How to buy the best pressure washer
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.
Use our expert advice to help you find one that has the right power and features for your cleaning jobs, and then check out our reviews from brands, including Karcher and Nilfisk, to ensure you don't end up taking home a dud.
Video: how to buy the best pressure washer
What is a pressure washer?
Pressure washers (also known as jet washers and power washers) deliver a powerful concentrated jet of water to remove dirt more efficiently than a brush, and using less water than you would with a garden hose.
A pressure washer is essentially a motorised hosepipe. It uses a pump to create a high-pressure flow of water that dislodges dirt more quickly and effectively than you can with a scrubbing brush or hose alone.
What type of pressure washer should I buy?
Best for: Cleaning small areas of lightly soiled paving, bicycles, small cars and garden furniture.
These tend to be own-brand, cheaper 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 three metres, which is too short to wash a car; to five metres, which is an adequate length for car cleaning. Some of the cheaper pressure washers come with fixed nozzles that don't allow you to vary the water pressure.
The shorter hose and low power can make cleaning slow and difficult, and the motors tend to be noisy. The parts also tend to be flimsy and prone to frost damage.
Best for: Cleaning domestic garden paved areas and decking, cars and 4x4s.
Medium duty pressure washers 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.
They tend to have good cleaning ability and are quick and easy to use.
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 so make sure you can lift it to clean and have somewhere to keep it stored.
Hoses tend to be five or six metres, and some may even have hose reels.
These machines can be noisy and others may lack the power to clean encrusted dirt and weeds.
Best for: Cleaning extensive areas of paving, grimy 4-wheel drive vehicles, commercial vehicles and caravans
The priciest washers on the market, heavy duty models 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 which mean they tend to clean quickly and brilliantly.
Motor noise is typically less intrusive with these machines but they can be a little overpowered for many domestic cleaning jobs. Make sure you know how to use them properly to avoid damaging your surfaces.
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.
Should I buy a petrol or electric pressure washer?
Electric pressure washers are more suited to domestic cleaning, while petrol pressure washers are designed for professional, large-scale jobs.
Although you have to be near a power outlet to use an electric washer, they are typically lighter, better for the environment, less noisy and will be powerful enough for the usual home and garden cleaning jobs.
Petrol models will allow you to go anywhere because they don't need to be near a power socket. But will normally be too powerful for general jobs such as cleaning your car or patio.
How much do I need to pay for a good pressure washer?
This all depends on how much you can afford and how powerful and durable you want your pressure washer to be.
- Light-duty pressure washers: £40-100
- Medium-duty pressure washers: £100-200
- Heavy-duty pressure washers: £200-400
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.
Best pressure washer features to look for
If you just need a pressure washer for light cleaning, then most no-frills machines 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.
But for anything more, the following additions could prove invaluable:
- Washer hose: starting at three metres for the cheapest models, hoses can be up to 10 metres long.
- Trigger: all triggers should have a safety lock to avoid accidentally turning on your pressure washer.
- Detergent tank: we found built-in but removable detergent tanks more convenient than bottle attachments in our tests.
- Variable fan-jet: also called variable pressure lances, these allow you to vary the force of the jet from a focused point to a broad fan.
- Angled lance: great for cleaning under cars or furniture.
- Rotary jet lance: a powerful jet that spins as it leaves the nozzle. Ideal for heavily soiled paving slabs, but not cars or decking.
- Brush attachment: useful for cleaning cars, greenhouses and conservatories.
- Patio cleaner attachment: circular plastic hoods with a brush around the bottom edge. Stops you having to stoop and helps ensure dirty water doesn't spray everywhere.
- Wheels: handy for heavier models. But, if you have lots of uneven ground or steps make sure you can still carry the machine.
- Hose storage wheel: avoids the cable getting tangled up.
- Attachment holder: to keep your tools to hand while cleaning.
- Additional handles: some machines have a variety of handles that will make carrying it around while cleaning much easier.
- Telescopic handle: super-useful if you need to clean high level surfaces.
- Pressure gauge: some more expensive models have a pressure gauge on the lance handle but, as the pump pressure doesn't vary, they're of little practical use.
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. We make it clear in all our reviews whether we think that the compatible pressure washer accessory is a useful addition to the model.
Pressure washers compared
Below we've listed the key specs and features for some of the most popular pressure washers.
Nilfisk D-PG 140.4-9 X-TRA Powergrip, £275
- Power: 1,500 watts
- Output water pressure: 125 bars
- Flow rate: 460 lph
This Nilfisk pressure washer comes with three potentially useful attachments - a patio cleaner, a brush for cleaning the car and a detergent bottle attachment that has a foamer nozzle. It also has a reasonable hose length of six metres, which means you won’t need to worry about it reaching your car. Not bad for the price. But is it really such a bargain?
Stihl RE 88 Compact, £115
- Power: 1,700 watts
- Output water pressure: 90 bars
- Flow rate: 370 lph
The Stihl RE 88 compact pressure washer has a 90-bar water pump that Stihl claims makes it great for cleaning jobs around the house and garden. It also comes with wheels, which is useful if you’re using the machine on flat surfaces. It hasn’t got many additional features but it’s definitely affordable. Does it clean well?