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How to Wash Heavy Construction Equipment

How to Wash Heavy Construction Equipment

How to Wash Heavy Construction Equipment

Reading time: 7 min

It’s no surprise that construction sites are dirty. Common tasks like soil excavation, grading and demolition send dust and debris flying – and much of that mess can end up on your machine.

When too much dirt becomes lodged in your machine’s undercarriage or mud accumulates around hoses and electrical components, a machine can start to break down. To prevent the problems associated with dirty heavy construction equipment, which range from performance issues to safety concerns, it’s important to regularly clean your equipment.

In this guide, we’ll cover the ins and outs of washing your heavy construction equipment. By keeping your machines clean, you can improve the efficiency of your fleet and keep operators safe.

Why You Should Keep Your Heavy Equipment Clean

The primary benefits of keeping your heavy equipment clean are better operating efficiency and improved operator safety.

When dirt, mud and other debris build up on your machine’s vital components, like its undercarriage or hydraulic hoses, these components may become stuck or begin to degrade.

In addition, excess dirt and grime on your machine may hamper your ability to detect other maintenance issues, like cracked tires or a leaking hose. By keeping your machine clean, you can avoid these problems, resulting in better operating efficiency and less downtime.

Not only are clean machines more efficient, they’re also safer to operate. When dirt builds up on your machine’s windows, mirrors and cameras, operator visibility is negatively impacted. Regular cleaning helps ensure that these crucial safety components remain in good condition and the safety of your operators is not put in jeopardy.

How to Wash Heavy Equipment

While the steps for cleaning heavy equipment will vary according to the machine and the type of cleaning equipment you have available, the process is generally the same.

Steps for Cleaning Heavy Equipment

1. Prepare Your Wash Area

Importantly, heavy construction equipment should only be washed in a designated wash station. When cleaning your heavy equipment, chemicals, grease and contaminated water will run off the machine.

This wastewater must be properly treated and recycled. Legally, it’s not allowed to run into soil or drains. A proper cleaning station will consist of a closed system and wash pad that catches the wastewater and handles it according to relevant laws such as the Clean Water Act (CWA).

To begin the cleaning process, start by making sure your wash area is set up to properly handle wastewater and protect the surrounding environment. 

2. Remove Caked Mud and Other Large Debris By Hand

Begin cleaning your machine by dislodging any large chunks of mud or debris by hand. During this step, you can use a steel pry bar or similar tool to clear stuck-on dirt and mud from your machine’s undercarriage and chassis.

Be careful not to damage your machine during this step. In particular, be sure not to puncture hoses or other soft components with a pry bar.

3. Rinse the Machine

Once you have cleared any large debris from your machine, you should proceed to rinse smaller debris from the machine, such as dirt and mud, using water. This step is best accomplished using warm water and a water cannon. But a pressure washer may also be used.

Beginning at the bottom of the machine, work your way around the undercarriage and then up to the chassis and exterior of the cab.

4. Apply Detergent

After rinsing smaller debris from the machine, you may begin applying your detergent or cleaning chemical. 

Once again, you should work from bottom to top; begin by applying detergent/chemical to the undercarriage, then move upward to the chassis and exterior of the cab. Focus particularly on areas with a lot of grease and grime, such as the undercarriage.

5. Let It Soak

For best results, it’s important to allow your detergent to soak in before moving to the next step. While the amount of time your detergent needs to soak depends on the type of detergent, most cleaning solutions need to be left on for 15 to 30 minutes.

Allowing the detergent to soak for a bit will help it penetrate any grease or grime accumulated on your machine and break down hard clumps of dirt.

6. Rinse Off the Detergent

Once your detergent has finished soaking, begin rinsing it off using a water cannon or pressure washer. When rinsing off the detergent, it’s best to rinse your machine from top to bottom. Begin at the top of the cab’s exterior and finish by rinsing detergent from the machine’s undercarriage.

For especially greasy or grimy components, you may also consider using a washing brush during this step.

7. Clean Hoses and Tires

Since rubberized components, such as hydraulic hoses and tires, may require special detergent, it’s best to wash them last. Apply detergent to the rubberized components and let it sit for the required amount of time. Once finished, gently rinse the detergent from the rubberized components.

8. Allow the Machine to Air Dry

Once you’ve finished cleaning the machine’s exterior, allow it to dry in a warm spot. If you need to dry the machine quickly, you may also use an air compressor to dry its exterior.

9. Clean the Cab

Finally, clean the inside of the cab using a cloth and cleaning agent, as well as a suitable vacuum.

Begin by using the cloth and appropriate cleaning agent to wipe down any hard surfaces, such as controls and dashboards, as well as the driver’s seat. If your machine has floor mats, remove them and vacuum the mats outside of the machine. Proceed to vacuum the floor of the operator’s cab and wipe down the inside of the windshield with a suitable cleaning solution.

Man using a pressure washer to clean equipment tracks

Environmental and Safety Precautions

When cleaning your machine, it’s important to follow relevant environmental regulations and take necessary safety precautions.

Wastewater produced during the cleaning process should not be allowed to enter storm drains or run into nearby soil. Many of the chemicals used during the cleaning process, as well as the dislodged grease, are toxic to the environment. Therefore, it’s important that you only wash your heavy equipment in a designated wash bay capable of catching, treating and recycling the generated wastewater.

In addition to environmental considerations, you also want to be mindful of your personal safety while washing heavy equipment. It’s important to wear the necessary safety equipment during the cleaning process, such as thick gloves and safety glasses.

Many of the chemicals involved in the heavy equipment cleaning process are harsh and can cause irritation if they come into contact with your skin or eyes.

Popular Heavy Equipment Cleaning Methods

The most popular way to clean heavy equipment is by using a water cannon and/or pressure washer. Water cannons and pressure washers both work by spraying large amounts of water, but a water cannon sprays a much higher volume of water per second. Typically, a water cannon is used for the rinsing steps of the cleaning process, while a pressure washer is used for the scrubbing/washing steps.

Cleaning chemicals and detergents are sometimes necessary in addition to spraying tools, especially when heavy layers of grease and grime have accumulated on the machine. These detergents work by breaking down the chemical bond between the grease/grime and dirt, allowing them to be easily removed with a pressure washer.

While water-based cleaning methods are by far the most popular way to clean heavy equipment, other methods are sometimes used, as well. For example, one method involves using pressurized air to spray dry-ice crystals at high speed, resulting in a cleaning action that blasts dirt and grime from the machine’s surface.

Where to Clean Heavy Equipment

Most operators would prefer to clean heavy equipment indoors in a bay with drains. Since you can clean a piece of equipment indoors regardless of the weather, this is typically the preferred option. Unfortunately, most operators don’t have the option to clean indoors which means they must do so outside.

How Often Should You Clean Heavy Equipment?

You should clear loose debris and large chunks of mud from your heavy equipment daily. This is best accomplished by rinsing down your machine at the end of each shift using a pressure washer.

Heavy equipment should be thoroughly cleaned biweekly, but this depends on a number of factors such as work conditions and how frequently the machine is being used.


Washing your heavy construction equipment regularly is a necessary part of keeping your fleet in good working condition. By keeping your fleet clean, you can reduce unnecessary repairs and downtime while enhancing operator safety.

While conducting a thorough cleaning of your equipment, you may notice the need to replace some of your machine’s parts. The EquipmentShare Online Parts Shop carries OEM and aftermarket parts for your entire fleet, making it easy to get what you need shipped right to you.

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