I am obsessed with clean ambulances. Shocking, I know. Really though, I scrub, clean, shine, and disinfect my ambulances so much I really ought to be locked up. At one job that I worked at for years my partners knew they never had to wash the truck. It was my job to do that. I lovingly waxed, polished, buffed, and spit shined that truck so much that it’s still in service for the company after all these years. A lot of insomniac nights were spent hovering over my favorite ambulance making sure that the diamond plate had that “just right” mirrored glow to it, and that the interior carpets up front were shampooed to perfection, and that every bit of crud was scrubbed out of the corners in the back. I loved that ambulance. I love clean ambulances. Working in a clean and shiny ambulance just makes you feel better about your job and the way the public looks at you. While I don’t suggest that you practice hard enough that you can get your full-truck waxing time down to under an hour like I did… I do think that by using a few of the lessons I’ve taken away you can keep your trucks looking awesome. So, this post is all about tips and tricks for ambulance cleaning and disinfection. I’m not going to recommend any products in this, and if I do mention some by name it’s because I’ve used them and I like them and I’m not being paid for any of this.
I promise to keep this one short, unlike the last one I did, which was a monstrosity: Clean EMS – Lifesaving Practices in Ambulance Cleaning
Oh, and I wrote a post called “The Shine Factor” that explains why I think this is so important, it came out early in this blog’s life and I never thought that it got enough reads. I think you’ll like it.
By the way, all I’m saying with these tricks is that I use them myself. You use them at your own risk. If you use them and in some way it harms something or causes your truck not to look good, well then you did it wrong and I disavow any liability. Wouldn’t do any good to sue me anyhow… I’m a poor paramedic and there’s nothing to get.
Tips for Cleaning Ambulance Exteriors:
The Best way I’ve found to get the bugs off the front of the ambulance – Go to the local hardware store and buy some of the commercially available “Bug Remover” Windshield Washer Fluid. Yes, the stuff that you normally put in the truck’s windshield washer fluid reservoir. Put that into a spray bottle that you purchase from the store, not one that you recycle from another product. By using one that you purchase you can get a strong enough spray that you can stand in front of the truck and reach all of the surfaces without stretching. Before you wash your ambulance, spray down all of the surfaces on the front of the truck with the bug remover, let it sit for a minute or two, and then wash the truck normally. The bugs will come right off. Usually you don’t even have to scrub them because the pressure from the hose is enough to take them off. It works awesome.
Brightening up dull reflective striping and paint – Use a weak solution of a de-limer product mixed in a bucket of water and hand brush it on with a medium strength scrub brush. Rinse it off immediately. I like “CLR” for this because I think it’s the mildest and it hasn’t harmed any of the paint or decals that I’ve used it on. I have used it full strength for really dull areas. Hard water spots stick to the paint and can really dull a finish. This takes all of that off and restores a really deep color and shine. The reflective striping really suffers from hard water spots, and this restores it very well. Just be sure to rinse it off quickly and it should work just great. Try it, you’ll be impressed. Do this before you wax the truck so you don’t seal any water spots onto the truck under the coat of fresh wax.
Wash the ambulance inside the garage, every time – The ambulance is just too big to do a good job while washing it without soap and water drying on it too quickly when it’s outside in the sun and the wind. Soap suds drying on the truck really dull the finish and stay on there as streaks for a very long time. Wash it inside the garage if you can, it will look a lot better for a lot longer.
Keeping the ambulance really shiny in between waxing – I learned this one from Thom Dick. Add a cap-full of liquid wax to the soap in your wash bucket before you add water and suds it up. The little bit of wax in there will replenish some of the wax on the paint that’s been worn off and will become really shiny and smooth when you dry the truck. It’s one of those things that makes a bigger difference then you think that it will.
Always dry the ambulance with a towel – Yes, some people find drying the truck to be a chore. It really isn’t. Buy yourself a squeegee blade and squeegee the exterior of the truck before you wipe it down with a towel. One partner can squeegee while the other follows with a towel. Use two of them. This takes off all of the big water spots and smoothes the wax on the outside of the truck, shining it up really nicely. Water spots kill finishes and make your truck look really old really quickly. Take 2 minutes and do this, it’s easy. Oh, and be sure to dry the plastic parts of the emergency lights and the roof of the cab. What most people think are etches on the plastic finish of the lights are really just water spots, in my experience. Drying them helps keep your light filters crystal clear and your lights at their brightest… and safest.
Dry the diamond plate too – Water spots on any shiny surface dull it quickly. Dry it off and you’ll spend a lot less time polishing it.
Before you wax the ambulance – A little prep work will go a long way here. I like washing it with Dawn dish soap before I wax it. Spend a few more minutes scrubbing than you normally would to take everything you can off. Then wash it with the weak CLR solution in sections so you can rinse it off quickly. This removes water spots so that you don’t permanently put them on the paint trapped under the layer of wax. Dry the truck thoroughly with a towel and then leave the truck outside for a bit to make sure it’s really dry. Water on the finish can dilute the wax and leave streaks. The cleaner and smoother the finish is, the better the wax will look once it’s done.
Waxing the ambulance – With three people helping, this really goes fast. Have one person work high standing on a stool, one person in a rolling office chair doing the lower parts, and the other person doing the intricate parts. It takes less than ten minutes this way. For ambulances that haven’t been waxed in a while, use two products. I use a “Cleaner wax” first (I like Meguiars Cleaner Wax, but use your preference) this removes micro-contaminants from the pores of the paint and from any scratches. It also removes oxidization from the painted surfaces. You can use this as the only product you use, but I find that it doesn’t dry hard enough to last very long. For the second coat, or for new finishes or recently waxed ones, I love a wax with Teflon in it. I don’t know the brand name, but when you use a wax that has a Teflon coating in it dirt doesn’t stick to the surface. No bugs stick to the front and washing the truck is as simple as spraying it down and drying it with a towel. After you’re done waxing the truck, park it in the hot sun to bake the coating of wax on the paint before you wash it the next time. This will make it last a lot longer.
Restoring Emergency Lights and Plastic Light Filters – Over time, the colored plastic filters covering your light bars take a beating. The sun fades them, the wash brushes
and debris scratch them, and hard water spots stick to them and stain them. You can fix this pretty easily. For new ones, put on a coat of wax after cleaning them very well with soap and water. The wax fills in any scratches and smoothes the surface for less light diffusion. It keeps the plastic from fading in the sunlight as well. For older plastic parts, you can remove the water spots with a weak CLR solution, wash it really well, and put on a thick coat or three of wax. Even the most damaged light filters will come out looking very good. There are commercially available products to restore them, but I’ve never used them. I just use wax.
Polishing Diamond Plate (or deck plate) – One could write a book on this subject and there are tons of products out there that claim to do it. My favorite? Hands down the best thing I’ve ever found to clean and shine it is “Chief’s Choice Deck Plate Brightener” It’s pretty powerful stuff, so be very careful. I love it. Just spray it on, lightly brush it, and then rinse it off very thoroughly. I did my fire department’s 105” tower ladder truck with this stuff in inside of 20 minutes. It looks awesome. Just for fun I did the old beater brush truck too, came out looking great. What dulls the deck plate is hard water spots and small micro scratches. Clean the deck plate with a delimer (like CLR, or the awesome Chief’s choice product that I am not being paid to endorse, I just love it) Never use a scratch pad on the deck plate. Use a moderately-stiff brush. After it’s clean and dry, polish it up with a commercial chrome polish. Once that’s done, seal it up with a coat of thick wax. It will look a lot better. Once it’s waxed, it’s a simple matter of washing it and then drying it. You’ll never have to work hard to clean it again if you keep it waxed with the rest of the truck.
Tips for Cleaning the Ambulance Cab
Disinfect commonly touched surfaces – Every day we all touch things like the door handles, the steering wheel, the switches, and the radio microphone. At least once per day, wipe them down with a disinfectant to kill the nasties that get on these surfaces from our hands after we touch a patient. Everyone will stay healthier.
Shine up the dashboard and the vinyl parts with a spray-duster – I like to use a commercially available spray duster product like Pledge or Endust to clean and shine-up the vinyl on the dashboard and the doors. Armor-all works great, but dust tends to stick to it after a while. The dust spray repels the dust. It’s also really easy to just spray this on the rag and use it as a “once over” for daily cleaning. You’ll never have to work hard if you do it once per shift.
An Awesome way to shampoo the carpet in the ambulance cab – Here’s the deal. Be careful when you do this and look to see where your electrical parts are. Cover them with a towel when you do this. First, use a wet/dry vacuum (be sure to remove the paper filter if you have it in there, otherwise you’ll ruin it). Vacuum the heck out of the carpet. Next, take a garden hose with a spray nozzle on it, and spray the heck out of the carpet taking care not to splash into any electronics. Spray thoroughly until the water runs clear. Then, use a WEAK soap solution and brush it thoroughly into the carpet. Once this is done, use a stiff-bladed squeegee (or anything that will work to squeegee the carpet) and pull as much water and suds out as you can. Then rinse it with the hose until the water runs clear. Squeegee it again, then use the vacuum to extract as much water as you can out of the carpet. If you do it right, it will be almost dry once you’re done. Leave the windows open to let the rest dry out. Once it’s dry, even old and worn carpet that didn’t look like it had much hope will look great. I do this in the spring time to clean out the salt crystals that get into the carpet from the ice melt that is on the streets and sidewalks.
Tips for Cleaning the Ambulance Patient Compartment
Use a Shop-Vac in the back – Take the vacuum in to the back with you (leave the actual vacuum outside the truck so it doesn’t blow dust out of the exhaust and coat the truck) Use the vacuum hose to pull all of the garbage, wrappers, caps, and other whatnot out of the cracks and crevasses. It does a really good job in like an eighth of the time that it would take to do it by hand.
Cleaning the Ambulance Floor – A mop is ok for spot cleanings and for after each run, but here’s what I do to really get it clean. Make sure your floor is water tight and on new ambulances it’s supposed to be. Park the ambulance on an incline so that the back of the truck is lower than the front. (on level ground the back is higher than the front and this makes a mess) Take the cot out first, then spray down the floor with a hose. Once all the loose dirt is rinsed out, wash it with the brush you use to clean the outside. Then rinse it out. Dry it with a towel and the floor will look great. This takes about 5 minutes and does a really good job. You will not believe the crud that comes out of some of the places you’ll spray. I once found a few human teeth in the cot holder. It was freakin’ gross. Wouldn’t have gotten them out with just a mop.
To properly disinfect, follow label instructions – Most “disinfectants” require a pre-cleaning step and then a 5 to 10 minute contact time in order to actually kill any germs. Make sure the surface stays wetted down with the product for as long as it recommends on the label. See “Clean EMS – Lifesaving Practices in Ambulance Cleaning” for more on this.
Yes, I’m a geek for writing this. But I take pride in my profession and having a clean ambulance is a big part of that. Love your equipment and it will love you back. Everyone feels better when we take pride in our “stuff”. If you make the first step, others will follow. Put effort into The Shine Factor and reap the results. You’ll like it. A little effort goes a long way.