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University of Minnesota Extension

Cleaning tractors and farm machinery

The importance of cleaning tractors and farm machinery

Often farmers and farm employees are working on full schedules with short windows of opportunity. Washing equipment can be low on the priority list. However, keeping tractors and equipment clean is crucial for farm safety, particularly for biosecurity purposes, to avoid cross-contamination, and to prevent machinery fires.

Vehicle tires, undercarriages, grills, floors, and accessories can carry diseases, pests or weeds in plant material and manure. Proper and safe washing takes a little time, but it is important for success and productivity.

Biosecurity of on-farm equipment includes frequent washing

When equipment is used on-farm but shared between livestock buildings and barns, it is extremely important to wash all parts of the machinery each time it is used in a different location on the farm to prevent the spread of bacteria and disease.

Follow any wash down with a broad-spectrum disinfectant. The regular use of a suitable disinfectant is important and most effective when applied to a visually clean surface. This will further reduce the risk of spreading less visible threats.

Cross-contamination between fields can be a real threat to yield

Washing equipment between fields is necessary to reduce the chances of cross-contamination of weeds and pests. Planting, tillage, and equipment such as ATV’s can be sources of field-to-field contamination.

Because mud and debris can accumulate on equipment it’s important to regularly clean and wash all equipment to reduce the spread of weed seed, bacterial pathogens, disease and pests.

Reduce machinery fire risk

Dry weather can be persistent during harvesting, and debris and dry matter may accumulate on combines and hay harvesting equipment. Cleaning dry plant material and excess dust from machinery may reduce the chances of combustion on the warm engine and prevent major farm equipment fires.

The basics of cleaning and washing farm machinery

  • Always use the proper personal protective equipment, PPE, to protect yourself from cleaning agents, loud noises and trauma.
    • PPE should include protective outer clothing, gloves, eye protection, ear protection and respirators if necessary.
  • Set up a safe area away from livestock, barns and crops to protect from unwanted contamination.
  • Make sure wastewater is pumped and collected and disposed of properly. Direct runoff away from any pens, paddocks, crops and waterways.
  • Keep a vehicle and machinery cleaning log as part of your farm recordkeeping.
  • Always pre-clean any borrowed equipment before using it on your farm or property.
  • Remove dry materials from equipment as soon as possible.
    • Use a blower or air compressor to blow unwanted dry material from the equipment prior to washing. This can help prevent caking and buildup of matter.
  • Where recommended, use a high-quality soap, foam or disinfectant to further reduce the risk of viruses, spores or bacteria.
  • Dismantle machinery to access internal spaces where possible. Clean from top to bottom using a high-pressure washer. If high-pressure washing is not possible, use a bucket of soapy water to hand wash, then rinse with a hose.
    • Take particular caution not to damage any sensors or sensitive electronic equipment during washing.
    • Be sure to replace all pieces and parts that were removed during washing.

Reviewed in 2022

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