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Can our industry embrace waterless washing?

October 11, 2010
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In recent months there has been a resurgence of the waterless wash concept that was most widely introduced to consumers in the 90s as an alternative carwash product. It was not looked upon by professionals as anything more than a fad.

However, with today’s drought conditions in many states and the “green movement,” waterless washing looms as an attractive option to the consumer. How does this affect professional carwashes and detail operations that use water as their major component for cleaning?

Growing relevancy
Back in the 90s, detailers, carwash operators and myself laughed at the waterless carwash concept as another multi-level marketing scheme to bilk the public. How could you possibly clean dirty vehicles without water? Or, how could you clean a dirty vehicle without scratching?

Then, in the early 2000s, several franchise companies out of Argentina, Australia and England came on the scene selling waterless wash franchises, or “water-smart” businesses, where the franchisee would set up a wash operation in a mall parking garage or large office building, etc. After success abroad, some of the franchisors have moved into the USA creating a number of operations all over the country as well as Canada.

Although a good portion of industry professionals continue to look at these products with a great deal of skepticism, water authorities and governments across the country — especially in California and Nevada where water shortages are posing a real threat to residents — are giving these waterless solutions a great deal of attention.

If you can’t beat them, join them
So what can professional, fixed-location detail and carwash operations do about this growing competition? It seems to me that today’s detailer or carwash operator can’t beat this new carwash solution. Why expend energy trying when their concept is so environmentally sound? It would be like waging a negative political campaign. We find the voters do not take well to this type of bashing.

The alternative is to “join them.” In other words, I recommend you set up your own waterless wash operation under your carwash name in malls, garages, etc. The established detailer or carwash operator has the advantage of having a reputation as a professional and is able to capitalize on the customer base and name brand already created.

Not only do you keep the business the waterless wash operations are taking away from you now and in the future, but you also have a chance to educate the customer to benefits of both traditional and waterless washing.

What does it take?
The best part for an existing operator is that it does not take much to set up a waterless wash operation.

The key element is the waterless wash solution (chemical). I recommend testing several brands and choosing the product that works best for you. You will also need a large stock of micro-fiber towels. Microfiber towels pick up the dirt that is emulsified in the chemical without scratching the paint.

Many waterless wash operations use a simple plastic spray bottle to apply the chemical, but I do not recommend this process for a number of reasons. First, it is time-consuming as well as fatiguing to the person applying the chemical; and secondly, and more importantly, you get an inconsistent and uneven application of waterless wash solution on the vehicle.

Instead some operators are using stainless steel pressure tanks or electric sprayers to apply the chemical. Also, some companies are working on systems that utilize a spray gun that will apply an even coat of solution as well as conserving on chemical.

There you have it, simply speaking, all you will need to set up a waterless wash operation in your area that includes:

  • Waterless wash solution;
  • Micro-fiber towels;
  • An application system; and
  • A location agreement/rental space.

As well, you might want to have a shop vacuum for the interior, glass cleaner for the windows and some dressing for the tires and interior.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors.
Abraham can be contacted at