Cleaning heavy equipment is an underappreciated chore. It’s messy and often delegated to a low-paid laborer on construction crews who see the job as just hosing down dirty machinery to remove most of the grease and grime. Well, there’s far more to effectively and efficiently cleaning construction equipment and machinery than meets the eye.
Heavy equipment washing requires its own specialized equipment like water cannons or pressure washers. It also involves specific techniques that make the best use of cleaning time and materials. And then there’s the safety factor to consider. Heavy construction equipment like excavators, loaders and gravel trucks are large, complicated machines presenting hazards to operators and those tasked to clean them on a regular basis.
There are many reasons to wash heavy equipment. Successful construction companies, equipment rental yards and heavy equipment dealerships realize great benefits from keeping their expensive machinery clean and in top-notch condition. Equipment efficiency and long service life are critical to making sure machines are always operating when needed. A non-working machine is a non-paying machine. Unscheduled downtime is simply unaffordable in tight, competitive markets.
Construction Cleaning Benefits
It’s easy to say a clean machine is a better machine. But do we really know why this is? All competent construction equipment owners and operators inherently know that keeping their heavy machinery clean is the professional thing to do. It’s part of their overall routine and preventive maintenance program.
Some construction business managers are fastidious about keeping their fleet clean and shiny. This is obvious when visiting their sites and shops. Smart heavy construction leaders realize many benefits from regularly washing their equipment. Here are the most important ones:
- Regular cleaning is part of preventive maintenance. When construction equipment is regularly cleaned, there’s far less strain put on fixed and moving parts. Dirt and grime act as abrasives as well as a friction agents. Dirty machines wear much faster than equipment that’s regularly washed. It’s also much easier to clean machines that are regularly washed.
- Clean machines keep cooler than mud-caked and grease-soaked equipment. Although regulated heat is a necessary operating condition with heavy machinery, excessive heat is a killer. Overheated equipment has a shorter life cycle. In fact, hot machines can quit in mid-operation. This has a domino effect on other machines and workers in the production chain.
- Downtime is reduced by keeping construction equipment clean. Breakages caused by part failure due to dirty conditions are expensive in lost time and repairs. They’re also unnecessary. Regular cleaning removes foreign matter like rocks and branches in tracks. It reduces weight added to booms and buckets that have heavy, dried sludge solidly adhered to their surface.
- Cleaning machines gives a great opportunity to inspect for potential problems. Metal fatigue cracks are exposed. So is oxidization or rusting. Worn or leaking fittings are obvious when machinery is clean. This allows mechanics to get on top of developing problems before they become serious issues.
- Regularly cleaned construction machinery enhances safety. Poorly-kept equipment is dangerous to the operator, work crew and others in the machine’s line of fire. Contaminant buildup around hydraulic and electrical systems can result in a serious blow-out of high-pressure oil or dangerous voltage.
- Mechanics are much more efficient when they work on clean machines. Cleaning dislodges foreign debris that’s heavy, volatile or slippery. Effective washing removes objects and buildups that can cause injury from slips and falls or being pinched in points that trap kinetic energy. Ergonomic accidents are greatly reduced when surfaces are clean and safe.
- Ownership pride is greatly affected when a company’s fleet is kept clean and orderly. That goes for the business owner, supervisors, machine operators and service people. Operators take more care when running clean and well-looked after equipment. So does the maintenance department.
- Finally, clean equipment makes a loud and positive statement. It’s clearly heard by clients, investors and future customers.
Products Needed to Wash Heavy Equipment Effectively
Properly washing heavy equipment is a big job. It requires technical knowledge of effectively getting rid of dirt and grease buildup. There are tricks to the trade that turn a large undertaking into a step-by-step procedure making the best use of time and ensuring the process is efficient. The end goal is having a clean machine and a washing technician who stays safe. To do that, you need to use specialized products.
Some of these equipment cleaning products are expensive and complicated. Others are cheap and easy to use. But all have their purpose in ensuring a proper job that’s finished efficiently and safely. Here are the main products professional machinery cleaners employ:
Personal Protection Equipment
Personal protection equipment is the first product to consider when starting a machinery washing job. Safety is paramount at every construction company. That includes being on an actual construction site or back at the shop and yard. Personal safety must be taken seriously. Construction machinery and designated cleaning equipment are hazardous. A solid defense line is personally protecting workers with:
- Full-length coveralls that protect the entire torso, arms and legs. Today, practically all construction workers wear hi-visibility outerwear and often that’s disposable or reusable coveralls. Specialized rainwear is suitable for machinery This can be overalls or two-piece jackets and pants. Insulated protection is important if using hot water washing.
- Protective footwear is vital. No matter what, the worker is going to get wet while washing machinery. Heavy equipment wash pads, also known as heavy equipment wash racks, are slippery places. The best footwear is commercial rubber boots with anti-skid soles and toe protection. Upper closure is also important. This prevents hot water from filling up boots.
- Face and eye protection are Splashes from dirt and grease dislodged under high pressure can be extremely dangerous. Eye contamination is a high risk as is skin burns and punctures. Chemical burns are also possible depending on what degreasing agent is used. At minimum, wrap-around eyewear must be used. Full face shields are better yet.
- Gloves are mandatory. Washing construction equipment is a hands-on task. Workers need to hand-remove chunks of clay and all sizes of stones. Grease globs need prying off and sharp edges on machine parts can give vicious cuts. Some workers wear leather gloves when washing but most find rubber or latex protects hands best.
Pressure Washing Equipment
Pressure washers are mandatory products used in cleaning construction equipment. There is no better way to remove dirt, grease and grime that hitting it with high-pressure water. The force of concentrated water streams also gets into tight places like hinges and seams that are impossible to reach with hand brushing.
There are many criteria involved in high-pressure washing equipment. First, there are two terms to know — pressure washer and water cannon. Both effectively do the same thing but at a different scale. Here’s the difference:
- Pressure washers are small-scale devices having a limited amount of water flow. They have high pressures of between 2,500 and 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi) but their capacity is limited to about 5-10 gallons per minute (gpm). Pressure washers are equipped with small diameter hoses, usually ½ inch.
- Water cannons are much larger. They have lower pressure rates but water cannons flow at 20-150 gpm or more. That’s 4-15 times the rate of a small scale pressure washer. Water cannons use fire-type hoses with 1 to 1-½ inch diameters and have adjustable nozzles.
Water cannons are typically found on commercial equipment washing stations that have dedicated closed-loop wash racks. They expel large volumes of water that’s captured, cleaned and recycled. Both types of high-pressure washers are capable of using hot and cold water. Often, pressure washers and cannons are used in tandem with cannons doing the big removal and overall final rinse. Pressure washers do the fine detailing.
Heavy Equipment Wash Pads and Racks
There’s no substitute for using a professionally designed and built wash pad, also known as a wash rack. Many jurisdictions regulate wash locations to ensure they comply with environmental compliance. Laws prohibit contaminated construction equipment washings from entering open surface and groundwater reservoirs. Non-compliance with laws can result in heavy fines and personal jail time, not to mention being environmentally irresponsible. In addition, containing contaminated wash water can also protect the property owner or renter from a very expensive soil and groundwater cleanup.
Properly constructed wash pads and racks are built with water containment and recycling systems. To start with, the pad should be self-contained and enclosed to prevent wash water and all its pollutants from escaping into the outer environment. Dirt, grease and other contaminants are knocked free and collect inside sumps. Excess water is captured and recycled in a contained system, filtering it back to workable gray-water where it’s continually reused. This is called a closed loop wash operation or wash rack.
Wash racks and pads can be built and are available in many sizes depending on the company’s needs. Water storage tanks vary depending on how frequent a wash pad is used and how large of equipment is serviced. Hot and cold temperatures for the washing equipment are usually available and pressure rates are controllable. As well, some wash racks are fixed and stationary where others are mobile. They can be transported from site to site.
Solid waste management is an important wash pad function. Like water, solid wastes need proper containing and disposal. While water is recycled in a closed loop system, solid waste is collected, dried and removed to a safe disposal site. Some wash racks are designed with above ground solid management systems (SMS) where others depend on underground sumps and mud-drying pads.
Cleaning Detergents, Surfactants and Water Temperature
Water alone is often not sufficient to dislodge grease and dirt. Every equipment wash system employs some sort of degreasing solution. This depends greatly on the type of equipment being cleaned and what site conditions it was operated in.
The most common contaminants are organic and inorganic compounds. Organics include hydrocarbons like lubrication grease and fuel residue. They also include vegetation contamination from brush clearing and even insect and bird waste. Inorganics generally refer to mineral compounds like sand, gravel and dust.
There’s another category — a mixture of organic and inorganic compounds. The most common mixture is soil, which occurs virtually everywhere. Soil is made of decomposing organics and static inorganic compounds. Often, soil itself is polluted. Soil can also be one of the hardest materials to clean. That’s due to how contaminants bond to surface of machinery. This is where detergents come in.
Many people call detergents soap. While that’s technically correct, soap really refers to cleaning products made from natural materials like lye and animal fat. The truth is, most cleaning agents today are synthetic products carefully designed with specific chemical properties.
Heavy equipment washing detergents act as surfactants or surface active agents. When dissolved in water or other solvents, surfactants work at the boundary between the liquid and solid to change the interface properties. Water mixed with detergent breaks the bond between dirt and host objects. But water, on its own, has limited effect.
Chemically speaking, synthetic detergent surfactants work at the molecular level and form a long chain that attaches one end to a hydrophobe like dirt or grease. The other end is attracted to water or the hydrophile solvent. This causes the surfactant to surround the contaminant and dislodge it from its bonded surface, like dirt coming off machinery parts.
Chelating agents are often added to equipment washing detergent. These also work at the molecular level but they attack minerals in the water to soften them and stop hard water from blocking surfactant efficiency. Other additives in detergents like color, foaming agents and perfume don’t help cleaning power. They just make the product look and smell more attractive.
Wash water temperature is also misunderstood. Cold water washing is highly effective when used with the right surfactant. Hot water warms the machinery surface making large chunks of debris break off easier but temperature is not particularly sensitive at the molecular level where the real cleaning action is.
Cleaning Construction Equipment Quickly and Easily
There is a distinct process for making equipment cleaning quick and easy. There are priority steps that speed things up and prevent doing the same task twice. Every equipment cleaner has their individual quirks and peculiarities but, essentially, the proper washing procedure goes this way:
- All washing products are assembled and the machinery is placed in a contained wash rack with a closed loop system. All necessary PPE is worn.
- Large dry chunks of material like clay and rocks are manually pried loose from the undercarriage and chassis with a steel bar and spade. This is a much safer than immediately attacking the machine with high-pressure
- Debris chunks are collected and disposed of. This prevents a tripping hazard while navigating around the machine. It also stops dried debris from being liquefied making it more difficult to handle.
- The entire machine is sprayed with a water cannon removing large debris pieces that couldn’t be dislodged by hand. Warm or hot water from a hot water pressure washer is often used in this early stage which is prior to adding detergent.
- Grease accumulations are hand-removed by pulling chunks off or wiping them with clothes. By now grease will have softened by water force and temperature.
- Detergent is applied sparingly, with special attention to visible contamination. This includes engine compartments and especially radiators.
- Cleaning solvents are allowed to sit for 15 minutes to ½ hour. This gives time for surfactant molecular action to chemically dislodge all bonding.
- Water cannon force starts again. It begins at the top of the machine and orderly flows toward the ground, letting gravity pull contaminants and wastewater to the wash pad floor.
- Detailing of tight places, seams and joints follow overall cannon rinsing. Here smaller pressure washers might be used as well as hand scrubbing for detailing the equipment.
- Rubber tires and hoses are cleaned with a suitable surfactant. Glass surfaces are cleaned and polished.
- Cab interiors are vacuumed and hand wiped. High-pressure washing should never be used inside cabs or around controls.
- Once the machine is generally cleaned, it’s allowed to air dry. Sometimes, compressed air is used to hasten the process.
- The machine is then removed from the wash rack and sent to its next operation. That might be maintenance, repair or put back into stock for sale or rent.
- All parts of the wash pad are inspected. Mud is cleaned off of the wash pad surface, solid waste is disposed of and gray water levels are topped. Finally, a perimeter check ensures that no contaminants escape.
ESD Waste2Water Specializes in Heavy Equipment Washing
ESD Waste2Water is a world leader in designing and manufacturing heavy equipment washing systems. We’re located in Central Florida and supply top quality closed loop washing systems to many countries. We also specialize in solid management systems and incorporate the two, making the most efficient and effective construction equipment washing process possible.
ESD Waste2Water provides installation, service, and training with all our products. We supply cleaning and waste water control systems that are unsurpassed. Our high-technology lines include:
Make sure to view all our EDS Waste2Water products. Or contact us today to learn more about our manufactured products or to start a custom designed solution.