How To Clean Aluminum Trailers and Tankers with Hydro-Chem Systems Products

Cleaning aluminum tankers, trailers, and other truck parts like rails, rims, or fuel tanks can be an overlooked part of fleet washing. That’s not surprising because brushing it can be a real pain (literally) and you’ve probably just finished washing what might be considered the most important part, cleaning the cab. But washing your trailer can be as easy as “spray on, rinse off.” 

At Hydro-Chem Systems, our products are designed to clean faster and more effectively than traditional detergents and truck soaps. 

In this blog, we’ll explore how we recommend using our products to clean aluminum trailers as well as clear steps for how to get the job done. 


Aluminum Trailers: Tips for Getting Started

Having a clean fleet is more than just a matter of maintenance — it’s a direct reflection of your company’s brand and reputation. And the aluminum portions of your fleet are crucial. 

Well-maintained aluminum truck parts not only extend the life of your investment, but help to convey your company’s level of professionalism and reliability to customers. 

Aluminum is a very versatile material and is most known for being lightweight and still very durable. It’s a popular choice for fleets, however, the constant exposure to road debris, various weather conditions, and other environmental contaminants can lead to oxidation and your fleet looking dull and dirty. 


Important: Is It Polished?

Before you can start cleaning, you have to evaluate whether or not the trailer and other aluminum portions are polished. Knowing the difference between polished aluminum, unpolished aluminum, and stainless steel is likely the MOST IMPORTANT factor you need to know before you start washing aluminum surfaces.

In its natural, non-polished state, bare aluminum has a satin-silver appearance, similar to the inside of a can of soda. Aluminum can be hand buffed and polished to a mirrored finish. Compared to non-polished finishes, polished aluminum is much brighter in appearance, much more reflective, and an overall more vibrant silver color. 

Aluminum polishing is common with owner-operators as well as small to midsize fleets. Many brand-new fleet vehicles will also come from the factory with polished aluminum.  

The number one question our account managers ask when talking about polished surfaces is “how often are they being polished or hand-buffed to a mirror finish?” 

As stated above, aluminum polishing is a process that is performed by manually detailing an existing or brand-new aluminum surface. If the answer is “No” or “Never,” then it could mean the vehicle isn't polished, is stainless steel or chrome, or an alternative coating for the metal finish. 


The 3 Main Methods for Washing Your Aluminum Trailer and Other Surfaces

Understanding the cleaning different methods is key to determining which is right for your company and most effective for aluminum trailers. Here are a couple of the most popular methods that we’ll break down:

  1. Washing the trailer with regular truck soap and using a brush to remove road film and grime.  
  2. Washing with the touchless 2-Step process.
  3. Washing with the goal of Brightening or 'Acid Washing'.

It’s important to choose the right method for cleaning so that you don’t end up neglecting key areas or have an unexpected result in the process.


How to Clean Aluminum Trailers with HCS Touchless 2-Step Soaps

When it comes to cleaning trucks and trailers, especially aluminum surfaces, a touchless or brushless 2-Step process is often the best choice to eliminate hard-to-remove dirt and road film. This can be done with an automated wash system or manually with a pressure washer, making this very versatile for companies of various sizes with varying levels of resources available. 


1. Assess the trailer

Before you clean anything, be sure to assess your trailer’s surface condition and understand what the fleet owner wants as the end result. You’ll need to figure out if you’re working with polished or unpolished aluminum, which will influence the kind of products and techniques you might use. You can learn more about polished vs. unpolished aluminum in this blog


2. Select the right chemicals

You’ll need a low pH presoak for your Step 1 and a high pH alkaline soap for your Step 2 cleaner. Both products, especially the low pH, should be picked based on the surface and end result goal.

For any polished surface, you'll have to make sure your 1st Step, low pH presoak is safe for polished aluminum, to maintain that mirrored, shiny appearance. You'll also want your 2nd Step, high pH soap to be safe on polished aluminum, otherwise you run the risk of browning and dulling the surface. 

For unpolished surfaces, your choices aren't as critical, and you can choose based some of the other factors, such as how much oxidation is on the trailer, how often it's washed, and the type of dirt and grime on the surface. 

If your goal is to brighten or 'acid wash', you'll need to choose a strong and aggressive low pH acidic presoak —  it will brighten the aluminum but will dull any polished surface. 


3. Prep the surface

Before using starting the washing process, you'll want to make sure your aluminum trailer’s surface is ready. You want to make sure your cleaning products can make direct contact with the surface, this includes removing large spots of mud, dirt, or other debris, such as snow or ice buildup. 


4. Apply 1st Step, a low pH pre-soak

Once your surface is prepped, you can apply your low pH, presoak cleaner. It’s important to get an even application across the entire surface you’re cleaning. How to get that even application can vary depending on the size of the trailer, what areas you need to target, and even the temperature!

Typically, you'll apply it from the bottom to the top to ensure a consistent application and reduce the potential of any streaking. If the surface of the trailer or outside temperature is warm or hot, you'll want to work in smaller sections so it doesn't have the chance to dry on the surface. 

The low pH presoak should sit and dwell for 30-45 seconds (or per the manufacturer’s directions) to work, but by using the 2-Step Process, you can usually just continue with your washing process. By the time you finish applying Step 1, it normally has already had the needed dwell time, and you can move on to your Step 2 application. 


5. Apply 2nd Step, a high pH soap

Remember that alkaline-based soap? Now is the time to use that. In a touchless 2-Step Method, you’ll need to apply a high pH, alkaline soap directly on top of the Step 1 low pH presoak you used in previous step. The different pH levels of your cleaners work together to clean road film. 

You'll apply your Step 2, high pH soap the same way you did with your Step 1, with an even application, working from bottom to top, completely covering your Step 1 low pH, allowing it to dwell. 

The two different kinds of detergents work together to attack all sorts of minerals, oxidation, dirt, and grime, ensuring you’ve got the most effective clean.


6. Rinse and Spot Check

Once you've finished applying Step 2, usually it has had enough time to dwell, and you can begin your rinsing process. You'll want to rinse from the top to the bottom this time, making sure to rinse it thoroughly to remove all chemicals from the surface. Generally, you're done with the washing process after you rinse.

However, occasionally you'll want to spot check hard to reach or particularly grimy or discolored areas, especially if you're trying to brighten the trailer and surfaces. You may want to do another quick application of Step 1, the low pH presoak, to brighten or even out very discolored surfaces. Sometimes, another full wash process might be needed.

It's not uncommon for very discolored or previously streaked aluminum surfaces to need a little additional help — fuel tanks in particular can be a trouble spot.

Learn more about the 2-Step Wash Process here and what are the Five Factors to help create a consistent wash.


Take a Proactive Approach To Maintaining Your Fleet's Aluminum Surfaces

Everyone’s fleet is different, but no matter the climate or conditions you drive through, a proactive approach to maintenance is key to keeping your fleet clean. From polished aluminum tankers to brightened livestock hauling trailers, it's important to find the best solution for your fleet.

Here at Hydro-Chem Systems, we know that the 2-Step cleaning process can deliver consistent results while minimizing stress and fleet washing headaches. And with our wide range of soaps and chemicals, we can ensure you have exactly what you need for your trailers, cabs, and more. Combined with our extensive knowledge, we can help you keep your fleet clean. Don't hesitate to reach out today to learn more!


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