Pressure Washer “Dos” and “Don’ts”

Pressure Washer “Dos” and “Don’ts”

By April Hirsch / Published July 2019

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Devonyu

More common sense than kismet, “dos” and “don’ts” for any machine have a way of overlapping.

On the “do” side are the essentials of using the machine only as it was intended to be used and maintaining the machine properly. On top of the “don’t” side list is never, ever giving in to “inspired” ideas for reconfiguration or neglecting routine maintenance.

We can’t imagine a single reader would use the hot water from a pressure washer to make tea. But short of the absurd, any variation from intended use can cause a huge problem.

“The biggest ‘do’ is knowing your pressure washer and how to operate it,” says John F. Wieber, account executive at A.R. North America Inc. in Fridley, MN. “This can be a dangerous tool in the hands of an inexperienced operator.”

Operator safety ranks first and foremost in any consideration of how to use a pressure washer properly. Following on that is maintaining the integrity of the machine.

“The biggest ‘do’ that is often forgotten is having ample water connected to your pressure washer before starting up the pressure washer,” says Wieber. “This is the number one action that can destroy a pressure washer even if [the] unit is new.”

Being mindful and engaged when operating any machine is a must. A pressure washer is no exception.

“The number one ‘don’t’ would be for any homeowner [machine] or industrial pressure washer—whether it is a hot or cold pressure washer—to be run in bypass,” says Wieber. “When operating the pressure washer, never let your washer unit sit in bypass when the unit is on.”

The bypass action described results in trouble in short order. “This action will cause your pressure washer to exceed the temperature ratings, and it takes one minute to maybe two minutes for your unit to exceed 140 degrees,” explains Wieber. “Doing this ‘don’t’ action will cause failure in your valves and seals and possibly damage the head of the pump.”

Manufacturers and distributors typically provide a list of dos and don’ts with a machine or on their website. Regulating entities also provide lists. (Read more about some freely available lists in the last section.)

But what about the owner of a pressure washer making an in-house list of “dos and don’ts” as a good exercise in safety? Perhaps the entire team could contribute to the construction of a list during a safety session. Involving all operators as participants, instead of just handing out a ready-made list, is a good way to reinforce every facet of pressure washer safety.

“Having the owner make up a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for the pressure washer operators is a great way to teach, remind, and make the operators aware of the operations and potential hazards while operating the washers,” says Wieber.

Safety in Two Parts

Operator safety and pressure washer integrity both begin and end with best practices. The risks inherent in using a pressure washer are well known. Even so, they can sometimes be forgotten.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with its focus on keeping people well, skips the “dos and don’ts” and points to risks and precautions in using a pressure washer. (See www.cdc.gov/disasters/pressurewashersafety.html.) Readers know well the risks of wounds from spray, as well as from electric shock or carbon monoxide when safety rules are ignored. A risk that is frequently overlooked is the way spray can propel debris into the path of passersby. Jobsites should be clearly delineated as non-pedestrian areas for the duration of a job.

The dos when using a pressure washer go beyond the operator. Do be aware of surroundings and especially
co-workers at the job site.

The precautions on the CDC list are good ones, easily adaptable to guidance for those constructing in-house lists. A definite “do”: Remember the obvious.

A pressure washer should be pointed only at the wash target. A gasoline-powered model should only be used in an open (well-ventilated) space. Pushing objects is not the function of a pressure washer. Water and hardscape surfaces are a slippery combination; wear appropriate shoes.

And here’s a huge “do not” from the CDC: Never allow children to operate a pressure washer.

Self-checks are one of the layers of safety in an industrial setting. If constructing an in-house list of dos and don’ts, consider asking each team member to jot down items. Then, compare lists. Did anyone include a reminder that was unique and important? Did every team member agree on the fundamentals?

It’s likely each team member will have a different top-of-the-list entry. Discussing why can be an important element in reinforcing safe practices.

Paul Ponsano, sales representative at Bozeman Distributors in Baton Rouge, LA, says he would like to see two things at the top of any “do” list: “Make sure water is running throughout the pressure washer, hose, and gun before starting the unit. Hold the gun firmly, and
don’t point the nozzle at people or pets.”

The “do” list should encompass care of the pressure washer at the conclusion of a job. “Either run the engine with non-ethanol gas or run all of the gas out before storing the unit,” says Ponsano. That’s a “do” too often forgotten.

Why non-ethanol gas? “Gas containing ethanol can damage the carburetor and/or fuel tank within a couple of weeks,” explains Ponsano.

Atop Ponsano’s “don’t” list is the reminder to turn off the pressure washer if there is going to be more than a short pause in spraying. Yes, we have already had it put at the top of a list by our other expert. That should indicate how significant a “don’t” it is.

“Don’t keep the unit running with the trigger gun closed for more than a couple of minutes at a time—if stopping for longer, turn off the pressure unit,” says Ponsano. He cautions that ignoring that don’t can cause serious damage. “When the unit is in bypass, no water is passing through the pump to cool it, which could cause damage to seals or worse.”

Finally, from whichever perspective one wishes to look at it, do remember to do the training (or don’t forget to do the training). “Training is essential, especially if different people may be using the pressure washer,” says Ponsano.

Part of training should be verification. Anyone using a machine for the first time should be able to demonstrate knowledge of its operation, including routine maintenance and storage.

Starter Lists

Many ready-to-go “do and don’t” lists are available. Consult several of them to build a list tailored to in-house requirements. Endeavor to identify at least one practice not on a list—as a good exercise in thoroughness (and team building if a group is at work on the task).

Mi-T-M Corporation offers “do and don’t” lists for many industry topics. Its “Dos and Don’ts When Pressure Washing” (www.mitm.com/support/product-tips/dos-and-donts) keeps the focus on best practices for pressure washer performance and worker
safety. Two examples: Do keep a safe distance (at least six feet) from electrical wires and service components. Don’t stand on a ladder when washing.

Ultimate Washer Inc. includes an entry about target distance on its “do and don’t” list (www.ultimatewasher.com/learning-center/power-washing-tips.htm). The manufacturer gives the end user an optimal distance between spray head and surface. The “do” is to stay within it. On the “don’t” side, never fill the fuel tank when the engine is running. (We might add, it applies no matter how hurried or behind schedule an operator is.)

Amazing Machinery includes tips on restricted use of the pressure washer among its “dos and don’ts” (www.amazingmachinery.com/pressure-washer-dos.html). Do have and use a safety lock to prevent a pressure washer from being used by an unauthorized person. And don’t leave a pres-sure washer running if unattended.

Atlantic Pressure Washers has many good tips in its service blog at atlanticpressurewashers.com/blog/2012/01/17/pressure-washer-dos-and-donts-proper-care-of-your-machine-for-long-lasting-service. But one thing that stands out to us is the focus on giving hoses the respect they deserve. For instance, hoses should not be kinked or run over with motorized vehicles, including forklifts. And do make certain the supply hose has a gpm output that matches the machine.

Other good things to consider for a list—all culled from multiple sources. Glass in homes is likely breakable. Don’t spray it. If washing in a semi-closed area, do consider a portable carbon monoxide monitor. Do check hoses for breaks and wear and machines for proper oil levels (engine and pump) before beginning use.

Testing a small section of surface to be cleaned should be so much a part of a job it need not be listed. Still, it might be on a “do” list.

Then, there’s preparation for the unexpected. Do be prepared. Know how to respond if a co-worker is injured—something that should happen almost never if best practices are followed—or experiences a health crisis while on a job.

It’s true, when we reflect on “dos and don’ts,” that we are well aware of most of them. But it’s the act of reviewing or constructing lists that keeps us alert.

Do be alert.