Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Increasing profits by reducing consumption

We will take a look at what can be done to substantially reduce water and sewer consumption in a carwash and subsequently increase your profit margin.

September 23, 2013

There is no doubt that water has become more and more valuable in the last decade. Water and sewer costs have continued to skyrocket with little sign of coming back down. With the ongoing droughts that seem to be creating distress across the nation, water has become an important issue to all carwashes in one way or another. Water conservation measures such as restricted operating hours, shut downs, drastic increases in water and sewer prices and outrageous impact fees or fines have most of operators looking for answers on how we can conserve water to avoid these situations. Even in areas that are not prone to droughts, the availability and price of water and sewer seem to be skyrocketing Water is the single most important component for washing cars, period. You can wash a car without pressure wands and automated machines, you can even wash cars without soap, but you simply cannot wash cars without water.

By reducing your water consumption, you also reduce your operating costs, which is a direct increase in profits. (We all like that!) Below, we will take a look at what can be done to substantially reduce water and sewer consumption in a carwash and subsequently increase your profit margin.

What can the owner/ operator do to reduce water consumption?

Bear in mind, most sewer bills are derived from water consumption too. When you reduce water consumption, you are most likely going to reduce high sewer cost at the same time. Below we will discuss several steps operators can take to effectively reduce water consumption and sewer discharge in a carwash.

Installing high pressure, low volume spray tips is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to conserve water. Changing spray tips can help reduce water consumption by as much as 25 percent depending on what tips were originally being used. The customer will still get the cleaning power and probably won’t even realize the wash is using less water.

Another relatively easy and inexpensive way to save water is to identify and utilize alternative ways to use water that would normally have gone to drain.

RO (spot free) “reject” water can be reused as a pre-rinse, or brought back in for the wash cycles. Typically, for every gallon of “spot free” water being produced, there are two gallons of “reject” water going to drain. A simple holding tank and re-pressurization system can be utilized to reuse this water, thus reducing the demand for new water.

By far, the best water saving device one can implement in a carwash is a water reclaim system. Recycling water is the most effective means for reducing water consumption, sewer discharge and reducing high sewer impact fees.

Saving water, saving money

When done properly, recycling water can make very good business sense. A 60 percent to 90 percent savings in water and sewer bills alone can be the driving force that motivates owners to enrolling in a water-recycling program.

In addition, recycling water can be a very easy and effective means for carwash operators to meet and resolve conservation and environmental standards. These savings are sometimes substantially more than the cost of a recycling system itself, offering a quick return on investment and a substantial increase in profits. Due to the learning curve of reclaim technology, water recycling seems to have gotten somewhat of a bad name in years past. Many systems are too expensive or produce water that looks and smells dirty, often driving customers away and/or creating maintenance nightmares. New technologies have addressed these issues and some companies now provide equipment that resolves most or all of the issues. Some carwash owner’s take on additional risks when recycling because there is no control of what goes down their drains. The “Midnight Dumper” as known in the industry, promotes a fear for recycling with many self-service operators. These midnight dumpers have been known to change engine oil, empty RV holding tanks, dump buckets of paint, empty carpet cleaning trucks and even clean their kill after a weekend of hunting in the wash bays, all of which could be detrimental to a lot of water reclaim systems. The dumping usually takes place when no one is around, hence the name midnight dumper

When recycling water, such acts can leave the operator up in arms with the burden and responsibility of dealing with aftermath of these negligent customers. However, there are several measures that can greatly reduce or eliminate this type of dumping and allow for a very successful water-recycling program in most carwash environments.

Posting signs and / or surveillance cameras (even fake ones) are usually effective methods for detouring and greatly reducing illegal dumping, but still offer no guarantees.

Another helpful method is to divert the bay pit drains to sewer during off hours. By recycling during day hours and opening a valve to drain to sewer during off hours, the risk of contaminating the reclaim system can be greatly minimized. The greatest measure one can take is to ensure the reclaim system purchased can be easily recovered from such contaminants. Check with the reclaim system manufacturer prior to buying the reclaim equipment. Ask what will be required and how much it will cost to revive the system if someone contaminates the water. Some reclaim systems can require a complete overhaul at great expense and possible downtime. If the manufacturer is reluctant or hesitates to reclaim a carwash, he probably has good reason, look for the flags.

When recycling water, typically you will have some excess water to get rid of. This water is usually routed to the sewer or septic system. A great alternative is to put the water to another good use, property irrigation. This ensures your plants and shrubs look good year round.

However, irrigation is only acceptable if the water quality meets local and/or state guidelines. Have your reclaim company submit water quality analysis to your local authority to be sure it is acceptable at your location.

What to consider before making the investment

If the benefits of recycling water are attractive to the carwash operator, there are also a few other guidelines that should be addressed with the reclaim system manufacturer prior to making the investment.

Odor control: Foul water odor often associated with reclaiming is one of the fastest ways to lose customers. Be sure the system addresses complete odor control. Get an odor control guarantee in writing from the manufacturer. Beware if they cannot or will not offer an odor control guarantee with the equipment.

Particulate filtration: Be sure the system will filter to below 10 microns. Many carwash equipment manufacturers require this parameter to warranty their pumps and equipment. Larger particles such as sand and dirt can harm pumps and prematurely wear out spray tips.

Maintenance: Be sure the maintenance isn’t going to cost you more time and money than it’s worth. What’s the point in recycling if you have to babysit the equipment? Beware of those promoting a “no maintenance” reclaim system. There are no “magical” water treatment systems. All reclaim systems will require some sort of maintenance whether it’s changing filters periodically or pumping the tanks and starting with new water.

Backwashing: Systems that automatically backwash are usually flushing the dirt directly back to the tank water it was just removed from. Although backwashing can reduce maintenance, there are tradeoffs that can be very time-consuming and costly to the operator. Monthly pumping of tanks and clogged sewer lines are common with automatic backwashing systems that don’t properly address the backwash. Many cities do not allow backwash to go to sewer at all. Find out upfront where this effluent is being disposed of. Be sure you can accommodate the discharge methods offered for a reasonable price. And once again, foreign materials can also be detrimental to backwashing systems and media filters.

Space: Be sure you have space for the reclaim system. Some systems are cumbersome and require more space than an equipment room can offer. Although some reclaim systems can be placed outside or in-bay, keep in mind that freeze protection may be required.

Tanking: Reclaim systems require water collection tanks which are placed in-ground (above-ground is an alternative with some systems). Be sure there is adequate space to implement these tanks. Check depth and freeze lines and ensure the reclaim system is capable of pumping from the required depths. Look into the cost of buying and installing these tanks upfront. Most manufacturers will recommend required tanks with their product information.

Compatibility: Ensure the reclaim system is compatible with the soaps, detergents and chemicals that are being used or desired at the facility. These products will be going down the drain and the reclaim system will encounter them. Many chemical manufacturers are now offering “reclaim compatible” products. Ask the reclaim manufacturer if you will need to change the chemical diet of the carwash when recycling with his equipment. Some reclaim systems require “special” chemical blends, often not discussed until after the system is installed.

System Cost: There is much more to a reclaim system than just the equipment itself. Tanking, installation, plumbing, electrical consumption, pumping and disposal of old tank water and maintenance time and costs are all factors that should be taken into consideration. Some manufacturers do not offer this information upfront as it may reduce their chances for a sale. Be sure to ask these questions and get genuine answers, which are backed by written materials.

Warranty: Be sure the manufacturer is going to stand behind the equipment. Reclaim equipment failure can be costly and time consuming. Look for long-term warranties which also include labor for a pre-determined time. In short,there are several great methods for the owner/operator to realize increased profits by conserving water. Do your homework and make sure the items you implement to conserve water are justified, cost effective and will not adversely affect you in ways you may not have previously thought of.

Installing and using a good reclaim system can pay you back many of times over if you do it right the first time. It can also become your worst nightmare if you make poor decisions.


Dean Taylor is the vice president of CATEC Water Recovery and Ozone Systems in Sarasota, FL. His background includes electronic and electro-mechanical design and development as well as sales, training, installation and service of Carwash Water Reclaim and Ozone Systems.