Pressure Washers vs. Jetters: What’s the Difference?

For drain cleaners, it’s important to have equipment specifically designed for the work you’re doing

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Pressure Washers vs. Jetters: What’s the Difference?

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We get this question all the time: Can I use my pressure washer as a jetter? 

The short answer is yes (with the right tools). Let’s face it, the basics are the same. The clog, grease, scale, roots and sludge don’t know or care about the name of the machine that is supplying high-pressure water via the jetter nozzle.

But the answer doesn’t stop there. What are the differences between jetters and pressure washers?

First and most obvious is the hose and nozzle. Jetting hose is lightweight, abrasion resistant, slippery and pushable when inside pipe. Jetting nozzles are designed to pull the hose into the line and provide proper cleaning.

So let’s get more detailed about the differences between a jetter and a pressure washer. Like anything else you might buy for your business, a jetter needs to be effective for the job it’s designed to do. The better it does its job, the more likely it is to become a profit center for your business. Even among pressure washers there is a huge difference between hardware store models and one made for professional cleaning contractors. So here are a few of the basic differences.

Flow (gpm)
Your typical pressure washer is between 2.5 and 4 gpm. Jetters start at the 4 gpm mark and go up from there, 8 to 9 gpm for portable models and up to 18 to 25 gpm for trailer mounted equipment. Our rule of thumb for flow is 1 gpm per 1 inch of pipe diameter for “normal” flushing and maintenance. Higher gpm is needed for tougher jobs like grease and tree roots. So, your larger pressure washers might be effective for jetting up to 4-inch pipe. There are specialty nozzles available for jetters to make cleaning more effective; however, a lot of the industry’s best tools are not available for lower “pressure washer” sized gpm.

Features of jetters and pressure washers
Jetters and pressure washers alike both come with a pump, engine and some form of pressure control (usually an unloader valve). In most cases that’s where the similarity ends. A professional jetter will have additional features like a pressure gauge to aid in making adjustments, a pulsation valve to create hose shake when needed, a hose reel with adequate continuous length of jetting hose, multiple jetting nozzles and a method of turning the flow to the nozzle on and off. Larger units will include a water tank to supply both the right amount of incoming water for the unit and to provide for cooling of the pump for longer periods in bypass (flow is turned off with a valve but the engine is running). A jetter is built specifically to do the job.

Duty cycle
A much larger segment of the pressure washer market is geared towards homeowners and light-duty users. They are often high pressure (2,700 to 3,000 psi) but lower hp (5 to 7) units, which is the first indication of lower gpm. These machines are not built with the heavy-duty parts like commercial equipment. They are most often direct-drive pumps and in recent years the trend is going toward even smaller, cheaper built pumps.

Drive type
Pressure washers and jetters are divided up into three basic drive types. Direct drive units dominate the pressure washer market and are sold by hardware stores and commercial dealers alike. Some of them are not bad units, just not built for a substantial amount of use. A direct drive basically means two things: the pump is directly connected to the engine and the pump runs at the same rpm as the engine. These light-duty pumps run hotter, higher rpm, hold less oil and have smaller, faster wear parts. 

Belt drive units have long been the standard of the commercial industrial cleaning market, with the main benefit being the reduction of speed between pump and engine. Most belt drive pumps run between 1,450 and 1,750 rpm, are larger than direct drive pumps, run cooler, hold more oil, and are made with bigger heavy-duty parts. Belt driven pumps will typically outlast a direct drive pump 4:1.

Last but not least, gearbox drive pumps offer the same speed-reduction benefit and long life of belt drive systems (1,450 to 1,600 rpm), higher oil capacity, etc., but offer more space-efficient design options due to the compactness of the gear drive versus the size and spacing needed for a belt driven unit.

When shopping for a jetter also keep in mind that gearbox driven and belt driven units provide better pulsation due to the longer slower plunger stroke.

So can you use a pressure washer for jetting? Yes. Is it the best option for your business? Probably not. Jetters are designed to be jetters for a reason, because they better serve the needs of the job and those using the equipment.

If you’re not jetting now — get started!

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