Professional Carwashing & Detailing

If these walls could talk…

October 11, 2010

?Tips and suggestions are passed around constantly on the best way to clean the walls inside of a self-serve bay. Everything from sandblasting to using mineral water has been buzzed about.

One thing that seems clear though is the need for safety. When cleaning a wall, even if you’re not using a cleaning solution or chemical, it is important to properly cover your eyes and body in case materials that have ended up on the wall touch the skin. But, in terms of how to get those walls clean, we went right to a chemist.

Alan Palermo is the lead chemist for AP Formulators, of South Houston, TX, which supplies self-serve, automatic, and full service carwashes with chemical solutions. “Imagine your carwash as a shower,” Palermo said. “You just can’t expect to never clean your shower and have it look as good as the day it was built.”

Professional Carwashing and Detailing® spoke to Palermo about what he suggests should be done to get those walls sparkly clean and looking like new.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: What is the proper way to go about cleaning the walls of a carwash?

Alan Palermo: Take an eight-foot dry section of the wall. Using a pump-up garden sprayer filled with properly diluted cleaning detergent, spray the detergent from the bottom of the wall moving upward.

By starting at the bottom of the wall and moving upward you will eliminate streaking. Allow the detergent to dwell on the wall for three to five minutes. Then, using a power washer of at least a 1000 psi, spray the wall with water. Remember to keep the nozzle only two to three inches from the wall to get maximum power from the power washer.

The wall should be clean now. If you come across a stubborn spot reapply a second application of detergent and agitate with a stiff bristled brush. Always wear safety glasses, rubber boots, and rubber gloves when handling chemical detergents.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: What do you recommend in terms of a maintenance schedule?

Alan Palermo: A maintenance schedule is basically just a routine cleaning schedule. Owners who don’t clean their walls for a year have a very difficult time making them look new again. A carwash owner should wash down their walls with a mild soap and high pressure power washer weekly.

They should perform a deep cleaning every two to four weeks depending on how busy the carwash. Deep cleaning requires the use of a specialized acidic detergent. Rainy days are great days to clean carwash walls.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: Why do walls get so dirty and why are they so hard to clean? >

Alan Palermo: Carwash walls get so dirty because of a combination of factors. The cars come in soiled with road grime, oil, dirt, etc. The high pressure gun used in the carwash blows this road grime off of the car and onto the walls.

The road grime that is now on the wall is mixed with surfactants, oils and hard water from the carwash soap and water. This “cocktail” is allowed to dry on the wall.

After several days of this cycle your carwash ends up with a hard water/dried soap coating several layers thick. At this point the only way to remove this coating is with a specialized acidic detergent.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: What is one of the most common mistakes people make in cleaning a carwash wall?

Alan Palermo: Not cleaning them enough. If cleaned under a regular maintenance program (as mentioned above) your walls will never get to the point they cannot be cleaned.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: Say an owner was in a jam and needed to clean the wall, but was out of a cleaning product, do you have any suggestions as to what could be used?

Alan Palermo: If you were out of a cleaning product to clean walls and had to use something readily available, use the tire and engine cleaner in your chemical room. This chemical is alkaline and is good at removing soil and grease that may be on your wall from a busy weekend of carwashing.

When you are ready to perform your heavy duty wall cleaning every two to four weeks, use an acidic cleaner. A specialized acidic cleaner has a balanced amount of phosphoric acid, surfactants, and chelating agents that penetrate the soil/hard water which is dried on the walls.

The proper product will save an operator countless hours in the task of cleaning their carwash walls.

Professional Carwashing and Detailing: What are some of the toughest stains or spots to remove and why? What should be done to clean them?

Alan Palermo: A couple tricky ones are grease, colored stains, and hard water and scale build-up.

For grease on the wall, use tire and engine cleaner or a degreaser. For colored stains from a colored soap or wax, use bleach to remove the stain. Hard water and scale build-up on your walls or equipment use a specialized acidic detergent.

?Alan Palermo is the lead chemist for AP Formulators. He can be reached at (713)946-1600 or