Bus Cleaning

Bus Cleaning

Written by Diane Calabrese | Published July 2024

School Bus Cleaning Image

There are more than 900,000 licensed buses in the United States. The total comes from U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics ( BTS.gov ). BTS reports that school buses account for one-quarter of the total. (Some sources put the number of school buses at close to half.)

There is tighter agreement on how many children travel to school on a bus: some 25 million.

Why does the total number of school buses vary? There are yellow school buses, and there are other buses—public transportation vehicles in many urban centers—carrying children to school.

Nevertheless, whether a bus is transporting school children, commuters, or travelers, it gets dirty. This is not an assessment of which sort of bus requires the most cleaning; all buses must be cleaned.

Edward S. Kenny, the owner of Convenient Car Care Corp. in Bryn Mawr, PA, has been in business for 27 years. His company serves customers in southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

“Anything too big for an automatic wash may be among the incoming vehicles,” says Kenny. About 20 percent of the vehicles washed are school buses.

“We clean school buses from 9 a m to midday,” explains Kenny. “It fills our time between truck washes.”

The schedule also fits well with school hours. The parameters for cleaning school buses regarding frequency and outcome expected are set by their owners (e.g., districts or communities).

Kenny anticipates that each state may have unique rules for and monitors of school bus cleaning. Rules may parallel one inspection that happens in the Keystone State.

“In Pennsylvania the state police come in once a year to inspect interiors,” says Kenny. Their inspection can be quite thorough, picking up seats, etc.

Exterior washes are done mostly with hot water pressure washers. It depends on the condition of the bus—whether there’s mud, for instance. Kenny relies on Hydro Tek hot-water pressure washers.

“We still scrub the buses,” says Kenny. “The buses are not just two-stepped.” Detergent is used, but it’s a gentle one.

Kenny explains that he stays away from anything close to a harsh chemical “because of fading paint on buses.”

A yellow paint coating on galvanized metal gives the school buses their familiar look. (The yellow bus first appeared in 1939.) But when oxidation occurs on the coated surface, dirt can adhere more strenuously. The combination can be too much for two-step.

“School buses have a lot of windows that dry quickly,” says Kenny. The windows require a bit of extra attention, but they are not really a challenge.

In fact, Kenny says one of the noteworthy challenges— at least in consumption of time—when cleaning a school bus is removing “bubble gum on seats.” Buses sometimes have permanent marker graffiti or stray scribbles on seats, too, and that requires a powerful product (with precautions) to remove.

Every few months the interior cleaning of a school bus includes pulling up all seats to clean beneath them. School buses have no restrooms, and that simplifies cleaning.

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations covers restroom regulations for passenger-carrying vehicles. (See 49 CFR 1.87.) Except for commuter buses, any bus that seats 14 or more passengers must have a regularly maintained restroom unless it makes frequent stops. (The only maintenance requirement specified in the regulation is that the onboard restroom be “free of offensive odor.”)

Kenny offers customers many options in bus-cleaning services, including preparation for state inspection; washing on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly schedule; and interior cleaning. That’s the short list.

With the push toward EV school buses, is there concern about corresponding changes in cleaning methods? No concerns, says Kenny. “Everything is sealed.”

The amount of money that the federal government has committed to moving school buses to EV-powered is enormous. As such, the Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement in ensuring clean school buses focuses on fostering conversion to EVs.

Using the $5 billion allotted for five years (2022–2026) from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program provides both rebates and grants for conversion to EV buses. The many benefits EPA attributes to EV conversion seem both logical and fanciful.

Logical, for example, that more EV vehicles would be correlated with fewer emissions than diesel or propane. Fanciful, though, that a conversion to EV vehicles could result in improvements in student attendance and achievement.

Somewhere in between might be the possibility that electric school buses could be used to supply power when not in service. Think of them as large mobile battery storage units, part of V2G [vehicle-to-grid] technology.

For more about the Clean School Bus Program and its many anticipated positive outcomes, see https://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus . One almost certain outcome from the transition to EVs will be the reduction of hydrocarbon residue on vehicles, which may lead to faster cleaning using less water.

[NB: Many readers still question whether the commitment to EVs and zero emissions made by some states and, in the background, the federal government, is going to move forward. It is moving forward.]

Motor Coaches And More

Any conveyance (or structure) must be kept clean to promote safety, sanitation, and hygiene. Clean buses have slip-free floors and afford the driver excellent visibility. They are free of debris that might encourage rodents to take up residence. And they do not contribute to the spread of viruses and bacteria because seats, handles, and rails are cleaned often.

According to the United Motorcoach Association, most carriers operate small fleets of one to nine vehicles. There’s a great opportunity for contractors to serve such carriers with bus cleaning services.

One difficulty for contractors who want to expand to offering service in the sector may be the difficulty in recruiting team members. One of the most sought-after employees in urban areas is the person who will join a team to clean buses. Job vacancies exceed those for bus drivers.

Contractors looking to expand their roster of services to include bus cleaning must assess needs in their areas. School districts of modest size and motorcoach carriers with small fleets are likely candidates for services.

But metropolitan areas with large fleets of buses will either have an in-house cleaning staff or bid out contracts to facilities equipped to handle a large volume of work every day of the year. Consider one example.

Metro Transit in Minneapolis, MN, has 100 employees (some part-time) dedicated to cleaning 1000 buses and 86 light-rail vehicles, according to the transit’s Rider’s Almanac blog. Interiors on the city buses pose a relatively tough job, and the blog essay notes that even putty knives are among the tools used. In addition to the interior cleaning, the transit buses go through a highpressure wash.

There are many choices in automated systems for owners of large fleets of buses. But the interior cleaning— especially in high-use and sometimes abused equipment (vandalism in city buses is an issue cleaning teams encounter)—is labor-intensive.

The sales team at Hydro-Chem Systems Inc. published “How to Wash Your Bus Fleet” on July 19, 2022. The educational piece outlines the basic choices to be made when cleaning a bus. As for speed comparisons, the article notes that an automated wash system can clean as much as nine times faster.

The “nine times faster” is the sort of information an owner of a fleet will weigh when trying to determine cost-effectiveness of an in-house system or an outside contractor. As a result, contractors offering or bidding on the chance to provide services should be able to explain why their service is more cost effective.

Concerns over automated wash systems for buses are no different than for automobiles. Mirrors may be displaced or damaged, scratches may result, and so on.

With an operator carefully handling a pressure washer, damage can be avoided. At the same time, some difficult to reach areas such as under the chassis and behind wheels can be targeted. Contractors seeking clients can use such selling points.

Ultimately, of course, the fleet owner decides which method is best for his or her organization. One size does not fit all. There’s a place for gantries and a place for an operator with a wand.

Similarly, two-step works exceptionally well on some coatings. As in all cleaning projects, the contractor must evaluate and decide the best method for refreshing each surface.

The same bus, in fact, is likely to be subjected to different methods of cleaning at different times. Drivethrough bus washes and gantry washers both have a place. So do touch and touchless.

WeCleanTrucks Image

How many buses? What’s the objective? Answer those questions first. There’s plenty of help available.

LazrTek in association with partner (joint venture) Envirochem is one of the largest suppliers of touchless school bus washers in the United States and is the largest in Tennessee, according to its tutorial comparing wash systems (https://lazrtek.com/wash-school-bus-and-cleaning-tips). The tutorial makes an important point: A customer should ask for advice from a contractor and/or from a manufacturer of a system.


Ver-tech Labs, which makes Salt Shield®, also offers good information to digest before deciding on a cleaning method. (See https://ver-techlabs.com/fleet-washing/ how-to-clean-a-bus/.)

Since all buses must be cleaned, deciding the method for cleaning buses and finding resources to help with best methods are vital steps to take to make certain the job is carried out well

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