Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Laundry solutions

October 11, 2010
It’s a sunny Saturday and the pollen has done a number on John Doe’s car. So John heads to your carwash to get a good scrub. He’s always been impressed with your employees and your equipment, not to mention that you’ve always offered him a quality wash for a pretty good price.

But today is different. Today your staff has been especially busy and some quality controls have been ignored. Today an employee grabs a dirty towel from your bin and does a quick dry-down, effectively ruining John Doe’s carwash experience. More than likely, this is the last time you will see John Doe.

The scenario can play out a million different ways. It might not be a dirty towel, but missing clean ones that hold up the carwash line as towel-dry employees twiddle their thumbs waiting for new towels to arrive.

Many operators may focus on their larger business expenses and more prominent equipment, ignoring their laundry machines. But your washer and dryer system are a key component to your carwash business. You will need a high-quality, durable laundry machine to run a successful business, and most of this success is wrapped up in your supplier.

Finding the right distributor
Before choosing a distributor, there is a laundry list of qualifications you will need to investigate. First and foremost, find out what kind of service they provide after the sale. You will also want to know what types of service agreements they offer, how long they’ve been in business, and what other customers have said about their services. A good distributor is there for you after the sale as well as before.

The distributor’s parts inventory should be considered as well. Put simply, a large parts inventory means you are less likely to be waiting around for a part to be ordered, should your laundry equipment require service.

After choosing a distributor, they will be able to assist you in ensuring that you establish the proper equipment mix to meet the needs of your particular location. They’ll also be able to help you work out a production schedule based on how much car volume you do in a day and how many towels you need to process in an hour.

Topload washers versus frontload washers
When selecting your equipment, you will have a choice between a topload washer or a frontload washer. There are pros and cons to both machines, what it ultimately comes down to is a matter of personal choice.

Topload washer-extractors have long been the industry norm for carwashes throughout the United States.

Ideal for the hands-on manager who can help keep things moving, topload washer-extractors offer the highest extraction speed available, often two times higher than frontload washer-extractors.

Since damp towels are better to finish cars, extraction speed plays an important role in selecting a washer-extractor. The higher the extraction speed, the greater the amount of water that’s removed from the towels, thereby allowing for greater absorption when wiping down cars, which can possibly reduce the number of towels required per car.

Topload washers-extractors also are more capable of doing smaller loads when needed, and are easier for operators to do their own maintenance.

The only disadvantage to these machines is that they require two-step operation in order for the process to be complete.

Frontload washer-extractors
Frontload washer-extractors are a one-step process that simplifies operation. Your employees just open up the door, throw in the towels, close the door and push a button. After a pre-determined amount of time, the towels come out ready-to-use.

There are a couple disadvantages to these machines. When it comes to maintenance, these are not do-it-yourself machines. When you are down, you need to make sure you have a distributor who has a service team that is ready and available when you need them.

Another disadvantage is that you have to pay close attention to load size to avoid under-loading the machine. Should you find yourself in a particular bind and need towels quickly, you can’t grab 15 or 20 towels and throw them in the washer. Likely an out-of-balance condition will occur, causing excessive wear on the bearings, or possibly not extracting at all in the most severe cases.

Under-loading a frontload washer-extractor is more detrimental to the machine than overloading. Thus, for carwashes that use front-loaders, staff must be well trained and aware of this fact to ensure the machine doesn’t get damaged.

Setting the laundry area for efficient flow
The more cars you can get through, the more money you can make. Your carwash needs an efficient layout to ensure a speedy operation, including a good place for your laundry equipment.

Most carwashes will install their equipment at the end of the tunnel, making it easier for employees to change out clean and dirty towels as they get the next car.

Separating the equipment with block walls has become a standard practice as well. Water in the air is the enemy of laundry equipment that’s not waterproof. Thus, unless you choose a certified waterproof top-loader such enclosures are smart ideas to increase the useful life of the machine.

Washing towels properly
Sending a car out looking its best is what’s going to bring a customer back the next time they need their vehicle cleaned. The care and cleaning of your towels plays a big role in finishing and making that lasting impression.

Most carwashes use three different towels to finish a car, each a different color — one color for window, a second color for the body towel and a third color for the under body. (See “Selecting & caring for carwash towels” on page 30 for more information.)

Because each of these towels has different uses, it’s important that each be kept and washed separately to avoid cross contamination and getting any type of residual grime transferred from one type of towel to another.

When cleaning these towels, the care also is different. For example, window towels require fewer chemicals added to the wash cycle because they are already using a cleaning chemical on the windows. In addition, those towels don’t get as dirty as the other two towel types.

The body towel doesn’t use chemicals to wipe down the vehicle, but is going to pick up more dirt; therefore it requires a laundry chemical that can remove the dirt and stains from it. Underbody towels will have chemicals and will be very dirty and very grimy. Work with your laundry chemical supply company to determine which products will best treat these towels.

Also consider looking at the quality of your towels. After time and use, fibers begin to break down. Have employees check for thinning, holes or other wear and tear, if they notice these signs, it maybe a good time for them to be cycled out of use.

Whether you are designing a new carwash or replacing laundry equipment in an existing location, consult with your local equipment distributor to ensure the proper equipment mix to meet the needs of your particular location.


Kim Shady is vice president of distributor sales for UniMac, a manufacture of on-premises laundry equipment. Shady has more than 19 years experience in the commercial laundry market.