Nothing knocks dirt off homes like high-powered streams of water delivering up to 2,000 pounds of force.
Consumers may find that pressure washing is an efficient way to clean their home's exterior, sidewalk, driveway, garage floor or deck. But first, our researchers found, it's important to understand a few things about this powerful, and potentially dangerous, tool.
For one thing, pressure washing and power washing are different in one major way: A power washer lets you control the temperature of the water; pressure washers do not. Both, however, are capable of delivering the same water velocity.
Whether you need a power washer or pressure washer depends on what you're cleaning from a surface.
POWER WASHING A power washer provides steady streams of heated water, which works well to rid surfaces of mold, mildew and thick clumps of dirt. The more stuff you have stuck on whatever you're cleaning, the more you'll benefit from power washing.
Pressure washers clean through water pressure alone. Pressure washers work well on masonry, brick and concrete.
BE SAFE Follow these tips if you plan to pressure or power wash on your own:
—Inspect the washer for signs of damage, including cracked hoses, broken seals or rust on the nozzle head.
—Understand how the washer works. Read the operation and safety instructions. If you rent a washer, ask the business to show you how to operate the unit.
—Make sure water and electrical connections are secure, and avoid spraying directly at outside electrical outlets.
—Use safety glasses, goggles or a face shield when you spray.
—Don't stand too close to what you're spraying. At close range, pressure washers can remove paint or break up pieces of asphalt. Generally, start by standing 5 to 6 feet away from the surface you're cleaning.
—If you want to clean windows, set the spray to the lowest setting, and test on another surface to make sure it's not too strong.
—Choose the correct nozzle. A 40-degree nozzle sprays wide and is best used for windows, siding, sidewalks and decks. A 0-degree nozzle blasts the highest concentrated stream, so use caution. A 0-degree nozzle is best for clumps of mud and stains on concrete, masonry and aluminum siding.
—After installing or changing a nozzle tip, point the water jet toward the ground before pulling the trigger the first time. The tip can blast off the nozzle if it's not securely seated or locked.
—Spray one area or wall at a time with cleaning solution and allow it to soak for three to five minutes. Then rinse the area completely with clear water until all signs of soapy residue are gone. Never let cleaning solution dry on the wall, as it will redeposit dirt that was loosened.
—If you decide to pressure wash your entire house, expect the job to take several hours. Start at the top — as high as you can reach — and work your way down.
—Thoroughly clean the washer after each use.
HIRING HELP Whether you hire someone depends on your level of comfort with operating a pressure washing machine, as well as the area you want to have cleaned. Generally, the bigger the job, the more benefit you'll get out of hiring someone.
COST The amount of time it takes a pro to do a job will drive most of the price. Contractors can estimate the amount of time their work will take based on the size of the area to be cleaned.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.