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5 Tips For Washing Your Fire Apparatus

cleaning supplies on vehicle

Keeping your fire apparatus clean is important for several reasons. Not only is it a representation of your fire department and community, it is an investment that must be washed, waxed, and cleaned as part of general preventative maintenance. Keeping fire trucks clean and polished not only clears away potentially harmful dust, dirt, smoke, and chemicals, but also provides an opportunity to closely inspect wear and tear. Why?

Mechanics like a clean truck because they have an easier time performing maintenance and diagnosing any issues when there isn’t a layer of grime or grit.

Regularly washing the apparatus makes it easier to inspect wear and tear, which prevents corrosion and can prolong the life of your department’s investment.

Here are five tips for washing your fire apparatus.

1. Use Cotton Microfiber Towels

Cotton microfiber towels are a cost-effective way to wash a fire truck. They have a soft, absorbent material that won’t mar the finish. They can also be washed easily. Make sure the towels are separated appropriately. Use some towels for washing and drying the apparatus, and reserve other towels for cleaning up spills, like oil or fluid.

Another tip – skip the sponge. Sponges are not ideal for soap application, and they can trap dirt and debris which will end up scratching your truck.

Also (and this can’t be stressed enough) if the towel hits the ground, grab a fresh towel. A towel that has been on the ground collects dirt and debris which can scratch the truck.

2. Use the ‘Two-Bucket Method’

Washing an apparatus the correct way starts with just two buckets. Fill the first bucket with soapy water and fill the second with just water to use for rinsing. First, dip the microfiber towel in the soapy bucket. Once the area is washed, or if you require more soap, rinse your microfiber towel off in the water bucket. After the towel is rinsed, wring it out to remove excess water and dip it back in the soapy bucket. Repeat as necessary.

The goal of the two-bucket method is to reduce the amount of dirt particles that the microfiber towel accumulates. If only one bucket is used to rinse and apply soap, the towel will get dirty very quickly. That dirt will then spread across the apparatus, and the debris will leave scratches in the paint. Grit guards can also be used to further separate dirt from the towel.

3. Wash Panel by Panel, from Top to Bottom

washing tires

Take a look at the truck and map out where different body panels meet and surfaces change. Use this as a guide to effectively wash your apparatus. To make the washing process efficient, go panel by panel. Rinse the microfiber towel and gather more soap each time there is a transition to a different panel. This will keep the soap application consistent and reduce the amount of dirt the towel is picking up each time it is rinsed.

Start from the top of the truck and work downward toward the wheel wells and wheels. Most of the dirt will accumulate around the lower areas of the apparatus, so this will avoid bringing that dirt up and spreading it all over the apparatus, even when using the two-bucket method.

It’s also a good idea to wash the apparatus wheel wells and wheels in a separate washing area. As the dirtiest areas of the apparatus, it is best to contain the dirt and grime to one spot without contaminating the rest of the wash. Many people like to do these areas last.

One final recommendation — don’t forget about the undercarriage! This can be a challenging spot to wash but is critical to keep clean since dirt, debris, and road salt can collect in the nooks and crannies of the undercarriage. Even a simple water rinse of the undercarriage is beneficial.

4. Dry the Apparatus with More Microfiber

Drying a fire apparatus may seem easy, but there are a few things to consider to avoid streaking and water spots. For optimal drying, use large microfiber towels. These are incredibly absorbent towels that will allow you to dry large areas before you grab another dry towel. If you’re stuck washing the apparatus in direct sunlight, water the truck down as you wash to avoid water spots as the truck dries. To avoid streaking and water spots altogether, try to keep the fire truck wet through the wash process, and keep it wet when you begin the drying process.

5. Final Apparatus Cleaning Tip: Instant-Detailer and Polish

washing bumper

After the truck is clean and dry, take some time to polish any chrome or shiny metal. Manually applying polishing compound keeps the apparatus looking its best and also creates a protective barrier between the metal and environmental dirt and small debris. Using a bit of instant-detailer does the same for painted surfaces. Instant-detailer should be applied regularly to help water bead up and run off effectively, keeping your truck looking better, longer. The regular application of polishing compound and detailer will also make it easier to wash the truck in the future since the dirt and grime will come off easier with a simple water rinse.

There are many different methods to clean fire apparatus, but with the tips above, you should be off to a great start.

About Pierce Manufacturing

Pierce Manufacturing Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation [NYSE: OSK] company, is the leading North American manufacturer of custom fire apparatus, including custom and commercial pumpers, aerials, rescue trucks, wildland trucks, minipumpers, elliptical tankers, and homeland security apparatus. In addition, Pierce designs its own foam systems and was the first company to introduce frontal airbags and the Side Roll Protection system to fire apparatus. Pierce markets its products through the industry’s largest and most comprehensive dealer and service network. The company enjoys a nationwide web of dealerships with over 600 certified and factory trained Service Brigade technicians and over 50 service centers. Visit to learn more about Pierce.

MMFSS is proud to supply Pierce Vehicles to Atlantic Canada.

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