Improper Power Washing Can Hurt You And Your Property
If you're planning to clean the exterior of your house, resurface your deck or recoat your driveway, the first thing you'll hear is that you'll need to rent a power washer. It's not necessarily a bad idea. Just be aware that used incorrectly, they can cause serious damage to your property. Even worse, they have been known to injure the operator or others who are nearby.
Let's start with the basics. Safety is the top priority - first, foremost, always. To understand how dangerous a power washer can be, consider that the pressure from these units can range up to 4,000 pounds per square inch. That much pressure coming from a small nozzle could put a hole into vinyl siding, splinter a wood deck, blast shingle granules from the roof, and even worse, tear open human flesh. Simply put, power washers are never toys.
They are dangerous tools that must be treated with care and attention. Always point the tip of the sprayer in a safe direction away from people and pets. Before you prepare to press the trigger, be sure all connections are solid. For example, if the nozzle is not seated properly, water can send it flying at a huge rate of speed right through a window.
Keep in mind, too, that your cleaning job could turn into an environmental hazard. If your paint contains lead and you use an incorrect water pressure, the runoff could spread that lead into the surrounding area. For safety reasons, if your house or office was built before 1978, it's best to hire a professional who has had proper training in dealing with environmental hazards.
If you decide to use a power washer, protect yourself with earplugs, safety glasses and other protective equipment. Obviously, if you're working on a ladder or the rooftop, you'll need to be extra cautious to maintain your balance as the activation of the washer can cause kickback. Even on solid ground, you'll feel that kick. And, of course, the surface where you're standing will quickly become wet.
You'll also want to heed your environment. Never spray water near electrical, computer, telephone or other lines and wires attached to your home or office. Watch for animal nests both elevated and at ground level. Don't spray or otherwise disturb wasp, bee, hornet, bat, snake or other insect or animal nests attached to the structure or in the vicinity of the work area. Also note the weather. If there is lightning in the area, put the sprayer away.
Power washers come with a list of instructions designed to provide you with the safest, most effective methods for use. Read and follow all those instructions. Never deactivate or otherwise bypass the equipment's built-in safety systems.
Keep in mind, your goal is to clean the surface - not destroy it. This means you'll want to use low pressure and lots of water to remove organic, artificial and industrial pollutants and contaminants before painting, staining or otherwise recoating the particular surface. Ideally, for whatever cleaning job you're doing, you'll use lower pressure with higher volume of water along with environmentally friendly cleaners to get the job done. Let the cleaners do the work, not the water pressure.
To protect plants, animals, family and friends, you'll also want to be well aware of the types of cleaners you are using for your projects and be well aware of where runoff from those cleaners is going. Those cleaners can be toxic, corrosive or irritating, so read the labels and take proper precautions. Think about it logically. If you're using a product to clean plant algae off your house, you're using a product that kills plants. Know where the runoff of that product is going; otherwise, you may be killing plants you want to save. Make sure they and the ground around them are protected from the runoff.
How much pressure is correct? The simple answer is no more than 1500 pounds per square inch (psi). Machines often offer ranges from 2000 to 2500 psi, so clearly that's too much.
For cleaning houses, you'll want less that 1000 psi because too much pressure will force water behind the siding of the house leading to mold and mildew problems later. You also can send water around windows, frames and other structural areas.
Wood and composite are softer than you may realize, so high pressure can damage decks and fences by actually cutting into the underlying material leaving unsightly marks and scars that will show through the sealer. Excess pressure also can create hair-like fibers on wood surfaces.
Too much pressure on a rooftop can remove protective elements in the shingles. These small pieces of grit, similar to sand, are called granules. Excessive pressure can remove them from the shingles, thus reducing the protection and longevity of your roof.
When selecting the nozzle for your cleaning project, you'll usually want a 25-degree pattern. This width is best for most jobs, especially for cleaning decks. For tougher jobs, such as cleaning concrete or driveways, use a narrower 15-degree pattern. For lighter jobs like removing leaves or sand or simply rinsing, use the widest 40-degree pattern.
Obviously there is much to consider when using a power washer. But the most important thing to consider is safety not only for yourself, but also for all those around you.