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Choosing and building the best drying system

October 11, 2010
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Industrial-strength automotive dryers are an integral part of the carwash process, with many variables to consider when choosing and building the best possible system.

Knowing what and when to buy, as well as how to perform regular maintenance, are important factors to ensure the production of a proficiently cleaned car.

Updating your wash
A key reason why operators install new drying systems is modernization. With the technological, mechanical and structural advances in today’s automotive industry, carwashes have to adapt by supplying drying systems which are capable of managing a large array of vehicles.

There are several great incentives to prompt operators to turn to newer products. These include:

  • Reduced labor costs;
  • Lower utility bills;
  • Improved safety;
  • Superior quality;
  • Better performance; and
  • Enhanced support from the manufacturer.

It is helpful before purchasing a new system to ask dryer manufactures why their dryers are different from the competition, how effective the dryer really is and what, if any, after-sales support is offered.

Very important variables
When choosing the right model for a carwash business it is important to consider the dryer’s location. In conveyer operations, elements such as drying agents, conveyer speeds, RO (reverse osmosis) water and drip space are all factors in effective drying.

Less drip space makes dryer efficiency especially crucial, relying more on good water separation or “break” to dry vehicles properly.

Another variable in this drying process is the air itself within the tunnel. A lot of mist in the enclosure circulates wet air back onto the vehicle.

In the case of automatic carwashes, consider:

  • Drive though speed;
  • Customer control rate; and
  • Drying time.

Stand-alone dryer systems are often recommended in these operations since they allow for higher vehicle turnover. With a standard dryer, the next customer starts the wash process while the previous one is drying.

Textiles used on an industrial dryer are another important variable. Proper textiles determine the system’s maintenance aesthetics, safety and ultimately equipment life.

Carwashes are very demanding on equipment because of exposure to continuous water flow, chemicals and acids necessary to the washing process, so careful consideration must be given to the materials of a drying system or its aesthetics and longevity will be jeopardized due to these harsh conditions.

When looking at the dryer’s impeller housing, safety becomes the most important point. With the impellers rotating at 3600 RPM’s, any malfunctions may have fatal consequences.

By using ASCM class four certified explosion-proof housing, the equipment’s integrity in case of failure is insured and longevity of the entire system is increased.

Chemicals in the mix
Even when using the best drying agents, operators may not always achieve desirable drying results. Often, the wash process aids in the best outcome.

Cleaning products work together and work best when pH is balanced.

With too much alkaline in the wash process, water tends to lay flat and sheet. Without proper breaking on the surface of the vehicle the drying process is inhibited.

A proper mix of acidic agents applied through a second application arch will decrease the effect of high alkaline.

Many variables affect the balance of the wash process such as:

  • Climate;
  • Humidity;
  • Season;
  • Regional air qualities; and
  • Road surface.
Consulting with your regional supplier is recommended to assist you in properly balancing your system’s pH.

The right chemical balance in the wash process allows for the cleanest, brightest and driest results.

Maintaining your machine
Experienced operators are familiar with Murphy’s Law — when technical problems strike, carwashes are usually at their busiest.

As with any piece of carwash equipment, proper maintenance and periodic inspection will greatly reduce chances of down time due to mechanical failure.

Particular attention should be paid to the air inlet of the blower, which can create many adverse effects on the dryer’s operation if it gets blocked.

To keep the dryer running at peak performance it is important to clean this area often and inspect the impeller(s) in the blower where wax, soap and auto exhaust may build up.

Vibrations are another valuable gauge in detecting dryer problems. While all blowers produce minimal vibrations during normal operation, stronger vibrations are usually an indication of a potential problem.

Worn motor bearings, foreign objects in the blower, or a missing balance weight will all cause abnormal vibrations. If left unchecked this type of situation could lead to motor or blower damage — a very expensive repair.

Information on proper maintenance procedures regarding the motor and blower can be accessed by checking the owners’ manual.

Turn down that noise!
In order to protect employees, customers and the surrounding community, it is important to consider noise reduction precautions in carwashes.

Industrial dryers are usually considered to be the loudest equipment in the washing process, with levels measuring from 75-100 decibels. This becomes an issue when OSHA monitors noise levels anywhere at or above 85 decibels.

To resolve this problem certain dryers can come equipped with silencing packages. Some manufactures offer after —market silencing packages that can be integrated with existing systems.

Operators should also be aware of the direct relationship of the cost of operation per horsepower to kilowatt usage (1hp = 0.97 Kilowatts). Staggered starts, VFDs (variable frequency drive) and other motor load control devices help minimize demand rates and improve energy efficiency between vehicles.

In any case, operators should make sure the dryer is back up to full power before the car enters the dryer, allowing the system to be more effective.

The best way to obtain the right drying system is to be as informed as possible. Being aware of the system’s materials, decibels, enclosure, energy usage and operation allows the operator to make the most educated decision to provide the greatest drying results.

This, combined with proper machine maintenance, will produce a long-lasting, effective drying system.

Lucian “Mac” McElroy is founder and CEO of Proto-Vest in Glendale, Arizona, a company producing automotive drying systems. For more information, please e-mail Mac at