Pressure Washer Power Comes at a Cost

The deck table and chairs got sparklingly clean, but the deck needs cleaning next.

Got mildew? Wherever you live, some parts of your property naturally get more shade than others. And if you live in humid regions, the combination of moist air and shade is an open invitation to every spore that happens by. Before long, it’s a colony with squatters’ rights. You can rescind the invitation, but brushes and bleach will knock you out first. You need a pressure washer.

Cleaning with a pressure washer, in fact, can be a joy to use since you can see such a difference in what you’re cleaning. And once you set out to clean something—such as the deck chairs and table in this photo—it’s hard to resist moving on to the deck, retaining walls, siding and everything else that could use a good once-over. Like eating potato chips, you can’t clean only one thing, such as the above deck chairs and table.

But pressure washers can be the most finicky of outdoor power gear. Setup, including the point at which you turn on your water connection, must be just so to avoid overheating the pump. Choosing the right spray nozzle or setting can make a difference between cleaning and ruining a deck, siding, or even driveway asphalt. Startup often needs several pulls, and few if any gas models come with electric start. Planning your work and staying focused on the work will keep you safe from the concentrated spray. And when you’re done, stowing the machine properly will keep your pump from corroding—and leaking in the spring from residual water that froze.

All power-tool manuals are required reading, but skipping the guide that comes with your pressure washer can be particularly unforgiving. First, you could keep the thing running a good 15 to 20 years if you know how. Even more important is the safety, which deserves its own discussion.

Here is more advice from Tool to Power on setup, safety, proper operation and storage.

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Mower Blade Changes, Blood-Free

With a 2×4 wedged in, the mower blade won’t turn when you tighten the bolt.

It’s easy to end up in your local emergency room over a task as simple as changing a mower blade. But the doctors and nurses dealing with real emergencies are more than happy not to see you. These steps, besides keeping you safe, will help you finish a lot sooner:

• If it’s not the start of the season, wait till you’re out of fuel. The alternative? Cleaning up lots of spilled gasoline, especially off your hands. We suggest you keep around a bottle of Gas Off, from engine maker Briggs & Stratton, to get the smell off your hands. Gas Off comes in wipes, too. You’ll find it at Home Depot, Walmart and other stores. And before you go any further, remove the spark plug cap from the plug to prevent potential ignition.

• Gather a short 2×4 (a three-foot length will do), gardening gloves (leather if you got ’em), some kind of whiskbroom and a wrench for the nut(s) holding the blade in place. If you don’t have the manual handy, also lay down an old towel, a newspaper or any other tidy surface upon you can arrange the parts one by one in a row, far from your feet. The idea is to put everything back the way you found it. And if you have a spare blade, which will get you back in business right away, keep that nearby, too.

• With the gloves on, wedge the 2×4 into the blade’s path; once it’s in place, you should be unable to turn the blade by hand. Hold the 2×4 in position, and then loosen and remove the nuts. Of course, you heeded the above step and have designated a safe place. After the nuts, there’s at least one plate over the blade. If you’re not sure you’ll remember how these parts faced (say, whether a curvy part faces inward or outward), capture the steps on video with your phone.

• Before removing the blade, note the way it’s oriented; the cutting parts of the blade face the direction the blade turns when you haven’t wedged a 2×4 in its way. Take it off, brush around the axle with the whiskbroom and place the parts back on in the reverse order. If you do have a spare blade, you needn’t put off mowing till you’ve gotten the one blade sharpened. In that case, you’ll put the new blade on before any plates and the nuts. (Check the position of the 2×4 before you start tightening.) You could use a torque wrench if you like—the tension is roughly 40 foot-pounds—but just getting the nuts reasonably tight is enough.

• A blade sharpening shouldn’t cost more than $10. If the price at your local dealer just shot significantly north of that figure, consider the DIY route with a nifty sharpening/balancing kit like this $7 one at Lowe’s.

Email with any questions or comments, and visit Tool to Power often for more advice, news and reviews!

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