Spring is finally here — that means it is time to power wash the sidewalks. But there is no reason why you can’t have some fun in the process. In this project, I am going to show you several ways that you can draw pictures on sidewalks and buildings using a pressure washer.


Project Steps


The first and most important step of this project is to get permission from the property owner. If you don’t get permission, you can get in real trouble.

You might think that because power washing a sidewalk won’t cause any “damage” to the property, you can’t get in trouble for it. After all, you are making the surface cleaner. But depending on the laws in your area, you might still get arrested for it.

At the very least, if the property owner doesn’t want your art work there, they might erase all your hard work. So get permission first.

Select a Location

Next you need to select a specific location for your artwork. There are a number of factors to consider when doing this:

You need to have access to a water hose and electricity.

The surface needs to have a lot of embedded dirt so that your drawing will stand out. It also helps if the color is relatively uniform.

Smoother surfaces will allow you to make details finer. It is also easier to adhere tape to smooth surfaces. However, it is more difficult to be precise with very smooth surfaces. When you spray the target area, the water will spread out when it hits the surface and it will also clean off the area immediately around it. This is less of an issue with rough surfaces because the water is scattered by the surface texture.

Sidewalks are plentiful and easy to work with. But keep in mind that people will be walking all over it, so your drawing won’t last as long.

With all this in mind, find the best location that fits your needs.

The Basic Process

The process of drawing with a power washer is very simple. You use high pressure water to spray a dirty surface. This cleans off target area and leaves it much lighter than the surrounding dirty area. This process is sometimes called “Reverse Graffiti.”

There are a number of ways that you can create this kind of art work. In the next few steps, I am going to give a few examples.

Create a Freehand Drawing or Message

The simplest way to make power washer art is to just make a freehand drawing. You can also just write messages. You can write poems or just say “Have a nice day.” This method is simple, but it can be very difficult to make it look nice. If you are not a good freehand artist, I recommend using some kind of guide such as a stencil.

Use a Chalk Outline

One way to make it easier to draw with a power washer it to follow a chalk outline. First, draw the picture in chalk. It is much easier to be precise when drawing with chalk because you can take your time and make subtle changes. Press firmly on the chalk so that it gets down into the groves of the sidewalk.

Then go over the chalk outline with the power washer. Start on the far edge of the drawing and carefully work your way to the opposite side. The chalk will wash off as you go, but you should still be able to see where the lines go. Just focus on the general shape for the first pass. Once you have the rough outline completed, you can go back over it to fill in any solid areas and adjust the line thicknesses.

If you or your kids like drawing with chalk, this can also be a great way to make their drawings last longer.

Make an Outline with Tape

Another method is to make an outline on the surface with tape. This will shield the surface under the tape and let you clean around it. The tape should leave a sharp line around the edges of the outline.

Duct tape is the best kind of tape to use for this — it is tough enough to withstand the force of the pressure washer. It is also good at sticking to most surfaces.

One problem that you may encounter is the tape coming off the surface. Here are a few things that you can do to help prevent that: When power washing over the tape, point the sprayer so that the water goes away from the tape. This will help to keep the tape down. Spraying towards the tape can lift it up off the surface. It may also help to hold the nozzle farther away from the tape or to use a wide sprayer. You can also spray in short bursts when working around the edges, but don’t do this too much because it is bad for the power washer’s motor.

Once you have the letters clearly defined, you can remove the tape to apply the finishing touches and to clean off the surrounding areas.

Make a Stencil From a Printed Out Picture

You can also make stencils from printed out pictures. First, find a picture that you like. Keep in mind that with this kind of drawing you can’t use color, so find a grayscale image. If you want to make your favorite cartoon character you can often find coloring book images of them.

Then blow up the image as big as possible and print it out on multiple sheets of paper. The larger the images is, the more visible the details will be. Cut out the individual pictures and tape them together.

Then attach the image to your stencil board. The best kind of material to work with is thick plastic, but poster board can work if that is all you have. Just keep in mind that a power washer can easily rip through paper products like poster board. I didn’t account for this on my first attempt, and I had to do a lot of work touching up picture after I removed the stencil. The best way to handle this problem is to apply duct tape to all the edges of the stencil. You may also want to use a wide sprayer nozzle so that the pressure isn’t quite as high.

Once you have the image transferred to the surface, you can remove the stencil. You will probably need to touch up the picture a little afterward.

Make a Wood Stencil

If you want to make a stencil that is sturdier, you can make it out of wood. Just trace the shape onto a board and cut it out with a jigsaw. Place the wood stencil onto the surface and pressure wash around it. Most construction boards are tough enough to withstand power washing, so you can spray right up to the edge of the stencil. This will give you the sharpest lines. These stencils will also last a long time and can be used over and over. You can even make larger designs with repeating patterns.

In this case, I used the dinosaur footprint I had left over from a recent project.

Use Other Patterned Objects as a Stencil

You can use just about anything that has an interesting shape as a stencil. For instance, I had a rubber door mat that had a nice decorative pattern on it, so I decided to use that as a stencil. I just power washed in the grooves between the lines of the pattern. When I was done, I just slid it over and made the same pattern again. You can replicate this as many times as you want. The result is a regular repeating pattern on your sidewalk.

Have Fun

This project is a lot of fun. It lets you draw, and play in the water, with the excuse that you are cleaning. It is a great activity for hot summer days. So try it out and have fun.