Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Reclaim 201

October 11, 2010
In the May 2007 article “Reclaim 101” we touched on the various methods of transforming and removing dirt from carwash water. In review, such methods include oil/water separators, vortex filters, bag filters, auto-backwash filters, media filters (sand, charcoal, glass bead, etc.).

Gimme the “dirt”
Let’s review the types of “dirt” found in carwash water pits. Of course there is sand, soil, petroleum products, bird droppings, and other “dirt” carried into the carwash on vehicles. There can also be paint, oil (quarts of it), RV holding tank effluent, animal entrails, etc. dumped by customers into self-serve bays. Fortunately, the latter, although they will usually (always?) gum up a reclaim system, are probably isolated incidents.

There is another sometimes insidious type of “dirt” caused by something continually introduced into the carwash: it is carwash chemicals that are not reclaim friendly. Such chemicals, often containing mineral seal oil or some types of silicones, and who knows what else, can affect the reclaimed water from merely darkening it all the way to producing an insoluble “gum” that can even collect in pumps and eventually cause them to bind up. It is very important when using a reclaim system to use only chemicals that are reclaim friendly. It is our experience that manufacturers who make such products will gladly list them for you. Be sure that you get such a list in writing, such as catalog pages that indicate reclaim-friendly products. Do not rely on such information obtained only verbally.

A few years ago my company was repeatedly confronted with this problem, with customers that didn’t know what was wrong, but they knew that their reclaimed water was unsatisfactory, so they naturally blamed the reclaim system. Because we had similar systems nearby working quite well, in working on the problem we became aware of the vast differences in reclaimed water quality that resulted from using different chemicals. We came to know of a few manufacturers of reclaim-friendly products, but felt uncomfortable telling our customers where they should buy their chemicals.

Attempting to resolve the chemicals dilemma we contacted every primary manufacturer of carwash chemicals that we could identify (36 of them) to explain the problem and invite them to identify their reclaim-friendly products for inclusion on a master list of such products. Companies that did not respond were contacted a second time. It is noteworthy that of all 36 companies canvassed, twelve responded naming, usually, specific products that were reclaim-friendly, and others that were not. Non-responding companies weren’t “black listed,” because they may or may not have reclaim friendly products. They just weren’t “good listed.”

We did not confirm each manufacturer’s claim: we took their word for it. However, from carwashes that use products from some of the non-response group we continue to hear of cases where unsatisfactory reclaimed water is produced all the way to system failure (pump seizure), but we have heard, so far, of no chemical-related problem with any reclaim-friendly product by the companies who responded to our survey. That certainly lends credence to their claims.

Three examples of carwash reclaimed water using friendly and non-friendly chemicals are shown in the picture on the left. All are from carwashes using similar ozone-based reclaim technology. The water sample on the left came from a wash that used chemicals not on our known reclaim-friendly list. The next two bottles are from carwashes that did use reclaim-friendly chemicals. The second bottle is reclaimed wash water and the third bottle is reclaimed rinse water. Not every reclaim installation will produce reclaimed wash water as clear as bottle number two, but they all will be close, usually about the shade of weak lemonade.

In summary
So again, please, if you use or plan to use wash water reclaim, use reclaim-friendly chemicals, whether they be bug-removers, pre-soaks, main cycle detergents, windshield cleaner or treatment, drying agents, sealer wax, clear coat conditioner, tire dressing, or whatever. A final word to the wise: several chemicals manufacturers warned us that their reclaim- friendly products, used in conjunction with other companies reclaim-friendly products, may not remain “friendly.” So it seems a good idea to buy all your reclaim-friendly chemicals from one source.

You do not need our master list of “approved” chemicals and manufacturers. Just ask your salesperson for such a list in writing. If he cannot produce it, and many may not be able to, change to another chemicals manufacturer who can.

Keith Brecken is director of operations and marketing for Custom Applied Technology (CATEC) in Sarasota, FL. He can be contacted at (941) 751-5656 or via email to