Pressure washers are powerful cleaning tools that can remove even the toughest grime and unwanted materials stuck to surfaces around your home or workplace. However, they also have inherent safety risks. To find out how dangerous pressure washers are, keep reading.
Types of Pressure Washers
A pressure washer allows for the cleaning of surfaces, with or without a detergent attachment.
Pressure washers come in many types, including:
- Cold Water Pressure Washers
- Hot Water Pressure Washers
- Electric Pressure Washers
- Gas-powered Pressure Washers
Cold Water Pressure Washers
These are the most commonly used pressure washers by homeowners. They are the easiest to use and inexpensive to manufacture. These are great for cleaning decks, driveways, and siding. They are also fairly easy to transport.
Since the water is cold, these types of pressure washers are safer than hot water pressure washers.
Hot Water Pressure Washers
Hot water pressure washers are more commonly used by contractors and businesses. This is due to the high temperature of the water, which can reach ~310 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water makes it easier to clean surfaces covered in grime, oil, greese, or dried paint. The hot water can even kill off mold that is attached to surfaces, such as on wooden decks or siding.
Hot water also evaporates quicker, meaning the surface dries faster.
However, since the water is so hot, it is more dangerous to use them compared to cold water pressure washers. The user needs to be aware of his/her surroundings and not point the sprayer at anyone while using it.
Electric Pressure Washers
Electric pressure washers are usually only used by homeowners because of their smaller size and power. They are convenient, lightweight, and affordable.
However, electric pressure washers are lower in power compared to gas powered versions. This is because wall outlets can only output 120V, flowing between 15 and 20 amps. This amount of energy is not as high as the power that a gas powered motor can put out.
However, electric pressure washers are less expensive, make less noise, and do not give off fumes.
Gas-Powered Pressure Washers
Gas-powered pressure washers are very powerful and are great for large, important cleaning tasks. They are more powerful than electric pressure washers.
Since gas powered pressure washers do not need to be plugged into an outlet, they are more portable than electric pressure washers. No extension cord is required, just gas is needed to run the machine.
Since gas powered pressure washers have so much more power, they can allow the user to get through big cleaning jobs faster.
However, the noise and fumes they create means they cannot be used indoors. It also means ear injuries are possible when using one. So, purchasing noise-canceling earmuffs or earplugs is a good idea before starting.
Pressure Washers Sizes
Presure washers vary in size depending on the type and model. Choosing which one to buy depends on the cleaning tasks you intend to use it for.
Pressure washer sizes are generally:
- Gas Pressure Washers – 26 x 18 x 35 inches, 65 lbs.
- Electric Pressure Washers – 35 ft. power cord, 10″ pneumatic wheels, 20 x 16.5 x 14.98 inches, 30 lbs.
- Hose – 1/4 inch x 20- 25 feet.
Pressure Washer Styles
Pressure washers come in a variety of designs and styles. These include:
- 2 or 4 wheels – this is the most common style of pressure washer.
- Self-standing – these include handles on the top and sides. These are smaller, lighter pressure washers that are actually easy to carry around.
Pressure Washer Features
Each pressure washer model will come with unique features. Some of the more common ones include:
- Automatic soap dispensers
- Automatic shut-off – this is a very good feature to have.
- Interchangeable nozzles – good for different cleaning tasks.
- Adjustable spray nozzles – means you do not have to stop to change the nozzles.
- Pressure selection – for lighter or heavier workloads.
- Dual detergent tanks – allows for carrying more detergent.
- High PSI rating – this means it has more power to handle tough cleaning tasks.
Are Pressure Washers Safe?
Pressure Washer Safety Laws
Pressure washers fall under certain safety regulations, including:
OSHA Standard 1926.302
The OSHA standard 1926.302 covers safe operation of power-operated hand tools, including pressure washers. Specifically:
1926.302(b)(5) – For electrically powered tools, safe operating pressures for hoses, pipes, valves, filters, and other fittings, as determined by the manufacturer shall not be surpassed.
1926.302(b)(8) – Airless spray guns that operate at high pressures, of 1000 pounds or more per square inch, that reduce fluids to a spray, shall have automatic or visible manual safety devices installed. This is to prevent the trigger from pulling until the safety control is manually released.
1926.302(b)(9) – If no safety mechanism is installed, a diffuser nut, high velocity release, nozzle tip guard, or other equivalent protection, of which will prevent a high pressure, high velocity release that can harm the operator, shall be included.
1926.302(d)(2) – For fuel powered tools, safe operating pressures for hoses, valves, pipes, filters, and other fittings, as determined by the manufacturer shall not be surpassed.
National Electrical Code (NEC) – NFPA 70
The NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC) of the U.S. provides guidelines the safe electrical design, installation, and inspection of electrical equipment to protect people and property from electrical hazards.
Underwriters Laboratory UL 1776
In 1987, UL released standard 1776 in partnership with CEMA (Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association), that covers design requirements of pressure washers in the US. Many pressure washer manufacturers put the UL stamp on their label, while others do not.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Pressure Washing Fines
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued strict laws on the use of pressure washers on exterior cleaning tasks. If proper precautions are not taken, the EPA can issue an expensive fine.
Specifically, property owners using pressure washers with water that contains dangerous chemicals, or contaminate storm drain systems, can face fines up to US $50,000 per day. The EPA takes this very seriously, and in 2012, issued $252 million in fines related to water contamination.
Pressure Washer Safety Tips
A pressure washer can be used safely if you follow certain safety practices. These include:
- Wear personal protective equipment, such as gloves and safety glasses.
- Read the pressure washer’s user manual.
- Only use a gas pressure washer in an open space that is not enclosed.
- Always be aware of the surroundings when using a pressure washer.
- Be very careful when using the red tip pinpoint jet nozzle.
- Avoid pressure washing from ladders, exposed blaconies, or roofs.
High Powered Pressure Washers
High powered pressure washers are those that have a PSI of 3000+.
These are generally gas-powered and best for heavy duty residential, commercial, and industrial cleaning tasks. High powered pressure washers are more dangerous to use because of the intensity of the spray which can harm the user.
They also can cause dust and debris particles to shoot away with more force, causing damage to nearby objects or people.
Small Pressure Washers
Small pressure washers will have lower PSI than their larger cousins. These can be electric or gas-powered. The PSI range for small pressure washers is between 1000 and 1900 pounds.
Small pressure washers are lighter in weight, quieter, and less expensive. These are best for residential or vehicle cleaning tasks, and not commercial or industrial jobs.
Pressure Washer Spray – Is It Dangerous?
Pressure washer spray is dangerous if it touches the user’s bare skin, eyes, or face. The more powerful the pressure washer, the more dangerous the spray.
Also, hot water pressure washers heat the water before releasing it out the sprayer. The water temperature can reach 200 degrees Farhrenheit. This helps to break down the dirt and grim particles, but can also cause mild burns to the skin.
Injuries Caused By Pressure Washers
Pressure washers can cause injuries if the user is not careful. These include:
- Skin lacerations and punctures
- Eye damage
- Muscle and skin infection
Some of these injuries can be quite severe and even lead to surgery and the necessary physical rehabilitation.
Pressure Washer Vs. Power Washer?
The term “pressure washer” and “power washer” are interchangeable and generally refer to the same type of cleaning machine.
However, a garden hose simply attached to a handle and nozzle can be referred to as a “power washer”, as can a professional car washing apparatus that an attendant uses.
A pressure washer is cleaning machine that uses pressurized water to propel a stream of hot or cold water out of a spray nozzle. The pressure washer itself pressurizes the water via a special pump and requires a powersource, provided by either a gasoline or electric motor to operate.
Hot water pressure washers use heating coils inside the water pump that heats the water as it flows through. This is a constant cycle that only stops when you turn off the machine.
Gas Pressure Washer Vs. Electric Pressure Washer?
Gas pressure washers are generally more powerful than electric pressure washers.
A gas pressure washer will run on any gas octane type available at a gas station, just like lawnmowers and gas-powered leaf blowers. Make sure to check the user’s manual for the exact gasoline requirement. Gas pressure washers do not need to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
Electric pressure washers commonly use 13 amps of power to operate and need to be plugged into a power source. These washers are best for smaller home cleaning tasks, while gas versions are better for more challenging cleaning jobs.
Electrocuted By A Pressure Washer
It is possible to be electrocuted by an electric pressure washer, if the connection to the powersource is exposed, or their is fraying in the power cord.
Electric pressure washers operate by electrical power, so any contact with a charged component can cause electrocution. Fortunately, these have safety coverings at certain locations and are designed to be safe to operate with water.
Can A Pressure Washer Explode
A pressure washer pump can explode, as can the hose or piping that degrades enough to burst when containing flowing water under high pressure.
Pressure washers operate with a high PSI, so there is always the chance one can explode. This can lead to serious injury.
Can Pressure Washers Hurt You?
The washer’s spray is powerful and can be harmful if misdirected. Cuts and lacerations can leaves scars that last for years, so users need to keep their guard up when they handle one. Pressure washer spray can even cut through a shoe if the PSI is high enough.
Fortunately, the long wand makes it somewhat difficult for users to point it at themselves.
Pressures can cause injury for the following reasons:
- High water temperature.
- Impact of the high pressure water spray on the skin.
- Detergent in the spray can cause skin and eye irritation.
Pressure Washer Spraying Dirt
It is not a good idea to spray dirt directly with a pressure washer. This can shoot small rocks and other matter into the air that can break glass or cause injury to anyone nearby.
Dirt is one material users try to clean from surfaces using a pressure washer, so it is not always possible to prevent dirt particles from flying off.
Can You Die From A Pressure Washer?
You most likely will not die from using a pressure washer, however the risk is always there, so be careful. The event that could cause death would be an explosion of the unit. This is not likely to happen but could.
Another issue is recieving a cut on the skin by the water stream and having it get infected. So, if you are injured while using a pressure washer, seek medical assistance.
What Not To Do With A Pressure Washer?
There are several things you should not do with a pressure washer, including:
- Spray directly onto dirt or gravel.
- Point the nozzle directly at another person.
- Leave it running too long.
- Not flush it out regularly.
- Run it at too high a PSI.
- Run a gas pressure washer near leaky paint or gasoline containers.
- Pressure wash a tile roof.
What Is A Good PSI For A Pressure Washer?
This depends on the cleaning task, the model, and the manufacturers PSI recommendation. The best PSI is one that allows for finishing the cleaning task safely. Always look at the machine’s PSI water level before purchasing it.
What Is A Good Size Pressure Washer For Home Use?
A good sized pressure washer for home use will be either an electric or gas pressure washer with a PSI ranging from 1000 to 2900. Smaller pressure washers are also easier to store and move around during use.
Pressure Washer Life Expectancy
Like all mechanical devices, pressure washers do not last forever. Most pressure washers are guaranteed to work for a minimum of 500 hours by their manufacturers.
The brand and quality of the machine will also determine how long it lasts, as will the how the person uses it. Also, different components of the pressure washer are known to last longer than others.
Pressure Washer Pump Life Expectancy
A Pressure washer pump is tasked with moving water through the washer’s nozzle when the trigger is pulled. The pump pushes the water under restriction which creates pressure. On most pressure washers, the pump is always running, even when you do not pull the trigger.
Generally, pressure washer pumps will last between 5 and 10 years of proper use and maintenence. This also depends on the quality of the pump, with cheaper ones lasting less time. Pressure pump materials and manufacturing tolerances will also affect the lifespan of the pump.
Issues that shorten pressure pump lifespan include:
- Incorrect unloader valve settings
Pressure Washer Pump Overheating
A pressure washer pump can overheat if the the trigger is squeezed for too long. This puts the pump into bypass mode and the water will circulate and increase in temperature. Over time, this can damage the pump.
Pressure Washer Pump Cavitation
Cavitation happens when air bubbles form in the water when not enough water is going through the pump. This can happen when the user does not have enough water going into the pressure washer. Dry or clogged inlet filters can also cause cavitation, so they should be checked regularly. As can openings in the inlet fittings that allow air to seep inside the machine.
You can tell there is cavitation if the pressure washer gets noisier. Specifically, if you hear shuttering or banging sounds coming from the pump.
Incorrect Unloader Valve Settings
Incorrect unloader valve settings can result in a spike in water pressure which will prevent some of the water from going out of the nozzle. This will then loop through the pump, causing additional wear and tear. There is even a chance the pump could explode.
Steps To Increase The Lifespan Of Your Pressure Washer
You can increase the lifespan of your pressure washer in the following ways:
- Pay attention to the pump and watch for any failure.
- Turn off the pressure washer when not using it.
- Make sure the water supply to the pressure washer is high enough.
- Set the unloader valve correctly.
- Flush the pressure washer regularly to prevent mineral build up.
A pressure washer that fails can be a significant hazard to your safety if it explodes or bursts while you are using it.
Are Gas Powered Pressure Washers Better?
This depends on the cleaning task and how difficult it is to remove the unwanted debris. A gas pressure washer will generally have more power, but will also create fumes, be noisier, and can be more difficult to move around.
How Many PSI Do I Need In A Pressure Washer?
The pressure of the water inside the washer gives it the force it needs to complete the job. The amount of PSI is key to this.
Generally, electric pressure washers and gas pressure washers have different power levels. Electric pressure washers are less powerful and are more for home cleaning tasks. While gas pressure washers are used for both residential and industrial cleaning jobs.
|PSI Range||Cleaning Tasks||Electric / Gas|
|1,000 – 1,900||Light home or vehicle cleaning||Electric|
|2,000 – 2,900||Heavier residential cleaning||Electric or Gas|
|3,000 – 6,900||Professional commercial / industrial cleaning||Gas|
|7,000 – 50,000||Heavy Industrial cleaning||Gas|
Most pressure washers have adjustable pressure guages. It is important to be aware of the washer’s Gallons Per Minute (GPM) which is just as important as PSI when determining the pressure washer’s capability.
Heavy duty pressure washers with PSI over 3000+ generally have GPM of 3-4, while smaller pressure washers have GPM between 1-2.
High PSI Is More Dangerous
Pressure washers running with a high PSI will produce water spray that has a lot of force. This allows it to clean difficult surfaces quickly, but can also result in injury.
Choosing the Right Pressure Washer
The cleaning tasks you need the pressure washer for will determine which type you should buy. However, a more powerful model does not mean it is better, if you do not require it.
Safe PSI For A Pressure Washer
A safer PSI for a pressure washer is going to be a lower one. Generally, electric pressure washers have lower PSI, and are best for light home and vehicle cleaning tasks. If you get hit by the spray coming out of the nozzle, it is less likely to cause lacerations if the PSI of the washer is lower.
Pressure Washer Overheating
Pressure washers can overheat, and this is something you do not want to have happen. This is due to the following reasons:
- Mechanical failure
- Hot water flowing through a washer designed for cold water.
- Not enough water pumping through it.
- Leaving the washer running for too long.
- Too much fuel pressure in a gas pressure washer.
- Incorrect unloader valve settings.
- A faulty thermostat
If the pressure washer overheats, stop using it immediately and have the problem diagnosed by a repair professional.
Is It Bad To Leave A Pressure Washer Running?
Yes, it is bad to leave a pressure washer running for too long. It is recommended to turn off the machine after 5 minutes of use, or it can overheat and be damaged.
It is especially bad to leave the pressure washer running when there is not enough water flowing through it. This can cause the pump to overheat.
How Long Can You Continuously Run A Pressure Washer?
A pressure washer should not run for more than 5 minutes at a time. This also depends on the model and if it is designed for professional cleaning. If it is left on for more than 5 minutes, it could overheat, and cause damage to the machine.
It is also important for the GPM (Gallons Per Minute) of your pressure washer to be met, because if there is not enough water flow, it could result in the machine overheating.
A pressure washer can easily be left on too long if the user moves to another task without turning the machine off. So, when using a pressure washer, it is best to put all your attention on finishing the task and shutting it off before moving to another.
Pressure Washer Recall
Pressure washers have been recalled in the past due to impact injury hazards.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recalled pressure washers when they detected defects, which usually were due to causing impact hazards from malfunctioning components.
Pressure washer manufacturers that have had to recall products include:
- Briggs & Stratton
If your pressure washer has been recalled, immediatly stop using it and return it to the retailer or manufacturer. It may be possible to get a full refund.
Pressure Washers Banned
Pressure washers that have been recalled are banned from sale and should not be used. Check your pressure washer’s recall status to see if it is on the list. Using a banned pressure washer is very dangerous.
Why Do Pressure Washers Break?
Pressure washers break for a variety of reasons. Most often, the pressure water hose becomes frayed or cracked, fittings break, or the water pump fails due to improper use.
A poorly made pressure washer from a cheap brand will tend to break sooner than a higher quality machine.
Does Pressure Washing Damage A House?
Yes, pressure washing can damage a house, for the following reasons:
Water forced into the walls – A pressure washer’s high PSI can shoot water under house siding, which can drench the internal components of the walls. Once inside the walls, the water will not be able to evaporate quickly, leading to mold and other damage.
Blasted mortar – If you have brick or concrete walls, small gaps in the mortar, or old brittle mortar can lead to peices being blasted away. The cost of repairing the brick walls is much more than the cost of renting the pressure washer.
Wood damage – If the surface being washed is made of wood, it can become gouged or splinter.
Old lead paint – Under the surface of new paint may be lead paint that was never removed from old walls. A pressure washer can blast lead paint chips onto the floor or the outside yard if it is used to clean painted walls.
Getting Sprayed With A Pressure Washer
Getting sprayed with a pressure washer at a glance is generally safe. However, this depends much on whether it is a hot or cold pressure washer as well as its PSI level.
If you get caught in a pressure washer’s direct spray, it can cause skin tears or punctures that can become infected if they are not treated. Most spray injuries are minor, leading the victim to delay getting treatment. This is a primary cause of more serious injuries.
What water pressure can cut skin?
Any water pressure over 100 PSI can cut skin. Pressure washers have PSI much greater than this, along with added deteregents that increase the risk of infection. The spray creates bubbles which can cause severe skin and muscle damage and even lead to amputation if left untreated.
What Causes Pressure Washer Pump Failure?
Pressure washer pump failure is a common way pressure washers stop working. This is due to a variety of reasons, including:
- Stuck valves due to hard water deposits.
- Heat damage to water seals or “o rings”.
- Being stored with water in them, leading to frozen and cracked housing.
- Internal corrosion
- No / low oil
How do RRP Requirements Apply To Pressure Washing?
The U.S. EPA Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) does not prohibit pressure washing, as long as the work area is clear of dust and debris that could leave the area or contaminate the water supply.
Pressure washing activities should also not produce toxic dust particles, especially lead, which can harm workers or customers. The integrity of plastic containment materials must be maintained, and also not interfere with worker egress during an emergency.
Are Electric Pressure Washers Safe
Yes, electric pressure washers are generally safe to use by a person knowledgeable with using them. However, since they are electrically powered, they can cause related injuries. Always read the user’s manual and follow recommended safety tips when using one.
Are Pressure Washers Safe For Cars
Low powered pressure washers, with a PSI less than 2000, are safe for washing cars. However, if the car has areas with flaky paint, it could lead to paint chips blasting off onto the user and flow into the water drain.
Washing a car by hand with a hose and sponge works well enough, and water under high pressure can cause damage to the vehicle.
The pressure washer nozzle setting is important when protecting your vehicle. Make sure to avoid using the focused, high-pressure stream, and use only the wide spray setting.
The 25-degree spray nozzle will disperse the spray enough to prevent damage to the vehicle. This is still several times more powerful than a garden hose at full blast.
Always try the lowest pressure setting first on the vehicle to see if it is enough before increasing it.
Standing at a distance that is far enough away from the vehicle while washing it with a pressure washer will help prevent damage. It is advised to stand atleast 2 feet away from the surface being sprayed, as this will cut down the pressure hitting the car.
When spraying the tires, make sure not to get too close or use the focused spray setting. This can damage the sidewall of the tires if sprayed directly for too long. Damaged sidewalls are difficult to see and can lead to a tire blowout later that can a serious accident or fatality.
Is Pressure Washing Your Roof Safe?
Pressure washing your roof is unsafe for both you and your house.
Pressure washing a roof works to clear away built up leaves or moss, and for preparing it for a roof coating or sealant. However this presents the risk of falling off the roof if you lose your balance. It is generally not safe to pressure wash a roof, unless you have a safety harness attached to you.
You should never pressure wash a tile roof, because it could break the tiles which could fall below to the ground and hit someone below. It is also not safe to walk on interlocking roof tiles, which can break and lead to a fall from the roof. This will also shorten the life expectancy of the tiles.
A pressure washer can also cause flooding in the loft or attic space. The nozzle can force water into the cracks in the roofing, which it is not designed to resist. Flooding through the roof and ceiling can cause electrical devices and lighting to short circuit.
Can Electric Pressure Washers Overheat?
Electric pressure washers can overheat overheat when they are used continuously for too long a period. So, it is a good idea to take a break after 5 minutes or so to let the machine cool down.
However, both gas and electric pressure washers have mechanisms that help prevent them from overheating.
Gas pressure washers have a thermal release valve that lets out hot water when it reaches a certain temperature. Cooler water is then allowed into the pump, and this helps prevents it from overheating.
Electric pressure washers instead have an automatic switch that stops the pump’s motor from running if the wand trigger is not pulled. This will prevent the pump from overheating.
Can A Pressure Washer Explode?
Pessure washers can explode under certain circumstances. If they are exposed to flammable materials, such as a gas fumes or paint thinners, this could cause an ignition. It is important not use a pressure washer near anything flammable and shut if off in the event of a gas leak.
It is also possible the pressure washer pump could burst if it has corrosion inside and the PSI is too high. So make sure to use the machine properly and flush the system regularly.
Many people consider pressure washers harmless because it uses a garden hose and sprays water. However, they can present safety hazards to the user as well as the local environment. The water pressure, temperature, and cleaning detergent can cause injuries, and the water supply can be contaminated by toxic particles.
For these reasons, pressure washers should be used with extreme caution and everyone should know how to use them properly.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.