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Soap savers: Controlling chemical expenses

October 11, 2010
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The ancient alchemist's goal was to turn lead and other common metals into gold. We can find gold in our self-service washes by attending to several areas that are often neglected.

It is every operator's goal to reduce operating expenses to the lowest possible level while maintaining a first class operation.

Many expenses are beyond the control of the operator; insurance, utilities and taxes. However, chemical expenses are something that self-serve owners can partially control.

Controlling expenses

Operators have been known to spend hours fine-tuning their chemicals in an attempt to control expenses.

Chemical expenditures, along with water heating and equipment upgrades and replacement should be considered an investment rather than only an expense.

The key to the success of any carwash is first measured by the cleanliness of the customer's vehicle.

For years, detergent costs have been measured by the cost per drum, comparing the difference in prices between brands. Operators are now beginning to consider:

  • Cost per minute;
  • Concentration;
  • Performance; and
  • Convenience as a measure of true chemical costs.

With many brands of detergents, shampoos and waxes to choose from, comparison is difficult and sometimes a matter of personal preference.

There are differing:

  • Prices;
  • Levels of concentration;
  • Colors;
  • Fragrances; and
  • Performance.

One key to controlling chemical costs is selecting a chemical line whose products are designed to work together and to use the manufacturer's recommended dilution ratios.

Maintaining a self-serve site's equipment will also help the chemicals and waxes reach their peak performance and provide customers with the cleanest vehicle possible.

Chemicals and valves

Once a chemical supplier has been chosen, there are several areas where close attention may be rewarded with savings.

Two of the least expensive items in the wash are the chemical foot valves and the chemical feed tubing.

We depend on foot valves to keep our injection/dilution equipment operating properly. When a foot valve fails, proper chemical concentration is lost and wash results may visibly suffer.

Regular replacement of foot valves will keep chemical injection/dilution equipment working at its peak efficiency. The same is true for chemical feed tubing.

Feed tubing may lose its flexibility over time and begin to harden or crack and allow air to seep into the feed line causing loss of prime or uneven chemical concentrations.

Regular replacement of these basic items along with attention to nozzle wear and the water softener, offer a self-serve owner the opportunity to control expenses while improving wash results.

Nozzles affecting chemicals

Self-service bays and in-bay high-pressure automatic washes have one often-neglected component in common: nozzles. Each bay has a gun with a nozzle that controls both water flow and pattern.

Nozzles are one of the most overlooked but significant factors in the wash. They control the flow of high-pressure water, directly affecting water consumption, chemical usage and water heating costs.

Nozzles control the application and flow of chemical solutions, directly affecting chemical performance and cost. Nozzles control the spray pattern, affecting cleaning results.

Worn nozzle woes

Worn nozzles, particularly in high-pressure applications, can be the source of increased operating expenses. Nozzles don't break; they wear slowly over a long period of time.

The extent of nozzle wear at a facility can come as a surprise to an owner.

Example: With a wear of only 15 percent, one three-gallon-per-minute nozzle operating five hours a day would waste over 48,000 gallons of water.

Multiply this volume of wasted water by the number of nozzles in your wash and you can see that significant volumes of water are wasted. This waste is reflected not only in water use but also in water heating costs and chemical usage.

Detecting the problem

Although manufacturers equip their high pressure automatic washes with nozzles constructed of wear resistant materials, no nozzle is immune to wear.

If wash results at a self-serve site are not what they were when the site was new or, if there's a drop in system pressure, worn nozzles may be the cause.

Nozzle wear is difficult to detect visually. A nozzle that is worn 30 percent looks almost the same as a new nozzle until they are inspected very closely, perhaps with a magnifying glass.

Re-equipping your wash with new nozzles of the proper material, where needed, can go a long way toward reducing the cost of operating your wash and improving soap performance.

The heat is on

Water heating is another area for savings and chemical improvements. With the skyrocketing cost of natural gas, many operators are significantly lowering water temperatures, reducing natural gas consumption.

The key to maintaining cleaning while controlling costs is to use hot water where it does the most good.

Reducing water temperatures from 120ºF to 100ºF is a tempting way to save money but it may result in false savings.

Chemical manufacturers formulate their products to work best at certain temperatures. Detergents designed to work at 120ºF lose some of their cleaning power when used at lower temperatures.

By lowering the water temperature, natural gas costs are reduced, but wash results may suffer and you may have to increase detergent usage.

Rather than reducing water temperature, a better alternative may be to maintain 120ºF water but to restrict its use.

Instead of using hot water in every wash operation, minor plumbing changes can be made to restrict hot water usage to presoak, tire cleaning, and other heavy cleaning operations that will benefit the most.

Using hot water enhances high pressure washing and rinsing but they also consume large volumes of hot water. To get the benefits of heated water while minimizing its use, tempering valves can be used.

Tempering valves supply water at a specific temperature, which is adjustable in the field. The tempering valve is connected to both hot and cold water lines and delivers the water at the desired temperature by controlling the flow of each.

Chemical correlation

Soaps and waxes are an integral part of the self-serve carwash. Although wash owners may dislike the increasing costs of chemicals, they shouldn't immediately assume cutting back is the answer.

Instead, look around the wash site to see where operations can be tightened up to increase chemical performance.

Dan Kramer is the Technical Director of the Stone Soap Co., Inc. and has been with the company since the 1980's. His responsibilities include product development, product testing and instruction at the Stone Soap Car Wash Training Academy. Dan can be reached at dkramer@stonesoap.com.

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