There are many fleet wash myths floating around the internet masquerading as professional advice. Following them won’t just mean your trucks and vehicles are cleaned incorrectly, it could also cost you money in the long run.

Using the wrong chemicals or putting your vehicles through an abrasive wash cycle could damage the surface and ruin the paint job. It could also cause serious maintenance issues, leaving your drivers vulnerable.

As a fleet owner or mobile fleet wash business, you want to make sure you are aware of these 10 fleet wash myths so you can avoid putting your vehicles at risk.


1. Only One Soap Is Needed to Get the Job Done

Contrary to popular belief, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to cleaning your trucks, trailers, and equipment. You want to make sure you are using the right cleaning agents for the right job. 

Certain chemicals are stronger than others and might not be safe to use on every material. 

To make matters more difficult, cleaning your fleet is more than just covering the vehicle in soap and wiping it clean. If you want your fleet washing process to be truly effective, you need to brush off the road film or remove it from the surface of your vehicle using a 2-step wash system that includes both a low pH pre-soak and a high pH detergent..


2. Car Wash Detergents Work Just as Well on Trucks

This is a very common fleet wash myth but car wash detergents are not designed to work the same as a truck wash soap. 

Car wash detergents are typically made to be used with brushing, where the bristles or mitt actually do the majority of the work instead of the chemicals.

They are typically designed for the “experience,” with a higher volume of inert fillers including multiple color, scents, and foam profile to give the effect that you will end up with a cleaner car. This is especially true for retail soaps, which do not typically have as many concentrated raw materials due to safety concerns and training, and will often only perform well if heavily brushed or hand washed.

The value of purchasing a "truck wash" soap is receiving specially designed products for commercial vehicle film which provides better touchless results in a 1-step or 2-step process

You also get the added benefit of working with an experienced manufacturer or distributor, who gives you access to hands-on product training and safety information to utilize more concentrated raw material ingredient blends.

3. All Citrus Cleaning Products are Created Equal

There are a variety of citrus acid based cleaners, degreasers, and solvents which all can look and smell similar. However, the cleaning process of all these products can be vastly different and produce different outcomes. Some citrus acid based cleaners can be safe for polished aluminum while others have aggressive raw materials added for brightening. High pH degreasers and household cleaners can advertise the "power of orange" but the performance of these products may or may not be directly related to any citrus cleaning agents and simply be standard cleaners with scent/color added. There are also citrus solvents used for specialty applications like decal removal and tar/asphalt buildup. They typically perform well for degreasing & cleaning applications but carry a much higher price tag and are often used without diluting.

For a full list of the most common truck wash ingredients, check out this blog.


4. Brushing a Truck is Better Than a Touchless (2-Step) Wash

In order to consistently get rid of road film, you have two choices: Use a brush or mitt, that creates friction on the surface, or use a 2-step chemical application and then rinse.  In order to get rid of road film, you have two choices: Brush your vehicle thoroughly or use a touchless 2-step system.

Brushing your truck or trailer is a great way to remove thick dirt, mud, and debris. But it’s extremely inefficient unless you use an automatic wash system. Brushes also tend to leave small scratches in your paint and over your branding. 

2-Step washing will significantly reduce the amount of brushing with regular washing. This will help prevent micro-abrasions on the surface and protect the clearcoat of the paint.

A 2-step system is highly effective against road film and when combined with an automatic system can actually clean a single vehicle up to nine times faster than doing it by hand.


5. If a Truck is Shiny, it's Polished Aluminum

There are several different grades of metal surfaces and vehicle coatings that can produce a "shiny" appearance but are not technically "polished aluminum." It is important to learn the difference or ask questions to determine the exact surface you are working with to be able to use the most efficient cleaning process and products possible.

"Polished aluminum" requires a hand-buffed and polishing process to create a rich vibrant silver appearance which must be regularly maintained and should be cleaned with specialty detergents. Chrome, stainless steel, and coatings like Aluma-Clear or Durabrite can have a "shiny" appearance but can be more resistant to more aggressive cleaning agents.

Knowing & understanding the difference between surfaces will allow you to maximize the efficiency of your cost per wash, labor, and customer expectation levels. Using "polish safe" products for all washes can work, but will generally require more detergent usage, more time, and not perform in harsher conditions.

5a. Bonus Myth: You Can't Used Any Acidic Products on Polished Aluminum

If a truck has polished aluminum, you only need to avoid using acid to be safe on the polish.

This is a myth. There are several low pH acids that are not only safe on polish, but can also help protect and enhance the polished appearance (I think you have a blog post or link to some pictures you can include here).

The other part of this myth is that ONLY acids can harm polished aluminum.  Using high pH soaps, degreasers, and specialty cleaners with aggressive amounts of caustic ingredients can also etch a mirror polished aluminum surface leaving streaks or a satin-silver finish.  

Using the incorrect detergents and improper chemical dilutions/wash process can damage "polished aluminum" so please consult with your detergent specialist.

Just because something is acidic doesn’t mean that it is going to harm your fleet. But again, the idea is to double-check with your distributor that you are using the right chemical for the job.


6. You Should Wait to Clean Your Truck Until it's Really Dirty

One of the biggest mistakes we see people make is waiting till their fleet is extremely dirty and then washing all the vehicles at the same time. 

There are many benefits to washing your fleet regularly: 

  • It reduces the amount of maintenance each truck will require 
  • You can use less soap or labor overall because the products don’t have to work as hard if it’s used more often
  • You might only have to use a 1-step wash to help maintain a clean truck instead of a full 2-step system or brushing to eliminate the heavy build-up

Regular fleet washing also increases the longevity of your vehicles. This is often the case in winter when even small salt build-up can cause issues even if it doesn’t appear to be very dirty.


7. The Higher the Pressure and the Hotter the Water, the Better the Clean

It seems reasonable to assume that more pressure would result in a better clean. After all, it will help you get rid of big chunks of dirt easier, especially if you operate farm equipment. But that isn’t the case. 

The same is true of very hot water. In fact, if the temperature is too high, you could risk damaging your fleet. 

The recommended pressure for fleet washing is 1800-2500 PSI and the ideal temperature you want your water to be at is between 100-120F. Anything hotter will work against the soap and cause it to evaporate faster.

Here are a few other factors you need to consider for a thorough fleet wash.


8. The Film Left Behind is Soap Residue

After a truck has been washed you might notice a small film residue left behind. This is not because of the soap or detergent. It’s actually due to bad water. 

This is what we call hard water or TDS. TDS stands for total dissolved solids and is probably a better reflection of the total mineral content of the water rather than an exact measure of water hardness.

If you’re using an RO or DI water purification system, the TDS meter is a must-have so you can test the quality of your water.


9. If a Little Soap is Good, Then A Lot Must Be Better

This sounds good in theory but using extra detergent in your wash will not help you clean better. After a certain, recommended point, it’s basically like flushing money down the drain. 

Using the correct detergents in the correct manner and improving other fleet washing conditions is way more effective than just adding more soap. It’s also more cost-effective. 


10. More Foam is Better

There are certain cleaning applications that can be enhanced with a higher foaming detergent.  In some instances, foaming soaps can help reduce some detergent and water consumption due to thicker coverage. Foaming soaps can also help certain raw materials dwell longer which otherwise may not adhere to a dirty surface.

But extra foam is not always practical and typically requires much more rinsing. It also cuts into your water pressure and can diminish impingement, which is a crucial touchless cleaning factor, meaning the surface likely will not clean as well without friction.



Any one of these fleet wash myths could be hurting your business. They’re either slowing you down, damaging your vehicles over time or simply not cleaning your fleet well enough. Take the time to read the labels on your truck wash chemicals before using them or feel free to consult one of our experienced advisors to discover the right cleaning solutions for your fleet.


About Hydro-Chem Systems

Hydro-Chem Systems is a leading supplier of fleet and industrial truck cleaning solutions. For more than 50 years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping private fleet owners, municipalities, schools, farms, manufacturers, and mobile washers across the USA & Canada achieve the lowest cost per wash. To find more information on how you can clean more vehicles in less time, call 616-531-6420 or email us at

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