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Product overview

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Waterblasters

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Blast your paths, patios and car spick and span.

We blasted away at grimy paths before trying out deck-cleaning attachments to see if they’re a gimmick or godsend. Our expectations were turned on their heads as some expensive, big-name models failed to shine while a few cheaper units cleaned up.

From our test

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Types

Mains-electric (corded)

These are the most common type of residential waterblaster and they have more than enough power for jobs around the home. Good models are available for $200-300, and if properly used they should require very little maintenance. But your range is limited by the extension cord.

Petrol

Much heavier, noisier and more maintenance-intensive than electric units, but you can take them anywhere and you’ll never be short on power. They’re worth considering if you’re going to be straying far from home or for industrial tasks, but for most of us a mains model will suffice.

Battery-electric (cordless)

These models are a recent entrant to the market and offer the go-anywhere range of a petrol model without the maintenance issues and fumes. But our testing shows they don’t yet have the power of mains models, and they generally cost twice as much as their corded counterparts.

About our test

Our overall scores comprise performance (60%) and ease of use (40%).

Performance scores are based on the following tests:

  • We clean a concrete path stained almost black with tree sap, rating each waterblaster on how quickly and effectively it cleans the path using both the rotary and fan nozzles. Top-scoring models slice through the dirt within seconds from a reasonable distance (approx. 1m), while below-par units need to be held close to the surface for a reasonable time, which is tedious work and hard on your back.
  • For models which include a patio cleaner accessory, we check how well it performs on both the grimy path and a smoother surface.
  • We also take into account the reach, i.e. the length of the power cord and hose/lance, along with each unit’s noise level.

Our ease-of-use assessment looks at:

  • Ease of manoeuvring the unit, including pushing it around on wheels and how heavy it feels to carry up and down stairs, along with the length of the hose.
  • Lance length, as shorter lances mean more bending down, while overlong lances can be unwieldy.
  • Trigger comfort and ease of operation (is it tiring to hold down?).

Checklist

If you're thinking about getting a waterblaster (also called a high-pressure cleaner), here's what to consider.

  • Water use: An average garden hose flows water at about 30 litres per minute. The waterblasters we tested were rated at between 5.2 and 8.7 litres per minute – a substantial water saving. If you’re in an area with water metering, using a waterblaster instead of a hose can reduce your water use. It also does a better cleaning job.
  • Ease of use: Look for a model with spray settings that are easy to adjust. Some require you to let go of the trigger and grasp the lance with both hands, which can be tricky to do.

If possible, test a model out to ensure it's not too heavy for you (models range in weight from 8 to 15 kilograms). Models with wheels and a well-designed handle make moving around easy. Make sure the handle is long enough to use easily.

Rotary start/stop switches on the side are much easier to access than recessed rear switches.

  • Petrol power: Petrol-powered waterblasters can be no more expensive than top-model electrics. And while petrol models are heavier and noisier than electrics, you don't need a power point to use them.

In our 2012 test we tested the petrol-powered Ryobi RPW2400B as a comparison and found its performance excellent – it easily removed dirt from concrete with either of its fan nozzles. If you have large areas to clean, consider a petrol model.

  • Detergent attachment: Many models carry this handy feature, which dispenses detergent in your water spray, for easy window and surfaces cleaning.
  • Storage features: A lance-holder lets you stow the lance on the machine while not in use. Likewise, a hose storage hook is handy for keeping your hose neatly stored.

Cleaning power

You can use waterblasters for a variety of jobs – to spruce up paths, clean garden furniture, and more.

However, if you have a big job you want to get done quickly we suggest you hire a heavy-duty industrial machine. This will have a higher combination of pressure and flow rate, which translates into faster cleaner.

Waterblasting claddings made from fibre-cement sheet or stucco is a big no-no.
Waterblasting claddings made from fibre-cement sheet or stucco is a big no-no.

Don't waterblast stucco-type houses
Waterblasting claddings made from fibre-cement sheet or stucco is a big no-no. That's because the high-pressure water can penetrate cladding (or any cracks in its surface). And once it's in, the water can't get out. This warning especially applies to "monolithic clad" houses built from the early 1990s up till around 2003.

Be careful with other claddings too
Waterblasting weatherboard, brick, concrete block or steel ("galvanised iron") claddings is acceptable – as long as the nozzle is not brought too close to the surface (less than 500mm) and the spray is not directed closely around door openings, window frames and other openings in the cladding.

And timber decks
The nozzle should not be brought closer than around 300mm to the timber deck surface. If held too close, the water jet can penetrate and damage the timber – reducing the life of the deck.

Nozzles, accessories and kits

Our testing shows the design of the nozzle has a big impact on cleaning effectiveness and speed.

  • Rotary nozzles produce a pulsating and rotating cone of water. We found they work best on large areas of heavily soiled surfaces like paving, driveways and other surfaces that aren't easily damaged by the high-pressure water. Rotary nozzles produce noticeable vibration in the lance.
  • Fan nozzles give you a flat fan-like spray of water. They're useful for cleaning painted surfaces like sides of houses, roofs and vehicles. The spray is not as aggressive as that produced by a rotary jet, but caution is needed with painted surfaces because they can be damaged if the spray is held too close.
  • Jet or needle nozzles deliver a concentrated "pencil" jet. They're used for small areas of difficult-to-remove soiling on surfaces that are not likely to be damaged by the high-pressure water (such as concrete or other ceramics). Jet and needle nozzles need to be used with caution – the concentrated jet can damage wood and other less robust surfaces.

Accessories and kits:

  • The majority of waterblasters now include a patio brush attachment. These connect to the end of the lance and feature a rotating nozzle and brush for scrubbing decks and smooth surfaces. They generally work well on smooth surfaces like decks and tiles, but for rougher surfaces like a concrete path you’re better off using a more focused jet of water.
  • Some water blasters are sold as car kits. This usually just means they include a soft wash brush containing a low pressure rotary nozzle for scrubbing cars and bikes without damaging paintwork. However, most normal fan or rotary nozzles will be fine for washing cars as long as you stand about 1m away and don’t use a focused jet of water. You can also buy these car accessories separately.

Waterblaster safety

ACC has provided these useful tips to help you keep safe while using your waterblaster.

  • Pay attention to where the nozzle is pointing. High pressure water can cause serious injury if it is directed at people or animals.
  • Ensure you wear sturdy non-slip footwear, wrap-around safety glasses, hearing protection and stout gloves.
  • Be aware of slippery surfaces, especially when carrying heavy equipment that may affect your balance.
  • Take care when you move the waterblaster to ensure you don’t block or restrict your work area. Try to keep the work area clutter-free, so that if you do slip and fall, you won’t land heavily or awkwardly on equipment or other obstructions.
  • If your waterblaster has a 2-stroke motor, take care to avoid its exhaust which can cause serious burns.
  • If possible avoid using a waterblaster while on a ladder or the roof. A roof cleaning accessory kit lets you clean the roof while staying on the ground. Other accessories are available to help clean gutters and other hard to reach locations.
  • Waterblasting on the roof should be done by a professional who knows how to correctly use a full harness that is fixed to a properly installed anchor bracket.
  • If working from a ladder, make sure it is securely positioned and fixed in place so that it can't fall sideways. Maintain 3 points of contact on the ladder at all times (for example, both feet and a hand) and only use the handpiece of the waterblaster from the ladder – don’t attempt to position the waterblaster on the ladder. Ensure you have the right ladder for the job so you don’t have to work from the top 3 rungs. For more information about DIY and ladder safety go to www.acc.co.nz/preventing-injuries.

More safety advice

  • Electrical faults can develop in any appliance over time. So when you're using outdoor electrical equipment you must always have a residual current device (RCD) plugged in between the extension cord and the mains socket. The only possible exception is if you know your new switchboard has built-in RCDs.
  • Place the waterblaster unit where it won't get wet. Don't clean a waterblaster with its own high pressure water jet. Wipe it down with a cloth.
  • Watch out for damage to your property. Waterblasters, particularly those using a needle jet, can damage soft surfaces like wood and asphalt. Test on a small area first. Pull the lance back, to ease the force of the blast. See the Checklist for more information.
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