Pressure Washer Damage: Potential Risks & Professional Tips

Pressure Washer Damage

When it comes to cleaning, pressure washers are a popular choice due to their efficiency in removing dirt and grime. These powerful tools can save time and energy, but it’s crucial to use them correctly. Inappropriate use can lead to damage, especially on certain surfaces. This article walks you through into the aspects of pressure washing, focusing on what should and shouldn’t be cleaned with a pressure washer.

What is a Pressure Washer?

A pressure washer, also known as a power wash machine, uses high-pressure water spray to remove loose paint, mold, grime, dust, mud, and dirt from surfaces and objects such as buildings, vehicles, and concrete surfaces. It’s a versatile tool that has become increasingly popular for residential and commercial cleaning tasks.

Potential Risks of Misusing a Pressure Washer

While pressure washers are highly effective, they can also cause significant damage if not used properly. The high pressure can strip away paint, damage shingles, and even break windows. It’s crucial to understand the right pressure setting for each task to avoid these risks.

Damaging Painted Surfaces

Pressure washing painted surfaces can lead to the removal of paint, especially if the paint is already chipping or if the pressure setting is too high. This is a particular concern for older buildings painted with lead paint, as pressure washing can disperse harmful lead particles.

Impact on Shingles and Roofing

Using a pressure washer on your roof, especially if it has asphalt shingles, can cause more harm than good. The high-pressure water can remove the protective granules from the shingles, leaving the roof vulnerable to water damage.

Vinyl Siding and Wood Siding

While vinyl siding can generally withstand pressure washing, excessive pressure can crack or damage the siding. Similarly, wood siding is susceptible to water damage and splintering if pressure washed incorrectly.

Other Sensitive Areas

Air conditioners, light fixtures, and outdoor furniture are also at risk. High-pressure water can damage the internal components of air conditioners and light fixtures, while outdoor furniture can be stripped of its finish or paint.

Things You Should Never Clean with a Pressure Washer

Here are some things you should never clean with a pressure washer.

Asphalt Shingles

Asphalt shingles on roofs are delicate and can be damaged by the high-pressure spray of a power washer. The granules on the surface of asphalt shingles provide protection from the elements. A pressure washer can blast away these granules, leaving the underlying materials exposed and vulnerable. This can lead to leaks, mold growth, and the need to replace shingles much sooner.

Instead of pressure washing asphalt shingles, use a garden hose with moderate pressure or hire a professional roof cleaning service. They have the proper equipment and technique to clean the roof without causing damage.

Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding on homes has a painted acrylic finish on the surface that can easily be damaged by pressure washing. The high-pressure spray can remove this protective coating, causing the vinyl siding to fade, crack, and become more vulnerable to impacts.

Pressure washing vinyl siding, especially older or low-quality siding, risks splintering the vinyl and exposing the inner insulation. Instead, wash vinyl siding with a soft brush and garden hose. For stubborn stains, use cleaners specifically designed for vinyl.

Wood Siding

Wood siding and trim should never be pressure washed for similar reasons as vinyl siding. The high-pressure spray can damage the layered construction of wood boards, remove paint and protective finishes, and drive water into cracks to cause rot and decay over time.

Instead, use low-pressure water and mild cleaners with wood siding. Spot treat stubborn stains by hand rather than attempting to pressure wash wood surfaces. Doing so avoids unnecessary damage.

Painted Surfaces

No matter the material underneath, pressure washing can damage painted surfaces including siding, doors, shutters, furniture, fences, and more. The high-pressure water spray and abrasives in some power washer systems can remove paint down to bare material.

Repainting then becomes necessary to restore protection on the surface. Instead of pressure washing, clean painted surfaces with low-pressure water, soft brushes, and mild cleaners designed specifically for painted materials like wood, concrete, metal or others.

Outdoor Light Fixtures

Outdoor light fixtures on homes and in landscaping contain electrical components and seals that keep out moisture. The force of a pressure washer can damage fixtures and electrical parts. Without proper seals, moisture can then enter and cause dangerous shorts and corrosion over time.

Instead of pressure washing, carefully wipe outdoor light fixtures by hand or use very low pressure rinse. Avoid direct high-pressure spray on the fixtures, sockets, wiring, and seals that protect them.

Air Conditioning Units

Air conditioning units have protective drain pans, delicate fins for heat transfer, electrical parts, and seals around major components. The force of pressure washer spray can bend metal, damage fins, dislodge drain pans, and break seals around electrical covers.

Moisture entering around damaged fins or seals can then cause electrical shorts and corrosion leading to AC failures. Avoid pressure washing AC units altogether. Carefully wipe the external condenser coils by hand instead to remove debris stuck between fins.

Mortar Between Bricks or Concrete Blocks

On brick buildings, stone walls, and other masonry structures, mortar provides adhesion between the materials. Although pressure washing can clean the brick surface, high-pressure water spray also wears away softer mortar over time.

This erosion of mortar risks destabilizing structures and requires extensive tuckpointing repairs. Instead of pressure washing, use low-pressure rinse and hand scrubbing with specialized masonry cleaners to avoid slowly damaging mortar bonds while cleaning masonry.

Driveways or Sidewalks with Cracks and Crevices

Patches, low spots, and cracks are inevitable on exterior concrete surfaces like driveways and sidewalks after years of use, weather, and ground shifting. High-pressure spray concentrates water flow through these cracks.

Over time, this forces open existing cracks and leads to new cracks forming. The pressurized water entering cracks also causes damage each freeze/thaw cycle as water expands when turning to ice. Avoid further damage to cracked concrete by using low-pressure rinse instead of power washing.

Stained Wood Decks, Fences, or Siding

Over time, wood structures like decks, fences, and siding develop darkened stains in the grain from weather, mildew, pollution, and more. Although tempting to pressure wash, doing so only etches stains further into the porous wood surface.

Instead, use wood cleaners containing oxalic acid, sodium percarbonate, oxygen bleach or other wood brighteners to lift stains from wood surfaces without abrasive pressure washing. Doing so avoids driving stains deeper while restoring surface appearance.

Surfaces with Chipping or Peeling Paint

On surfaces with paint that has started wearing away, pressure washing speeds the removal process rather than cleaning and protecting the surface. High-pressure water easily strips chipping and peeling paint down to bare material.

Although pressure washing removes the paint quickly, it does so without discrimination and often goes beyond intended areas. Instead, hand scrape, sand, and properly prepare surfaces prior to repainting using safe techniques for the underlying surface material and considering potential lead paint risks.

Old Roofs or Those with Prior Leaks or Damage

Roofs with pre-existing leaks, damage, or deterioration should never be pressure washed. High-pressure spray can exploit vulnerable areas and force water past worn shingles, destroyed roof felts or sheathing, and other breaches.

Even a roof only a few years old could have damage covered by overlapping shingles. Pressure washing risks exposing and expanding damage sites leading to major leaks. Exercise extreme caution when pressure washing any roof over 5 years old or with potential problem areas. Consider hiring roof inspection and professional cleaning services instead.

Fiberglass Doors or Fiberglass Outdoor Furniture

Fiberglass surfaces are durable and waterproof but still vulnerable to damage from excessive pressure while washing. The strong spray of a pressure washer can tear the gelcoat surface layer off fiberglass items like doors or outdoor furniture. Once underlying fibers are exposed, cracks develop leading to failure.

Instead lightly scrub fiberglass with a soft brush and low-pressure rinse to remove grime without stripping away the protective gelcoat. Avoid high-pressure spray directly on fiberglass even if using a wide-fan spray nozzle. The concentrated blast within that fan pattern still causes gradual damage to delicate gelcoat.

Decals and Cheap Window Treatments

From vinyl decals to temporary window films, pressure washing ruins surfaces with delicate additional layers like decals. The high-pressure spray lifts edges, allowing water underneath to completely remove vinyl coverings. Blinds and inexpensive window treatments also easily break with exposure to strong spray.

Avoid spraying directly at surfaces with vinyl decals or low-cost window treatments. Consider removing decals entirely if washing the underlying surface to prevent bleed-through stains. For windows with blinds or films, clean the exterior surface instead while protecting interior furnishings from water damage.

Guidelines for Safe Pressure Washing

Understanding Pressure Settings

The key to safe pressure washing is understanding and adjusting the pressure settings based on the surface you’re cleaning. Different materials require different levels of pressure to avoid damage.

Choosing the Right Nozzle

The type of nozzle used can significantly impact the intensity and spread of the water spray. Using a nozzle with a wider angle can distribute the pressure over a larger area, reducing the risk of damage.

Testing on Inconspicuous Areas

Before starting, it’s advisable to test the pressure washer on a small, less visible area to ensure it doesn’t cause damage.

Professional Assistance

For delicate or high-risk areas, consider hiring a professional with experience in handling pressure washers safely and effectively.

Alternatives to Pressure Washing

Garden Hose with a Nozzle Attachment

A garden hose with a nozzle attachment can be a safer alternative for more delicate surfaces, providing enough force to clean effectively without the risk of damage.

Soft Wash Systems

Soft wash systems use low-pressure water combined with cleaning agents to remove dirt and grime. This method is particularly useful for surfaces that cannot withstand high pressure.

Manual Cleaning Methods

Sometimes, traditional cleaning methods like scrubbing with a brush and soapy water can be the safest option, especially for delicate surfaces.


Pressure washers are powerful tools that can make cleaning easier and more efficient. However, they must be used with caution to prevent damage to various surfaces. By understanding the appropriate pressure settings, choosing the right nozzle, and considering alternatives when necessary, you can effectively use a pressure washer without risking damage to your property.

Remember, when in doubt, consult a professional, like Sullins Suds, or resort to gentler cleaning methods. Safe and smart use of a pressure washer ensures that your cleaning tasks are effective without causing unwanted harm.

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore
How To Pressure Wash a Rug
How To Pressure Wash a Rug: Washing, Drying, and Maintaining

Pressure washing a rug requires careful attention to detail to avoid damaging delicate fibers. Follow these steps for optimal results:
1. Preparation
2. Choose the Right Pressure Washer
3. Detergent Selection
4. Test Spot
5. Even Application
6. Rinse Thoroughly
7. Allow to Dry

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