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How High Pressure Pumps Work

By Author: Michael Foley
Total Articles: 9

People all over the world rely on pressure washers to effectively clean and remove stubborn dirt and stains from hard surfaces. Thanks to a powerful jet of water, these machines effectively and efficiently clean with minimal effort from the operator. They are designed to work with most surfaces, from wood and plastic to metal and concrete. Some of the most common applications for pressure washers include stripping paint, cleaning wooden decks, removing graffiti and washing building façades.
 
At the heart of this powerful machine is the pressure washer pump. Just like our own heart, pressure washer pumps are designed to last a very long time. While there are many types of pumps available, only a few of these designs are capable of developing enough pressure at low flows and are priced affordably to allow for widespread use in the manufacture of pressure washers and other high-pressure cleaning equipment.
 
All high-pressure pumps in widespread use perform according to the same principle: Water is moved due to the action of a plunger or piston in a cylinder. The high-pressure pump infuses water with energy to increase water flow. Applying this force to the water are the plungers or pistons in the high-pressure pump cylinders.
 
Many people think high-pressure pumps create pressure (hence the name) but this is technically incorrect. The pump only creates the water flow.  Flow can be measured as the volume of water moved during a specific period of time, expressed in gallons per minute or GPM. Some scenarios like chemical injection and steam cleaning use gallons per hour or GPH to measure flow. Alternatively, some countries measure flow rate using litres per minute or ℓ/min.
 
An orifice that is wide open allows for maximum flow rate but at low pressures. The smaller the orifice, the smaller the area the flow can pass through, and the water compensates for the smaller area by moving at a faster rate to maintain the flow rate. This is the pressure that many people refer to. Water gains velocity as it passes through a smaller orifice like in a pressure washer nozzle. More force means faster movement and more water can pass through the nozzle.
 
The principle by which high-pressure pumps operate is simple and elegant. Now when people refer to the pump's ability to produce pressure, what it actually means is that the high-pressure pump is capable of sustaining high speeds, regardless of the size of the orifice, to allow for a constant movement of water at a specified flow rate.
 
High-pressure pumps that use a plunger can be divided into two major sections: the pump head and the crankcase. The crankshaft, the connecting rods and the oil supply are found in the crankcase. The crankcase is oftentimes called as the dry part of the pump, even though the moving parts in this section are lubricated.
 
If the crankcase is the dry part, the pump head forms the wet part of the plunger pump. As one can infer, the work of moving the water happens in the pump head. The check valves and the plungers can be found here as well as the manifold. What many people refer to as the manifold is actually commonly known as the pump head. Many people think that the two terms are interchangeable which is not true.
 
A cylinder is located between the crankcase and the head, and the plunger moves back and forth within that cylinder. A seal keeps the oil from spewing out of the crankcase, while the pump packing keeps the water from flowing out of the pump head. The check valves facilitate water flow through the cylinders and are one-way doors to that effect. They only open in one direction.
 

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