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My Guide to Finding the Highest Rated Pressure Cleaner Pumps

23 February 2012 3,032 views 2 Comments

In this article I talk about how pressure washer pumps work, the types of pumps, and where you can shop for a replacement pump if you need one.

Power cleaner pumps are the main components in a hi psi washing system, and hence have to be chosen with care, and according to your unique requirements. You should certainly look at the type and quality of the pump on a washer before you buy it. You want something that is durable and is going to last for many years. The same goes if you need to replace a broken pump, which can be a lot cheaper than going out and buying a whole new washer.

The pump is responsible for delivering an exact amount of pressure to the water, and to control the flow rate of that water. The efficiency and speed of a cleaning job will depend on these two functions.

How Pump Power Is Measured

The pressure (measured in PSI or pounds per square inch) provides the power or force needed for the cleaning process, and the flow rate (measured in GPM or gallons per minute) delivers the required volume of water. The higher GPM the faster you’ll be able to clean a surface. Multiplied together PSI and GPM form cleaning units or CU, which is a measure of the overall cleaning power of your power washer. You can read more about these measures in my article on Picking the Best Pressure Washer for the Job.

When the pressure is high, and there is more volume of water, the cleaning process will be faster and more efficient. However, the amount of pressure needed has to be decided according to individual requirements. For instance, for home cleaning purposes, where the surfaces are relatively delicate and the dirt is not so deeply entrenched, a pressure of 1,500 to 2,000 PSI should suffice. Higher pressures are likely to peel off paint, and damage wooden surfaces by splintering the edges. However, for cleaning barnacles from the hull of a boat, or cleaning plain concrete surfaces, or even cleaning large decks that are very dirty, more pressure is required.

Higher levels of pressure starting from 3,000 PSI and going up are generally required for industrial or commercial applications, where the dirt and grease is quite deeply entrenched. Depending on the type of cleaning, the pressure requirement can go up to as much as 10,000 PSI for certain industries. Secondly, industrial grade washers also require a higher flow rate to rinse out the dislodged dirt, particularly on vertical surfaces.

This video shows how a pressure washer pump works by looking at the inside of a cutaway half of a washer.

Power Types

Power cleaning systems are powered by electricity, gas, or diesel. Electrical motors are more suited for home use because they are not as powerful as gas or diesel models. Gas and diesel can be used at home too, as well as for commercial and industrial applications. Whichever fuel type you choose will not affect the efficiency of the pump in any way. Pumps powered by different fuels deliver the same pressure and flow rate according to their individual specs.

Apart from selecting the right combination of pressure, flow rate and power type, you also have to consider the construction of pressure washer pumps. They are mainly categorized into two types, axial cam or direct drive pumps and triplex plunger pumps. Each type has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Here is some important information on each that will help you make an informed decision.

Direct Drive Pumps


This axial cam AR pressure washer pump produces 3,000 PSI and 2.5 GPM.

This pump is directly connected to the engine of a washer, hence the name. Direct drive pumps are also called wobble pumps or axial cam pumps. The direct connection provides a faster spin, and there are lesser moving parts resulting in minimum maintenance, and increased reliability. These pumps are cheaper to manufacture, and are quite popular in pressure washers. However, they are not suitable for consistent use, as they wear out faster, and have a shorter life span. If your usage exceeds 30 hours of cleaning in a year, you should consider the other two types of pumps.

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  • rudy said:

    In your review of the Generac 5993 pressure washer you note in the specs that the pump is a axial cam pump. My understanding is that the pump used is a AR triplex commercial grade pump. I believe that you have made a small mistake. I realize that Generac uses their own branded engine however I am not sure how they stack up to a Honda GX or Subaru EX engine coupled with a CAT Triplex plunger pump. Perhaps you could distinguish which of these two pumps are of better commercial grade the CAT or the AR. Your reponse will be greatly appreciated.

  • admin (author) said:

    Hi Rudy. You’re right, my mistake. The Generac 5995 has an AR triplex plunger pump with ceramic coated plungers and adjustable pressure. I’ve made the change on my review. Thanks for the heads-up. As to your question on which is better, the CAT or the AR commercial grade pumps, a lot depends on what psi and engine power your machine has and which model pump of each brand you want to compare. In general, I’ve found that AR pumps are more popular and get higher ratings, but again that can vary from pump to pump. Both AR and CAT use high quality parts in the manufacturing of their pumps so either brand should last you for many years depending on usage. As far as price goes, AR pumps run slightly less than CAT pumps. If your trying to decide between the two, with all things equal, I would probably go with the AR. Just make sure the washer as a whole (engine, pump, wand, trigger gun, psi, gpm, etc) matches your expected usage.

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