Pressure washers

If you know what and where you will be cleaning, selecting the right pressure washer isn’t difficult.

Pressure washers come in three basic varieties – cold water, hot water and steam cleaners. Which one you choose should depend on what you are cleaning. If you just want to take off mud and caked-on dirt, a cold-water washer will work fine. But if you need to slice through oil and grease, you’ll have to use hot water.

If electricity is available, an electric-powered pressure washer is the most economical choice – and the only choice if you are working indoors. If you are cleaning equipment at a jobsite, however, you’ll probably need a gas-powered pressure washer. These machines have the advantage of being more portable because you are not tethered to a generator or electrical outlet.

Protect eyes and skin from debris, spray stream
Pressure washers may seem innocuous enough, but they do present some serious safety hazards.
Use a face shield or eye protection to block flying dirt and debris. “As you clean with a pressure washer, there’s a lot of force and it can cause rocks and debris to fly around,” says Paul Peacock, product manager for Landa. “Eye protection is pretty commonly ignored until somebody gets mud in their eye.”

And never direct a spray stream at any part of your body or anybody else’s. “With high pressure, you could get water in your bloodstream, which can be dangerous,” says Jim Scott, marketing manager for Alkota. “Or you could cut somebody. You start talking 3,000 to 5,000 of pounds pressure, you could cut the skin pretty easily.” See the safety checklist on page 62 for more tips.

Work with a local distributor
Some contractors run into problems by focusing too heavily on price when they make their purchase, Scott says. “They buy too small a washer and they’re unhappy with it,” he says. “Make sure you’ve got a big enough cleaner to do the job you want.”

Tell your distributor what you will be cleaning and he can make a good recommendation for the size of pressure washer you’ll need.

Scott advises taking advantage of the wide array of accessory products available. “There’s an abundance of accessory items that can make the job easier and help you clean better,” he says. “And they make the machine more efficient.”

Some examples are dual wands, which allow you to control pressure at the gun, rotating nozzles for increasing cleaning capacity and wand extensions for washing tall machines. Scott also suggests buying a hose reel. “I always say the dirtiest part of any cleaning job is rolling up the hose afterwards,” he says. “If you’ve got a hose reel you can clean the hose as you’re reeling it up and save a lot of money on hoses. If it’s rolled up, people don’t run over it and destroy it.”

Choose a local distributor with salespeople who have the knowledge to suggest the proper accessories and detergents for different jobs. “If the salesperson is onsite, he can see what you’re cleaning,” says Crismon Lewis, marketing manager for Landa. “That makes a big difference. He can recommend the right soap for that application.”

TIP: Some bearings on the machines you clean may be sensitive to water, so you need to be careful around them.

Avoid common usage mistakes
Don’t leave your pump running in the bypass mode for any extended period of time, warns Randy Center, marketing director for Whitco. If you do, you will damage pump components.
Make sure particles in the water your pressure washer is using are no larger than five to 10 microns. If you use dirty water, the check valves and seals in the pump will deteriorate. “When this happens you’re going to lose pressure and lose pressure and finally you’re not going to have any pressure,” Center says.

If you are using tap water in your pressure washer, this generally will not be a problem. But if you are using non-potable water, you should run it through a filter that will trap large particles.

If you are cleaning equipment indoors in a wash bay, Scott recommends putting up a wall between the pressure washer and the wash bay so water doesn’t get sprayed directly on the pressure washer.

Some bearings on the machines you clean may be sensitive to water, so you need to be careful around them, Center says. “You don’t want to put 3,000 pounds of pressure against a bearing that’s not supposed to be exerted to more than 200 pounds of pressure,” he says.

Radiator fan fins won’t withstand a great deal of pressure either. When cleaning that part of a machine, adjust your spray tip or move back from the radiator to lessen pressure.
And don’t give a pressure washer to someone who hasn’t used one before without providing some instruction. “Some people will give a pressure washer to a young kid and say ‘go clean that tractor,’ and he’ll put the nozzle so close to the seat that it’ll rip a hole right through it,” Peacock says. “Or take the paint off the machine.”

Daily maintenance checks required
Check the oil in gas engines every day. “I know when you use heavy equipment, you probably check it every morning and I think you should check your pressure washer as well,” Center says.

Daily checks should also include looking for loose belts if you have a belt-driven pump system; making sure the machine is using clean water; inspecting fuel filters; checking for leaks or breaks in high-pressure hoses; and examining the tightness of nuts and bolts on the chassis.

Change the oil in the pump. When you purchase a new machine, change the oil after 50 hours. Then change it every 400 to 500 hours, depending on the manufacturer’s suggestions.
Keeping the machine free from debris, dirt and grease is important. “I’ve seen cleaners over in the corner with everything piled up against them,” Scott says. “They’re in terrible shape as far as they look and of course that’s going to shorten the life of the machine.”

In winter, you’ll need to protect your pressure washers from freezing, which can damage hoses. Peacock suggests running antifreeze through the machine when you’re done using it.
The nozzle is also a wear item. After several months, you may notice the machine’s pressure isn’t as good as it was when you first bought it. That’s typically because the nozzle is beginning to wear. If you are using the machine a lot, check the pressure weekly with a pressure gauge. Peacock recommends keeping some extra nozzles on hand. “Make sure you’re not losing 500 or 1,000 psi because the nozzle is six months to a year old,” he says.