The 10 Best Surface Cleaners

video play icon

This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in May of 2016. It could cost you thousands to have your driveway, patio, deck or walkway cleaned by a professional cleaning company. Or you could get one of these surface cleaners and do it yourself for a fraction of the price. Despite their relatively low cost, they can be effective on concrete, brick, wood and even aggregate driveways, once you connect them to a compatible pressure washer. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Erie Outdoor Stainless Steel

2. Twinkle Star Trigger Gun

3. Briggs & Stratton 6338

Editor's Notes

August 28, 2020:

For this update we added the Twinkle Star Trigger Gun as another excellent choice for the average DIY'er. It comes at a price that is comparable to similar quality choices like the Simpson Scrubber, while including an ergonomic trigger gun to help make the process even more comfortable.

While not necessary for most homeowners, the Erie Outdoor Stainless Steel is worth the price for anyone with larger than usual driveway that they like to keep clean, not just for its durable stainless steel body, but also for the comfort built into its design.

June 21, 2019:

We removed the EZ Clean model due to the item being discontinued and concerns about availability of replacement parts for the units still being sold. We added the Simpson Scrubber attachment despite some user concerns about it being subject to clogging (can be prevented by diligent pre-washing) because it is a reliable enough choice for those who want a metal vs. plastic housing but don't want to spend hundreds for the Erie Outdoor Stainless Steel.

The Erie does take the top spot for being durable enough for commercial usage. If a homeowner wants to use this for cleaning their driveway and deck more than once every few years, it's a great choice with it's back-saving, tall dual handles and the wheels that make it easier to maneuver than options without wheels.

4. Karcher 15-Inch

5. Yamaha ACC

6. Simpson Scrubber

7. Karcher T300

8. Sun Joe SPX-PCA10

9. Be Whirl-A-Way

10. Greenworks Original

The History Of Pressure Washing

As the water exits from the larger area and enters into the smaller diameter of the hose, its pressure increases.

Pressure washing has been around in some capacity since the 1920s. Frank Ofeldt is credited with inventing the first high-powered steam cleaner, called the Hypressure Jenny. The structure of the pressure washer as it is known today has not changed much since the 1960s. The typical pressure washer uses a motor to drive an internal high-pressure water pump. This pump sucks water from an attached faucet or reservoir and pushes it into a small diameter hose. As the water exits from the larger area and enters into the smaller diameter of the hose, its pressure increases. This causes it to exit the nozzle with a large amount of force. Most pressure washers are operated by a switch, usually in the form of a trigger.

Modern pressure washers are still designed in a similar fashion but with one major caveat. Today’s pressure washers are much more powerful than ever before. This increase in power is due to a more streamlined mechanical process, as well as innovations in nozzle technology. Modern nozzles create higher pressure than earlier models. They can also force water into specific patterns, such as a triangle or cone, each having its own benefits. Chemical injector nozzles can also add detergent and other cleaning products directly to the high pressure stream.

There are also more power supply option than in early times. Most are powered by electricity or gas combustion, though pneumatic and hydraulic-powered models are available, as well. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, electric pressure washers can deliver around 2,000 psi from the power provided by a standard wall outlet, but anyone using an electric model needs to understand how to avoid electrical hazards. Combustion washers can deliver pressures twice that of electric models, but are not necessary in many applications. The exhaust fumes from combustion engines are also dangerous or fatal to use in closed areas.

Pros And Cons Of Using Surface Cleaners

One of the most noticeable benefits of surface cleaners is their versatility. The self-contained nature of most surface cleaners makes them ideal for efficiently cleaning large areas, like basketball courts, tennis courts, or playgrounds. At the same time, surface cleaners can also be used to spot clean a single heavy grease stain on a factory floor.

An area with poor drainage can easily flood, and regular surface cleaner use may result in an unusually high water bill.

Surface cleaners also have the capacity to be gentler than many other pressure cleaning options, yet should the user desire to strip away old layers of paint or varnish from a deck, they can still easily accomplish this. Surface cleaners are also cleaner than standard pressure washers. The nozzles of surface cleaners are enclosed within the arm bar’s housing. This reduces the amount of water and dirt thrown into the air surrounding the work space.

There are still some things to be aware of when using a surface cleaner. Pressure washers, no matter the attachment, are very noisy. Sound levels can exceed 90dBA. This is enough to cause damage to the eardrum, and may even result in noise-induced hearing loss over time. Anyone working with machinery like pressure washers and surface cleaners should consider using safety earmuffs while the machine is in operation.

High pressure washing can also damage surfaces if done incorrectly. It can force water deep into masonry or wood flooring and prevent drying. Surface cleaners also use a lot of water, even at lower pressures. An area with poor drainage can easily flood, and regular surface cleaner use may result in an unusually high water bill.

Who Will Get The Most From A Surface Cleaner?

Surface cleaners are most commonly used to clean large-surface-area spaces made of hard materials. This includes sidewalks, driveways, arena floors, and patios to name a few. A traditional pressure washer nozzle can also be used to clean these areas, though this can cause problems. There are so many variables to giving the surface an even finish. For instance, the actual pressure of the water impacting the surface changes if the washer is moved too quickly. This can cause some areas clean more thoroughly than others, requiring you to perform additional passes.

There are some unorthodox uses for surface cleaners, as well.

Inconsistent distance between the pressure washer nozzle and the surface can result in streaky patterns. Many people complain that their pressure washer will create bold streaks in a surface unless the wand is held at the exact same height the entire time. A surface cleaner easily solves these problems. Uneven streaks are eliminated, as the pressure is consistent with every pass of the wand. It can also be set to a higher pressure to clean deeper stains on more resilient surfaces. Using surface cleaners to remove stains can reduce the need for extra cleaning products, which are cause for health concerns in people who use the products regularly.

Surface cleaners are also great for anyone looking to easily clean outdoor ceilings. A pressure washer alone is going to leave the user soaked, as there is no way to control the waste water. On the other hand, a surface cleaner gives the water a contained work area that is easier to control. The user is still likely to get wet, but much less than with a standard pressure washer. Surface cleaners may also be the best option for people who have outdoor walls that need regular cleaning. One example is cleaning a delicate rock wall. This is going to require much less pressure than cleaning a concrete wall or driveway to avoid damage to the mortar joints. A high pressure wash will likely break off pieces of mortar or pull stones out of the wall. A surface cleaner allows the user to deliver uniform low pressure to the wall, while still cleaning deeply enough to reach the wall’s cracks and uneven surfaces.

Those that regularly need to remove paint from walls and sidewalks will find a surface cleaner an invaluable tool. There are some unorthodox uses for surface cleaners, as well. In a completely opposite application that someone who is trying to remove graffiti, reverse graffiti artists may intentionally move one quickly over a wall or floor to create swirls and make complex patterns in their artwork.

Tina Morna Freitas
Last updated by Tina Morna Freitas

Tina Morna Freitas is a writer who lives in Chicago with her family and three cats. She has a B.A. in anthropology with a minor in English, and has built a freelance career over the years in writing and digital marketing. Her passions for cooking, decorating and home improvement contribute to her extensive knowledge of all things kitchen and home goods. In addition, her 20 years as a parent inform her expertise in the endless stream of toys and equipment that inevitably takes over the homes of most parents. She also enjoys gardening, making and sipping margaritas, and aspires to be a crazy cat lady once all the children are grown.

Thanks for reading the fine print. About the Wiki: We don't accept sponsorships, free goods, samples, promotional products, or other benefits from any of the product brands featured on this page, except in cases where those brands are manufactured by the retailer to which we are linking. For more information on our rankings, please read about us, linked below. The Wiki is a participant in associate programs from Amazon, Walmart, Ebay, Target, and others, and may earn advertising fees when you use our links to these websites. These fees will not increase your purchase price, which will be the same as any direct visitor to the merchant’s website. If you believe that your product should be included in this review, you may contact us, but we cannot guarantee a response, even if you send us flowers.