Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The right way to reclaim

April 4, 2011

As the words “reclaim” and “reclamation” become more and more prevalent in today’s carwashing industry lexicon, there seems to still be a lot of uncertainty as to how a system works and which method of reclaim should be used. Industry experts, both on reclaiming water and system installation, are here to help with those questions and offer up tips on which costly and time-consuming mistakes to avoid before and after a system is installed.

Choosing a system
Charles Borchard, vice president of operations for the PurClean and PurWater divisions of New Wave Industries, said it is imperative to first know how the reclaim water will be used. “High-pressure pump applications are a natural choice as they are for high-volume water users. Friction material and undercarriage applications are also good choices for use. Rinses and chemical applications should only use fresh water or spot-free water, unless you cannot discharge.”

Once you have established your reclaim water demand you need to figure out which way you want to reclaim and recycle your wash water, Borchard said. “Batch or on-demand systems both need some form of tanking to allow the solids to settle out.”

Tracy Smith, director of operations for Hydro Management Systems, said that in some washes he has seen customers only use reclaim water on their high-pressure applications. But he noted, “Using reclaim water on undercarriage, cloth and other misc. equipment can save 20 or more gallons of water per car.”

Ron Stits, president of Advanced Water Recycling, Inc. and general manager of Finish Line Car Wash and Detail Centers, said to get a system that is larger than one you might currently need. “More is not always better, but in this case it usually is. Plan for carwash volume growth. For one of our carwashes, I personally made the mistake of buying a unit with only slightly more output than I needed. I should have bought the next unit up from the one I bought.” Also, he added, “one of our customer’s washes has almost doubled their business since they installed their reclaim system six years ago. We recommended a larger higher quality unit than the one they purchased, but they said they did not want to spend the ‘extra’ money. We are selling them a new larger system this year.”

Smith suggested finding out how much water your tunnel uses to make sure the system can handle it. “Once your tunnel equipment is laid out, the tunnel equipment manufacturer can give you water usage chart on your tunnel layout.

Find a system that can handle your needs.” Smith also said to ask the following three questions:

  • What are the maintenance costs?
  • How much maintenance is required daily, weekly or monthly?
  • Does the system you are looking at put any restrictions on what you can use in your tunnel?

Assess and install
Jim Keller, president of Con-Serv Manufacturing, said that in the 40 years he has been in the industry, the most costly mistakes carwash operators make have to do with improper installation. “In that time, I have seen the most elaborate locations fall prey to faulty tanking, plumbing and installation, which are the most important prerequisites of having a reclaim system. The biggest, best and most expensive is worthless unless proper care is taken to assure the heart of the reclaim is installed flawlessly and the quality of the materials used is capable of transferring the spent water to the reclaim equipment.”

Keller said to make sure the exact size of the piping and tanking, and the quality of the materials is to the reclaim manufacturer’s specification. “Thin schedule pipe, poor and inadequate fittings, improper storage tanks or configuration of the tanks, will cause the majority of reclaim problems.”

Failure to engineer the proper distance of the storage tanks to the reclaim system can also cause damage to the pump, drastically reducing the amount of filtered water. Keller added that storage tank design is also very important since the tanks are virtually the first step in the process of cleaning and separating the solids, grease, oil, etc.

“Care,” Keller continued, “should be taken on the installation of the stub up plumbing to the reclaim, so that the shortest and most direct connection is used. Too many bends, turns and 90-degree elbows will lower the amount of water and pressure that the reclaim can produce.”

After the installation
Once a system has been installed, it is important to know every facet, nook and cranny of the system and to make sure it’s running properly under a preventative maintenance schedule.

Borchard advised to ask the suppliers and manufacturers how the water reclaim equipment works. And, he cautioned, “Ask what needs to be serviced and what the service intervals are, then do them.”

Stits said to get all performance guaranties in writing and get the remedies for any lack of performance in writing. Stits also said to “maintain your equipment like the manufacturers tell you to do. If you have enough respect for the manufacturer to buy their equipment you should also trust they know how it should be maintained. I find a lack of proper maintenance to be a common issue in many carwashes.”

Keller agreed, stating that operating the system to manufacturers’ specifications, keeping the storage tanks from accumulating an abnormal amount of sludge and solids will assure the system will produce good quality reclaim water. “Keep in mind that in most cases the manufacturer of reclaim equipment will not be on site holding the hand of the trades people installing the tanks, plumbing and electrical,” Keller said. “Be sure everyone involved in the installation is informed and have all of the drawings, manuals and access to the manufacturers’ contact information should a question arise.”