Pressure washer features explained
Basic pressure washers typically come with just one lance that can provide variable pressure if you twist the nozzle. This is perfect for gentle domestic cleaning but for anything more you might want to invest in some additional tools.
We run through everything you need to know about pressure-washer features so you can feel confident with what you're buying.
Keep scrolling to find out the difference between rotary jets and angled lances, and if a patio cleaning attachment is really worth it.
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.
Basic features of a pressure washer
These are the most common features you'll find on pressure washers.
This plastic housing contains the motor and pump. The more powerful the pump and motor, the bigger, heavier and more robust the body will be. It can be easy to knock over smaller, lighter pressure washer bodies over as you move the hose, but larger, heavier ones are more difficult to move around.
You'll find the main on/off switch on the body, and fittings to connect the hosepipe and washer hose, too. Push-fit connections for the hoses make it quicker to attach and remove them.
There are usually plastic mouldings on the body that provide places to stow the lance and accessories when they are not in use.
Starting at three metres for the cheapest models, hoses can be up to 10 metres long. Longer hoses make it easier to move around to clean without moving your pressure washer too, which is especially useful when cleaning a car.
Hoses tend to be wider and thicker on more powerful washers and can be made of reinforced materials to prevent them bursting under the pressure of the water.
They are usually stored in one of three ways: being wound around the body, hung on a hook on the body, or retracted onto a hose reel on more expensive models.
Trigger and handle
When the motor is switched on, water only flows from your nozzle when the trigger is squeezed. Most pressure washers automatically turn off when the trigger is released. Thicker plastic, soft-touch surfaces and more ergonomic shaping of the handle and trigger are all features of more expensive pressure washers.
All triggers should have a safety lock to avoid accidentally turning on your pressure washer. Designs vary so check how easy it is to use.
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.
These are useful on the heavier machines. Check the handle is tall enough to wheel the machine around without stooping.
Before buying a heavy model, consider whether you'll need to transport it up steps or over uneven ground as wheels will not be of much use in these circumstances - you'll need to be able to carry it.
Lances and nozzles
The lance is a long plastic tube that connects the trigger and handle of your pressure washer to the nozzle that creates your spray jet, meaning that you don't have to stoop over to hold the spray near the object that you're cleaning.
Basic pressure washers come with just one lance and nozzle; more expensive models may come with several lances and nozzles that give you different strengths and shapes of jet spray:
- Fixed jet: the shape and pressure of this jet can't be adjusted, though you can hold it further from the surface to reduce the force.
- 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. This is useful for gentler cleaning of easily damaged surfaces, such as decking and cars.
- Rotary jet: also know as 'Dirt Blasters' or 'Roto-power' lances, the very powerful, focused jet spins as it leaves the nozzle providing very strong cleaning power. These are useful for removing heavy soiling from paving slabs but should never be used on block paving, decking or cars - particularly tyres - because the water jet is so strong it can cause damage. You can often only vary the cleaning power of the jet by moving it closer or further from the surface.
- Angled lances: useful for cleaning the underside of cars and garden furniture.
Visit our reviews of Bosch pressure washers, Vax pressure washers or Karcher pressure washers.
Common pressure washer accessories
Some pressure washers come with brushes. These are useful for washing your car, and for cleaning a greenhouses and conservatories.
Fixed brushes just allow the water to flow out through holes between the bristles, whereas a rotary brush uses the power of the water to rotate a circular brush.
In our tests we find it is quite hit and miss whether the brushes actually improve the quality of the cleaning compared with using the main lance.
Some machines come with a patio-cleaning attachment, or you can buy one separately for around £40-£50.
These attachments are circular plastic hoods with a brush around the bottom edge. Inside, a pair of jets rotates at high speed close to the ground to remove dirt.
Some models have hand grips so you can use them on vertical surfaces, such as walls and fences.
We found patio cleaners can make the job easier and less messy than using a standard lance as you're less likely to stoop when using them and the plastic hood helps to stop dirty water spraying everywhere.
Patio cleaners are also less likely to blast the sand away from block paving than conventional lances. However, in our tests, most don't clean between paving slabs very well, leaving moss and weeds behind.
A good pressure washer has lots of useful storage options to keep the hose, cable, lance and nozzles in order. Some even have a stowable handle to make the pressure washer less bulky to store.
On-board storage for spare lances and attachments means they are always ready for use, and you can just wheel the whole machine inside for storage. Few machines have on-board storage for a patio-cleaner attachment, though.
This ensures the power cable is less likely to get tangled up and be a trip hazard in storage. Simpler machines have a single hook for the cable to hang on. Better is a two-hook winder or an integral cable reel.