Airplane Cleaning 101

Victor Hayes - The ExpertBy Victor Hayes Popovics
Power Equipment Expert
Ultimate Washer Inc.
Last Updated: 2013-03-12

Airplane cleaning isn't your usual power washing walk in the park weekend project. Even the surface of small sized planes like a Cessna 172/182, King Air or even a Helicopter represent a large bit of real estate to clean.

Airplane Cleaning — Planes Get Dirty

Actually, planes get very dirty and the dust that settles on the surface gets streaked by rain and bird excrement. The extensive hydraulic system often leaks oil as well. Many times during a landing, pilots reverse the thrust of the engines to slow down, blowing dirty exhaust loaded with carcinogenic particles onto the plane's sides and tail. And we haven't even discussed the bug problem yet. When a plane is in the air, it plows through a lot of bugs as it makes its way from point A to point B. When the plane lands, there will be a slimy veneer of bug goo coating the surface as it taxis up to disembark passengers.

For smaller exterior airplane washing, we suggest an electric pressure washer which can effectively meet the cleaning demands a small plane poses. If you have to tackle larger planes such as a Falcon 2000, Gulfstream, Lear Jet or even the incredibly large, French manufactured Airbus A380, you may want to consider tow-behind pressure washer. They'll allow you to clean these massive craft in no time at all. Okay, maybe we're defining "no time at all" rather loosely but you get the idea. Cleaning airplanes take time but you can cut it in half by using a pressure washer.

When operating power washers, there are a couple of house keeping rules you should keep in mind. Nozzles should be kept clean at all times — extremely important because clogged nozzles can increase pump pressure and eventually damage the unit. When a nozzle is clogged, simply clean it or replace it with a new one.

Our pressure washer attachments page includes specialized cleaning tools that soak larger areas and water-actuated rotating brushes for breaking up grime with less effort.

You might wonder why it's so important to keep these jets clean — aesthetics are important but there is also something else at play. Safety. The build up of dirt and grime causes drag on a jet in flight and that cuts into fuel efficiency.


The tail is the dirtiest area and should be your starting point for aircraft cleaning. Our pressure washer attachments page includes extension wands for cleaning high areas from the ground.

  • Never use a ladder in order to pressure wash high points since the recoil from the pressure can knock you off balance.
  • Work from the top toward the bottom and from the tail toward the nose.

When aircraft washing, the best results are achieved when you compartmentalize your work - clean small sections at a time.


Airplane Cleaning

Start power washing from a distance of 3-4 feet and cover an area 3-4 feet wide. We're not going to provide a step by step on how to wash an plane — most of aircraft washing is fairly obvious. But there are a couple of areas which merit special mention. The area around the engine is always a challenge because it is generally the dirtiest. It will typically have large blackened areas caused by engine exhaust so you'll want to use extra detergent. You may find it necessary to use rotating brushes to clean the exhaust areas.


Due to the presence of the rudders, the most challenging part of detailing a plane is the tail section.

  • Make sure you move the rudders when cleaning because they obscure and cover areas of the plane that do need cleaning. It's like moving a small table on a carpet when you are vacuuming to make sure you clean the entire rug.
  • Proceed by spraying the fuselage and the body of the airplane.
  • When cleaning the fuselage (Fun Fact! Many airports will give a contractor a bonus if they pronounce fuselage correctly), start from the bottom and work your way up.


Caution: DO NOT spray the windows of an airplane, especially the windshield. The windows are made from a fine material which scratches easily. Also keep in mind that many general aviation pilots are territorial and like to wash the windshield of their own airplane. If no one specifically requests you to not wash the windows, proceed by using a soft cloth and window-approved windshield cleaner.


Wheels are another area that is sometimes forgotten.

  • Wash them thoroughly with plenty of detergent and if necessary use a brush.
  • Let the detergent sit for a couple of moments but no longer than 10 minutes.
  • Do not pressure wash an airplane in the sun while the surface is hot because a cleaning solution that sits too long may adversely affect the paint.
  • Rinse the airplane with plenty of fresh water.

A plane presents unique cleaning challenges you won't face on any other project — however, if you follow our tips and suggestions on cleaning airplanes, you'll find it a breeze!


The publisher of these pages is in no way responsible for any damage caused to you, your pressure washer, anyone else, your property, or anyone else's property by trying to implement or by successfully implementing the above-mentioned performance and services.