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Dear Jim: My deck and patio need cleaning and it costs a lot to have it done. I can buy a pressure washer for about $150. What features should I look for, and is a gasoline or electric one cheaper to operate? -- Dexter B.

Dear Dexter: A pressure washer can come in handy for many cleaning tasks around the house, but deck and patio cleaning are the most common. Almost anything you would clean off by spraying with a garden hose would be a candidate for a pressure washer.

When you include maintenance, an electric pressure washer is probably somewhat less expensive to operate than a gasoline powered one. With a pressure washer being used only about 20 hours per year by the typical homeowner, the total operating cost differences are almost insignificant.

There is a big savings in water usage which is a significant factors in many areas during the summer. When cleaning a deck or patio, using a pressure washer can consume 80 percent less water than using a garden hose. This savings results from faster cleaning and the lower water flow through the washer.

The key factors when selecting any pressure washer are the maximum pressure (pounds per square inch - psi) and the water flow rate (gallons per minute - gpm). The pressure indicates how much force the water can exert on the surface to be cleaned. The water flow rate indicates how large an area it can clean per pass. A higher gpm-rating allows you to clean a deck faster.

For $150, you will probably get an electric pressure washer with a psi of about 1,500 or less and a flow rate less than 2.0. A small electric model is lightweight and easy to handle for almost anyone, but regular cleaning of a large deck and patio may exceed its design capacity. It would be better for cleaning lawn furniture, garbage cans, cars, grills,etc.

For your deck and patio, consider a gasoline model which has a pressure rating above 2,000 psi and a flow rate from 2.0 to 3.0 gpm. This will allow you to use a wider spray pattern to clean a larger area with each pass while adjusting the pressure below its maximum so the wood is not damaged.

There are several accessories and features to consider which clean more effectively. A rotating spray nozzle will cover a larger area with lower pressure water for quick light-duty cleaning tasks. A brush attachment can help when cleaning decks, concrete or siding. A soft rotating brush attachment is ideal for cars.

For the fastest cleaning using the least water and electricity or gasoline, always use a special pressure washer detergent. Spray it on and let it stand for five minutes first. For cleaning high second-story siding, you may need a special detergent attachment such as Campbell Hausfeld's high-pressure soap sprayer.

The following companies offer pressure washers: Briggs & Stratton (800-743-4115, Campbell Hausfeld (866-247-6937, Coleman Powermate (800-445-1805, Karcher (800-537-4129, and McCulloch (800-521-8559

Send inquiries to James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit