Neatness Pays

When you spend most of your waking and sleeping hours inside your cab, it soon starts to show the wear: dust, grit, stains from drinks, foods, mud, oil – you name it.

Putting a foul cab and sleeper in tip-top shape can be overwhelming, so the best strategy for having a clean cab is preventive medicine.

“Clean it once a week,” says detailer Kevin Thomas of Thomas Industries in Greensboro, N.C. “Most people go one to two months, and then it snowballs. Then they give up on trying to keep it presentable.”

Jeff Byler of Jeff’s Large Truck Detailing in Reading, Pa., recommends thoroughly vacuuming carpeted interiors monthly “to keep dirt from grinding into the carpets.” Keeping dirt out of the cab will also minimize dirt being tracked into the sleeper.

But you can’t live in a truck without an occasional spill or tracked-in stain. Keep a dye-free white towel or paper towels handy at all times, along with water, to pick up liquid spills before they get a chance to set. Don Aslett, author of Stainbuster’s Bible, recommends carrying a stain removal kit: a dull scraper, clean white cloths, a spray bottle full of water, a professional spotting brush (available in a cleaning supply store) and a nylon scrub pad for hard surfaces.

“Use cold water on a rag, not hot, because hot will set the stain, just like waiting will,” Thomas says. Byler says any commercial spray cleaner and a clean rag work well for some rug spots.

Thomas agrees that any household cleaner could work, “But some may need to be watered down. Cleaner can concentrate and pull dyes out of fabric. First, spray it in an area that isn’t very visible to make sure it won’t change the color.” Thomas recommends the cleaners from Bridgeport Chemicals, which sells carpet cleaners and washers for use in retail stores.

Fred Lapp, an owner-operator leased to Landstar Inway, carries water as well as a liquid soap such as Lever 2000 or Ivory. He applies them to stains with an electric toothbrush.

Aslett notes that mud and children’s modeling clay are exceptions to the general rule of tackling stains immediately; they should be allowed to dry first. When you do work on a dried upholstery or carpet stain, don’t scrub, or you may spread the spot. Never use hot water or apply any other form of heat, like an iron. Naphtha or lighter fluid can be used to remove shoe polish or asphalt paving tar.

To remove chewing gum put an ice cube inside a plastic bag so the gum won’t absorb any water, then rest it against the gum. After the gum hardens, gently pry it off with a dull knife. Any remains can then be coaxed off with a light vegetable oil.

A quicker alternative for getting gum out of carpet is to simply snip it out with scissors, though you have to judge how much it will affect the carpet’s appearance.

Dry ice, available at ice cream equipment dealers and even some supermarkets, is an effective way to freeze any semi-solid stain such as gum, tar and candle wax and make the material brittle enough to be flaked off. Use a dull butter knife to scrape off the particles and vacuum up the remaining pieces. You can also buy a special aerosol chewing-gum remover at cleaning supply houses.


  • LIQUID SPILLS Blot up all you can and sponge the spot with cool water before it dries.
  • DRY, POWDERY STAINS Vacuum or dry brush to remove all you can before applying any liquid.
  • DRY, CRUSTY DEPOSITS Scrape, then soak if needed to loosen stubborn substance.
  • OIL OR OTHER GREASY STAINS Use something absorbent to suck up as much oil as possible before setting the spot with solvent.
  • GUM, TAR OR OTHER STICKY STUFF Freeze, shatter and scrape to remove it. In the case of tar or other petroleum-based material, you might need to follow by applying solvent.
  • Other valuable stain removal techniques include soaking a stain for a considerable time with the right solvent, tamping it with a professional spotting brush, flushing and bleaching. Bleaching, of course, must be done carefully because there is a fine line between bleaching out the stain and bleaching out the color. It’s best to try the bleach on a hidden area first, or at least check care instructions or other information to see if the fabric and dyes are likely to tolerate bleach well. Then, control the strength of the bleach, diluting with water if necessary, and keep exposure time as short as possible.

    You can do a lot to prevent soiling of vinyl or fabric upholstery by frequent vacuuming or light brushing. To do a more thorough job, use water and a mild soap, such as saddle soap, or a good commercial upholstery cleaner. If you use soap and water, soak with the solution first, leave it wet for a few minutes, then use a soft-bristle brush to scrub. Don’t use a strong chemical solvent such as acetone or lacquer thinner.

    If your vinyl walls have serious stains, you can use a household cleaner intended for washing walls. Freightliner’s owner manuals advise against any kind of abrasive cleaner such as those made for tile. Don’t use carbon tetrachloride or anything else toxic, and make sure to ventilate the cab well while working. Byler says spray cleaner and a rag will lift spots before they set.

    To make vinyl easier to keep clean, Freightliner recommends waxing vinyl upholstery with the same kind of hard wax you use on the outside of your truck, using a standard applicator, but without dampening.

    Byler offers some suggestions for the owner who wants to go the extra mile and do some simple detailing of his own:

  • Repaint suspension-type truck seats with a spray paint that matches the existing paint color if the paint underneath is ruined where they slide up and down.
  • Remove carpeting and vacuum underneath.
  • Vacuum the air vents, then remove them and soak them in soap and water. If they aren’t removable, you should clean them with a cleaning stick with a foam pad at one end. These look like a miniature sponge mop, but are small enough to fit between the slats of the vents.
  • Use Q-Tips around the dash gauges where dust collects, dipping them into a cleaner periodically to dissolve the dirt.
  • Use a detail spray, available at auto stores, to coat the steering column and similar shiny metal parts. This applies a clear coating that’ll make them shine like new.
  • Use a vinyl conditioner for the dash leatherette parts and other, similar surfaces. They’re often available at truck stops, though auto stores have a larger variety. Some kinds attract dust while others will not, so experiment with different brands. Some truck makers recommend simply using a dampened cloth and only mild detergents for cleaning the dash. Some people have found using protectants on interior plastic panels may cause tiny cracks, which can turn into major ones.
  • “Keeping an interior clean is hard work,” Byler says. “It takes a lot of dedication.” The effort is worth it, though, because it makes life more enjoyable for you and encourages the next owner to pay you more for the truck.

    A toothbrush or a Q-Tip is effective for cleaning tight spots where dust collects.


    When you get a really bad stain or an annoying smell that won’t go away, it may be time to take the truck to an expert cleaner “and pay us for our expertise,” says detailer Kevin Thomas.

    The sooner you get this work done, the easier the job will be, because stains set with time.

    In certain cases, unless you know a lot about cleaning, you could make the problem worse by damaging carpet, upholstery or other surfaces in a misguided attempt to remove a blemish. The professionals use special cleaners that can attack stains powerfully without damaging delicate interior surfaces or changing the color produced by dyes. Thomas says his company has tried various cleansers and methods in older vehicles to find remedies that are potent and safe.

    The other reasons truckers often hire detailers is because they don’t want to spend their downtime doing that kind of work, or they’re planning to sell and want to get the best possible price.

    Discuss with the detailer exactly what will be done before getting a price estimate, recommends detailer Jeff Byler. “If somebody agrees to clean your cab for $50, they often just vacuum the rugs and wipe off the dash,” he says. A proper cleaning of a high-rise sleeper interior is a four- or five-hour job, Byler estimates, and would cost about $150 at his shop. Cleaning a mid-roof sleeper is $125, a flat top $100.

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