Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Touch-free in-bay: Truth be told

October 11, 2010

Many of the touch-free articles in print today address the ongoing questions, comparisons and myths regarding touch-free carwashing.

Operators looking to add an in-bay to a new or existing site often have many questions regarding cleaning capabilities, maintenance and more. The best answers to these owners’ questions are honest and upfront.

Tough questions
1. Does a touch-free carwash really clean cars?

Under certain circumstances a touch-free carwash may clean beautifully and under certain other circumstances it may leave customers disappointed.

That all depends on how the operator maintains the system, what chemicals he or she uses and what the customer expects.

2. Does a touch-free carwash really have fewer damage claims?

The touch-free carwash certainly isn’t rubbing the car, so under certain circumstances damage claims are few; however, under other certain circumstances a pin-stripe may come out of the wash hanging by a thread.

3. Is a touch-free carwash more costly to operate?

Again, under certain circumstances a touch-free wash can gobble up chemicals and water and in other circumstances, with a different system, chemical and water usage it can be economically sound.

In order to provide operators or prospective operators with the most complete information concerning touch-free in-bays, it’s important that they understand that a touch-free system is by no means infallible and there can be problems with a system.

The goal is to leave the touch-free carwash operator with all the information necessary to clean cars with no damage claims and cost effectively.

Effective environment
Creating the best wash performance in a touch-free environment requires a combination of:

  • Chemicals;
  • Heated water;
  • Dwell time; and
  • High pressure.

1. Chemicals, coverage and temp: First, it is imperative that the presoak chemical be applied uniformly over the entire surface of the vehicle.

One of the most critical aspects of touch-free cleaning is choosing the correct chemicals for the residues, soils and road films that are unique to your geographical location.

Most equipment manufacturers have recommendations for initial machine set-ups and most have staff available to work with owners/operators to customize a system set-up that is tailor-made for your location.

Most presoaks are classified as either high pH or low pH, with each having unique functions that aid in cleaning a vehicle.

  • Low pH presoak works primarily on chrome and glass and is used to remove inorganic materials, such as brake dust and windshield eyebrows.
  • High pH presoak removes organic materials such as bird droppings, tree sap, insects, and road film from the entire vehicle. The efficiency of both presoaks can be greatly enhanced by heating.

It is crucial that the presoak chemicals are pre-diluted with soft water, not tap water. Optimum temperature at the vehicle is 120° F.

2. Dwell time: Maximize dwell time. The longer the chemical remains on the vehicle’s surface, the better it works.

The synergy of the chemical and dwell time can be achieved with various ratios. If you have a low volume site where throughput is not typically an issue, you could decrease your chemical concentration, hence chemical costs, by increasing dwell time.

Conversely, if you have a high-volume site where throughput is an issue, decrease dwell time and increase chemical concentration.

3. Pressure: Operating pressure should be between 900 and 1,200 pounds per square (psi). Obviously, the higher the pressure, the greater the cleaning performance will be.

However, there comes a point where the high pressure will become detrimental to the vehicle’s accents or accessories, for example pin-stripping, ground effects, bug shields, louvers, etc.

Follow your manufacturer’s recommendation on nozzle size and angle of impingement. Many of today’s systems accommodate variable settings for enhanced performance.

Touch-free commandments
Always apply chemicals to a totally dry vehicle. Complete vehicle coverage is critical. If the presoak is not properly applied to the car, it can’t clean it.

It is recommended that the presoak be injected with air for atomization to minimize runs and maximize coverage and cling.

A bank of oscillating, zero-degree nozzles allows cleaning at a greater distance ensuring consistent cleaning on vehicles of all widths with more flexibility than a stationary bank of 10-degree nozzles.

Your equipment manufacturer can provide you with the proper information to allow you to adjust your system for peak performance at your location.

Operators can achieve optimum cleaning with reduced water consumption, at a lower pressure; saving time, money and extending machine life.


Eddie Deatherage is a R&D chemist for AUTEC. Lorie Street works in marketing for AUTEC. For more information contact Lorie at lstreet@autec-carwash.com