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TOH Tested: Pressure Washers

For tough cleaning tasks, like removing stains from concrete, or monster ones, like washing an entire house, elbow grease goes only so far. This range of pressure washers gets the job done faster—and better—than you and your brush.

Under Pressure

For tough cleaning tasks, like removing stains from concrete, or monster ones, like washing an entire house, elbow grease goes only so far. This range of pressure washers gets the job done faster—and better—than you and your brush.

Top-Line Features

1. A handle, with slots for the tips, hose, and wand, that collapses for storage.

2. A steel-reinforced rubber hose will outlast PVC versions.

3. A beefy, tubular steel cage protects the engine.

4. An easily accessible pump facilitates service.

5. Puncture-proof wheels.

CAUTION: A pressure washer is not a garden hose. Never direct the spray toward any living thing, as it can maim. Always wear boots, long pants, gloves, and eye protection.

Cleaning Units

Don't be dazzled by psi, or you may end up with plenty of pressure but not enough flow. Instead, calculate cleaning units (CU) by multiplying psi by gpm. This factor better represents the cleaning power you really have. The higher the CU, the deeper you can clean and the faster it'll go.

Pro TIP: "Run an $8 can of Pump Saver through your pressure washer before storing it for the winter to protect the pump and keep the seals from drying out." —Bill Mikenis, Pressure Washers Direct

Troy-Bilt 020413

This basic gas model is the pick for annual jobs too big for an electric unit. The go-to 25-degree fan tip handles most cleaning, but please shelve the fierce 0-degree tip, lest you accidently carve your name into your deck. Large wheels make the machine easy to maneuver. The consumer-grade sealed axial pump means no oil changes, but it also means the unit may need to be replaced after seven years of normal use.

Fine print: 2,500 psi, 2.3 gpm, 190cc engine, 60.7 pounds

About $280; Troy-Bilt

Karcher K 5.540

The 2,000 psi this unit produces is the max for a 110-volt electric washer, which features a long-lasting water-cooled pump. You'll appreciate practical features like the integrated hose reel, the adjustable spray head (no separate fan tips to lose), and an attachment that creates a circular pattern, boosting cleaning efficiency by 50 percent, for jobs like cleaning a brick walk.

Fine print: 2,000 psi, 1.4 gpm, 13-amp motor, axial pump, 60.7 pounds

About $280; Kärcher

Craftsman 75286

This compact washer includes two wands, one for the pressure washer and one for steam. The latter is a smart way to melt grime off grill grates or muck off car tires. It takes about 20 seconds for the heating element to turn distilled water into a stream of hot vapor. As for the pressure washer, it's great for light-duty cleaning, like patio furniture.

Fine print: 1,700 psi, 1.3 gpm, 12.5-amp motor, wobble-plate pump, 22.5 pounds

About $215; Craftsman

Nomad MCOR35

More of a cordless cleaner than a pressure washer, this unit won't revitalize a deck. But it packs enough punch to blast mud, sand, and gunk off boats, cars, or even Fido (without maiming him). The 18-volt battery will run through the 3.5-gallon tank three times on one charge. The sprayer works like the one on a traditional garden hose and adjusts from 90 psi to a soft fan of water.

Fine print: 90 psi, 0.5 gpm, 20 pounds

About $250; Nomad

Generac 5993

Prosumer-grade pressure washers like this gas-powered one compress water with a robust, triplex pump. Ceramic-coated heads generate less heat and last hundreds of hours longer than those on standard axial pumps. A side grip helps you direct the spray while keeping your hand a safe distance from the tip. For the user who wants the durability to clean the whole house—as well as all the others in the neighborhood.

Fine print: 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi), 2.8 gallons per minute (gpm), 212cc engine, 113 pounds

About $630; Generac

How to Clean Wood With Care: Siding

Illustration by Gregory Nemac

Fit the wand with the soap-dispensing tip and spray the siding with a cleaner, then switch to the 25-degree tip to rinse. Move side to side, keeping the tip 12 to 18 inches off the siding and the spray fan perpendicular to the grain. Angle the wand slightly downward to prevent water from being forced behind the siding. Move in closer if you have a less powerful unit.

How to Clean Wood With Care: Decking

Illustration by Gregory Nemac

Start by spraying on a cleaner made for decks; use the soap-dispensing tip and follow the cleaner's directions. With a 25-degree tip held 9 to 12 inches off the deck, hold the spray fan perpendicular to the grain but move the wand with the grain. Don't linger—you may gouge the wood.

Upgrade Your Wand: Clog Buster

Fit this flexible drain flusher to the wand, snake it down a clogged pipe, and pull the trigger. One jet breaks up the blockage, while two rear ones push the snake forward.

About $100; Clog Hog

Upgrade Your Wand: Surface Cleaner

Push this disk over a patio and it leaves a clean, streak-free 12-inch-wide path with no overspray.

About $50; Kärcher

Upgrade Your Wand: Telescoping Wand

Extend this wand up to 18 feet and use it to spray a cleaner on second-story windows and then rinse them—from the safety of the ground.

About $140; MTM Hydro