Understanding The Chemistry Of Over-The Road Truck Cleaning Products

ITD Chemical. LLC / Published February 2024, Cleaner Times Magazine

When it comes to maintaining the cleanliness and appearance of over-the-road trucks, the choice of cleaning products plays a critical role. A well-maintained truck not only looks better but also functions more efficiently for a longer period of time. To achieve this, it’s essential to understand the different types of chemical products used for truck cleaning, the differences between acid and alkaline cleaners, the benefits of two-step cleaning, and how to use waxes and drying agents effectively.


Truck wash chemicals can be categorized into four main groups: Alkaline—Caustic, Alkaline—Non-Caustic, Acidic—HF (hydrofluoric acid), and Acidic—Non-HF. Each category serves a specific purpose and addresses different cleaning needs.

Alkaline—Caustic: These are the best all-around one-step touchless cleaners. They are highly effective at removing road film, grease, oils, dirt, smoke, and other contaminants. However, they cannot be used on polished aluminum surfaces. An example of this type of cleaner is ITD’s Power Brite.

Alkaline—Non-Caustic: One-step touchless cleaners in this category can be used on polished surfaces. While not as powerful as caustic cleaners, they are effective in removing various types of grease, dirt, and carbon stains. An example of this type of cleaner is ITD’s T&D Dual Purpose.

Acidic—HF: These cleaners are essential for “brightening” aluminum surfaces. They are particularly effective at removing minerals and oxidation. However, they should not be used on polished aluminum. An example of this type of cleaner is ITD’s HDAB Plus.

Acidic—Non-HF: Designed for descaling and cleaning polished aluminum trailers without causing damage, these cleaners can be used in one or two steps, depending on the level of cleaning required. An example of this type of cleaner is ITD’s Aluma Dog.


The primary difference between acidic and alkaline truck cleaners lies in their cleaning properties.

Alkaline cleaners are best for removing road film, carbon stains, and contaminants like grease, oils, dirt, and smoke residue. Acidic cleaners are specifically designed for brightening surfaces, especially aluminum surfaces. They are effective at removing minerals and oxidation.

It’s worth noting that acidic and alkaline cleaners can be used in tandem, following a two-step cleaning process with acid followed by alkaline. This approach encourages a fully touchless chemical system, as each step neutralizes the opposing charges on the truck’s surface. This not only ensures thorough cleaning but also minimizes the environmental impact and reduces the labor required to complete the job.


To understand how two-step truck cleaning works, it’s crucial to recognize that truck surfaces accumulate both positive and negative charges from various soil deposits. These charges are what make particles stick to the surface.

A two-step cleaning process consists of the following:

First step (acid)—The acid, such as ITD’s HDAB, neutralizes the negative charges on the surface and removes oxidation and minerals.

Second step (alkaline)—The alkaline cleaner, such as ITD’s Power Brite, neutralizes positive charges and removes carbon, grease, oils, and other contaminants.

As a result, the truck’s surface is neutralized with no residual charges, making it easier to wash away soils with water. This two-step approach is not only more labor efficient as it requires no brushing, but also more environmentally friendly as it results in roughly neutralized runoff as the high and low pH chemicals offset each other.


Polished aluminum requires special care and specific chemicals. Caustic cleaners and hydrofluoric acid must be avoided on polished surfaces as they can damage the polish. Instead, creative chemistry is employed to achieve the desired cleaning process.

Alkaline cleaners like ITD’s T&D Dual Purpose are used to clean polished surfaces effectively without harming the aluminum’s shine.

Acidic cleaners like Aluma Dog can be used to descale and clean polished aluminum trailers without causing any damage.


For customers using water reclamation systems, choosing the right chemicals is crucial. Good alkaline detergents work by emulsifying grease and oil, “trapping” them in the detergent/water mixture. However, reclamation systems require the separation of oil from water, presenting a challenge.

To address this issue, detergent formulations like ITD’s Resolve M2 are designed to temporarily emulsify oil while releasing the emulsion in a reasonable amount of time. Striking a balance between effective cleaning and efficient oil separation is challenging but essential for environmentally responsible truck washing.


After the cleaning process is complete, there are two finishing steps that add value to the truck’s appearance and longevity—waxes and rinse aids.

Wax—Adding a glossy appearance and protecting the surface, wax can be applied using two different products— cheater wax (ITD’s Wet Wax) and carnauba wax (ITD’s Shield & Shine). Cheater wax enhances gloss but doesn’t provide a protective wax coating, whereas carnauba wax binds to the surface and offers protection. Some detergents like ITD’s Salt Shaker contain built-in wax, or it can be added to the truck wash separately in the field with products like ITD’s Truck Guard. If no wax is present in the detergent system itself, the operator can build a spray wax into the rinse cycle, such as with ITD’s Shield & Shine.

Rinse Aid—There are multiple ways to reduce spotting following cleaning. Soft water is helpful in minimizing spotting, and this can be achieved with installed water softening equipment. If this isn’t possible, quality detergents do contain water softeners, but they are not always enough to reduce spotting entirely. This is where a rinse aid, such as ITD’s Quick Dry, may be required. A rinse aid can be built into the rinse cycle to encourage sheeting and runoff of water from the truck surface, thereby preventing static beading, which results in spotting.

As evidenced by this short article, truck washing chemistry is a nuanced art and can be approached with many different processes and chemicals, each with their own pros and cons. Understanding the options available will empower the operator to achieve the desired outcome every time and provide the most value to the customer.

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