How to buy the best pressure washer
By Victoria Pearson
Cheap or premium? Wheeled or static? Patio cleaner or car brush? This expert guide will help you pick out the best pressure washer for you.
As our buying guide video above shows, pressure washers come in many shapes and sizes: from tiny units with a short hose that you have to carry around, to large trolley-style machines with on-board storage for an array of cleaning accessories.
To choose the best pressure washer for you it is worth taking time to think about what you'll be cleaning, how dirty it will be and how often you'll use it. That way you can find one that has the right power and features for your cleaning jobs.
Take a look at our pressure washer Best Buys to discover the models that Which? recommends.
Find the best pressure washer for you
Our tool below walks you through the key features and buying decisions to consider - helping you to spend the right amount of money to get the pressure washer you need.
Almost all pressure washers can be categorised into one of three price-ranges: budget, mid-range, and premium. Find out the characteristics of each, below, and whether or not it’s right for you.
How much should you pay?
This all depends on how much you can afford and how powerful and durable you want your pressure washer to be.
Pressure washers vary extremely widely in price; the cheapest cost around £40, while semi-professional jet washers can set you back more than £400.
There's real polarisation in the pressure washer market, with loads of cheap models available for less than £100 in DIY and chain-stores.
These often appear to have all the cleaning features you might want, at a low price. But they do tend to be cheaply made and lack the power to clean the toughest garden grime.
The best-known brands in pressure washers tend to be considerably pricier, but you generally get more robust products, built with better-quality materials. They can be considerably more of a pleasure to use than cheap pressure washers, with more power and a quieter motor.
We've found good and bad examples of both cheap and expensive pressure washers, which is why we think that following our Best Buy recommendations is a better guide to a good pressure washer than price.
The more you spend on a pressure washer, the more power you get, but an adaptable machine can be a better investment than a super powerful one.
Go to our full pressure washing reviews to find the right model for you, at the right price.
What type of pressure washer should you buy?
Best for: Cleaning small areas of lightly soiled paving, bicycles, small cars and garden furniture.
Typically costing from £40-£100, these tend to be own-brand models that have low-powered motors (1,200W to 1,600W), low water pressure (less than 90-bar) and low flow rates. They are split into small hand-carried units and petite trolley-style models with low handles and small wheels.
Hoses lengths vary from 3m, which is too short to wash a car, to 5m which is an adequate length for car cleaning. Some cheap pressure washers come with fixed nozzles that don't allow you to vary the water pressure.
Pros: Cheap, can cope with light cleaning tasks, easy to move around, some are easy to store.
Cons: Short hoses and low power can make cleaning slow and tiresome. These machines often have very noisy motors and lack the power to clean ingrained dirt, weeds, moss and lichen. Lances and accessories can be flimsy. Patio cleaner attachments tend to be poor at cleaning. Limited on-board storage for cables, hose and accessories. Contain plastic parts and pump components that are prone to frost damage.
Best for: Cleaning domestic garden paved areas and decking, cars and 4x4s.
Typically costing from £100 to £200, these tend to be a mix of high-end own-brand models and cheaper premium-brand models. As such, you'll find a confusing array of high-powered but basic models by garden machinery brands such as Stihl or Nilfisk, mid-powered Karcher, Bosch or Vax models with some choice of accessories, and high-powered and highly accessorised machines from Qualcast and Mac Allister.
Expect a medium-powered motor (1,600W to 2,000W), mid-range water pressure (100 to 130-bar) and medium flow rates. Most units are a bit heavy, have larger wheels and on-board storage for accessories. Some may even have hose reels. Hoses tend to be 5m or 6m.
Pros: Good cleaning ability and often quick and easy to use. Good hose lengths and are often provided with a range of useful accessories.
Cons: Often sold in packs with different accessories, so it can be confusing to work out which will suit you best. Some have noisy motors. May lack the power to clean the most encrusted dirt, weeds, moss and lichen. Good on-board storage for accessories, but usually a bit large to store easily.
Best for: Cleaning extensive areas of paving, grimy 4x4s, commercial vehicles and caravans
Typically costing up from £150-400, these tend to be made by well-known machinery brands such as Karcher, Bosch, Nilfisk and Stihl. These are semi-professional models with high-powered motors (1,800W to 2,500W), high water pressure (130 to 150-bar) and high flow rates.
The machines tend to be very large and heavy to cope with the high-powered motors and pumps that they contain, and use more-durable aluminium pumps and induction motors than the cheaper models. Large wheels, telescopic handles, multiple lances and robust cleaning accessories are common.
Pros: Brilliant cleaning ability. Long hoses, high power and flow rates make cleaning quick and easy. Often have a less disturbing tone to the motor noise. Good on-board storage for hoses, cables and accessories.
Cons: Possibly overpowered for many domestic cleaning jobs, and very powerful so you have to know how to use them properly to avoid damaging your surfaces. Expensive, large and heavy can be difficult to move.
What features do you need?
No-frills machines usually come with just one lance, which is a long tube with a nozzle on the end. The nozzle will usually provide variable pressure – when you twist the nozzle, you can adjust the spray from a powerful narrow jet to a more broad gentle fan. This type of lance is good for light cleaning and for easily damaged surfaces, such as decking or cars.
For car cleaning
Check whether the pressure washer comes with a detergent bottle or tank. In our pressure washer tests, we've found that built-in but removable detergent tanks are more convenient than a detergent bottle attachment for the lance.
An angled lance will also be useful, as it will make it easier to clean under wheel arches and sills.
Watch our video of how to clean a car with a pressure washer.
For stubborn grime
- Paving Opt for a model that has a rotary jet lance as well as a variable-pressure lance. These spin the water jet as it leaves the nozzle.
- Conservatory or greenhouse Opt for a model that comes with a brush to fit onto the lance – these are often sold as an optional extra.
- Paving, concrete or decking You may want a patio cleaner attachment. Often sold as an optional extra, these have a plastic cover over the nozzle to stop dirty water flying around so much. In our tests of pressure washer accessories, the best patio cleaners made cleaning less of a chore and less messy, but some were a waste of money because they are difficult to control or produce much less impressive cleaning results than the main lance.
For more tips on patio cleaning watch our pressure washing your patio video.
Should you buy a separate patio cleaner?
Some pressure washers come with a patio cleaner attachment, but they're often an optional extra costing around £40-50. So are they worth it?
Patio cleaners can be useful for large expanses of patio or driveway. They make cleaning easier and less messy than using a standard jet lance, as the plastic cover over the nozzle helps to stop dirty water spraying everywhere. They are also often quicker to use than the main lance.
They can be particularly useful for cleaning block paving, as they're less prone to blasting away the sand from the joints than more powerful nozzles.
But there can be big differences between the effectiveness of patio cleaners from different brands. Problems that we've encountered include:
- not cleaning between paving slabs, leaving moss and weeds behind
- being uncomfortable to use because the cleaning head doesn't glide over the surface
- juddering or flipping over when they hit an uneven patch, making it difficult to manoeuvre.
We make it clear in all our reviews whether we think that the compatible pressure washer accessory is a useful addition to the model.
Visit our list of Best Buy pressure washers to find a great pressure washer that has an effective patio cleaner.
Features to check in store
The best way to get the features you need is to read our pressure washer reviews. But there are a few things you can check for yourself in store.
- How easy will it be to store? Some take up a lot more shed space than others, and our tests have shown that bigger isn't always better.
- Can you store the lances and other accessories securely on the machine so they won't get lost?
- Can the cable and pressure hose be wound neatly onto the machine so you won't trip over them?
- How easy is it to carry? Heavy models usually have wheels but these don't help if you need to carry it up steps.
- Is it too heavy? Is the handle comfortable?
- How easy is it to wheel around? Check that the wheels run freely and you can pull it along without needing to stoop.
- How comfortable are the lance handle and trigger? Bear in mind that you may be holding it for long time.
Read our guide to pressure washer features to help you decide which ones you want.