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Electrical safety when using pressure washers

The sun is finally out, the temps are up and our North Dakota work ethic demands that we get outside and clean up the grime of the long cold season. Many use pressure washers to clean off large surfaces of loose paint, mold, or dirt, but before you fire up the heavy stream of water, be sure to dive into electrical safety information. Water and electricity are a dangerous mix, but an electric powered pressure washer does not have to be as long as you are using it safely.

“When it comes to pressure washers and electrical safety, the most important issue is to have a properly working, tested ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacle,” says Safe Electricity Advisory Board Member Mike Ashenfelter. “GFCIs are inexpensive electrical devices that can protect against electrical shock.”

A GFCI monitors the flow of electricity in a circuit. If there is an irregularity of electrical flow, the power is cut off, preventing an electric shock. GFCIs are recommended anywhere water and electricity may meet—so every outdoor receptacle should be equipped with a GFCI.

GFCIs come in several varieties. One type is a circuit breaker with a built-in GFCI that a qualified electrician can install in a home’s panel box. Others come in the form of a receptacle that fits into a standard outlet box.

If your outdoor receptacles do not have GFCI protection, purchase a portable one. A portable GFCI is a specialized extension cord with GFCI abilities that can be plugged into an outlet and used to power your electrical equipment, such as an electric pressure washer.

Remember, if you have receptacle or portable GFCIs, you should test them after installation, after power failures, and on a monthly basis. They will have test and reset buttons for this purpose.

“Always check the conditions of the power cords before using a pressure washer,” warns Ashenfelter. “Make sure you are using a grounded, approved for outdoor use cord in good condition without any nicks, cuts, or missing the ground prong.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that electric shock can occur if the pressure washer is not used properly and if safety instructions are not followed, and it offers these pressure washer safety precautions:

  • Never use a gasoline-powered washer in an enclosed space.
  • Always test the GFCI before using a pressure washer.
  • Always plug a properly grounded pressure washer into a properly grounded receptacle.
  • If an extension cord must be used, keep the pressure washer’s power cord connection out of any standing water, and use a heavy-duty extension cord with components rated for outdoor use.
  • Keep both the power and extension cords as far away as possible from the item being washed and away from any water runoff.
  • Never cut or splice the pressure washer’s power cord or extension cords.
  • Never remove the grounding prong from the pressure washer’s power cord plug or the extension cord.
  • Always have a qualified electrician check the pressure washer for electrical problems after it has tripped a circuit breaker.

There are different kinds of pressure washers, some that are powered with electricity and others powered by gas. No matter what kind you plan to use, know how to use it safely. Remember to read and follow all safety instructions in the owner’s manual that comes with the device.

For more information about safety around electricity and outdoor projects, visit our safety blog here.


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