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When it comes to in-bay automatics, the right detergent settings to use are largely determined by whether you use friction or touchless equipment. The keys to cleaning are:
Chemical action (provided by detergents that emulsify and lift dirt and grime off the car)
Water quality (soft water cleans better) and temperature (cleaning improves at warmer temperatures)
Physical action (friction from cloths or brushes, or water pressure in touchless washes)
Touchless washes rely less on physical action and more on the other components of cleaning. So for these applications, good cleaning only happens when high quality detergents are correctly applied. In other words: you've got to use the good stuff, and you've got to use it right. If your detergent is not strong, effective, and formulated for touchless applications, it will not get the job done. In addition, soft water (less than 3 grains) should always be used, and ideally your presoak should be heated. The physical action in touchless washes is provided by the high pressure impingement of water in the rinse step. It is important to optimize this action by maintaining good nozzle pressure and settings to give the best power rinse possible.
If you use a friction wash, you will want to use an alkaline presoak that offers lubricity for your friction components, along with good hard surface cleaning surfactants. The presoak should be set at a more moderate strength than for touchless washes, since it will act in concert with the application of friction to clean the car. For the second soap pass or conditioner step, you might consider a mildly acid (low pH) product to prepare the car for drying.
The Two Schools of Thought on Two-Step Cleaning
Often when a two-step process is used to attack a wide range of soils, an acid detergent is applied first followed by an alkaline detergent. However, starting with an alkaline pass and following with an acid pass has gained a following for a couple of reasons. First, alkaline products work best when applied to a dry car and allowed some dwell time. Second, acid detergents will set up a low pH environment that aids in the drying process. Just be sure that adequate rinsing is applied after the alkaline detergent application. Whatever approach you prefer, it must be tested to ensure good cleaning with the unique conditions at your wash site.
Remember to Provide Some Aromatherapy!
Finally, whether your in-bay is friction or touchless, all products should provide fragrances, because your customer stays in the car and the fragrance will come in through the air vents. So let your customer enjoy a little aromatherapy while you refresh their car!
Laurie Sherman is Co-owner of Blendco Systems, LLC. Blendco manufactures a full line of detergents and waxes for the professional carwash industry. You can contact Blendco at: www.blendco.com.