Don’t let the power of these machines turn against you.
What could possibly go wrong when you’re spraying water with a force of 4,000 pounds per square inch of pressure? If you’re not careful, plenty. That’s why, whether you’re a professional or DIYer, you need to take the dangers of power washing seriously.
Pressure washers, also known as power washers, are extremely effective at removing tough stains, dirt, paint and other materials from surfaces. They’re also potentially damaging to people and things if not used properly.
Can a pressure washer cut you? Absolutely. Common pressure washer injuries include skin lacerations, punctures, bruising and eye injuries. High-pressure injection wounds occur when the spray from a pressure washer damages the underlying soft tissue. These may not look serious at first, but it’s important to get treated. Over time, a bacterial infection could develop that, left untreated, may lead to disability or amputation.
Keep the following power washer safety tips in mind to prevent injuries.
1. Know your machine
Every pressure washer model is different, so read the user’s manual. It will cover:
- How to operate the machine and its accessories
- How to shut it off in a hurry
- If it’s an electric model, whether it’s safe to use an extension cord and if so, what kind
2. Suit up for power washer safety
Highly pressurized water is no joke, so wear the appropriate pressure washing PPE.
Pants and sleeves: To help protect your skin from flying debris, wear full-length pants and a long-sleeve shirt.
Boots: If your foot accidentally slips into the water stream, toes can be lacerated or worse. Wear closed toe, non-slip shoes or work boots.
Eye protection: Safety glasses protect your eyes from flying debris. OSHA requirements for high-pressure washers include using a full face shield for water pressure above 2,000 psi to avoid severe eye or head injury. This is especially relevant for anyone using a heavy-duty pressure washer.
Gloves: Heavy-duty, waterproof work gloves will not only help protect your hands but also give you a better grip on the handle.
Ear protection: Gas-powered pressure washers can be noisy, so ear protection is smart.
3. Survey the area for pressure washer hazards
Electrical outlets and water don’t mix; the combination can lead to electrical shock, so over any electrical outlets in the area. Steer clear of power lines or electrical wires, and if you’re using an electric pressure washer with an extension cord, keep the power cord connection out of standing water.
In addition, move any fragile items out of the way. Clear the area of any tripping hazards, unnecessary people and pets. Use a spotter if there’s a chance a pedestrian or vehicle could pass by the area you’re working in.
4. Use a gas engine only in the open
The engine on a gas pressure washer emits carbon monoxide during use. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, work in an open area, never in a confined space.
5. Choose the right nozzle opening
The smaller the nozzle opening, the more concentrated the water stream and the greater the potential danger to surfaces and bodies. Start with the widest-angle spray tip nozzle (these are the white or green nozzles) to see if it will do the trick. Move to the yellow nozzle if it doesn’t. Use the red, 0-degree nozzle only if you have to. The spray from this nozzle can be powerful enough to etch concrete, so imagine what it can do to flesh and bone.
6. Maintain a proper distance
Don’t spray too close to the surface you’re cleaning. Follow the distance guidelines provided by the manufacturer. Never aim a small-degree nozzle (red or yellow) at glass.
7. Keep your hands and feet out of the water stream
This seems obvious but it’s worth stating. Don’t be tempted to rinse your hands or any part of your body using the power washer. A power washer foot injury isn’t pretty. Neither is a hand injury.
8. Keep both feet on the ground
Can’t reach your target? Use an extension wand or other extension attachment, but never a ladder. Ladders pose an obvious fall hazard, especially if the pressure washer creates kickback, pushing you backward even on dry ground.
9. Use the safety latch
If the power washer is on but you’re not actively spraying, engage the safety latch on the handle before putting it down. If you plan to leave the worksite for any length of time, turn the pressure washer off.
10. Depressurize once you’re done
After you turn off the pressure washer, squeeze the trigger to release the remaining pressure before disconnecting it. If you don’t, trying to disassemble the spray gun, nozzle or hose could result in an injury.
Power washer accidents don’t need to happen. Follow these safety instructions and you can make outdoor furniture, decks, driveways, siding, sidewalks and even industrial equipment look new again without incident.