So your pool tiles are looking mossy, your driveway is stained and encrusted with dirt, and the car wheels look like you drove through the desert and back through a bog. Sure, a bucket and mop might be the cheap way of cleaning up, and bleach might be easily accessible, but could there be an easier (and less stinky) way? That's where high pressure water cleaners come in.

Pressure cleaners, also known as pressure washers or water blasters, work by drawing water in and ejecting it under high pressure to clean a variety of surfaces. You can use them to spruce up asphalt and concrete, among other surfaces. 

The cost of pressure cleaners varies greatly, and you don't want to get a cheapie, but you needn't spend the big bucks either. Our test found the mid-range models fared best. Read on to find what to keep in mind when you go shopping.

What to look for

Nozzles

The nozzles supplied can make a real difference to what you can clean. The three types available are:

  • The rotary nozzle, which is best for heavily soiled areas such as footpaths and driveways. This makes a circle of pressurised water, often in an intermittent pulse that causes vibrations.
  • The fan nozzle provides a wide spray of water and is suitable for large areas that are not too dirty, such as the painted walls of a house. These can often be adjusted to form a tight spray, but use caution with this setting – it can strip paint away if used too close to a painted wall.
  • The pencil nozzle is a very tight beam of water, and is good for removing stubborn spots as the pressure is concentrated in a small area.

Lance length

The lance (the rigid bit you hold to direct the spray) should be long enough to comfortably hold the tip near the ground without stooping.

Hose length

A long hose from the cleaner body to the lance makes the unit easier to use.

Hose and lance storage

Onboard storage on the cleaner keeps it neat and tidy when not in use.

Brush accessories

These attach to the lance. Some of the useful ones are a patio brush for scrubbing a deck or paved area, and specific fixed or rotating brush heads for cleaning cars.

Detergent applicator

A built-in detergent applicator makes it much easier to use detergent when necessary.

Wheels

Wheels make it easier to manoeuvre the cleaner.

Power cord length

As pressure cleaners draw their power from a standard home power plug, the power cord length is quite important.

Water usage

High-pressure water cleaners use a fair amount of water – around 320–520L an hour.

Noise

High pressure water cleaners are quite loud – in our test we found them to be between 72 and 81dB. For comparison, a typical vacuum cleaner measures about 72dB, while traffic on a busy road measures about 80dB.

Automatic cut off

An automatic cut off means the trigger needs to be pulled to make the pressure cleaner work. It serves as both a safety feature and keeps the motor from working when it doesn't have to, saving you energy and wear and tear.

Pressure cleaners and paint

Be sure to follow the instructions carefully when using pressure cleaners on paintwork, whether on a house or vehicle, as they're all capable of removing paint rather than cleaning it. If you're using a cleaner specifically for this purpose, be aware they're only likely to remove flaking paint.

Renting a high pressure water cleaner

If you only need a pressure cleaner for a one-off job, it makes sense to rent the equipment and pay as little as $60 a day. But remember that cleaning ground-in dirt is not a quick job; our testers find it takes a few minutes to clean one square metre of heavily soiled concrete.

Cost

Between $70 and about $750