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Washing Your Forklift Batteries More Than Just Clean

January 31, 2017

The obvious benefit of regularly washing your industrial forklift batteries is that they are aesthetically clean. It is however, hard to place a value on that cleanliness.

But there are other, less obvious, more valuable, benefits to regularly washing your batteries. These include longer battery life, better battery performance, and even better performance of your fork truck fleets.  How is it possible that this one discipline could have so many benefits?

I am going to cover what I have learned from talking to scores of customers and dealers on the subject of battery washing. I am also going to cite studies that have been done on battery washing.  Please feel free to respond with your experiences, whether they be similar to mine, or different.

Longer Battery Life

In the course of their use, industrial batteries leak electrolyte, especially when they are overwatered. This acidic mixture builds up on the tops of the batteries and can drip down the sides of the batteries and onto equipment and floors. If this acid is allowed to remain on the batteries, it acts as a conductor, and begins to discharge the battery even while it sits in the charging stand. One study measured voltages of this power trickle between 14 and 34 volts across the tops of batteries.  This same study measured a drop to just 2.3 volts after a battery is washed.

It is well established that high temperature is a key inhibitor of battery life. One study showed that washing batteries reduced battery temperature by an average of 4 degrees.  Lower battery temperature leads to longer battery life.  A nice side benefit of battery washing.

Finally, acid on the batteries corrodes the terminals and reduces their effective lives. It is estimated that regular battery washing may add as much as 50% to the useful lives of your battery fleet.  One study showed that required replacement of contact tips was reduced by 40% with regular battery washing.  This same study recorded that regular washing added an average of 2 years to the lives of the batteries in their fleet.  In this battery fleet, 75% of the downtime incidents were related to corrosion issues.

Protection of Fork Trucks

Batteries used while they exhibit external corrosion from acid build-up can damage fork lift electronics. Directly, transference of dried battery acid can cause shorts in the trucks electrical systems.  Indirectly, tarnished terminals prevent batteries from fully charging, and undercharged batteries can damage fork truck components and electrical systems.  One study showed that regular battery washing reduced fork lift maintenance issues due to battery acid corrosion to “almost zero”.

Protection of Warehouse Workers

The dried electrolyte on the surface of batteries can readily cause chemical burns to bare skin. Regular washing of your batteries will limit this surface electrolyte, keeping your workers safe. As a new guy in the industry, I ruined 2 pair of pants before I realized that the white stuff was not good for me or my clothes.

Once You Decide To Wash — How To Implement?

Once you are convinced of the benefits, both hard dollar and soft, of instituting a regular battery washing regimen, the question turns to how to implement this initiative? Knowing the extensive and punitive OSHA and EPA regulations on the handling, shipping and disposal of hazardous fluids, it is highly beneficial to utilize a closed loop system.  This sort of process, employs a Water Treatment and Recirculation System.  This system, labeled WRS for Water Recirculating System by Sackett, cleans and filters the water.  This removes contaminants as well as balances the pH levels of the water, allowing for its immediate reuse.  The system minimizes the need to dispose of contaminated water, which can run $2-3 or more per gallon to dispose of as wastewater.  There is some controversy here as some municipalities further restrict neutralized waste water from being discharged into the sewage system.  If you find yourself in this situation, you may need a water treatment system which removes the heavy metals and other contaminants from the water.

Many of our customers rely on their trusted battery dealer to perform regular washings of batteries in their facility. The huge advantage there is that the DC does not usually have to worry about wastewater disposal, or trouble its employees with the messiness of the battery wash operation.

A Washer Or a Rinser?

One of the hard truths of battery “washing” is that automatic washing systems — anyone’s automatic washing systems – are in fact, battery rinsers. Caked on battery acid will not be removed in automatic washer systems.   Sackett provides a power scrub brush as part of the system, acknowledging to the user that manual scrubbing is usually necessary to remove dried acid build-up.  Numerous customers have asked if it is possible to develop an effective “dishwasher type” automatic battery wash system.  The answer is YES but you would not be willing to pay for it.

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