There’s almost nothing more satisfying than watching someone clean grime and gunk off of a surface with nothing but the power of water. It’s so satisfying to watch, in fact, that there are thousands of videos online where you can just watch people pressure washing different things. (Here’s one of our faves.)
But the truth is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can lead to costly damages. We spoke to Dan Wright, owner of RinsePRO, a roof cleaning and pressure washing company and highly rated company on Thumbtack, to learn more about how pressure washing works, what it can be used on, and when you should tread, or rather spray, very carefully.
How It Works
A pressure washer is basically just a water pump that’s powered by a gas engine or electric motor to amplify the water pressure from a hose. The water is forced out through a spray wand, which provides the power necessary to easily and efficiently clean dirt, grime, algae, mildew, pollen and more off of everything from houses to driveways to cars.
There are different spray nozzles for different tasks and oftentimes chemical cleaning solutions are used to help with the job. And while using pressure washer soap or detergent can speed up the cleaning process, Wright points out that there are many instances where you don’t need to use chemicals at all. “They can be detrimental to your landscaping, as well as the surrounding area of what you’re cleaning,” he warns. In addition, you don’t want to use any chemicals that may be unsafe for your pets or be harmful to the environment if they go down storm drains.
What CAN Be Pressure Washed
“Pretty much anything that’s dirty that can be cleaned off with water,” Wright says. “It’s really a matter of the technique as there are certain things that require more care, like an older home that has fragile materials or anything that’s painted.”
You need to be very careful about the paint, stains, and seals on whatever you’re pressure washing, but the short answer of what can be pressure washed is:
- Exterior siding
- Garage doors
- Sidewalks and walkways
- Patios and decks
- Outdoor furniture
- Tile roofs
What CAN’T Be Pressure Washed (or Should Be Washed by a Pro)
Again, most things can be pressure washed, especially if it’s being handled by someone who knows what they’re doing. Wright says a pro will use different tips to determine how soft the water comes out and how big the stream is to ensure that nothing is damaged during the process.
That being said, there are a few things you may be tempted to pressure washed where Wright suggests you exercise caution.
- Anything Painted – Wright warns that there is a risk involved in pressure washing any surface that’s been painted. “There’s a technique involved to do it properly, so it’s a situation where you should hire a professional.
- Wood That’s Been Stained – If you pressure wash wood that’s been stained, you can take that stain off, so you just need to keep in mind that you’re going to have to re-stain it.
- Asphalt Roofs – Roof cleaning is another area where Wright cautions it’s important to do the job right. “If you’re cleaning an asphalt roof, you can’t use pressure because it will take the granules off and completely destroy the integrity of the roof.”
- Anything Old – “If you don’t have experience, the odds are you’re going to damage something, especially if you’re dealing with soft surfaces like wood or areas with dry rot,” Wright says.
How Often You Should Pressure Wash
“Every situation is different,” Wright says. “The region of the country you live in is going to impact how often things like your house or driveway need to be cleaned, as is the environment around you. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of trees or if you’re not near a body of water, the odds are that you’ll need to clean a little less.”
In addition, he points out that maybe just one side of your home will experience algae growth or mildew, so it’s not always necessary to pressure wash the entire thing. When it’s time, the chances are, you’ll know because it looks like it’s time.
Why Hire a Pro
“Every surface is different and requires a different technique,” Wright says. “Cleaning wood is very different than cleaning a concrete driveway. It’s imperative that the person doing the pressure washing knows what they’re cleaning and understands what goes into it.”
The person needs to know how much pressure and which nozzle to use, which cleaning agents to use and when, and proper technique. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can do damage to you property or, worse, do damage to yourself if you don’t have the knowledge or skill to properly use the machine. But even if you don’t do major damage, you still may just not end up with the results you want.
“There’s a technique to cleaning something like a wooden deck or fence,” Wright says. “If you stop in the middle of a plank, it’s going to leave a line and that line is not going to go away. You may also damage the integrity of what you’re cleaning or tear something apart completely.”
He adds, “We can tell when something was done professionally or by someone who’s never used a pressure washer before. It’s a completely different result if you get it done professionally and the customers see that. When they do it themselves, there are often lines everywhere and the results are uneven. But when we’re done, everything looks brand new.”
Dan Wright is the owner of RinsePRO, company that provides tile roof cleaning and pressure washing services in Florida, including Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, and the surrounding areas. You can find him on the RinsePRO website as well as on Thumbtack.