Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Recycle water, reclaim your money

October 11, 2010

Exterior-only conveyorized carwashes are on the rise. In the right market, these washes are an almost guaranteed success. Compared to in-bay automatics, they’re washing more vehicles per hour and still operating on less manpower than traditional full serves.

However, these businesses are not immune to outside costs. A primary concern and major expense is the volume of water needed to meet the demands of these high-volume wash systems.

The outrageous cost of water and sewer use is forcing most high volume conveyor operators to seek relief by recycling water.

Recycling to reduce fees
Many municipalities are seeing high-volume water projections as a burden to their sewer facilities. This becomes apparent during the permitting process in the form of sewer impact fees.

Demographic calculations and machine capabilities are often big factors in deciding the appropriate impact fees. When officials calculate the number of “units” of water required for a facility, they often base their sewer impact fees on these calculations. A high sewer impact fee often accompanies the high volume of water usage projected.

Depending on the geographic location, these fees can range as high as $150,000. Often these fees can be greatly reduced or eliminated with proof of water recycling.

A good water reclaim system supplier should be able to provide system specifications and statistical data, which will help to reduce fees and aid in the approval process.

Reclaiming the monster wash
The water demands of these high volume conveyor systems can be overwhelming to many common reclaim systems. Volume of water, size of holding tanks, chemicals, water turnover rates, dirt loads and dwell time are all pushing reclaim systems to their limits.

Meeting such a high volume demand with clean water, wash after wash, day-in and day-out, can be a challenge. In fact, it requires very special attention.

While there are many considerations when designing reclaim systems for these monster wash machines, the most important is ensuring your reclaim system and the chemicals you use are compatible.

With these high volumes, a lot of chemicals are going down the drain and need to be addressed by the reclaim system. From pre-soak to tire shine, this chemical brew in the reclaim tank is vital to the reclaim system’s performance.

Chemical compatibility
When shopping for a reclaim system, wash chemicals should be addressed first. Incompatible chemical blends can create big problems when it comes to the water recycling process.

On the other hand, proper compatibility and chemical balance can make the reclaim process run clean.

Designing dams in the tunnel trench can alleviate many of the chemical problems for conveyorized carwashes. With proper dams, you can pick and choose what goes to reclaim and what goes to sewer.

Although this is a good option, it does restrict the savings a good reclaim system can offer because the operator will send more water to the sewer and, therefore, have to pay for additional water.

Most reclaim systems depend on fresh water being introduced in the rinse cycles to help dilute the water being reused. If you start at 50 percent reclaim, using it only on undercarriage and side blasters, you have already cut your water and sewer bills in half.

For some operators, this is only a partial solution — they insist on 100 percent reclaim. But as you push the envelope toward 100 percent reclaim, the dilution ratio of fresh-to-used water becomes considerably tighter, which can create troublesome situations.

Reclaim equipment that can eliminate soaps and surfactants while maintaining low total dissolved solids (TDS) levels is the key to 100 percent reclaim.

When recycling in a zero discharge situation, the equipment used must be able to supply water with quality nearly as good as city water. The last 20-30% of water to be treated requires a special technology which has very limited availability in the carwash industry at this time.

A good reclaim system should be able to reduce water usage by at least 70 percent, sufficiently reducing the operator’s sewer cost.


1. Odor
One of the biggest challenges when recycling carwash water is controlling bacterial odor. If your customers wash their car and smell foul water, you can be assured they won’t come back. Not only will they not return — they will most likely tell everyone they come across that day.

Odor in water can easily be controlled by using masking agents, bio-digesters, aeration or the injection of ozone.

2. Water quality
Obviously, poor water quality can affect the wash equipment and the quality of the wash itself. Dirty or gritty water can damage pumps, spray tips and other vital equipment. These can become costly to repair or replace.

Poor water quality may also be visible to the customer. Would you feel good about washing your car with water that looks dirty or muddy? Most pump manufacturers recommend water with particles of less than 10 microns.

3. Maintenance
Maintenance time and costs will both be factors in your return on investment calculation, so it is important that maintenance time and costs be examined prior to using a reclaim system.

The price of reclaim equipment and installation is certainly a huge factor. If you can save $1,500 a month on your water and sewer costs but the equipment and maintenance is costing you $2,000 a month to own and operate, then it certainly doesn’t make any sense.

On the other hand, if the reclaim system is saving you $1,500 a month, and costing you much less than that to own and operate, it’s become a no-brainer. For most, reclaim isn’t something you want to do, but can become a must for economic survival in many situations.

Some simple math and a good reclaim company can quickly help you determine if recycling water will offer you a good return on investment.

Dean Taylor is vice president of CATEC Water Recovery and Ozone Systems, Sarasota, FL, which designs and manufactures ozone generators and water treatment systems. He is also the carwash water reclaim system specialist for the company. For more information, e-mail Dean at