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October 9, 2018

How Does a Soft Wash Stack Up Against a Standard Power Wash?

The main benefit of a soft wash system versus a power wash is that the cleansers designed explicitly for soft washing will more readily get rid of mold, mildew, algae, and other biological debris. The lower water pressure used for soft washing is also less likely to chip paint, dent aluminum siding, or break a window!

Choosing the best washing system for your home or commercial property isn’t as straightforward as you might assume, as there are more options available for exterior washing than you might realize. To make it easier for you to decide on the best type of wash for your property, consider some essential details about power, pressure, and soft washing, and how a soft wash stacks up to its competition!

Is there a difference between power washing and pressure washing?

First, note that the terms power washing and pressure washing are often used interchangeably, but these cleaning systems are not technically the same. While both systems use water applied at high pressure, power washing uses very hot water for its application.

Hot water is used with a power wash because it can more readily dissolve grease, oil, lubricants, and other such residues. Power washing is often used on driveway and walkways that are stained with motor oil and other automotive fluids, and on tools, heavy equipment such as cranes and forklifts, automotive engines, and storage tanks.

Can you damage concrete with a pressure washer?

Pressure and power washing remove oil and grease from concrete and asphalt, as said, as well as mud that has settled into the pitted surface of these materials. However, pressure and power washing a home’s driveway or a parking lot are not without their risks!

You can damage concrete and asphalt by using too much pressure with a washer, causing weakened sections of these materials to chip and crack. In some cases, pressure or power washing can also loosen aggregate from the surface of concrete or asphalt.

Power and pressure washing can be dangerous and damaging to more than just concrete and asphalt. A high-pressure wash can sometimes crack or chip a building’s brick exterior, and loosen connectors around downspouts. Using too much pressure, or holding a water wand too close to a surface to be cleaned, can cause etching and scratches, especially on timber decks and fences, patio pavers, and soft vinyl.

Power and pressure washing concrete and asphalt driveways and parking lots can also create a messy splatter that winds up on a house or garage or the exterior of a commercial building. This splatter can be very unsightly, and also deposits dirt and mud that is difficult to wash away!

What is a soft wash?

A soft wash is similar to pressure washing, except that this cleaning system uses detergents that are specifically meant for soft washing. Some of these detergents will have a bleach base so that they quickly break down mold, algae, and other biological contaminants. Other cleansers used for a soft washing will be very gentle and biodegradable, so they’re safe for use around your garden, flowerbeds, and other such landscaping features.

Soft washing does use pressurized water, but this pressure is very low, typically just a bit stronger than a standard garden hose with a sprayer attached. This lower pressure makes soft washing much safer than conventional high-pressure washing for many specific applications, including:

  • A home with older windows that have gotten brittle and weak over the years
  • Thin, decorative stained glass, or painted glass
  • An older roof with loose shingles
  • Old and soft brick
  • Damaged concrete
  • Any surface with chipped or cracked paint or other such coatings
  • Any surface with rust or corrosion
  • Softwoods, or older wood that has absorbed moisture and gotten soft over the years

Soft washing is also useful for washing light-duty tools, equipment, and machinery, especially those with exposed parts that could come loose during a high-pressure wash. This equipment might include:

  • Snowblowers
  • Lawnmowers
  • Weed trimmers
  • Air conditioning compressors
  • Chainsaws

A soft washing of a property’s exterior also creates far less splatter or spray than standard power washing. In turn, you won’t end up with unsightly, dirty streaks on a structure’s exterior or anywhere else on your property if you choose a soft wash system.

Soft pressure washing equipment and processes

A soft wash system is not merely a standard pressure washer set to the lowest amount of pressure, as even this would be too much pressure for many applications. Instead, a soft wash system uses specialized equipment that keeps water pressure low and also includes the use of particular nozzles for various applications. These nozzles can help concentrate the spray of water, which is required when washing away detergents and cleansers, or they can offer a wide spray, making quicker work of cleaning exterior walls and surfaces such as decks and driveways.

To understand the benefits of soft washing a bit more, consider the steps involved in this process. Soft pressure washing starts with the application of detergents and solutions to the areas to be cleaned. These cleansers are then allowed to sit and penetrate that dirt; this is often called the “dwell time.”

The dwell time for a detergent or cleanser might be just a minute or two, or it may be up to twenty minutes! The longer the dwell time, the more dirt and grime that is dissolved by those detergents, and the easier it will be to wash them away.

Once the detergent or other solution has thoroughly penetrated the dirt, a soft stream of water is used to rinse it away. In some cases, the area to be cleaned may need a second application of detergent or cleanser, to penetrate even more dirt and grime.

Soft washing versus pressure washing

One common question that many homeowners and commercial property managers have is if soft washing is as effective as pressure or power washing. While each process has their advantages, soft washing can often be better for your cleaning needs than standard pressure or power washing. How so?

One consideration to keep in mind is that using just pressure to wash away mold, algae, mildew, and other biological contaminants may not be sufficient for a thorough cleaning. A pressure or power wash might rinse away the surface of these substances, but force alone won’t kill their spores! In turn, you may soon see your roof or concrete parking lot covered with moss and other unwanted growth, even after having those surfaces pressure or power washed.

The cleansers used for soft washing, however, are specifically meant to kill biological growth, including the spores of mold, algae, mildew, and the like, as well as bacteria, germs, and other harmful substances. Killing these spores is like killing the roots of a plant so that nothing grows back. Removing germs and bacteria also means fewer irritants on your property, so the air is fresher and safer for both people and pets.

Note, too, that some surfaces may not get outright broken, but may suffer tiny scratches and visible etching when pressure washed. A vinyl, glass, or timber fence, timber decking, or lightweight aluminum siding are all prone to etching during a wash process.

You might also need to use some measure of water pressure to clean cars, boats, tractors and other farm equipment, motorcycles, mopeds, and bikes. However, even the lowest pressure setting on a lightweight pressure washer can chip automotive paint or crack rusted pieces under a car’s hood, and cause dents and dings in soft vinyl or aluminum. It can also outright blow away small parts on a motorcycle or bike!

Using a brush to clean cars and other equipment might also etch the window glass or body of a vehicle, and a stiff cleaning brush can also cause chipped paint to flake away, or break off rusted parts. The cleansers used with a soft wash will more readily dissolve dirt and grime on a car or boat. Everything is then gently rinsed away, and you avoid causing scratches and other damage to your vehicles and sporting goods.

Cautions about a soft wash chemical mix and soft wash nozzles

Pressure and power washing are very dangerous for someone to try on their own; higher water pressure itself can cause abrasions on the skin, and the hot water used for power washing can also cause burns and other injuries. While soft washing uses a much gentler spray of water than power or pressure washing, this doesn’t mean you should try to handle this work for your home or commercial property on your own!

The soft wash chemical mix that is used to dissolve dirt and grime is very potent and can irritate your skin, eyes, and nasal passages. Applying too much of a cleanser mix to an area to be cleaned, or leaving a detergent on for too long before rinsing it away, can also damage certain surfaces.

Choosing the right nozzles for a soft wash system can also be a challenge. If you don’t use a nozzle that concentrates the water in one area, you may find that the detergents and cleansers don’t rinse away very thoroughly. On the other hand, using a nozzle that narrows the stream of water can mean taking far too long to clean your house or commercial building, or an exterior driveway!

It’s also worth noting that even a soft wash system can damage a house or other structure if not used correctly. Concentrating a stream of water around the edges of window screens can pop them out of place, and blasting water underneath roofing tiles can loosen them, so they’re more likely to blow away in a storm. You might also dislodge patio pavers and landscaping edging with a soft wash system if you misuse it.

A trained technician with experience using a soft wash system will ensure that no part of your property is damaged during the washing process, and will also know the right detergents to use. They can also quickly switch nozzles so that they make quick work of the cleaning you need to have done!

A few tips on keeping your property clean and free of damage

Having the exterior surfaces of your property soft washed is one of the best ways of keeping everything clean and in good repair, but note a few other simple tips for maintaining the exterior surfaces of any residential or commercial property:

  • Trim tree branches that hang over a structure’s roof. Cutting back branches will reduce the amount of debris that drops onto the roof, including seeds, twigs, and bird droppings. Exposing the roof to sunlight may also reduce the risk of mold, mildew, and algae growing under its shingles.
  • Be sure to have wood and stone fences and concrete surfaces properly seal coated as needed. Regular application of sealants will protect these materials from absorbing moisture and humidity, so they don’t get soft and then crack, chip, or outright crumble.
  • Note if your vehicle leaks fluid onto your residential driveway. If so, have that leak fixed, or park the car over some cardboard, to protect the concrete or asphalt from getting cracked and chipped.
  • Clean dropped food and spilled beverages as well as pet stains from a timber deck as quickly as possible, so the wood doesn’t absorb those stains and then become soft and warped.
  • Be sure you’re using the right type of paint for any exterior surface, and for your local climate! Paint helps to protect surfaces from damage, but only if you use the right type for the job, apply it correctly, and reapply it as needed over the years.
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