Field Test: Power washers

Money Magazine's tester let his Florida patio go unwashed for a few months, then unleashed the machines on different parts of it.

By Charles Passy, Money Magazine contributing writer

(Money Magazine) -- The annual springtime ritual of cleaning my patio and driveway has been a study in evolution.

For years I paid a handyman to do the dirty work, shelling out a hundred bucks a pop for him to power-wash away the green and black spots that months' worth of precipitation had left behind.

Then when my neighbor bought a pressure washer, I opted to borrow his. The cost was much less significant - each time, I contributed a case of beer to his "beverage fund" - but I always felt like a bit of a beggar.

No more. This year I've decided to buy a clean machine of my very own.

My story is hardly unique. "In the past, when somebody owned one of these, it was the neighborhood pressure washer," says Jon Hoch, founder of online retailer "But now they're so much more affordable, you can just get one for yourself."

Indeed, the machines - essentially, garden hoses powered by gas engines or electric motors used to speed-clean exterior surfaces - are increasingly targeted to consumers, with lower prices, more user-friendly features and better availability in big-box retailers.

Of particular appeal to home users are electric models, which can generate 1,300 to 2,000 pounds of water pressure per square inch (PSI) and pump out an average of 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM).

That's less than the 2,000 to 4,000 PSI and 2 to 4 GPM of gas-powered models, meaning they might not have enough force to tackle siding or roofs. (Gas is better for those - and you'd be best served with a commercial-grade unit for paint removal.)

But electric washers can impressively face down a muddy car, a moldy deck or grimy patio furniture. They also tend to be cheaper (rarely over $250, vs. easily $1,000 for gas) and safer (no gas can to fill or store).

Note: Just because electric pressure washers aren't as powerful as gas ones doesn't mean they can't inflict injuries. Take precautions: Wear close-toed shoes and eye protection. And never aim the washers toward a person.

With all this in mind, I set out in search of electric models at the high end of the PSI and GPM spectrum. I took five home [see correction below], put them to the test and ended up with one clean winner. Looks like this year my neighbor's buying the beer.

Gallery: See the power washers we tested

CORRECTION: This story originally ran in the April 2007 issue of Money Magazine and rated five power washers. The Karcher model is not included in the accompanying gallery because the model tested is no longer being made.  Top of page