The pressure cleaner's unloader valve functions as a safety device. Unloader valves control the direction of the flow of water exiting the pump. A positive displacement pump always delivers water, regardless of whether the spray gun is open or closed. When the spray gun is closed, the unloader valve redirects the flow of water back to the inlet side of the pump. This prevents the build up of dangerously high pressure and guards against the failure of component parts. Pressure cleaners are installed with either a Trapped Pressure Unloader or a Flow Actuated Unloader.
Spray guns start, stop, and direct the flow of water from the pressure washer’s nozzle. Squeezing the trigger releases pressure. Releasing the trigger interrupts the flow of water to the nozzle, although the pump continues to run. Without an outlet for releasing this water, pressure would continue to build. A very dangerous situation would result.
The Unloader Valve
Unloader valves function as “traffic cops” and pressure regulator that direct the flow of water in a pressure cleaner system. When water stops flowing from the nozzle of a spray gun, the unloader valve redirects it for a safe pressure outlet. When the cleaner is in “bypass mode,” water that is not released by the spray gun is diverted back to the inlet side of the pressure pump. It then circulates through the pump and back to the inlet side of the unloader valve. Water is once again either released via the spray gun, or redirected to the pump. The process of continued re-cycling of water through the pump is called “cycling.”
- “Trapped Pressure” unloader valves are the most commonly used. These valves sense and are activated by building pressure at the pump output. Trapped Pressure valves initiate bypass mode in direct response to building pressure in the hose between the pump output and the spray gun. They are often simply called “Pressure” valves. A spike of pressure results when cycling is interrupted and Trapped Pressure valves re-release water to the spray gun. Operators should be prepared for the “kickback” effect on the spray gun or wand to avoid loss of control or injury.
- “Flow Actuated” unloader valves respond to the interruption of water flow to the nozzle. These valves sense any decrease in flow from the valve to the spray gun and initiate the bypass loop in response. Unlike Trapped Pressure valves, no pressure is trapped, so no “kick back” occurs when water is re-released. With Flow Actuated unloader valves, operators cannot regulate pressure by downsizing the orifice size of nozzles. Flow Actuated valves detect the loss in flow, and react by cycling repeatedly.
Although cycling prevents the dangerous buildup of pressure, added safety concerns arise during bypass mode. Moving parts in the pump create friction and heat which is transferred to the water flow in bypass. Cycling water can quickly be heated to dangerous temperatures as no cool water enters the pump during bypass.
Most pressure cleaner pumps can withstand temperatures of 140º F. At higher temperatures, damage to the pump can occur. Pump packings, plungers, seals, and even the short bypass hose in external bypass systems may be damaged. Thermal Relief Valves offer some protection against excessive heat buildup. They ensure cool water is released to the pump when temperatures exceed 145º F.
Operators are advised to always take care to prevent overheating regardless of the presence of Thermal Relief valves. Pumps should not be allowed to operate in bypass mode for more than 2 to 3 minutes. Squeezing the spray gun trigger always interrupts cycling and introduces new, cool water to the system.
Read article on how to set pressure regulator or unloader valve.