and cars to house sidings and backyard fences, you want to make sure these things are washed so that they don’t start breaking down from exposure to dirt or other harmful elements. You can get a good cleaning quickly and easily with a pressure washer. Have you considered it?

Pressure washing may appear pretty straightforward. It looks easy. Just turn the washer on, aim the wand, and pull the trigger. Spray on dirty areas and let the blasts of water wash away the stains. However, in reality, there are many other considerations you need to be mindful of before and while you pressure wash. Do you know how to use a pressure washer properly?

There are a lot of things you need to be aware of in order to use a pressure washer properly. You have to know what kind of washer you want to use. What nozzles and attachments are appropriate. The kind of surface you’ll be pressure washing on. What soaps or detergents are suitable. There’s a lot to take in, isn’t there? Well, in this reading, I hope to shed some light on some of these topics. Hopefully, after all that’s been said, you’ll have a better picture of what to do.

Knowing the Basics of Pressure Washing

The basics of pressure washing is simple. I’ll start with that first so that you get the answer to the question of how to use a pressure washer properly upfront. After this brief overview, if you’re interested in more of the details, you can decide to read on.


  • Prepare a good enough clearance around the area you’ll be pressure washing so that you won’t trip over anything.
  • Connect the washer to a water source. Usually this is an outdoor spigot. Make sure the water is turned on.
  • Pour in detergent or soap into the on-board soap tank. If the washer does not have an on-board soap tank, then get a siphon hose to use. Be sure if using a concentrate to prepare the mix beforehand.
  • Supply the washer with power. Electric pressure washers need to be plugged into a GFCI outlet. Gas pressure washers need gas for their motors.
  • Turn the power on.
  • Stand a good 2 feet away from the surface you’ll be cleaning. Pressurized water comes out at a high velocity, and when it hits a surface the blast is quite powerful. Having some space helps prevent direct damage to the surface. It also allows you some space to adjust to the recoil from the spray wand.
  • Spray at a 45 degree angle using horizontal sweeps. Avoid straight on sprays. When washing walls, soap and soak from bottom up. Then when rinsing spray from top to bottom. 


It all sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it. It really is. But then again, to actually do pressure wash correctly, you have to factor in several more things. You can wash and clean everything, but will it be done effectively? 

To do the job right involves knowing the safety measures, familiarizing yourself with your equipment, and accessing the type of surface you’ll be cleaning. It’s only after taking in a comprehensive look at the task at hand will you be able to determine the most effective and proper way to clean.

Protecting Yourself

Much about knowing how to use a pressure washer properly involves safety. Pressurized water can be very dangerous. It can cause serious injury and significant damage if applied improperly. So, knowing how to stay out of harm’s way is almost like winning half the battle, and in this case, successfully operating a pressure washer.

Use protective gear

Safety begins with protecting yourself, and you can do this by using protective gear. Even if you see others not wearing protective gear, do it for your own sake. You never know what can happen. A foot slip here or a misdirected spray can lead to terrible consequences.

Safety glasses

You might not notice initially, but as the water pressure increases, water will more frequently ricochet off the surface you’re cleaning. That’s just how the physics work. Protecting your eyes from the droplets of water that come flying at you at high velocities and from all directions is of utmost importance. Carpenters and woodworkers wear safety glasses for the same reason. To protect their eyes from debris that might fly up into them while they’re operating a tool.

Ear plugs

Gas pressure washers can get loud from their gas motors. For those that have sensitive hearing, ear plugs will help muffle some of that sound.


This is less important, but worth considering anyway. Gloves provide better grip on the spray wand. Because there’s some recoil from the spraying, you want to be sure you’ve got a steady handle on the pressure washer wand. You don’t want to accidentally lose your grip and spray an unintended target.

Read the manual

Every pressure washer is different. Residential ones might be designed to operate differently than a commercial or industrial one. They all have their own particular features.

It’s kind of like your car manual. I know not many people read those either, but it’s something that should be pointed out and reviewed.

Check for lead paint

If you’re pressure washing a house be careful and check if the paint was made before 1978. Old paint has lead, which is hazardous to your health. Chips of paint with lead can fall off, and there’s a possibility of ingestion or inhalation of these dangerous particles. Protect your yourself, children, pets and neighbors. If you’re unsure, contact a professional and get their opinion on what to do.

Use both hands

Use both hands. I know this can sound like common sense, but it is something that should be said. Until you are more experienced in using a pressure washer, use both hands. The force from the pressure washer can pull it right out of your hands if you are not careful and can hurt you or someone else. 

Use a GFCI outlet

This applies to electric pressure washers because you have to plug these in. Make sure the outlet you use has a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). This basically means you won’t get shocked, or even killed, if the water makes contact with the electrical outlet. Because we all know that water and electricity don’t mix.

Refrain from disturbing animal nests

I don’t know where some people get the brilliant idea of using a pressure washer to knock down insect nests, like those from bees and wasps. This is not very smart. Sometimes the nests are bigger than they appear. Knocking down these nests will rile up the insects that live in them, making them very hostile.

A single wasp can sting multiple times without dying, which makes them more aggressive. If the nest is set near the eaves (or between an exterior wall and the roof) half or more of the nest may be hidden. Disturb the nest and suffer the wrath of the entire colony.

Bees can also be an issue. Due to climate change, Africanized bees are taking over more hives and they can grow to a colony of nearly 80,000 bees. Even if you aren’t allergic to them,  if a small percentage stings you, it would still be enough to kill you. Please let the professionals deal with nests or hives.

Cover your electrical outlets

Prepare your area by making sure anything electrical is covered. Whether it is an outside outlet or an outside light near your work area, make sure that all glass is removed (light bulbs break easy) and all access to electric is covered by plastic.

Also be aware of things like outside electrical (or breaker) boxes, electric meters and wires. If you are not using a single extension cord for an electric power washer, then make sure the connection between the cords is also wrapped well in plastic. 

Along the lines of electricity, make sure you are wearing shoes that have a thick rubber sole as well. You will probably be standing in a good amount of water shortly after you start through the majority of the project, so make sure that you continue to protect yourself from electric shock by wearing the right shoes too.  

Setting up

Prepare your area

Aside from covering the electric outlets and such in the area, you may also want to protect anything delicate in the area where you will be working and a good 20 feet around it, just to be safe. 

While a rose bush may survive a hit or two from a pressure washer, tomatoes may not be so lucky. So laying down a tarp or something to protect your garden or flower beds would be a good start. Some plants can be very fragile and even inadvertent spray may damage them.  

Plus any animals would need to be removed, if they are nesting, you may have to wait for a better day if you can’t move the nest. Chickens and the like could be locked in the coup until you are done, but wildlife may not be so easy to move. Dogs are best kept inside, especially if they are water dogs and may try to play in the spray. 

Connect the hose

Making sure that your garden hose is connected properly is vital, otherwise your pressure washer won’t work as it is supposed to. It may have low water pressure or not work at all. If there is a spray from either the spicket or the washer, you may need to add a washer (small rubber gasket) into one side or the other of the hose. 

Ensure all fittings are tight

From the spigot to the machine and everywhere in between, make sure everything is tight with no leaks. You will need at least 50 feet of hose and if you need to go further than a single hose will allow, you may end up having to use multiple hoses.

Make sure that everything is hand tightened and that, again, there are no leaks. This bears repeating because it is a very important part of getting your pressure washer ready. 

There is also the hoses from the machine to your attachments which also need to be checked, every time, to ensure they are hand tight with no leaks. Check that your attachments are connected properly, along with the nozzle you plan to use, if you plan to use one. 

Turn on the water

This may seem like common sense, but turning on and checking to make sure the water is on may save you some headaches down the road. Once all of the fittings are checked from the faucet to the nozzle, go back to the spicket and turn on the water. By following the same steps each time, you can make sure that you don’t forget something along the way.

Prime the washer

Squeeze the trigger on the wand or attachment to make sure that there is no air in the lines. This may seem like a waste of time since it will do that once it starts and you start to use it, but by doing this before it starts you are saving valuable time.

You don’t want to let the machine run for more than about five minutes without it spraying as this can cause damage to the motor. This is because it uses the water running through the system to keep the engine cool. If no water is running through it, it will heat up and damage the motor. 

Start the Washer

For a gas powered model make sure to brace yourself when you pull on the starter cord. Using one of the tires on the washer, for example, will ensure the best leverage when starting up to make sure that it doesn’t move and you don’t lose your balance. 

Make the right adjustments for your nozzle or attachment

Finally, once the pressure washer motor is running, you want to start adjusting the attachments and/or nozzle to make sure you are getting the spray needed for the job you wish to accomplish. You want to be sure that it is not on full blast, no matter what the job is because it may knock you off balance just from the force of the spray. 

Deciding on a Gas or Electric Washer

Pressure washers use a motor and a pump to accelerate water to a pressurized form. Generally, washers are grouped according to the kind of motor that’s used. A gas motor will provide more power. An electric motor is easier to maintain. Each kind of motor has its pros and cons.

In addition, these washers can be sub-categorized according to the size of the motors. They vary in price and in functionality. Take a quick look at these commonly used descriptors.

  • Light Duty
  • Medium Duty
  • Heavy Duty
  • Industrial

Electric pressure washers

These are the most popular kind of pressure washer. They’re more affordable and they can handle most cleaning jobs around the house. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.


  • Green, no emissions
  • Practically no maintenance
  • Saves on money
  • Quieter
  • No fumes
  • Uses less water (GPM or Gallons Per Minute)


  • Portability, no nearby outlets, no power
  • Not as powerful as it’s gas powered counterpart
  • Not as efficient as gas powered
  • Increased risk of electric shock

Gas pressure washers

While electric pressure washers are more popular, gas pressure washers have their advocates as well. There are scenarios where gas pressure washers do the job better. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.


  • Cordless, not limited by a cord
  • Also less risk of electric shock
  • More powerful than an electric model
  • More efficient, can clean faster


  • Noisy so may limit the time of day you can use it
  • More maintenance, changing oil, etc
  • Have to always have gas on hand to run it
  • Fumes, from burning the gas
  • Less eco friendly
  • Uses more water (GPM)

Electric or gas: which one to choose?

The answer to the debate of whether a gas or an electric washer is better is it depends. What does it depend on? Well, it depends on several things. 

Do you have a large area or surface that you need to wash? Something like a large parking lot. You might want to go with a gas washer. It’ll allow you to be more mobile without its need for an outlet.

Or are you working indoors, like inside a garage or warehouse? An electric washer might be more suitable. You can avoid the fumes from the gas motor, which is hazardous to your health.

How stubborn are the stains? Hard to clean spots may require more pressurized water to lift and remove whatever buildup there is. The solution would be to go for a gas washer.

What’s your budget and will you be just be working around the house? In this case, an electric washer will suffice. Most things around the house like siding, decks, and driveways require at least 1,000 pounds-force per square inch (PSI) to clean. Electric pressure washers are capable of spraying at that level. There’s no need for a 3,000 PSI washer unless you’re working on large objects, so those would require a gas washer.

Copyright protected content owner: and was initially posted on September 10, 2019.

Don’t forget about the size of the motor

Regardless of whether you plan to buy a gas or electric model, you also need to determine the size you need for your use as well. Again, this would be determined by what your intended use would be. 

If all you plan to use it for is to pressure wash your deck, then a huge industrial sized one would make no sense. Or if you plan to pressure wash a box store parking lot, then a small model may be more hassle than it’s worth. 

The bigger the unit, the more PSI or water pressure you would get. GPM (Gallons Per Minute) plays a part in how powerful your pressure washer will be, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

So let’s take a look at sizes, in general:

  • Light Duty (under 2,000 PSI)
  • Medium Duty (2,000 – 2,800 PSI)
  • Heavy Duty (2,900 – 3,300 PSI)
  • Industrial (3,400 and above)

A few things to keep in mind when initially purchasing your pressure washer is the intended uses. Normally, for a typical home job, a light or medium duty should be sufficient. More power does not always mean faster. If you get too big of a unit and add on attachments that increase the power even more, you could end up damaging whatever you are trying to clean. From broken windows to removing exterior house paint, too much power may mean more than just paying more for the unit, it could mean home repairs too. 

Choosing the Right Nozzle for the Job

When you buy a pressure washer it should have come with a set of color-coded nozzles. Each nozzle is designed to operate differently. You have to know which nozzle to use according to the surface you’re going to be cleaning.

The nozzles are universally color-coded. That means that each color has about the same design from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, that does not mean they’re all interchangeable.

In general, there are five standard pressure washer nozzles. If you want to pressure wash properly, know which nozzle to choose.

Black nozzle

This nozzle is commonly referred to as the soaking nozzle. It’s used to spray on detergent or soap. The nozzle has a 65 degree spray pattern and puts out relatively low water pressure.

White nozzle

The white nozzle is used for general cleaning. It’s basically one level up from the black nozzle. The nozzle has a 40 degree spray pattern. It puts out a little bit more water pressure than the black nozzle, so it’s good for washing away cleaning solutions. If you’re unsure whether or not to make the big jump to the other colored nozzles, go with the white. It’s more gentle. The white nozzle is safe for windows and exterior paint.

Green nozzle

Moving up in water pressure put out is the green nozzle. The green nozzle has a 25 degree spray pattern. The stream of pressurized water is more narrow and concentrated. It’s used to lift more stubborn stains from dirt and grime. Use it when cleaning cars, boats or your deck.

Yellow nozzle

The yellow nozzle is essentially used for deep cleaning. It’s often used to strip old paint. The yellow nozzle has a 15 degree spray pattern, so an even more focused stream of pressurized water than the green nozzle. Use this nozzle to strip paint or to clean concrete. 

Red nozzle

This is as high as you go. The red nozzle has a 0 degree spray pattern. A direct blast of water will be quite powerful. So powerful that you’ll need to be very careful. Even concrete might be prone to etching and chipping. Windows are definitely a no go.

For a typical homeowner who is just looking to clean around their home, the green and white nozzles would probably do just about anything you would need. Yellow would be used if you have an issue with oil stains in your driveway, but is limited in use. Red would make good for self defense, but unless you are trying to wash the paint right off of your car maybe isn’t the best for a beginner.

Selecting the Right Attachments

In addition to choosing the right nozzle for your job, there’s an assortment of attachment options you can put on to make the task easier. It’s kind of like your house vacuum. Most vacuums come with attachments, such as those for upholstery, crevices, cars, and even pet hair.

Knowing what attachments you can use can make pressure cleaning even easier than it already is. You just need to know what you’re cleaning and have an idea of how it would be made easier. Let me share three popular ones to consider.


If you’re pressure washing a house or something that’s quite high you might want to use an extension wand. This attachment lengthens your spray wand so that it can reach higher places. The benefit is that you don’t have to use a ladder when pressure washing, which can be very dangerous.

To pressure wash a two story house properly, you might want to use telescoping wand. This is basically an extension wand that’s adjustable in length. 

Or if you’re cleaning out your house gutters, a gutter wand attachment can simplify the job. You can avoid ladders again, and you’ll be able to reach into hard to see places. Think about that!


Pressure washer broom attachments are good for cleaning and sweeping debris away. The design and appearance look very similar to a typical push broom. You have an extension wand that has at its end an array of small nozzles that are lined up. As you push the broom attachment like you would for a normal push broom, the nozzles spray pressurized water out, and this forces debris quickly forward and to whatever direction you’re pushing.

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Surface cleaners

If you have a large surface, like a driveway or a warehouse floor, that you need cleaned, a pressure washer with a surface cleaner attachment is the perfect tool.

Surface cleaner attachments have a rotating arm that’s lined with small nozzles. As the arm spins, pressurized water is sprayed out. The action evenly cleans the surface patch where the rotating head hovers. 

You can save a lot of time using a surface cleaner. You’ll make fewer passes over areas that need to be cleaned.

Accessing the Surface You’ll be Cleaning

I briefly touched on this before in the section about the different nozzles available to use. Surfaces have varying textures and compositions. Some are softer and more delicate than others. Wood and brick are such examples. Steel and concrete are more dense, so they can withstand more pressure.

In addition to determining the type of surface you’ll be cleaning and choosing an appropriate nozzle to spray with, you also have to think about the cleaning solution you might want to use. Some cleaning agents, such as bleach or even vinegar, can be harmful to your health and destructive to the surface you’re cleaning. You want to choose the right cleaning agent to use and this can be done with a Google search.

ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on September 10, 2019.

There are eco friendly cleaning solutions that you can buy or even make. If you’re into this kind of thing, do some research or Google a DIY pressure washing recipe.