We all hate misleading terms. Sadly, even the power tool industry is plagued by these small nuances which feel almost as if intended to trick you. Today, we shall tackle one of these tricks so that next time, you can be the player, not the played – “pressure washing” and “power washing”.
- What Is the Key Difference Between Pressure Washing and Power Washing?
- What is Power Washing and Which Devices are Used for it?
- Difference Between Wet and Dry Steam Cleaners
- What Are the Properties of Wet Steam Cleaners?
- Why Would I Buy a Hot Water Pressure Washer?
To an untrained eye, a “pressure washer” and a “power washer” sound like the very same thing.
But are they mere synonyms? No.
In the following article, we will cover the key difference between pressure washing and power washing, their properties, what they are suitable for, and their pros and cons. With our help, you’ll never be misled again.
What Is the Key Difference Between Pressure Washing and Power Washing?
The key difference between pressure washing and power washing, in circles where the two terms are clearly distinguished, is heat.
Whereas pressure washing relies on powerful pumps to eject water at outrageous velocities, power washing combines it with a heating element, which raises the temperature of the ejected water up to and even beyond its boiling temperature.
Although this basic distinguishment sounds simple at first, the market would beg to differ. We invite you to try typing any combination of “buy power washer” into your Google search bar. You’ll be surprised to find pressure washers without a heating element listed and actual “power washers” listed as “hot water pressure washers”, “wet steam cleaners” and even “dry steam cleaners”.
What’s going on here?
What is Power Washing and Which Devices are Used for it?
To understand what all of these devices do, let’s first clearly define the terms used within this article. We do our best to align our definitions with those you’ll find on the internet. However, you should always clearly check the properties of a given device to ensure it matches your expectations, rather than going by its name.
First things first, we shall clearly state that:
By power washing, we understand using heated water under high pressure for cleaning. In context of a particular device, power washing can also be classified as wet steam cleaning and dry steam cleaning.
*Note that many sources, including Wikipedia, do not follow this definition and instead use “pressure washing” and “power washing” interchangeably.
In fact, whereas the verb “power washing” is commonly used, you’ll almost never encounter a device called a “power washer”. Instead, you will encounter hot water pressure washers and steam cleaners. These devices eject hot water to clean surfaces, typically without any detergent required. In other words, these devices are used for power washing. Those found on the market can be best classified by their operating temperature followingly:
Classification of Power Washing Devices by Their Operating Temperature
- Wet steam cleaners eject water in a temperature range of roughly 250 to 300°F. The ejected fluid is best described as an aerosol mixture of steam and water. The ejected water leaves wet marks after cleaning.
- Dry steam cleaners eject water at temperatures of roughly 350°F and higher, at which the water is almost fully vaporized. The fluid ejected from these devices is best described as a “dry steam”, as it is so hot that it barely leaves any wet marks behind.
- “Hot water” pressure washers are a heterogenous category of devices. Most of these devices are best described as a rather nonsensical form of a pressure washer, which uses a cheap heating element to compensates for its cheap pump. Water ejected by these devices typically does not reach its boiling temperature. Thus, the device merely ejects hot water at a high pressure.
However, note that some wet steam cleaners are often labeled “hot water pressure washer” despite reaching operating temperatures well beyond water’s boiling point. These devices in turn offer much better performance and achieve better results. For the purposes of this article, we distinguish the two by their operating temperature accordingly.
Difference Between Wet and Dry Steam Cleaners
Now that we have defined different devices used for power washing, let’s talk about steam cleaners.
Dry steam cleaners are typically used in industrial settings where standards for sanitization require extremely high temperatures and minimal residual moisture. Achieving such high temperatures requires a dedicated boiler but typically no pump. These devices (opens in a new tab) are very expensive and are not suitable for household use.
Wet steam cleaners operate at temperatures which are more forgiving to the hardware and its user. Thus, these devices come in many flavors, many of which are suitable for household use. It is in this category of products where discussing “power washing” becomes somewhat confusing.
Therefore, we will only consider steam cleaners which have a pressure washer-like gun/wand and a water pump. As previously mentioned, these should not be confused with so-called “hot water pressure washers”. To do so, we will distinguish:
- Wet steam cleaners as devices with operating temperatures exceeding the boiling point of water (above 212°F, ideally 250°F and higher) – steam is involved.
- Hot water pressure washers as devices which do not heat water above its boiling point – no steam is involved, just hot water.
What Are the Properties of Wet Steam Cleaners?
When compared to regular pressure washing, power washing by wet steam cleaners offers a well-balanced list of pros and cons:
- Power washing offers the benefit of enhanced detergent-free cleaning efficacy.
- High water temperature is effective at killing thermolabile bacteria and mold.
- The combination of the above makes power washing a detergent-free alternative suitable for cleaning of environmentally sensitive areas where detergent may negatively impact local flora and fauna.
- Power washing will not kill thermoresistant bacteria and spores.
- Most surfaces are better maintained by surface-specific solutions.
- Wooden surfaces are outright incompatible with high temperatures.
Given these pros and cons, you can imagine that power washing may be a suitable alternative for cleaning outdoor surfaces where speed, efficacy and cost have a higher priority than surface maintenance or where environmental impact of detergent contamination is of concern. These may include farm infrastructure, gardens, areas around pools and ponds, etc.
Why Would I Buy a Hot Water Pressure Washer?
When reading the previous paragraph, a very relevant thought may have crossed your mind:
“If all benefits of power washing come from heating water to above-boiling point temperature, doesn’t that make pressure washers which heat water below its boiling point useless?”
Indeed, they are pretty useless. Given that nowadays, a vast range of before-, during- and after- cleaning solutions were developed for every single surface a pressure washer has ever laid its nozzle on… Solutions which prepare the surface for cleaning, efficiently clean the surface and then treat the surface after cleaning… There simply is no way how heating the water by a 100°F above room temperature would lead to any recognizable improvement in cleaning efficacy.
In summary, power washing is a confusing verb which is best summed up as “cleaning by hot water and pressure”. In contrast, pressure washing relies merely on pressure.
The market typically doesn’t label devices used for power washing as “power washers”. They are instead labeled as “steam cleaners” or “hot water pressure washers”. These devices are best categorized by their operating temperatures, but their labeling is overall quite inconsistent. Readers are advised to follow the specs of each device (water temperature) and the construction (e.g., if it has a dedicated boiler).
Of these devices, only those using temperatures well above water’s boiling point offer any utility to their user above what a regular pressure washer can provide. Typically, these devices are suitable for outdoor use where detergents are to be avoided for environmental concerns, or money is to be saved on detergent costs.
Best maintenance, cleaning and care are always best achieved by a suitable choice of nozzle, pressure settings, detergent and care products. Therefore, good old pressure washers are the device of choice for most household applications.
Avoid products that are merely pressure washers that also eject warm water. These typically do not achieve the efficacy of the state-of-the-art pressure washers, nor do they achieve the detergent-free efficacy of steam cleaners. These products could be a waste of your money.
In other words, unless you have a really good reason to power wash, pressure wash!