There’s just something so satisfying about pressure washing. Seeing a surface go from incredibly grimy to crystal clear is an absolute treat. Pressure washers aren’t cheap, nor are they easy to use, and not everyone has the time or money to buy and use one. But it’s a service that everyone loves; so if you have the determination, and you can’t get enough of that satisfying feeling of clearing away months of dirt, it might be in your interests to start your very own pressure washing business.
Of course, things aren’t exactly that simple. Starting a business is often a lot more complicated than just providing service and receiving payment. But if you have the courage and the grit to put in the hard yards, it’s an incredibly satisfying venture. In this article we’ll cover the nitty-gritty loose ends of how to start a pressure washing business, so that you can get to the really important part: Providing service and receiving payment.
Where To Start: Learning To Pressure Wash
The first thing you have to do is become familiar with what a pressure washer can do and the jobs that it can take on. You have to realise the application and the limits of your machine. It might be just water, but it’s water at an extremely high pressure, and even water alone can mess up some materials if it gets into the wrong places. So you have to familiarize yourself not just with cleaning capability, but also what damage you can cause when you wash incorrectly.
It’s recommended that you get a feel for the machine on your own property before you start cleaning someone else’s. Rent, borrow, or buy a pressure washer, and then just apply it to whatever nearby surfaces need cleaning. Play around with the settings and nozzles, observe what works best for what surface, and so on. There’s nothing like doing it for yourself to really get a feel for the business at hand.
Or you can take advantage of the internet. One of the beauties of the modern era is that you can learn just about anything just by going online. There are pressure washing tutorials on YouTube, so note carefully what you learn from them so that you can apply it to your later work. Take careful note of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, and it couldn’t hurt to take notes for future reference.
Or you can go and do it the old-fashioned way with an apprenticeship. You could seek employment at an established pressure washing business with good reviews, and learn on the job. Not just how to wash, but also all the other in’s and out’s of running the business; how much to charge per job, how much goes to paying staff and maintaining equipment, how to schedule jobs. Then you can take that knowledge with you, and apply it when you establish your own business.
Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t do all of this in whatever mixture works best for you. The important part is that before you head down the road of a fully-fledged business, you have to know what you can do, what you can’t do, and what you shouldn’t do when it comes to your tools.
Another important thing to keep in mind is whether or not you’re physically cut out for the job. Pressure washing can be quite a physically demanding job where you’ll be spending 6+ hours a day on your feet, out in the sun.
Planning It All Out
Once you’ve got your feet under you and know how to pressure wash, then you can move on to the business part. Let’s explain how that goes.
Before anything else, you need a business plan. To quote Entrepreneur.com’s encyclopedia, the definition of a business plan is: A written document describing the nature of the business, the sales and marketing strategy, the financial background, topped off with projected profit and loss statement.’ This may sound a bit of an overwhelming prospect if you’re new to entrepreneurship, but you’ll pick it up in no time. Boiled down to its fundamentals, a business plan is a to-do list with extra frills and a budget.
First off, the Small Business Administration has a guide on how to write your business plan. Examine their samples, and use their business plan tool. It’ll help massively. Alternatively, there are also business plan templates on the internet, so you can download one and fill it in.
You’ll need a business plan for two reasons.
One is that it’s a roadmap. Writing a business plan means researching who your competitors are, researching the potential of an up and coming pressure washing business in your area, and planning exactly how you’re going to make money. You’ll have to explain exactly how you plan to do business and to stay in business.
In pressure washing, that means you have to consider your niche and the types of jobs you plan to take; we’ll cover those niches and job types in more depth later. You’ll have to consider startup costs (equipment, a vehicle, fees for permits and licenses, insurance costs, budget for advertising, and employee salaries, if you're employing anyone) and how you plan to meet them.
Once you’ve finished that then you’ll have to consider pricing, and from there, an estimation on how long it’ll take to show a profit and repay any debts incurred. This is the bare minimum amount of research you’ll need to complete to go into this venture with any sort of grounded confidence.
Roadmaps work both ways. When you’re already in business, you can refer back to your business plan to check on your progress. Are you performing as planned, better, behind schedule? Did you overestimate your profits and underestimate your losses? Are you doing better than expected? The business plan helps you keep your expectations in mind.
The other reason you need a business plan is for persuasion. If you’re speaking to investors or suppliers, they’ll want to know that they’re not just throwing their money or product to the wind. A well-written and well-thought-out business plan proves your professionalism and dedication. If a potential business partner or investor sees that you’ve got a plan and you’ve done your research, then they’ll be much more inclined to work with you.
While you’re writing your business plan, here are a few extra caveats you should keep in the back of your mind.
Decide Your Niche
Lots of things could use a thorough cleaning, but there’s a lot of difference between washing a fleet of taxis and cleaning up a grease-stained concrete driveway. Examine what other pressure washing businesses exist in your area and see what sort of jobs they handle, and then examine what opportunities exist. If most of the existing businesses handle residential, then doing houses might be a non-starter, but you could do cars instead. Or you could do fleet washing if there’s a company with a good amount of vehicles that need to be kept in top shape. Maybe there’s a lot of construction going on with equipment that needs cleanup.
Niche also determines what sort of equipment you should get. We’ll touch on this later, but generally speaking, residential and vehicle jobs won’t need as much power as industrial, government, and commercial ones. This will affect the equipment allocation of your budget; more powerful washers will be more expensive.
It’s all right to stay specialized at first; what matters most is getting your business off the ground. Once you’ve got an established client base that’s bringing in the money, then you can think about expanding to other sorts of jobs. Remember that some jobs might not be open to you if you’re planning to do it solo, so plan to expand your business if you’re looking into industrial contracts.
Pricing Your Service
Determining how much you ask for your services depends on a few factors. Think on the following:
- Time, not just to do the job, but to go to and from the job site
- Material cost, in terms of fuel and detergents expended plus other potential consumables
- Surface area, how much needs to be washed
- Other difficulties related to the item to be washed
- Overhead, the simple costs of doing business
- Prices offered by your competitors and other cleaning contractors in the area
Consider all these while you decide on your rates. Remember, the first three items and overhead will determine how low you can reasonably go. As a business, you have to stay in the black, after all. Your competitors will determine how high you can go.
A helpful way of doing it is to develop a per-unit rate, either per-square-foot or per-hour; most pressure washing businesses generally go with either of these two options as their pricing structure. An hourly rate ensures you get paid for the time you’ve worked and is fairly consistent, while an area rate lets you bid on structures and lots of varying sizes. These will also help give your customer an idea of what actually goes into your services, and thus feel confident in your expertise.
These rates were taken from HomeAdvisor.com, with data compiled from their large user base. Prices do change based on location, but we’ve summarised their findings below.
Washing a driveway: $80 to $200
Washing siding: $100 to $300
Washing a deck or patio: $250 to $500
National average for exterior surfaces: $281
Low and high-end prices: $100 to $600
Remember the factors cited above, and don’t forget to do your own research as necessary.
Endless Miles of Red Tape
If you know anyone who’s started a business, chances are they could sing songs of woe on the endless amounts of bureaucratic regulation they had to put up with to get their business off the ground. If you’re getting ready to start your own business then you’ve got a lot of paperwork to do before you can get to the profits.
Your first stop is your state’s website, or the city, town, or county clerk’s office for licensing. The precise requirements will vary by state, so make sure to look up the requirements appropriate to you.
As a general overview, you will need the following:
Doing Business As Certificate
LLC or corporation forms (if you’re organizing as one)
The clerk will have the full list for you if your state needs anything more beyond the above.
Also, check if your state requires you to be professionally licensed. For example, California requires a license from the Contractors State License Board, and qualifying for that requires that you be at least 18 years old and have four years of journeyman experience. (The specific designation is 'Sand and Water Blasting Limited Specialty Contractor, Class Code C-61/D-38'.) The application fee is generally around $300, the license fee itself, around $180.
The same applies to taxes. You’ll need a federal tax ID (the Employer Identification Number); the IRS handles that and it’s a free and quick process. As for state taxes, ask about them while you’re at the clerk’s office. It’s a familiar refrain: taxes in one state may not be the same as the next state over. You can generally count on income tax (or something very much like it), sales tax, and property tax (if you decide to get an office). Again, check with the clerk if any more taxes apply.
It’s a slog through paper and ink, we know, but it’s necessary, and it’ll be over soon enough. Don’t forget to check validity periods for permits and licenses, and make note of them for renewal when it becomes necessary.
In this business you can very easily damage things, especially on high pressures and narrow nozzles. Diligence will only get you so far; sooner or later, you or one of your employees will mess up. Best to have your insurance ready when that time comes.
So, what kind of insurance do you need? This will depend on your niche and a few other things. For pretty much any pressure washing business, you’ll need six particular types of insurance:
Liability (covering damages to client property)
Worker’s Compensation (protecting you in case of injury during work)
Equipment (covering your equipment while on the job)
Property (covering your place of work and its contents)
Income Protection (protecting you in case of injury outside the workplace)
Commercial Auto (covering your vehicles)
You may need to get more depending on your niche. If, for instance, you’re doing vehicle washing, you will need garage liability and garage keepers liability. Make sure to be very clear with the insurance agent as to the nature of your business, so they know what you need and can give you the right coverage.
Don’t be afraid to shop around and get multiple quotes. Check their terms and see what the carriers covers. Most carriers will bundle up the ones we listed above into a single policy to make things simpler. About costs, those will vary based on providers, provisions, the jobs you handle, and where you are in the country. If you're in a small town you can expect something along the lines of $250 a year. The national average rate is somewhere around $572. In larger cities or when handling high-value products (multi-million dollar homes for instance), rates can reach $1500 or higher.
It’s also possible to get coverage from multiple carriers. Generally, this is because a certain carrier offers better protection on a given policy, or because they have cheaper premiums and better payouts. However you choose to get your insurance, consider your options carefully. You’ll definitely need comprehensive coverage, so don’t get lazy with it.
Getting The Word Out
Of course, businesses rely on customers to stay alive, and customers have to know you exist to make use of your services. You know what this means: Marketing and advertising.
You can go the old-fashioned way with cards and flyers, but why go through all that trouble in this day and age? It’s 2019; there’s the internet right at everyone’s fingertips. More than anything, what you really need is an online presence. You can get by with just social media, but better to have a website and a listing on Google My Business; this will look much more professional.
Your website doesn’t need to be particularly in-depth. A few pages will do fine: homepage, about us, types of jobs handled, contact page, and you’re set. Think of it this way: your website is a 24/7 advertisement for your business, and its purpose is to draw in more customers and make contacting you easier. The easier it is to reach you, the more likely it is for a client to book your services.
And of course, there’s always word of mouth, though this works better after your first few jobs. Say you did a good job with a customer’s driveway, and he mentions that great job you did to everyone who’s willing to listen, you could very well end up with more jobs. Of course, there’s no real way to control this except by doing a good enough job that they’re going to talk about it.
There is another way to use word of mouth, though. Whatever your niche is, chat with other contractors. Let’s say you handle residential jobs, and you’ve got a friend who’s a carpenter or a painter, that’s perfect. So while you’re on the job, keep an eye out for anything your friend might be able to handle at the house, or chat with your customer about any other work that needs doing. Then refer them to the right service. Your friends will do the same for you.
Not all pressure washers are made equal, and if you’re thinking about starting a business using your trusty Sun Joe ...well, that’s not really a good idea. Consumer power washers aren’t made to handle the wear and tear of commercial use, and they’ll give up quickly. So this means you’ll want something tougher, and for pressure washers, that means gas-powered. Also, you won’t be limited by the need to have an outlet near where you’re working.
Now, gas-powered does mean higher pressure and therefore a greater risk of damage, but that’s where your alternative tips come in. A wider angle on the tip means you distribute that pressure over a larger area, so less risk of damage and more area covered, which means less time taken over the wash.
If you’re aiming for the commercial and industrial markets, a hot water washer is essential. Hot water works better to remove stubborn oil or grease stains, and if needed, a hot water washer can operate as a cold water washer. The reverse is not true. If you’re only doing residential or small-scale commercial, then you can stay with your typical cold water washer. We’ve included a small guide of recommended pressure washers at the end of this section.
But your pressure washer isn’t the only piece of kit you need. As a business, you’ll need a lot more than that. You may already have some of these on hand, and some might have even come with your washer. And don’t be a cheapskate about equipment. You may save money now, but if it turns out you’ve bought low-quality cheap stuff, you could well be throwing good money after bad. It’s not just your driveway on the line this time; it’s your client’s driveway, and more importantly, your client’s trust in you. The moment your client stops trusting you, you can kiss him and his business goodbye.
So, beyond the washer, you’re going to need a few more things:
Full set of spray tips, including turbo (should be included with your washer, but make sure you have the full array)
50 ft. Pressure hose and wand
24-foot extension wand (in case of heights)
100 ft additional pressure hose
Other equipment may become necessary depending on your needs, but the above list is a good starting point.
The Company Truck
We’ve separated your vehicle into its own section because it really is that important. You need it to haul you and your equipment around, and your car isn’t going to cut it. You need something that can carry you, your washer, and the list we’ve provided above. This may be a van or truck, precise model depending on your tastes and needs.
Don’t cheap out on it or neglect it, either. It’s a billboard in itself. While you’re on a job, it’ll hang out in front and anyone who passes by can see one of the faces of your business. So keep it clean and keep it well-maintained. Put your business decals on it loud and proud: business name, logo, number and other contacts. Who knows, maybe someone passing by is thinking about getting something washed, and then he sees a good-looking van with exactly what he needs.
Do you think he’d try calling you if, instead, he saw a run-down truck that’s clearly seen better days? For all the talk about not judging books by their covers, first impressions are important. Besides, a well-maintained vehicle doesn’t complain as much. You don’t want to suffer a breakdown on the way to your client, and all the trouble that implies.
As for the question of what vehicle to get, the market for trucks and vans is massive, and the best one is always what's available that you can afford and that runs well enough for your business. For specific models, we recommend two vans and two trucks in particular:
- Nissan NV200 (used from $9,975)
- Ford Transit (used from $9,995)
- Toyota Tundra (used from $3,495)
- Ford F-350 (used from $2,800)
Upfront cost, monthly payment, and final cost will depend on what you can work out with the dealer, but this should give you a picture of what to expect.
Decals will generally run you several hundred dollars. A simple one that's just business name and contact information may go anywhere from $200 to $400, depending on how large it is; if you want something more complex and want the shop to put some design work into it, count on the price going past $500.
Recommended Pressure Washers
There are other articles that can cover pressure washer reviews better than this one, but we’re recommending two particular models as a taste for what you can expect to find. While we recommend these models particularly, don't feel bound to them specifically. If they're unavailable but you can get a washer that's of similar specifications, go for it. The best pressure washer is the one you have.
Car and Truck Washing: AR Blue Clean AR390SS
You're probably wondering what an electric pressure washer is doing here, especially after we said to get a gas-powered washer earlier. The answer is: vehicle jobs. If you're doing bulldozers and dump trucks, then by all means, get an industrial-grade gas washer, but when you're washing motorcycles, cars, and trucks, power works against you. Too much power means a risk of damage that you or your insurance will have to cover.
The famed AR390SS becomes an excellent choice when you're dealing with lighter vehicles. 2000 PSI is in the Goldilocks zone: it's powerful enough to take on most jobs, while not being so powerful that it'll ruin the vehicles you're washing. It comes with a built-in 48-ounce detergent tank, which you will be using often. And since you're dealing with light vehicles, you won't be too far from an outlet to plug it into. Get yourself some automobile detergents, and you're in good shape to start with a vehicle washing business.
- Good starting equipment for vehicle washing
- Just the right amount of power for vehicle jobs
- Still electrical and limited by an outlet
- Not enough power to expand to other jobs
Jack of All Trades Commercial: Simpson Powershot PS3228
Running a pressure washing business means you get a lot more use out of your equipment than typical. Commercial-grade washers are built to last longer and are in general tougher than consumer models, even if they require a bit more maintenance. When you’re running a business, what you need is a machine that can take on most jobs and not quit halfway through.
The Simpson PowerShot PS3228 fills that need nicely. 3200 PSI of pressure lets you handle most jobs, and it already comes with a full set of five nozzles. With a turbo tip and a surface cleaner, you can reasonably handle pretty much anything that'll come up. There's no soap tank, but there is a downstream siphon should you need to use detergents. Beyond that, the pump is a triplex model, not the axial pump you see on a cheaper pressure washer, and that gives the PowerShot a longer service lifetime. The frame is nicely tough and the hose is resistant to abrasion, kinking, and looping. Whatever job you can think of, trust the PowerShot to do it well.
- Triplex pump ensures long service life
- Enough pressure for almost any job
- Solid, tough frame for rough job sites
- Included 25-foot hose may be too short for some jobs
The Costs Of Business
All of what we’ve covered in the previous sections cost money. The question thus arises, how much will you need? We’ve done the numbers for you.
Your costs will look something like this:
Gas pressure washer: $600
Equipment previously listed: $1,000
Vehicle, van or truck, on signing: $4,000
Insurance, permits, licenses: $1,500
Marketing and advertising: $1,000
Approximate total cost: $8,100
This assumes that you're working by yourself out of your house. If you decide to lease facilities, add somewhere around $10,000 or so. The vehicle cost does not yet include the monthly cost; that’ll be part of overhead.
In any case, all of the above is a ballpark calculation that will change depending on your locale and what’s available. You might be able to dispense with a few of the above items if they aren’t strictly necessary, or you could find better prices for them than our estimates. But it’s a good number to work with, before you get situated with actual prices in your location.
Starting a pressure washer business is quite a bit more involved than just simply showing up somewhere with your washer and pointing it at what needs cleaning. You’ll need to know the insides and outsides of pressure washing, work up a plan for how you aim to do business, establish your legal documentation, get your insurance in order, and ready your equipment. All this will cost money, time, and effort, and it’s not for the hobbyist.
But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can contribute to providing great service and enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done, and best of all, get paid for all that. There’s nothing like the smile that comes from earning money by doing what you love.