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Foaming at the wash

October 11, 2010
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Some years ago the foam brush arrived in the U.S. and began to appear in automatic in-bay and conveyor carwashes. Foam was an imported technology originally developed in Europe and used most successfully with automatic in-bays.

As we now know, foam has been a tremendously successful product and has gained acceptance from customers and operators in all markets.

The reason for this success was the soft and gentle impression foam left with the customer. Instead of beating the car clean with what was essentially a wet rag, carwashes could softly and gently clean the vehicle with material similar to the foam used on a computer mouse pad.

However, as with any new technology in the industry, foam had to deal with some initial teething problems. These problems related to cleaning ability and the durability of the foam itself.

For the most part, these problems have been overcome and we are now moving forward with improved and better performing materials.

Foam R&D
So where do we go from here?

Current foam brushes address damage-related problems that used to drive operators nuts. Those were also the prime concerns of customers who worried harsh brushes would harm their vehicle.

Foam brushes do not scratch. They clean softly and gently. Unlike their old counterparts, these brushes don’t tug on mirrors, antennas, loose trim or license plates.

The customer can experience a great wash without the worry of vehicle damage from cloth and bristle.

However, in solving this old problem, the industry is challenged with a new one. Foam materials do not clean as well as previous types.

A lot of current research and development focuses on finding a material which not only minimizes damage to the vehicle, but guarantees the best wash.

The current trend is to increase the density (weight) of the foam so it is more effective as a cleaning media. But be careful. Too much weight means damage.

Carwash equipment manufacturers are constantly developing and testing new and better formulas and designs.

Customer preference
Industry professionals are finding that foam brushes are a safe, effective and economical choice preferred by the customer over any other type of brush.

The great news is all this development is raising the bar in terms of the quality of clean operators can offer the public. We have to leave the customer with a good impression, which can be defined as a gentle and soft cleaning process that produces a very clean car.

What lies ahead for carwashing industry technology is a combination of correct chemical application, high pressure for areas where foam brushes are weak and packing as many foam brushes as you can into a tunnel.

Today’s modern tunnels and rollover machines use all of this technology to get clean cars. This is great news for operators and for the carwashing industry in general.

Our most pressing issues in the “touch” side of the industry stem from a bad image from the past and huge reliance on manual prepping and labor. Foam brushes distance us from that legacy and provide a promising and viable future for both customer and operator.


Vince MacNeil is vice president of MacNeil Wash Systems. He has been involved with the car care business for the past 25 years and can be reached at vince@macneilwash.com.

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