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Don't know much about chemistry…

October 11, 2010
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Rising gas prices, adverse weather, a sluggish economy… they all mean one thing for carwash owners: lower volumes. Compound these problems by adding the increases in food and other daily living expenses, and you’re facing some pretty steep hurdles this quarter.

For touchless IBA operators, this means revising the game plan for 2008. Some have increased pricing, some have upgraded their facility to attract business. Others have increased or improved marketing efforts to attract more business.

And still many are taking a hard look at their operating costs, including water, sewer, power and chemicals, to find more wiggle room. But before you reduce the amount of chemical you are using, remember you are also sacrificing quality and potentially losing business. First, you need to understand the chemical process to find the real methods to decrease your bottom line.

The same, but different
“They are all the same, they are all different.” That’s one of my favorite sayings regarding carwashes in general, and nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to touchless cleaning in particular.

The basic factors that affect cleaning in any wash are particularly critical in a touchless process. Chemistry, temperature, time, water quality, and impingement or water pressure are all variables affecting your overall wash quality. This article will focus on the chemistry aspect of this equation, but the other factors cannot be ignored.

If you reduce the temperature of your pre-soaks it may require additional chemical or dwell time to maintain cleaning. If you reduce your dwell time to increase throughput you will have to increase the strength of your cleaning solutions.

If you do not maintain your water softener properly and reduce its ability to soften your water you will need to boost your chemicals. If you change nozzle sizes or reduce pressure to save water you may need to adjust your chemicals.

Your ability to produce clean, dry vehicles depends on the proper interaction of all these factors. As you can see, any changes in one will require adjustments in others to maintain quality.

The proper chemical set up
The proper chemical set up for a touchless automatic involves creating the proper balance among pre-soaks, trifoams, and sealant/protectants or super sealants. Any changes to any of those products could adversely affect cleaning and/or drying. Perhaps the most popular presoak set up for touch free automatics is the two step process of a low pH (acidic) pass followed by high pH (alkaline) pass. Some reverse that order and still others use two high pH passes.

Regardless of what approach you prefer, it is essential that you maintain the proper chemical balance between the two passes.

Make sure the chemicals are compatible with each other and work together in the cleaning process. Normally you will have no compatibility problems if the products are from the same manufacturer. If you are using two different suppliers for your presoaks be sure check with them on compatibility issues. Some of the possible compatibility issues you may experience are decreased show (foaming), creating solid residue particles on the surface due to the reaction of the chemicals to each other or creating problems in the pits or reclaim system.

A good drying is important, too
Other than doing the best job possible cleaning the vehicle, you want to get the best possible results drying. Drying is normally more difficult with the wash packages that do not include sealants/trifoams. The usage of the proper sealant/trifoam can increase drying capabilities, however, when trifoams are not applied, one must be sure they are doing all they can in the wash process to create the best drying conditions.

The drying ability of protectants or super sealants is greatly improved if the surface pH is either neutral or acidic. Ideally, if you are using both an acid and alkaline pre-soak the resulting surface pH will be as close to neutral or slightly acidic. If you are using two passes of an alkaline presoak it is essential that the vehicle be rinsed as much as possible before the protectant/sealant is applied to reduce the concentration of your surface alkalinity.

When used properly, trifoams can create positive drying conditions. If you are using the low/high approach you may want to consider using low pH conditioners or foams in your trifoams to bring the surface alkalinity down. If you are using the high/low system you may be able to use a less expensive conditioner or foam for your trifoams as long as they do not significantly increase surface alkalinity. If you are using the high/high approach it is very important that you use low ph trifoams.

If you are still having rinsing or drying issues you may want to consider using a foaming clear coat protectant as one of the trifoams. In addition to enhancing drying, a foaming clear coat protectant will also assist in rinsing off the foams especially from areas where your rinse pass does not hit directly like door jambs and open spaces on the hood and trunk.

Be sure to balance cost considerations
I have saved the cost issue until last. In addition to balancing your chemicals, one must also balance cost considerations especially in a touchless automatic where chemical costs are higher than with friction. Unless you are adept with the application of chemicals, the money you might save buying direct or using low cost chemicals may be lost in cleaning/drying ability and ultimately satisfied customers. There are some very good products available that are produced locally or available on a direct basis but unless they are applied properly the money that may be saved way are lost in poor performance. If you are not comfortable with chemical application a good chemical rep should be cost competitive while at the same time use their skills to produce the best possible results in your machine.

Success in today’s carwash industry requires the skill and attention of the operator. At the heart of that success is producing a clean, dry vehicle at the best cost. Knowing the chemical basics as I have presented will hopefully help you better understand the cleaning process in your touchless automatic.


Ron Holub has been in the carwash industry for almost 30 years, working for several national carwash chemical companies, owning a carwash and detail supply company, and serving as a general manager for a national carwash chain. He currently works for Townco Washing Systems in the Atlanta area and can be reached at rph9168@aol.com.

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