It’s important to clean your heavy equipment, machinery, and vehicles regularly. Whether you’re operating tractors, excavators, or even forklifts, every project often involves an extreme build-up of dirt, grease, and grime. If left unattended, it makes it more difficult to wash and could eventually cause maintenance issues, which significantly reduce the longevity of your construction vehicles.

 When it comes to construction projects, earthworks operations, and farming ventures, any unscheduled downtime could prove to be costly.

When preparing to clean your heavy-duty equipment and machinery you need to consider: 

The Two Main Methods of Heavy Duty Washing

Dense dirt, dust, and even cement can damage your heavy-duty vehicles over time. But if you’re going to be washing your trucks, trailers, and construction vehicles yourself, it’s important to know which fleet washing method is right for you

The effectiveness of each fleet washing method will depend on various factors including the size of the vehicle or equipment you’re washing, the size of your wash station, the quality of your water, and what chemicals you use. 

Here are the two main methods of heavy-duty fleet washing: 

  1. Manual Pressure Washing
  2. Automated Fleet Washing

Manually Washing with a Pressure Washer

Cleaning heavy equipment, machinery, farm implements, and other large vehicles can be a lengthy and arduous process.  In traditional fleet washing, you are primarily cleaning “road film” from vehicle surfaces by releasing the static electric bond.  From time to time, you may deal with a heavier buildup of snow, salt, mud, and other debris, but likely not to the extent or frequency of equipment cleaning. 

When it comes to construction vehicles, you should probably use a high-pressure system to apply soap effectively and remove the muck and grime. 

If you’re only using a downstream injection to apply soap, you’ll be limited to about 40-50 PSI. With a high-pressure soap application set to about 1800-2400 PSI, you can apply the optimal level of pressure while maximizing your cleaning ability. 

The major advantage of a mobile pressure washing system is it gives you the flexibility to clean on-location. 



An Automatic Drive-Through Wash System

For large, heavy vehicles a manual washing process may be the only practical way to clean them. Occasionally, depending on the type of vehicle an automated truck wash system could be a better fit that delivers a thorough clean up to nine times faster than doing it by hand and is significantly faster than a mobile pressure washer.  

That means you can wash a whole fleet and have them ready to be back on the road in just a couple of hours. However, unless the equipment can be considered a similar size to a tractor-trailer, it’s likely it won’t fit through an automated wash bay.


What Chemicals Do You Need for Heavy Equipment Cleaning

The majority of the time, an effective clean comes down to five factors, including the quality of the chemicals you use. High-quality, biodegradable detergents that include a powerful surfactant package will allow you to clean more vehicles in less time.

The key is to make sure you have the correct dilution, so remember to check the label or speak with the manufacturer for the optimal ratio. 

Here are the some of the best chemicals to clean the grease, dirt, and grime from your heavy equipment:

  • Acidic Pre-soaks and/or Aluminum brighteners for oxidation and mineral residue
  • High pH detergent to neutralize your low pH presoak & clean “normal” buildup
  • Friction detergent for brush washing that will reduce drying & surface abrasions
  • Degreaser for a heavy buildup of grease, fuel spills, oils, mud, etc.
  • Concrete and Cement Cleaner for removal of paving materials, lime, fly ash, rust, and water scale

How to Clean Vehicles & Heavy Equipment with a Pressure Washer

There are two main ways to manually wash your equipment:

  • A 1-step wash (usually with a brush)
  • A 2-step wash system (Can be a touchless process)

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll look at the seven steps to effectively clean heavy vehicles and equipment with a conventional pressure washer and a brush. But a touchless 2-step wash allows you to eliminate the majority of these steps and save a considerable amount of time.


1. Set Up Your Wash Station

Your wash location will vary based on the type of equipment you are washing and the scope of the wash being performed.  If you have the capability to wash indoors where you have more access to water and protection from direct sunlight & wind, this can provide better and more consistent results.

Washing outdoors may be inevitable due to the size of the equipment being washed, needing to be used again at the same location, or requiring field maintenance. When washing outdoors, you will need portable wash equipment, detergents, and water access.

Whether washing indoors or outdoors, you will want to consider the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the runoff/overspray of water and debris being cleaned from the surface. 


2. Manually Remove Large Chunks of Debris, Including Mud and Clay

When pressure washing equipment & machinery, it is important to pre-rinse heavy buildup with your pressure washer.  This could be done with a standard high-pressure rinse nozzle or a turbo nozzle, which is a special attachment that rotates a high-pressure stream of water for added cleaning power.  Hot water is optimal for equipment cleaning & machinery emulsifying heavy mud & debris.  However, use caution with high pressure, turbo nozzles, and hot water to not damage the surfaces.

Cleaning heavy debris from farm implements can be even more challenging since this equipment can have several compartments and panels that can trap remnants from crops and other substances used for farming.

This is the most important step that differentiates washing heavy equipment in comparison to a regular truck. Without removing any buildup, the chemicals will not be able to touch the surface of the vehicle directly and prevent them from working effectively. 


3. Apply the Chemicals

Once the surface is cleaned of heavy buildup, you can begin applying your detergents to remove the remaining film. After finding the best product for your situation, and controlling for as many of the five factors as possible, make sure you dilute your detergent to the correct ratio as recommended by the manufacturer.  Depending on the severity of what is being cleaned, the product you are using, and the strength needed for application, you may consider applying your detergent with a chemical injection system and/or direct application pump sprayer.

In most cases, you will apply detergents from the bottom to the top.  You’ll want to begin with the wheels and hard-to-reach areas around the undercarriage. The exception would be presoak buildup of heavy materials and spot cleaning.

There are multiple reasons you’ll want to do this. First, you can clearly see where you last applied your soap so you know you’re covering every inch of the surface. Secondly, by starting from the bottom, you can avoid splattering dirt back onto the foamed-up portion of your vehicle. Third, by going from bottom to top, you help avoid streaking and reduce the risk of drying.

With equipment cleaning, you may also need specialty detergent applications to assist with the removal of materials like grease, oils, exhaust, concrete, asphalt, lime, fly ash, or other specific conditions. Discuss more with our detergent consultants on the HCS products & applications to clean these heavier buildups on heavy equipment, machinery, and farm implements.


4. Allow For Dwell Time

If you are washing using only soap and brushes, dwell time is important, especially when it comes to construction vehicles and equipment.  You will want to aim for about 35 to 45 seconds so the chemicals can work to remove the road film that it picked up while traveling. 

If you wait too long, your soap might end up drying on the surface, which will lead to spotting. But if you don’t allow the soap to really soak onto the surface, you will spend more time using your brush. 


5. Brushing / 2-Step Washing

You’ll want to be very thorough when brushing your soaped-up vehicle. That’s because brushing and using friction is the only true way to remove road film without 2-Step Washing.  However, brushing your trucks requires a lot of physical effort and can result in tiny micro-scratches that damage both your branding detail and paint. So you may want to choose a touchless 2-step system that combines a low pH presoak with a high pH detergent to remove the bonded road film.

With a 2-step process, using a low pH presoak will help to brighten painted surfaces by removing oxidation and “scale.”  The high pH second step will neutralize your low pH and attack carbon buildups such as soot, grease, dirt, and insects.  Your final high-pressure rinse will remove soap residue and leave the surface cleaner and brighter much more efficiently compared to brushing & handwashing.


6. Rinse

When rinsing the soap and leftover debris off your vehicle you’ll want to start from the top and work your way down. This is the opposite direction of applying soap. This way the dirty water can run down your vehicle without going back over an already cleaned surface and you can easily find any spots you might have missed.


7. Inspect Your Wash

Manually washing your vehicle gives you a chance to inspect the wash afterward, providing the opportunity to find any spots you might have missed. But the biggest benefit is that now you have a clean vehicle, you will be able to detect any maintenance or mechanical issues the dirt might have been covering up.


Environmental Factors to Consider

Depending on where you are and what industry you’re in, you could be subject to strict environmental standards.  Any contamination of soil and groundwater due to dirty runoff could see you fail compliance regulations and be subject to large fines. If you use a low pH pre-soak and high pH detergent in a 2-Step Washing Process, the wastewater runoff will be near neutral on the pH scale and therefore less harmful to the environment. Regardless of how you are washing, it is important to check with local officials and learn what your area requires to follow the Clean Water Act and any other regional-specific rules.



Regular fleet washing is important, especially when it comes to meeting the demands of heavy-duty industries such as the oil field industry, which requires regular and heavy cleaning. But it’s also a great way to make sure your vehicles run longer and can avoid unnecessary downtime for maintenance. When it comes to choosing how and when to wash your heavy-duty vehicles, it’s vital to take into account other costs associated with fleet washing including labor costs, time, and capacity. 


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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