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Washing Forklift Batteries: Do It Yourself, Or Outsource the Task?

Washing forklift batteries is about much more than keeping up appearances. The electrolyte-infused sludge that builds up on battery cases is a conductor, meaning that a dirty battery is constantly releasing a low-level electrical charge. Over time, that wasted energy can cut down your battery's operating life by up to 50 percent, according to an environmental update by no less an authority than the U.S. Army.

So you know you have to wash your batteries. You'll need a plan to get the job done on schedule, preferably without spending a fortune. That plan starts with one of two options: You can wash forklift batteries on-site, with your own staff and your own equipment, or you can contract out the job to a third-party maintenance firm.

Both options have advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice will vary based on the size of your fleet, your staff resources, and a myriad of other day-to-day realities of today's industrial facility. To get you started, though, here's some expert analysis on each approach:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Third-Party Battery Wash Services

mobile wash stationOver time, forklift battery service providers have gotten very good at washing batteries. Many of them now own Mobile Wash Stations and portable water tanks, allowing them to wash your batteries on-site, with minimal interruption to your work.

Letting "the other guys" handle this crucial maintenance job also takes another challenge off your plate, and it's a big one: Any reputable service provider will have the equipment and the know-how to comply with all federal and local environmental laws regarding hazardous waste. Make no mistake — the runoff from washing batteries contains enough lead and other contaminants to meet the legal definition of hazardous waste in the United States. You can't just dump it in a field.

However, contracting out a recurrent task like battery washing gets expensive. And then, there's always the chance you'll end up with an incompetent or unethical vendor. That's a scary prospect for the owner of an electric forklift fleet. The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act holds the generator of hazardous waste responsible for any improper disposal, in perpetuity. Violations can lead to fines of $50,000 per day — or even land you in jail. At least with your own staff, you retain oversight of the project.

Benefits of Establishing an In-House Battery Wash Plan

You'll need three things to start washing your own forklift batteries: a <ahref="">Battery Wash Station or Cabinet, trained staff equipped with Personal Protective Equipment, and a plan to safely dispose of the runoff. There's no denying that taking the task on will involve some upfront costs.

Over time, though, you'll save money when you do it yourself. If you have a large battery fleet and don't plan on changing your motive power source, you're probably better off making the investment in your own battery wash equipment.

Not all battery wash equipment costs a fortune. Battery Wash Stations can be quite affordable. They don't share the efficiency of an automated solution, like a fully-enclosed Battery Wash Cabinet, but they allow your staff to clean batteries while safely containing all runoff and spray.

Options for handling wash-water range from a Recirculation/Neutralization System, which allows the reuse of runoff in a closed-loop system, to a complete Wastewater Recycling System, which scrubs out contaminants, allowing you to dump waste-water down any drain. Or, you could always hire a hazardous waste disposal company. . . but that decision, of course, is a whole other discussion.


RCRA Orientation Manual 2014.” EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2014. PDF. 23 Apr. 2016.

Lagana, Kelly. "7 RCRA Violations That Will Send You to Jail." Envirodailyadvisor. Business and Legal Resources, Inc., 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.