Finding the best pressure washer for your cleaning project can be difficult if you’re not sure what you’re looking for – or how to understand the product description! There are a lot of words and acronyms that get thrown around by experts in the industry. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, it can prevent you from choosing the best washer for the job. We’ve collected a list of basic pressure washer terms that can help you understand the specs on each pressure washer model.
Pressure Washer Glossary
Belt drive: A belt-driven unit runs on a gear reduction pulley system, allowing pumps to turn at a lower RPM than a direct drive pressure washer. Benefits include absorption of vibration, lower operating temperature, and a long lifespan of the machine. Heavy use pressure washers often come with a belt-driven pump.
Clutch: A pump clutch stops the pump immediately when the trigger is released, preventing the pump from overheating.
CU: Cleaning units. CU is found by multiplying pressure by water volume (PSI x GPM = CU).
Direct drive: This means the pump is directly connected to the engine (the alternative is a belt driven pressure washer). This means the pump spins at the same RPM as the engine, leading to a simpler design overall. However, one drawback is that these machines may experience more wear and tear with heavy or frequent use.
GPM: Gallons per minute, the unit for measuring water flow. This volume of water, combined with the machine’s PSI, determines how quickly and thoroughly a job can be done. The higher the GPM, the faster dirt can be removed from the surface.
Nozzle: The nozzle is the fixture at the end of the hose that creates the pressure by shaping or angling the spray. A narrower or flatter nozzle creates a more concentrated, powerful spray while a broader spray will deliver less direct strength.
PSI: Pounds per square inch. This refers to how much pressure is applied to the surface being cleaned. PSI will vary depending on the machine and what job you need it for. A smaller electric model used for residential cleaning can start at 1,000PSI, while a heavier-duty model for industrial use can reach 3,500PSI or more.
RPM: Revolutions per minute. The number of full turns the pressure washer engine makes each minute.
Thermal relief: The thermal relief valve on a pressure washer is a safety feature designed to prevent overheating of the pump. Thermal relief is used to reduce the build-up of water within the pump when the spray trigger is closed so there is no pump damage.
Variable pressure control: A pressure washer feature that allows the user to adjust the water pressure based on the cleaning job, providing greater versatility and efficiency.