The latest pressure washers are powerful beasts that make quick work of cleaning the car, scrubbing the patio and decking, and more.
Did I say powerful? I meant super-powerful. Use the wrong tool for the wrong job and they can do more harm than good. A focused, high-pressure jet is perfect for blasting gunk off a cast-iron barbecue grill, but point it at the patio and you may find it takes a piece out of your concrete. Beware: I picked a too-powerful tool at one point in my testing and accidentally stripped a bit of paint off the car.
The latest models are all powerful enough, so don't get too hung up on their specs. 120 bar of pressure is plenty. Instead there are three things to look for...
Pressure washers typically come with a trigger handle to which you attach a lance and then a choice of nozzles. The most common nozzles are a rotary one and a fan jet. Rotary nozzles create a wide, generous "make it rain" spray. Fan jet nozzles can be twisted to adjust the pressure and shape – everything from a powerful, focused beam of water to a gentle, wide, flat fan of water that's perfect for cleaning cars and bikes.
Most mid-level and high-end pressure washers also come with a patio cleaner tool. These look like a vacuum cleaner head. They're usually round but some have a pointy bit for edges and corners. There are bristles around the outside and then a pair of spinning water jets inside to blast the ground at close range. They're usually adjustable – be sure to turn the pressure down for wooden decking.
All the pressure washers on test also boast a detergent tank which can be used for extra cleaning power. This is especially useful for washing the car.
Some pressure washers come with additional nozzles, lance extensions, brushes and more, but if yours doesn't you can buy them as optional accessories.
Very few pressure washers let you manually vary the pressure. Instead they rely on the tools to do it for you. So use a focused jet for tough jobs and a wide fan for gentle washing. I was impressed, though, by the way the Nilfisk D-PG 140.4-9 P X-TRA lets you adjust cleaning power manually too.
This is subjective, but I have two pet peeves with pressure washer design. The first is machines that are too tall and topple over when they're tugged. I found the Vax Power Wash Complete 3 to be the worst culprit for this, while the Kärcher K7 Premium Full Control Home and Stihl RE 109 were the most stable.
My second peeve is accessory storage. Some models are better than others for stowing the supplied tools. This matters a lot, because you want everything on hand when you're cleaning.
Note that, with pressure washers, the official manufacturer's price is pretty meaningless. Even brand-new models have a street price that's significantly lower than the RRP, so do shop around online and expect to spend around 20% less than the official price.