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Catching up with chemistry

March 01, 2012
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Correct chemistry is a basic carwash necessity. In fact, using properly mixed chemicals may be the most important step a carwash owner can take to ensure customer satisfaction. A thorough cleaning with proper chemistry will make any carwash a bargain, but an unsuccessful wash with poorly mixed soaps and services will make a carwash completely worthless.

Next to water, chemicals are the most important part of the wash process. And the growing carwash chemistry marketplace is a testament to owners and operators actively searching for soaps and services that will make customers happy without busting the bottom line.

Common chemistry

Cleaning, of course, would be the number one use of chemistry in a carwash, Ken Bucher, president of Warsaw Chemical Co. Inc., said. But modern chemistry includes many value-added services that are also a benefit to customer vehicles. A few of these services are:

  • Clear coat protectants;
  • Tire shiners;
  • Drying agents; and
  • Wheel cleaners.

A few of the chemical improvements that have been made to these services include better clear coat protectant technology with longer lasting and higher shine effects, wheel cleaners which can be used effectively without worrying about damage and water based tire dressings with no flammability risks, Bucher stated.

"Today's chemistry is far more enhanced and specialized for specific functions," Dan Blessing, president of Arcadian Services Inc., said. "When we first started … in the 70s most washes offered three products, and they cleaned everything with those three items." Today there are over a 100 products and many are designed to perform specific cleaning functions.

In the current market, owners must do all they can to compete and reduce costs where possible. Blessing noted that today's chemicals need to perform far beyond expectations and at prices that enhance the bottom line. Here, updated powders have opened new doors for wash owners, and the cost per car is dropping so dramatically that most wash owners cannot afford to skip testing these new cleaning methods.

Time for titration

"Proper titration testing is imperative today on most of your cleaning products," Blessing said. "For too long wash owners felt that 'if it foams, we are good.' That simply has nothing to do with cleaning." In fact, each chemical product that is designed for a specific purpose will work only when applied at the required ratio. Titration testing assures that a product is being applied at the proper levels.

While products that are too weak will not clean or perform well, products that are too strong can cause other problems, Bucher said. Using too much chemical in a wash can create spotting or streaking on cars. Also, it is a huge waste of chemicals, which basically equates to an owner pouring dollars down the drain.

Bucher explained that titration kits are available from the chemical supplier, and these kits come with a complete set of instructions enabling operators to perform checks themselves. Most distributors will perform a periodic titration check to ensure that products are set up correctly as well.

Blessing recommended using the titration kit designed for the product being testing. "When you use the titration kit designed for the specific product, you will see far more accurate results," he said. Owners are also encouraged to keep a log of their testing so they can monitor for changes in comparison to performance.

There are a number of factors that can change the concentration of a product. Blessing has seen more variances recently in titration testing due to the fluctuation of water or differences in water from different municipalities or water supplies. "This can make a variance in your titration test from the recommended factory ratio." In addition, a product's concentration can be affected by:

  • Temperature;
  • Time of year;
  • Distance from use; and
  • Type of injection.

Improving and saving

Bucher said recent improvements in the chemistry market include better performance of surfactants for better cleaning and the improved performance of clear coat protectants and other value-added products. The increased performance of these chemicals offered operators a better value for dollars spent.

In addition, chemistry helped owners make money with more value added services, in turn creating higher revenues. Butcher noted that more concentrated products helped reduce shipping costs, and reclaim-friendly chemistry aided operators in saving on water costs.

The range of speciality chemical products that wash owners now have access to has given them the ability to find a product specifically designed for a cleaning task and environment, Blessing explained. There has also been a resurgence of powder products. "We have always felt that if owners would be open to 'revisiting' the use of powders, as [they were] used so strongly in this industry 20 to 30 years ago, they would find a wholly different type of cleaning, and in most cases a dramatic cost savings," he said.

The newest powders combine the strengths of powders and liquids and provide great cleaning and costs savings, Blessing continued. This can help change the outlook of an owner who is facing severe financial straits in this economy. "There are many products that clean fairly good but very few that clean great," he said. "The goal is to get great cleaning at a great price — that is a winner for everyone."

Future trends

Upcoming chemistry trends in the industry will include whole new lines of product specifically designed to perform well yet reduce costs. There is a developing process of releasing more products that challenge owners to rethink how and what type of products they use. Blessing stated that operators' open-mindedness to this new concept can dramatically change their financial position due to savings, customer satisfaction and repeat business.

But will the green trend continue in the chemistry industry? "I have very strong feelings about [this] and they don't align with most of the thoughts out there," Blessing said. "I have seen that in many cases the 'green' products simply don't perform to the levels that washes need for true success. It means nothing for a chemical company or salesperson to brag about the cleaning of their 'green' product when the customer doesn't return because the car is not cleaned properly."

Thus, Blessing feels that, in many cases, the desire to claim "green" far exceeds the ability of the chemicals to perform. "Many claims are made but reality states that we simply are not where we need to be yet, where 'green' and 'real performance' can be used in the same sentence," he said.

Bucher said he that believes the green trend will continue, but it will be driven by surfactant manufacturers rather than end users. Other trends he sees looking forward include more concentrated products to reduce container and shipping costs, replacement of harsh acids with effective but safer materials, improved cleaning touch-free operations and better performance for drying agents and protectants.

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