Cleaning a truck is all in the details

by Ryan Ng

Maintaining a tractor-trailer is more than just routine maintenance to keep the truck running. Especially in a Covid world, sanitation and cleanliness are a big priority.

There are many techniques that truckers can use when it comes to keeping a semi-truck in fresh condition, even with regular use.

truck wash
(Photo: istock)

“The main concern of course, with truckers — especially ones that are traveling internationally between Canada and the U.S. during the pandemic — is sanitation, germs and Covid,” said Timothy Somers, owner of TKT Detailing Services and Truck Accessories in Port Perry, Ontario.

With the service’s location in the Greater Toronto Area, Somers and his team have worked on a number of fleet trucks, completing tasks from sanitation to complete detailing.

For disinfection, Somers recommends a high-temperature steam to extract from all the vents and clean every surface to be germ-free, not forgetting little nooks and crannies.

“The big key with the tractor-trailers is not to leave anything unclean,” he said. “They have so many ventilation systems, almost like a little house.”

Disinfecting wipes are an easy and cheap sanitation device that any driver can keep in their truck. The regular cleansing of high-touch surfaces such as gear shifters, switches, brake release handles, steering wheels and dashboards is important.

“One of the things we’re learning in this Covid pandemic is that glass surfaces are highly germy as well,” Somers said. “Drivers tend to put their arms on the glass, and they get a lot of sweat and body oils on the windshield and side windows. Even just with Windex, cleaning all those glass surfaces regularly will help keep the germs down.”

General cleaning

These tips and tools can also apply to general truck cleaning like dirt and dust.

“The easy stuff is keeping wipes, glass cleaner, old towels or fiber rags on board. I tell a lot of drivers that we work with to make yourself a little cleaning kit that you can put in a small duffel bag or a little basket in the truck,” Somers said. “The less dirt you got accumulating in the truck, the much easier it’s going to be to keep the truck germ-free.”

For the truckers who cannot always use a professional detailing service to keep their tractor-trailers clean, Somers says that there are some good detailing-type products that can be used for common cleaning needs.

Along with normal road grime, trucks have a tendency to kill bugs, which leave stains on the body and windshield.

There are several products on the market dedicated to removing bug splatter “because trucks are infamous for it, right?” Somers said. “They can just simply spray it on the truck and use a microfiber rag and wipe it off, and that will get those bug smears.”

For the windshield, Somers recommends finishing with a regular glass cleaner because the bug and tar remover is not always powerful enough to remove heavy residue.

Other important pieces to keep clean are the headlights and mirrors, which can receive the same cleaning technique.

Removing vinyl graphics

Removing vinyl graphics from trucks and trailers can be tricking and may leave unwanted adhesive residue behind.

“We do a lot of that because trucks seem to be getting sold and renamed a lot,” Somers said. “We don’t recommend using one of those rubber wheels they show on TV, that people use on the drill, because they tend to burn the paint.”

He suggests using a plastic scraper or just your fingers to pick the graphics off. To deal with the remaining residue left from the graphic, a quick spray of adhesive remover with a rag will wipe away the glue almost instantly.

“We also say don’t use razor blades to pick the graphics because some people get crazy and use razor blades and peel half their paint off.”

Cleaning wheels

One of the shining features of a semi-truck is its wheels. Somers has some simple tips for those who want to see their wheels return to showroom shine.

“If they’re really tarnished or etched, then wheel acid … will peel the etching off and bring the wheel back to a bare aluminum,” Somers said. “Then you can simply put a quick coat of aluminum polish using either a machine polisher or a microfiber rag to bring that kind of mirror shine back.”

When buying a used semi, there are a few common things that need to be addressed before putting it back to use.

One area of concern is cigarette smell that may have accumulated over time from previous drivers.

“You must clean first. That’s the key piece,” said Somers. “You must vacuum and steam the upholstery because the smell gets into the upholstery. But once you’ve done that, the best product is Bio-Odor which eliminates the tar and the nicotine and the smells that get into the fibres.”

Sleeper mattresses

Another area to cleanse in a second-hand truck is the mattress in a sleeper.

“The very best way to clean a mattress is a high-pressure steam. Steam the mattress surfaces, both the top, the bottom, the sides, just run a nice steam over that,” Somers said. “You don’t want to use water. Especially in a truck. That’s such a tight area it’s not gonna dry properly and you’re gonna get a mildew smell. You don’t want to use any obviously toxic cleaners or ammonia-based cleaners because you will smell it and then you will be laying in it.”

Somers highly recommends regularly cleaning the trucks, inside and out. Along with routine sanitation, cleaning and polishing the aluminum and chrome parts and washing the truck regularly are important. Using non-abrasive products and minimizing dirt coming into the truck will help the interior.

“By doing all of that, just as a regular habit, the trucks last longer, they stay looking good longer and their resale value stays up,” Somers said. “The drivers find that they have a lot less mechanical and cosmetic issues because they’re maintaining all of those services.”

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