Is there grime on your siding that good old-fashioned elbow grease won’t take away? Stains on your concrete driveway? Is the deck dirty?
Power washing or pressure washing — the terms are used almost interchangeably — might be an option.
“People find it so powerful,” says Ken Collier, editor-in-chief of The Family Handyman magazine. “It’s so fast and it’s so liberating.”
You can hire a pressure-washing company or do it yourself. Machines, which come in electric and gasoline-powered models, can be rented or purchased.
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Are there risks?
“Too much pressure on vinyl siding or stucco can cause damage to the surface,” says Doug Rucker, owner of Clean and Green Solutions in Kingwood, Texas. “The same thing with concrete cleaning.”
Similarly, excessive pressure can tear up a wood deck.
“When we’re cleaning wood decks, we’re using what we call low pressure,” Rucker says.
When cleaning your home’s exterior, window and door seals need to be protected to prevent leaks. Windows could break if you inadvertently hit them with the same pressure you’re using for the rest of the house.
Despite the risk involved in power washing — including working on a ladder with a machine that has recoil — many homeowners decide to do the work themselves. Home-supply stores offer an array of pressure washers; prices range from about $100 to more than $1,000.
Collier says most of the skill in using a power washer lies in applying the right pressure and tip. “It’s like anything else — you have to learn how the tool operates.”
Gas-operated washers tend to be more powerful, noisier, heavier and more expensive than electric ones. Manuals that come with the units should explain what types of job they’re good for.
If you decide to rent a power-washing machine, Collier advises, “Have a job in mind, ask what tip you need and if there’s an additive that will help with the cleaning.”
And don’t forget the prep work.
“The finished product is only going to be as good as the preparation you did,” says John Nearon of Exterior Wood Restoration in Cicero, Ind.
People unaccustomed to such work might be advised against trying it themselves, Collier says.
Hiring a contractor to power wash a home can cost from 12 cents to up to 20 cents per square foot, depending on the location and surface, according to Rucker, who also provides training for power washers.
Before hiring a professional, ask questions.
Insurance. Is the contractor insured to cover any damage or injury that might occur when cleaning? Don’t be afraid to ask for a copy of their insurance-certificate binder, Rucker says.
Training. Do workers get continuing education to keep their training up to date?
Methods. “Talk to them about how they’re going to clean it, what kind of process they’re going to use, down to the products they’re using,” Rucker says.
Landscape. What will they do to protect trees, shrubs or other plants around the house or property? Rucker says that wetting down plants and keeping them watered is important. If you cover them, he says, do it only for minutes at a time.
Power washing isn’t just for big projects; it also can be used for such things as patio furniture and cars.
Collier likens the experience of using a power washer for the first time to switching from a hand lawnmower to a self-propelled gasoline mower.
“It’s kind of a momentous thing,” he says. “You can’t say the same thing about most tools.”