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Equipment Hub: In search of the clean machine

Andy Overbay for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 December 2021

Frankly, I don’t hear it as much as I used to, perhaps since in my advancing years I feel freer to “enlighten” folks, but “cleaner doesn’t make it run better” is a statement that set my dad’s teeth on edge.

Since I was old enough to remember, my factory-trained mechanic father taught me to “take care of equipment so it can take care of you.”



One thing Dad used to always share when the subject of clean equipment came up was a factoid shared with him in his training, “Every one-eighth inch of grease, grime and dirt doubles the amount of oil and water needed to cool an engine.” As we move more and more toward self-propelled harvesting equipment, this becomes even more of a challenge and a necessity. Heat buildup and dry chaff can result in a catastrophic fire.

Cleaning up isn’t high on many people’s fun list – in fact, it appears to be at the bottom of several. Still, taking time to clean up and freshen up equipment pays dividends. Having a reputation for being a farmer who pays attention to details can result in huge leaps in the competition and price paid for their used machinery, whether it is going to auction, sold private treaty or simply traded in.

There is also a safety consideration to cleaning machinery. While we have already noted the increased fire hazard associated with buildup, as I get older I appreciate more and more a clean windshield and a glare- and streak-free view. I need more light to see things well, but my tolerance for too much light is diminished simultaneously.

All this drew me toward finding ways to keep machinery clean with the most efficient use of my time. When a local dealer began advertising a foaming cleaner, my interest was piqued. It took me some time to decide to try this product. Not only did the foaming cleaner require buying the soap product, it required an investment in the application equipment as well, none of which were inexpensive.

The cleaner required a power washer with a maximum pressure threshold that my washer bordered on outpacing (3,000 to 3,500 psi). Still, the results I had seen at demonstrations and on videos posted by the dealership kept me interested in going all-in on this cleaning system.


A consideration for spray-on/spray-off cleaners has to be what the intended target is. There are some areas of some machines that do not react well to moisture of any kind.

(I have a personal story that illustrates this fact. I had a car that needed the motor cleaned. It was the middle of winter, but a sunny day. I cleaned the motor with what turned out to be too much attention to detail because water that I had unknowingly introduced to the crankshaft sensor froze the next time my wife was running errands, resulting in a disabled vehicle and a stranded, pregnant wife. Not my best day.

I learned to be careful where the power washer went because, like some credit cards, the washer was not accepted everywhere.)

I finally invested in a dispenser, the fittings to make it pair up with my current power washer and the foaming product itself – about a $500 investment.

While not cheap (I estimate it takes an average of $5 to $6 of product per bath), I consider this is some of the best money I ever spent. I use the product on tractors, lawnmowers, even our private vehicles with great results. Moreover, once the system is ready for use, cleaning machinery takes only a matter of minutes.

Because it does a good job and does it quickly, I am more likely to dial in the time to clean up. I have also found that clean equipment seems to resist collecting dust sitting in storage as well. I suppose the slicker finish makes it harder for airborne dust and dirt to find a toehold.


I have also found there are a great many foaming products and delivery systems out there to choose from. Prices and delivery systems vary, so you just have to shop around to see what suits your personal tastes the best.

Some systems do not even require a power washer, although I have no way to tell you how they compare with those that do. I will say: A foam applicator that hooks directly to a water hose is an intriguing idea during the cold muddy months of the winter when opportunities to clean up are more infrequent.

When it comes to foaming agents and applicators, more and more options are coming online every day, and it is guaranteed that some are better than others. Just like any machinery purchase, the best advice is to seek out people with experience using foaming cleaners and see what worked for them and, maybe more importantly, what did not work.

Whatever you decide, I think you will find that not only does machinery run better when clean, employees take more pride in equipment that is well maintained – inside and out. end mark

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

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