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How Exactly School Buses are Washed [Plus Cleaning Tips]

Ever wondered what goes into washing a school bus? If you’re a bus driver or just curious about how this process works, today I’ll answer a few of the questions you may be asking about how to wash your bus or how school systems usually do this.

I’ll also include a few ways to properly wash and clean the interior and exterior of a school bus if you are a detailer looking to make extra money.

How are school buses washed?

Many school systems will pay contractors to have their fleet of school buses washed from time to time (or pay to have them washed at a truck washing facility), but many times this is a task performed by the bus driver.

Many school systems actually pay bus drivers extra to wash their buses in the summer and to keep them clean throughout the year. Depending on the budget of the school system, some even have a commercial bus washing machine for the district as a way to prolong the life of the fleet.

Automatic Bus Washing Machines

Another way to clean school buses is to use an automatic bus washing machine. These automatic bus washing systems look a lot like your typical tunnel car wash that uses either brushes or high pressure to clean vehicles, but at a much larger scale and at a commercial facility.

The money usually comes from the school district’s transportation unit, and can be one of the first cuts to a school’s budget due to the cost of washing a large fleet.

Some public school districts even rely on prisoners from the city or county jails to fulfill their public service responsibilities by scrubbing busses. Often times buses go unwashed for large periods of time, and it falls on the bus driver to keep them relatively clean which can be difficult.

With that said, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are you looking to wash the outside and inside of a school bus.

Washing the exterior of a metal school bus – soaps and products

pressure wash tar from tires

Since pretty much all school buses are made of galvanized metal painted yellow, they usually oxidize rather quickly and can be difficult to wash by hand. This is why some contracted auto detailers or fleet washing companies typically start with a touchless wash method called a two-step wash.

Usually, this starts with a low pH acid that helps to loosen stuck-on dirt, followed by a foamy, high pH detergent specifically designed to wash away this dirt without scrubbing – allowing the chemical reaction do all the work.

Some bus cleaners are also specifically made from chemicals formulated to remove dirt and dust-based soils. Others work well in removing bugs and organic debris.

Tips for washing by hand

If you are a smaller contractor or bus driver that doesn’t have access to this two-step method, most foaming soaps will do. If washing several buses, you may also want to expense a commercial-grade bus detergent that cuts through grease, soils, and oxidation that most basic car detergents simply can’t.

Can you wax a school bus?

Yes, you can wax a school bus, but be careful if there is a lot of oxidation as it can remove paint if the bus is very old. One product called Color Back. This stuff is great for removing oxidation and brightening the yellow color of a dull, faded school bus.

Cleaning wheels and tires

A soapy bucket and brush are standard protocol for tires like cars, and most degreasers will do the trick for cutting through heavy grime. Many aluminum cleaners designed for semi-trucks work well if wheels are aluminum and heavily oxidized. Simply spray on the cleaner, and allow it to sit for a few minutes before rinsing.

Cleaning the interior and maintenance

If mildew is present, a water-bleach mixture can be effective, just be careful not to stain seats or other leathers and fabrics that bleach can damage. Rubbing alcohol diluted in water and mixed in a spray bottle should do the trick for removing permanent marker, and other inks or stains found on leather or vinyl seats.

Cleaning windows

For windows, cheap glass cleaners like Windex are usually the most cost-effective, but you can also use diluted rubbing alcohol (called an IPA wipedown by detailers) if there are stains or grime the glass cleaner is having a tough time cutting through.

Pine-Sol for any wooded areas is usually a safe bet as well. Usually a mild soap and water, rubbing alcohol or even white vinegar are good options for floors and other interior areas.


If you’re in charge of cleaning school buses at your district or considering washing fleets of buses, it really does help to use a pressure washer to apply the soap and use a cleaning method that doesn’t require scrubbing if you can help it.

That being said, if you only have ten school buses to wash at a small elementary school, using a brush with an extendable handle will obviously do a better job at removing stuck on substances that soap can’t, but a two-step type of wash is the most efficient way for washing large fleets.

If you’re tasked with cleaning a large fleet of buses, it may be wise to purchase your cleaning supplies in bulk from a commercial truck washing store either online or in your area. You will be able to purchase exactly what you need for keeping your school bus clean since many of these buses are cleaned with the same products a commercial semi-truck is. Asking a truck driver what they use may also be a good idea.

I hope this post has been helpful if you are considering washing school buses or if you are a school bus driver looking for a few tips. If you are a contractor or detailer interested in partnering with schools, check out my post 8 Tips for Starting a Fleet Washing Business for Beginners. Have anything else to add? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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