The ultimate guide to cleaning plastic pallets

Plastic pallets, pallet boxes and crates are indispensable for transporting and storing goods, medicines, foods, and drinks and are used repeatedly in a wide range of industries.

Plastic pallets, as opposed to wooden ones, are increasingly chosen for their durability and reusability and because they come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and forms to suit the different needs of each industry. They are also non-porous, so in industries where hygiene is paramount, plastic pallets can be easily cleaned, ensuring they are free from bacteria.

Like any other tool or piece of equipment, regular maintenance and cleaning are essential for maintaining integrity, hygiene, and longevity and for preventing contamination during handling.

This blog tells you everything you need to know about keeping plastic pallets clean.

The ultimate guide to cleaning plastic pallets

Why should you clean plastic pallets?

It’s impossible to avoid the build-up of dirt, grime, dust and grease on plastic pallets when they are in use across the manufacturing process or supply chain. However, the robust construction of plastic pallets and the polymers they are made from mean they can withstand and benefit from regular washing over many years and cycles of use.

There are several reasons why it’s important to keep plastic pallets clean. Firstly, clean pallets are easier to handle, stack and transport, helping to minimise accidents during handling.

Secondly, where hygiene is critical, regular cleaning of pallets helps minimise contamination during WIP (work in progress) transit and storage. Any compromise in cleanliness could lead to foodborne illnesses, which, in turn, could result in substantial legal costs and reputational damage. Where hygiene is strictly regulated, one dirty pallet could impact an entire shipment.

In addition, regular cleaning is helpful to maintaining the integrity of the pallets and extending their lifespan. Plastic pallets have a typical lifespan of up to and beyond ten years, if they are well maintained and kept clean. Cleanliness also says what type of company you are. It can impress customers, and a clean work environment helps with productivity and pride in the task.

Are there different ways to clean plastic pallets?

Pallets can be cleaned in one of three ways – manually with water and anti-bacterial detergent, with a pressure washer, or washed, dried and sanitised using automated high-pressure washers.

How you clean a pallet will not only depend on the application, but also the product type.

Open-decked pallets enable water and cleaning products to pass through and reach every surface. Meanwhile, closed-deck pallets have a smooth surface, which is easier to clean, however, as the water cannot pass directly though the pallet, you will be required to turn it over and wash inside too (if cleaning manually).

Some pallets are now entirely sealed with smooth surfaces and have no pockets or areas where dirt or dust can collect. This type of design is preferential in some industries. For example, hygienic plastic pallets are designed to meet the stringent requirements of food and pharmaceutical applications.

What is the best way to clean plastic pallets manually?

The manual cleaning of pallets involves a couple of simple steps and a bit of elbow grease. There are person-hours involved, but it’s still a cost-effective way for many businesses to clean pallets, especially for smaller businesses, and where strict hygiene rules aren’t so much of an issue.

Using a hose with a jet attachment is best. Make sure staff wear gloves so that detergent doesn’t irritate skin and be sure to carry out cleaning in an area that drains water well.

What are the pros and cons of manual pallet cleaning?

Advantages of cleaning plastic pallets manually:

• Manual pallet cleaning does not require significant investment and can be done with simple equipment, making it more economical for smaller operations.
• Washing pallets manually ensures specific areas that hold more grime and dirt can be given more attention.

Disadvantages of cleaning plastic pallets manually:

• The most significant disadvantages of manual pallet cleaning are time and labour intensity.
• Consistency of cleaning can be an issue, especially if different people are involved.
• Worker safety might be compromised regarding lifting heavy pallets and using detergents.
• Manual washing may not be suitable/too time-consuming for large volumes.

Pressure washing plastic pallets

Pressure washing with warm water and detergents can effectively removes spills, residue, and dust contaminants from plastic pallets, which typically gather over time. Heat is an effective cleaning medium because it kills bacteria and sanitises. Where pallets are reused for different shipments, this is important as you do not want to risk mixing various chemicals or pharmaceuticals.

What are the pros and cons of pallet cleaning using a pressure washer?

Advantages of cleaning plastic pallets using hot water and pressure:

• Pressure washing is an efficient way to remove dirt from a pallet’s surfaces.
• Cleans hard-to-reach areas.
• Eco-friendly – can clean without the use of chemicals.
• It is less time-consuming and more effective than manual cleaning.

Disadvantages of cleaning plastic pallets using hot water and pressure:

• A designated area is required for the cleaning to take place.
• There is an initial cost involved for the equipment.
• Requires labour/manual operation.

Using automated high-pressure washers to clean plastic pallets

Industrial pallet washers are specialist pieces of equipment used to ensure plastic pallets are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised. They are most used in the food and drinks, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing industries and sometimes in logistics, especially in large warehouses where cleanliness is prioritised.

In the food and beverage industry and pharmaceuticals, the cleanliness of plastic pallets is critical to prevent the spread of bacteria and other contaminants that could cause food poisoning. Vigorous cleaning and water and steam at high temperatures are beneficial for ensuring plastic pallets are kept free from bacteria and other pathogens.

There are many different types and models of pallet washers, from simple ‘one-pallet-at-a-time’ manual feed washers, to large, complex machines that handle high-volume cleaning. Machine suitability is generally determined by the type of pallets used, the frequency of use, and the capacity required.

Some industrial washers have automatic loading and unloading, stackers, remote control operation, and self-cleaning cycles. Usually, a conveyor system moves the pallets through the cleaning process. Some models have rotary brushes that help to remove stubborn grime and contaminants.

What are the stages of industrial pallet washing?

Like the manual process of pallet cleaning, pallets go through a series of steps in industrial washers. Most industrial pallet washers have a three-wash zone. There is also usually a drying zone.

Zone 1—pre-wash: High-pressure water removes loose dirt and debris from the surface of the plastic pallet or plastic crate.
Zone 2 – main wash: High-pressure hot water removes any remaining contaminants. If detergent is involved, it will be introduced in this zone.
Zone 3 – rinse: Clean water removes any residual soap or detergent from the surface of the pallet.
Zone 4 – drying: Pallets are dried using hot air and residual heat.

What are the pros and cons of Industrial pallet washing machines?

Advantages of automatic pallet washing:

• Saves valuable time – an industrial pallet washing machine can handle large volumes of pallets with less labour required.
• The cleaning process is standardised, so the washing of plastic pallets is consistent, offering uniform results.
• Such machinery can optimise high-pressure jets, rotary brushes, high temperatures, and sanitising sprays, making it highly efficient and effective.
• Accidents caused by the manual handling of pallets and chemical exposure from cleaning substances can be prevented or minimised.
• Environmentally friendly – automatic pallet washers use less water and chemicals.
• There are numerous models to suit needs and number of pallets that need to be washed. They can also be used to clean other equipment

Disadvantages of automatic pallet washing:

• The most obvious disadvantage is cost – there is considerable capital investment involved.
• Space – a designated area for cleaning that is big enough to accommodate the machinery is required.

Need advice on the type of plastic pallets most suitable for your cleaning processes?

Contact our knowledgeable team, who will walk you through our product range. We offer the UK’s most extensive range of Plastic Pallets, Plastic Pallet Boxes, Small Containers, Crates, and Trays.