A pressure washer is just like a garden hose – with 2000 psi (pounds per square inch) behind it! Make no mistake about its power; although it’s fun, it is not a toy and should not be used by young children. The pressure washing machine has a small engine – kind of like a lawn mower – that runs either by gas or electricity. Washers come in different sizes for different jobs. For example, house painters may use a heavy-duty pressure washer to remove chipped or dried paint from a house before painting; homeowners can use a regular-duty machine to wash patio furniture, vinyl siding, cement, car tires, and of course, decks. For this article, the concentration will be on decks; but, once a person realizes how easy and fun pressure washing is, they may never hire a contractor again for the job.
Tools and Materials Needed
- Safety glasses
- Garden hose
- A broom
If there is not a pair of safety glasses around the house, it’s not necessary to spend 33.50 to buy a pair – wear sunglasses. However, if there is a pair, wear them. Pressure per square inch ricocheting off a deck is very unforgivng to the eyes, by all means protect them. A simple household broom is fine but a heavier duty push broom works much nicer. The broom will be used to evenly distribute the bleach, or to push any excess pine needles or other debis from the deck. The garden hose attaches directly to the pressure washer. Oh, and don’t forget the flip-flops!
There is not much preparation to the deck itself, because the pressure washing is the preparation to a beautiful patio. However, do remove any loose items including plants, pet dishes, ornaments, and furniture. A 15′ x 24′ deck should take about three hours to wash. Once the deck is washed, it is almost ready for the protective waterseal to be applied.
*Very Important*: The deck must be completely dry before applying the waterseal. If it’s not, water will be sealed in to the wood which will cause mildew. Plan to wash the deck so that the sun hits the wood directly and dries it out quickly. Areas (like “L-shaped” decks) that receive no sun will need to have the excess water swept off until the area is dry. On a hot summer day a deck will dry quickly, but give it 24 hours. If it rains in between the time the deck’s been washed and the sealer’s been applied, simply wait for the deck to dry again.
Renting a Machine
Call at least a few days in advance to secure the rental, especially if you plan to do the work over a weekend, or particularly if you plan to do the work over a long weekend. Many tool rental agencies will rent pressure washers for a half-day, a whole day or overnight. The price ranges from $50 -$150. Check what the rates are at a couple of different stores. Remember, the pressure washer is a machine; it has grease and dirt on the wheels and elsewhere, make sure you bring the right vehicle to transport it back to the site. (And ladies, the machine can be somewhat heavy to lift in to the car.)
If renting for a half-day, make sure that all of the preparation is done. There’s no sense renting a machine and bringing it home to sit unused. Once rented, the machine should be brought home, used, and returned wasting no time. Sometimes, dealers will have a special on a weekend rental and the worry about ‘time’ can be forgotten. It also allows to do extra jobs around the yard like trash cans or fence posts, etc.
Gas or Electric?
Most people prefer the gas-powered, pressure washer as it allows freedom from the electric cord. While this is true that a cord can be cumbersome to such a job, a simple (heavy duty orange) extention cord works fine if you must use an electric. Sometimes the gas washers are more expensive to rent. It’s the decision of the renter to decide whether money or convenience is more important.
Doing the Work
There is only one place on the pressure washer to attach the hose; it’s pretty simple. Attach the hose, turn the water on, then, start the machine. If this is the first time using this type of machine, be sure to let the store clerk know so that they can offer an on-the-spot crash course on usage which takes all of five minutes. Test the pressure on the nozzle trigger. If the pressure is too far away, it won’t remove dirt and mildew; if it’s too close, it’ll “cut” into the wood in lines. Test in an inconspicuous area and get the right pressure for the task.
First, lightly wet the entire deck. Leave the machine to idle for a few minutes while applying the bleach. The rental companies sell bleach, but Clorox is cheaper and works just fine. The broom is handy in making sure that the bleach is distributed as evenly as possible; this ensures that the deck doesn’t appear lighter in some areas than others. Begin at the same area that the bleach was first applied and wash away!! It’s that simple!
Protecting the deck is part of pressure washing, really. There’s no sense in doing one without the other. While sealants can be expensive – so is paint, auto detailing, or new clothes – it’s mere maintenance. Compared to the price of a new deck, five or so gallons of waterseal is a small price to pay. Once the deck is completely dried, give it a quick sweep. Waterseal products, like Thompson’s Waterseal, can be applied with a paint roller and a brush (for corners). Of course every area of the deck should be covered, but it’s not as nearly a fine-tuned application as painting is and it dries very quickly. Just get the product on the deck and spread it around. Although there’s no need to do the railing balisters, there’s no harm in doing them every few years. Only the flat surfaces where water sits after a rain need to be treated.
Voila! A deck or patio that may have once been an embarrassment, can now be regarded as a party or pleasure area for the whole year to come! Pressure washing and properly treating a wooden deck or patio is a worthwhile investment that not only protects but beautifies your home.