Whether you’re a bus driver, manage a fleet of buses, or have your own school bus system, you need to know how to wash your buses correctly.

It’s more than just picking the right detergent, spraying it on the surface, and then pressure washing it off. If that’s the entire process, you’re still going to be left with a thin layer of dirt and grime on the bus surface known as road film

In this article, we’ll show you some steps you might need to clean your bus fleet properly and in a fraction of the time.

Aluminum parts on your fleet can attract road film and other contaminants causing them to dull over time. Unless cleaned regularly, this will create the need to replace your fleet more often and keep your fleet off the road for longer periods of time. 

No matter what industry you are in, we know how important it is to keep your fleet moving. In this blog we will discuss how to properly care for your polished truck surfaces that will get them back on the road quicker and cleaner.


How Buses are Typically Washed

Having your buses cleaned regularly is not only essential in making sure your information is displayed prominently, it’s crucial in prolonging the life of your vehicles. Some organizations outsource their bus washing needs either because it’s such a hassle to clean an entire fleet or because it’s more economical. But quite often this is performed by the driver or fleet company. 

Here are a few common methods people use to clean their buses:

  1. The 1-Step Method
  2. The 1-step Brushing method
  3. Automatic Wash Systems for Buses


1-Step Method

The 1-Step (without Brushing) Method is the traditional way of cleaning a bus exterior. The process involved is just to spray on an alkaline soap and rinse it off. But while your fleet might only look clean at a distance, the closer you get to it, you notice that it’s still covered in road film. 

That’s when people resort to higher water pressure or temperature, or a very strong soap to try to remove the film. But this won’t work either.


1-Step Brushing Method

Brushing and using friction is the only true way to remove road film without 2-Step Washing. Brushing your buses by hand is tiring, especially when you have to clean dozens of vehicles. It can result in tiny micro-scratches that damage both your branding detail and paint.  Some schools use a walk-around brush system, but you still risk scratches and require manual labor.


Automatic Wash Systems for Buses

Automatic wash systems deliver a more efficient clean and can be up to nine times faster than doing it by hand. They tend to intimidate many people because of the upfront cost — even if they end up saving a lot of time and money down the road. 

But some standard bus wash systems have the same problems as the 1-step method, with or without brushing. They use only an alkaline detergent and/or brushes to provide the required friction to remove road film.

The brushes can be powerful enough to damage mirrors in addition to causing micro-scratches on the paint. They can also neglect hard-to-reach areas around the chassis and undercarriage, which could require additional maintenance if left uncleaned. Without using a 2-Step Method or a Brush, it’s nearly impossible to remove oxidation and remove minerals, such as salt. 


How to Wash Your Bus Exterior the Right Way: The 2-Step Method

A 2-step bus wash is the only way to truly clean your fleet without brushing. That’s because road film particles are charged and you need to neutralize them in order to wash it off.  In a 2-step method, you use a low pH acidic pre-soak followed by a high pH alkaline detergent to produce a strong clean and remove road film. 

This method works so well that by the time you are ready to rinse off the chemicals, you typically don't need to use a brush. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Apply the Step 1 low pH presoak to your bus surface, letting it dwell for a short period of time. About 30-60 seconds. When you spray the Step 1 chemical, start from the bottom and work your way up to the top. 
  2. Apply the Step 2 high pH detergent directly over Step 1 and let it dwell for another 30-60 seconds. Apply the same as in Step 1, start by spraying from the bottom first and then work your way up, overlapping all of your low pH presoak.
  3. Now you can rinse everything off, starting from top to bottom with fresh water.

The reason it’s important to have both your Step 1 pre-soak and Step 2 detergent is because road film is made up of both positively charged particles and negatively charged particles.

The low pH level in the pre-soak neutralizes the negative charges in the road film and works best on oxidation and minerals. 

The high pH level of the alkaline soap is what will target the remaining positive charges and attack the grease, oils, and other carbon-based grime on your trucks. 

The beauty of the 2-Step washing routine is that it requires much less physical labor, can be applied quickly, and actually neutralizes the truck’s surface — making it a great solution for removing road film. 

But please take extra care of the windows. Bus windows are known to leak and special consideration needs to be paid to not hitting them with too much pressure. 


What to do BEFORE you buy 2-Step Chemicals

But before you make your next purchase, you should make sure that you use the best combination for your specific situation. Knowing what kind of buses are being washed, how the chemicals are being applied, and what kind of grime is being cleaned is extremely important to ensure you can clean your fleet effectively. Not every acidic pre-soak and alkaline detergent work well together.


Frequently Asked Questions


1.  Are there Automatic Wash Systems for Buses?

Yes, there are automated bus wash systems designed to give you the best wash for your budget, whether that is a 1-Step Wash, 1-Step with Brushes, or a  2-Step wash. Automated bus wash systems are considerably faster, taking only minutes to wash a bus without any additional labor. Depending on the size of your fleet, this may be the best solution for you.


2.  What dilution do you recommend?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. It really depends on what type of equipment you use and what chemicals you have. The best course of action is to check with the chemical manufacturer for the recommended dilution ratios.


3.  Why do I need to give the windows extra care?

There’s no guarantee that bus windows are closed properly and taking an extra moment to check helps prevent problems. Bus windows are also known to leak, especially when water pressure is too high while washing. So please place special consideration on not hitting them with too much pressure.


4.  Is a 2-step method powerful enough to remove bug splatter?

If your fleet is washed regularly, a 2-Step method is typically enough to remove most normal insect residue. However, in a particularly heavy bug season, or if the buses aren’t washed frequently, we often recommend using a product specifically made to break down insects before starting your wash process.


5.  Can I still do 2-Step in winter?

You can use almost any process in the winter, including 2-Step Washing. Many fleets wash year round, including in winter temperatures.  Depending on your specific location, there may be precautions you should take, and in very cold weather, washing may not be possible but for most states, you can still wash for much of the season. 


What's Next?

Cleaning your fleet is important but static road film often makes that extremely difficult. That’s why you might want to start using a 2-Step wash for a more efficient and thorough clean.

But before you make your next purchase, you should make sure that you use the best combination of equipment and chemicals for your specific situation. A manual washing process can work for all fleets, but an automatic bus wash system might be the best solution for your fleet.

Email us at info@hcsclean.com or give one of our experts a call. We’ve helped hundreds of companies clean their fleets at the lowest cost-per-wash for more than 50 years and we can help you too.

We study your fleet washing process, take into consideration the area you operate in, and find the right solution for the job.