Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Reclaim lessons learned

October 11, 2010

When Casey McKinley hooked up with Brian Cook to establish the Wash Wizard chain of self-serve sites in South Carolina, one of his first priorities was to find and use the best water reclaim system available. McKinley had been burned by a lower-end reclaim system at his first wash. “It was my fault that I did not do enough homework before I jumped into it, but I thought it would be simple to hook-up with minimal upkeep and big money savings,” McKinley explained. “I was very wrong.”

So McKinley decided to turn that mistake — which resulted in constant maintenance issues and marginal quality water — into a learning opportunity for Wash Wizard. “I knew it was a top priority to find and use the best system available,” he said.

McKinley’s experience is not unusual for the self-serve/IBA industry. Although most conveyor operators are familiar with reclaim issues, self-serve sites have been slower to catch on to technologies which have improved maintenance and quality issues in reclaim equipment. Professional Carwashing & Detailing tracked down operators who had lessons to share and stories to tell.

Look before you leap
Nancy Nealon co-owns Johnny’s Car Wash, a 3/2 self-serve/IBA in Scranton, PA. She said her advice to operators seeking out a reclaim system is to ask around before purchasing a unit. “Be careful to check references on systems that have been in operation for more than one year and verify that the installer is knowledgeable and experienced with additional service after the sale.”

Nealon said operators should not be scared away by the high cost of a reclaim system and storage tanks. She paid over $30,000 for her unit, but reckoned the system paid for itself in two and a half years of operation. “Our water and sewer costs are among the highest in the Northeast,” Nealon explained.

Maintenance is important
In addition to a large expense upfront, reclaim systems also require daily maintenance, and McKinley said operators should carefully consider the schedule and work involved.

“From an owner’s point of view our biggest advantage is that our system is basically hands-off and low maintenance with the end result of consistent clean water,” said McKinley. However, it takes some work. “We clean our strainers every other day with a garden hose which takes about 5 minutes.”

McKinley said their system works by having a fiberglass filtration tank, which uses a glass bead type media that is electrically charged to attract dirt and then auto back-flush itself every 4 hours to keep the filter bed clean. He said the media used in their filtration system is permanent and doesn’t need to be changed which saves money.

Be creative to save money
Wash Wizard’s distributor helped Cook and McKinley see the benefit of using a reclaim system for their self-serve bays. Initially, the partners decided against recycling the self-serve water because they didn’t want to foul up the system when unknown things were dumped into the pit. McKinley said that with automatic bays, it’s a more controlled environment so there is more consistency in those pits.

But their distributor talked them into recycling the self-serve pits to capture and filter the extra 10 percent of water to at least to save more money on their water and sewer bill. “We capture and treat 100 percent of our water and then use the clean filtered water in the rinse cycles for our automatics," explained McKinley. "The net result is 70 percent to 80 percent savings on water sewer bills."

McKinley admitted they have seen some questionable materials in their pits such as oil, paint, hydraulic fluid, fish guts. “But,” he said, “we have not had to shut down the system for anything in our pits at any of our locations. That’s impressive.”

Consider potential problems
All of the operators we spoke with agreed that reclaim systems do pose some potential problems for operations. For instance, Nealon said operators need to evaluate their chemical brand and set-up and how it might affect the reclaim system. “We recently switched chemical brands,” she said, “and although they claimed to be reclaim-friendly, there were problems which affected the operation of the reclaim unit.”

According to McKinley the most serious issue with reclaim water is the smell and water quality. “The name of the game is to get your reclaim water looking and smelling as close to fresh water as possible,” he explained. He has been able to achieve this consistently at all locations by cleaning out the bay pits and reclaim tanks on a regular basis and by making sure all the recycled water is being circulated throughout the wash 24/7.

“This process filters the water over and over. We also have our distributor come down annually to do preventative maintenance at all of our sites so there is no down time,” McKinley said. The distributor tests micron levels and records all of the wash’s settings and gauges to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Space and room requirements
Joel Wollin, the director of sales and marketing at Autowash Systems, Inc., said operators should consider the space they have available for the system before making a purchase. “Oftentimes, to install reclaim at an existing site, it becomes necessary to tear up the floor to install settling tanks,” he said.

Wollin said above ground tanks present an additional option in climates where freezing temperatures are not an issue; however this will still cost the operator some square footage somewhere on the property. “The savings in above ground tanks lies in the elimination of the expenses of excavation and underground plumbing,” Wollin explained.

Wollin said that if space is at a premium, it is possible to install the settling tanks under the floor of the bays themselves. If you are using ozone for disinfectant and odor control in your reclaim system, the less water you need to keep disinfected and the faster it circulates through the system.