Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The dirt on carwash chemistry

October 11, 2010

If the economic recession sent you back to the equipment room to stare at your chemical drums, you’re not alone. Many operators have been playing with chemistry in order to save dollars. But as any operator worth his salt will tell you, this is as dangerous as playing with fire. Cutting back on soap can leave you with film-covered cars, cars that won’t break properly, or worse, cars that never get clean.

Instead, Professional Carwashing & Detailing has tracked down a few experts to learn how operators can safety fiddle with the chemistry in their tunnels – and perhaps add a few services in the process.

More money through chemicals
According to Dan Kramer, technical director of Stone Soap Co. Inc., today’s operator is looking for ways to generate more dollars per sale, and chemical providers throughout the industry have stepped up with new products and solutions.

Mike McKillip, chemical program manager at RYKO Manufacturing Company, and Kramer identified three services that offer additional revenue sources:
• Surface sealants/body protectants,
• Wheel, rims and tire shines; and
• Presoaks.

1. Surface sealant/body protectant
A high-quality surface sealant (sometimes called a body protectant) can fulfill several customer needs, according to McKillip, and these should be explained or marketed to the customer.
• It will greatly improve drying in comparison to traditional waxes/clear coats;
• It will offer extended protection against the elements (rain, sun, insects, bird droppings, etc), improve shine; and
• It can withstand several wash cycles, and not require an application of a wax or clear coat.

“High quality body protectants bond to the vehicle’s surface providing a barrier that can protect the paint for as long as three to four weeks,” Kramer explained. “In addition, the water beading and shine enhancing characteristics of high quality body protectants increase the perception of the value of the wash.”

Our experts suggested operators offer this service for a free or discounted price to introduce their customers to its benefits. McKillip said they should notice the improvements in their vehicle, and will likely purchase this upgrade again.

One more benefit to the operator? A surface sealant can typically be added to existing equipment with little additional cost or space, he said.

2. Wheel, rim and tire cleaning
Full-service tunnels can generate revenue, McKillip said, by offering a hand wash for vehicle wheels/rims. Likewise, exterior, express and flex sites should consider an automatic on-line applicator for cleaning tires.

Another hand-application to consider is a tire shine chemical, he said. All four tires can be treated quickly and the cost of additional labor can be decreased because there is more control over chemical usage.

“This,” according to McKillip, “is a plus if there isn’t space to install tire shine equipment. It will also provide the customer with the sense of receiving a more personalized service. Such a service can help distinguish one tunnel operator from another.”

3. Presoak
The addition of a presoak, McKillip said, through an arch will aid in cleaning the areas of a vehicle that may prove difficult for brushes to reach (e.g. the recessed rear window on an SUV).

“Enhanced cleaning will translate into additional revenue via customer satisfaction and a presoak application can be considered as an add-on to any existing wash package for additional revenue,” McKillip added.

Common mistakes
According to McKillip, there are four common chemical mistakes.

1. Wheel cleaning:
Wheel cleaning is a complicated business. You must address the build-up of brake dust, road film, residual tire shine chemical (that can potentially attract a lot of dirt), and many times the customer hasn’t had this trouble spot cleaned in many years. “Having one type of chemical that can reliably clean all types of dirt, on all different styles/types/sizes of wheels, without the potential to damage rims is certainly a difficult task,” McKillip admitted. “Unless the wheels are going to be cleaned by hand, consistent wheel cleaning can be a concern for tunnel/conveyor operators.” Our experts suggested you carefully consider and test any automatic equipment regularly to make sure it is operating efficiently and effectively.

2. Inability to rinse off trifoam wax/polish:
Nothing can be more frustrating than having residual foam appear from the seams and blow all over the surface of a perfectly clean vehicle during the drying process, McKillip said. “A lot of operators try to solve this problem by applying an excessive amount of wax to help dissipate the foam. This simply increases chemical costs, especially for wash packages that don’t receive such an application,” McKillip cautioned. An operator might also increase the amount of water applied through a rinse arch, add an additional rinse arch, or slow down the conveyor speed to allow for better rinsing, he said, adding that in the end, all of these methods increase operating costs. “If none of the above methods prove satisfactory, the operator may just end up decreasing the usage of trifoam wax/polish, decreasing the air settings, and increasing the amount of water mixed within,” McKillip said. “The consumer that just paid extra for the trifoam wax/polish sees watered down foam with very little color.” Instead, operators should shop around for a foam that dissipates quickly upon rinsing and can aid in drying quality.

3. Using the wrong type of chemical for the friction part of the wash:
This, according to McKillip, can cause immediate and delayed consequences. “A good example is using presoak in place of a quality friction detergent. Presoaks are generally less expensive than detergents on a per-gallon basis. However, presoaks are designed for touchfree washes, and do not provide the lubrication needed for brush equipment,” McKillilp said. Inadequate lubrication can cause damage to mirrors, wipers, antennas, or other parts of the vehicle, he said, and it can also cause premature wear of the brush material, which means more frequent replacement, and higher costs associated with it. “Friction detergents should be used at a high enough level to insure adequate lubrication,” McKillip noted.

4. Hard water:
When used for applications such as presoak or wheel cleaner it can greatly diminish the cleaning ability of these chemicals, McKillip said. “These applications should be set up to use soft water, or the operator should use chemicals that are formulated specifically for hard water conditions.” Have your water tested and speak to your supplier about any potential problems you might have.