Trucks at Work

Steam cleaning for trucks?

It’s a little weird if you ask me, this truck wash concept whereby steam – and steam alone – is used to  rid a big rig of road grime, snow removal chemicals, and other gunk that accumulates over tens of thousands of miles of tractor-trailer operation.

While it’s a method long used to clean car exteriors, interiors, and engine compartments, it’s been rarely used on the scale that Louis Normand, founder and president of Mississippi-based dealership American Truck Group is deploying. In fact, he believes in steam cleaning trucks so much that he’s formed a new division within his company – Pro Wash Systems – to take it national.

[Below, you can watch a short video about how a steam-cleaning systems designed by Dupray Industries rids cars of road grime without the use of water or harsh chemicals. Note, too, how there’s no water run-off, either.]

Normand said he turned to steam as he started in on plans for an on-site truck wash at his Mississippi dealership – a project he claims was one of the bigger challenges his business ever faced, not only due to the high cost of traditional degreasers, detergents and chemicals, but also because of the regulations surrounding the disposal of them as well as road chemicals and grime removed from dirty trucks.

“I just figured if I didn't use chemicals or detergents to begin with I didn't have to worry about getting rid of it,” he explained.

[Here’s how the Dupray system is used to clean engine compartments. Again, note that mitigating run-off is one of the advantages touted for using steam in this manner.]

Yet using steam isn’t cheap and Normand quickly found the projected energy costs to run high-output boilers to create sufficient “cleaning steam” threatened to wipe out the cost savings he’d gain by not using traditional truck wash chemicals and detergents. “Such always seems to be the dilemma: Going green costs more green,” he said.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Normand explained that his team lucked into research conducted by the super-brains at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that determined super-heated engine oil thins to a point where it can be combined with propane gas to create a highly combustible fuel: the very type of fuel that can be used to fire the kind of high-output boiler ATG needed to make steam cleaning trucks feasible.

The best part, of course, is the source of that engine oil: the used crankcase oil coming out of the trucks ATG serviced in its bays – located conveniently right next door to the truck wash.

So here’s how the whole process apparently works: The used oil taken from a truck’s engine is first filtered to remove deposits then used to heat the high-output boiler for the steam in the truck wash bay.

[Using waste oil to heat buildings and/or hot water boilers isn’t new and can save big money. More information on that topic is in the video below.]

Next, once the high-pressure steam removes the road grime from a big rig, the resulting condensation gravity-fed filtration system of ATG’s own design that separates the pollutants from the water down to .006 microns. Then it is pumped through final stage filtration that removes all carcinogens and other harmful agents, Normand noted.

The end result is water that can be used over and over again to wash another truck. Also, all those “pesky filtered chemicals, grease and road salts” as he calls them are burned in the Pro-Wash system’s incinerator, leaving behind what he calls “a fine non-toxic powder.”

Finally, in an effort to potentially eliminate the need for any city water to be used for truck wash purposes – especially in areas like California and Arizona where shortages are a growing concern – Normand wanted to build what he dubbed an “alternative water source” for his steam cleaning plan.

In the case of the Pro-Wash facility at his Gulfport location, that turned out to be a million-gallon retention pond serving multiple purposes:  a means to harvest rainwater, collect run-off from the 18 acre dealership site, and main water supply for truck wash boilers that create the steam to wash the trucks. That’s pretty clever, if you ask me.

Now, Normand said he wants to establish a “national network” of Pro-Wash locations; a very tall order, especially as there’s an awful lot of competition out there in the truck washing business. But if he can show that steam cleaning not only performs as well as traditional truck washing methods and save a lot of money, too, he might very well win some converts. We’ll have to wait and see. 

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