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Business Operations

Pump it up

October 11, 2010
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Whether a one-site operation or a statewide chain, every carwash has one major issue in common: water consumption and the need to keep water as clean as possible. Water is a valuable and threatened resource. It is essential to ensure the detergents, soaps and solvents used in the washing process do not contaminate the water, workplace or environment.

Along with water, chemicals are the other essential of the carwashing industry. Arriving in 30- and 55-gallon drums, not only is it necessary to store these drums properly in a work area where space may be at a premium, but also necessary to transfer the chemicals to smaller containers which employees can handle with confidence and ease.

How you get the contents from point A (an unwieldy 30- or 55-gallon drum) to point B (a two- or five-gallon container) is a step that must be carefully considered. Spillage and leaks can cause problems, not only to the water supply, but also to the day-to-day running of your operation, resulting in work stoppage and clean up problems.

To do this procedure correctly, you must choose the right type of transfer method. The decision can affect worker safety and inventory costs, as well as impact environmental concerns.

Picking a pump
There is a wide variety of transfer pumps and methods readily available on the market, many of them applicable to the carwash industry. With so many at your disposal, determining which pump is right for your business requires some thought and planning.

Going through a checklist of questions can be a valuable method of approaching the decision making process. For example: What chemicals will you be pumping and in what volume? Who will operate the pump? What safety issues are involved?

Once you have determined those answers, the next step is to review the proper transfer options and choose the method you feel is most effective and efficient.

The choices below are among the most popular in the carwash industry:

  • Gravity fed spigot;
  • Rotary action pump;
  • Siphon system;
  • Suction action pump;
  • Push action pump; and
  • Pressurized action pump.

Gravity fed spigot
This transfer method involves threading a spigot into the top of a drum and tipping the drum into a horizontal position for dispensing. At $30 for the required hardware, it appears to be the most cost effective. However, these spigot systems have to be replaced often.

While a gravity-fed spigot is, in theory, a simple method, tipping a 55-gallon drum, which can weigh upwards of 500 pounds, on its side makes the process complicated, cumbersome and potentially dangerous.

Once a spigot is in place, several difficulties can arise. Spigots can clog up and fluid will stop flowing. Alternatively, they can leak because of loose fitting seals, creating a safety hazard. Often the flow rate is uneven and does not allow for complete removal of all the liquid from the drum and inventory may be wasted.

Additionally, removing the remaining fluid from the drums requires added effort to make them RCRA-ready (Resources Conservation and Recovery Act).

RCRA-ready means there is no more than 1/2” of product remaining inside, desirable because it costs less to recycle the drum, about $7 as opposed to $32 per drum. In addition, all of the valuable chemical it contained will be used

Siphon systems
This transfer method works by siphoning chemicals and liquids from a higher level to a lower level. To use the siphon, you submerge the dip tube in a drum or container and manually prime the siphon to start the fluid flowing. Often, it can be difficult to stop the flow and to remove all liquid from the drum. As with the gravity fed spigot, inventory may be wasted and making drums RCRA-ready is difficult.

Siphon pumps are available in various sizes designed to fit from one-gallon pails to 55-gallon drums. Most of these pumps include a container adapter and four-foot discharge hose, which can be cut to fit shorter containers if necessary.

At between $4 and $13 per pump, siphon systems are inexpensive, but have a short lifespan.

Suction action pump
Suction action pumps are placed on the top of a container or drum, with an attached discharge hose running down the side into a smaller container. Lightweight and durable, they are generally used for a wide variety of pumping chores and are compatible with many chemicals and fluids.

To use the suction action pump, the plunger must be pumped by hand to create suction, which creates the flow. The flow rate depends on the up-and-down motion. If this is erratic, the pump may be unsteady, causing the fluid to pulse and spit out, which can become a safety hazard.

This transfer method requires a constant plunging action to keep the flow moving and may take a long time to fill a container.

Suction action pumps fit 15-, 30- and 55-gallon drums with a standard 2” bung adapter. Their transfer output can be up to 22 oz. per stroke and they range in price from $30 to $85. They may need to be replaced on a regular basis.

Push action pump
Push action pumps transfer fluids with up-and-down action, which involves pushing on the top of the pump. Available in plastic or a combination of plastic and metal, most models are adjustable to fit a variety of containers and drums and come with a siphon tube to reach the bottom.

This type of pump generally delivers up to 8-ounces per stroke, which makes transferring large quantities of liquids time consuming, but is a good solution to transfer small amounts.

These pumps range in price from $12 to $55, depending on their construction, and usually require replacement after a few months.

Rotary action pump
A rotary action pump is threaded into the top of a drum and held in place with a seal. Most models are lightweight, durable and compatible with a wide range of chemicals and fluids.

To use the rotary action pump, it is necessary to crank the handle to build up pressure and start the flow. It may be hard to determine when the fluid will begin to flow because the fluid in the tube is at the same height of the fluid in the container.

The pump requires constant turning for continuous flow and when you are ready to stop the flow, you must time it perfectly to avoid any spills.

Depending on the model, rotary action pumps have a transfer rate of 5-20 gallons per minute. Parts are expensive, between $55 and $175, making it more convenient to purchase a new pump.

Pressurized action pump
A type of self-priming pump, pressurized action pumps mount on the top of a drum or container and are held in place with a rubber compression fitting.

Pressure is built-up by pumping the piston on top of the pump several times to start the flow. Opening the spring-loaded tap, which is similar to a coffee urn, starts the flow; closing the tap stops the fluid.

Fluids flow in a continuous stream and the airtight seal prevents fluids and vapors from escaping into the atmosphere.

The plastic construction is durable and can be easily cleaned, sanitized and reused. Pressurized action pumps have a transfer rate of up to 4.5 gallons per minute, depending on viscosity, and are compatible with a wide range of fluids.

“O” rings may require replacement every year or two. While expensive, $139-$249 depending on the model, this type of pump has a life expectancy of about ten years.

Making a decision
As with any business purchase, the pump you choose must satisfy your needs on many levels. Opting for a model that is dependable and durable will go far to alleviate worries about worker safety, proper chemical handling and good liquid inventory management. For a side-by-side comparison, refer to the chart above.

Reliability also means you will have fewer concerns about spillage and leaks that can contaminate the water, your workplace and the environment.

Nancy Westcott is president of Westcott Distribution, Inc. of New York, NY, which distributes hand-pressurized GoatThroat™ pumps for commercial and industrial handling of liquids and chemicals. For more information, e-mail Nancy at