6 secrets to power washing your home

John Morell | Improvement Center Columnist | March 27, 2012

If you're like most homeowners, you've put away the overcoats and boots and are trying to shake winter out of your system. As spring begins it's probably a good time to assess the condition of your home's exterior. Whether your house is made with wood siding, vinyl, stucco or brick, it's had to endure some cold days and nights as well as rain and maybe snow and ice. The drastic temperature changes of winter can damage your home's exterior surface.

You can give your home a shower each spring using a pressure wash system. Here are some basic tips to making the exterior of your home sparkle in the sun again:

  1. You can try attaching a garden spray nozzle to your hose, but a pressure washer has the ability to extend far beyond the reach of your arm and can spray much more powerfully than a garden nozzle because it's assisted by an electric or gas powered mower. These models can be picked up at rental yards for around $40 to $75 per day, and you'll be able to use a cleaning solution with it to power clean your exterior.
  2. It may seem intuitive to attach your sprayer to a hot water outlet since hot water cleans better, but if you have vinyl siding, hot water can cause it to warp. If you have a choice of pressure tips, use one that gives you the largest fan since that will be a good general purpose spray.
  3. As with any home improvement project, your success will likely be determined by how you prep for the work. Clear out any obstacles next to the house, and cover bushes and plants with plastic sheeting so they're not sprayed with detergent. Cover attic and basement vents as well as any exterior electrical outlets. And, of course, don't forget to make sure the windows are tightly closed.
  4. Start at the bottom and work slowly up when you're spraying detergent. As you rinse with water you're working down the wall. Follow the directions and let the detergent set briefly then use regular water to pressure wash the detergent off the walls. Don't forget the eaves, which tend to collect cobwebs and mold. Keep the spray on the walls at an angle and watch to make sure you're not flaking paint off of the surface.
  5. Once you've finished on the house you may as well use it on the walkways and driveway. "For concrete and asphalt it's best to pre-treat a stain with some detergent and a stiff brush," says Los Angeles contractor Richard Sanchez. "Let the detergent work itself in, then shoot the water into the surface at an angle."
  6. If you have a wood deck, you can spray wash it but take care to keep the pressure low so that the finish is protected. The pressure washer also works well on those items that have been left outside unused in winter like large children's toys and swing sets.

Take care when using a sprayer to avoid plants, and watch for areas where the spray is pulling up paint chips. It's also not a bad idea to wear safety goggles. Consumer Reports notes that it's possible to damage the surfaces you're cleaning and recommends doing a test run first by practicing on a hidden area. If you prefer to get expert help on a power washing project, you can turn to professional contractors.