Detergent and soap offerings for in-bay automatic carwashes have come a long way over the years. To begin with, an IBA operator should understand there are several ways to manage their chemical products.
For operators who wish to be more hands-on, powdered products, two-part systems and various “ultra-concentrated” products are available. These types of chemicals offer economy and space savings, but need to be managed more closely to achieve desired results.
For operators who want to take full advantage of the minimum-involvement capabilities of an IBA carwash, the most convenient option is usually to choose among the wide variety of ready-to-use liquid chemical products.
While ready-to-use chemicals typically cost more than a powder option, they offer huge convenience benefits. Operators open the chemical container, draw the product into whatever dilution equipment the carwash is equipped with and start washing cars.
These types of products are also easy to adjust, require no pre-mixing and generally offer more consistent levels of performance.
When one drum of these products becomes empty, you just move the drawtube and foot-valve to a fresh drum of product and remove the empty drum. In many cases, your chemical distributor can keep an eye on this for you and keep your wash in a constant supply of product, with very little owner involvement. Also, while the distributor’s “solutions expert” is there, they can check the machinery for proper operation and for effective and efficient chemical usage.
As mentioned above, there are a wide variety of ready-to-use products available from many different manufacturers. Products vary widely in both concentration and performance characteristics. As with everything else, cheaper products don’t necessarily save you money. Cost per drum means very little compared to “cost per clean car” or “cost per satisfied customer.”
Types of chemicals
The types of chemicals used with in-bay machines have expanded over the years as the equipment has added functionality. Just about any product type that is used by a conveyor wash is now appropriate for in-bay machines.
Wheel cleaning and bug remover options are two of the more recent additions which you may want to consider. But certainly all of the standard detergents appropriate for either friction or touchless washes can be used. Tri-color foams, drying agents, sealants, rust inhibitors for the under-body flush and the new “super sealants” can all be applied in modern IBA equipment.
Given that the customer remains in their vehicle during the wash process, it is wise to consider products that have greater customer appeal. The use of fragrances and or color, even in applications like presoak detergents can make a positive impression on the customer. These bells and whistles cost more, but many operators find them worth the price in customer loyalty.
In cloth or friction applications the products used are generally foamy and engineered to provide lubricity for the scrubbing action.
For a friction-type IBA you must consider cleaning ability as a major part of the performance requirement. You need to use a mutli-purpose detergent that helps clean the vehicle, keeps the equipment looking good, provides proper lubricity and gives customer appeal.
Conveyor washes generally have more equipment and ability to apply a wider variety of products so they don’t necessarily have to look for all of these attributes in one product. A more specialized set-up with a presoak and body shampoo combination typically produces the best performance-value equation.
Touch-free automatics (like their conveyorized cousins) use detergents that are more specialized and therefore highly effective in this demanding application. Frequently a two-step application of low-pH and high-pH detergents provides the best results, however this can often vary with location and even seasonally.
Your chemical distributor will know what is working best in your area and can give the best advice on this issue. Again, look for quality products with proven track records. If you are using a two-step system, use products that are made to work together effectively.
Dangers of hydrofluoric acid & co.
I strongly advise against the use of acidic fluoride products that contain hydrofluoric acid, ammonium fluoride, or ammonium Bifluoride. These are often effective cleaners but they are extremely dangerous for your employees and customers. They are also very destructive to your equipment and even the bay itself. There are very good low pH alternatives that can provide excellent performance without the dangers of the fluoride products.
Low-pH presoaks are typically accompanied by an alkaline or high pH presoak. Alkaline presoaks may be used alone with one or two applications, with a low-pH presoak, or another different alkaline presoak.
Frequently the configuration for the types and amounts of presoak detergents used is set to provide the best cleaning during the toughest of conditions. But if you have a good understanding of your wash and the current conditions it is possible to use your detergents more efficiently by reducing the amount used during easier cleaning periods.
Once again, your local solutions expert should be trained and experienced on what is optimal for your independent set of circumstances.
Other cleaning products
Other cleaning products that may be used in IBA washes include bug removers, wheel and tire cleaners and possibly detergents for prep-guns at washes that have attendants.
My recommendations for these are mainly aimed at the bug-removers and wheel cleaners and would be that you use products made for these specific applications. Don’t just use up whatever products you may have on hand. Considerable research does go into formulating products for these specialty uses and they will provide the best results with less risk of damage.
Sealants and drying agents
Drying agents are usually only used for the basic wash package, and some washes don’t use them at all. Their primary purpose is to help get water off the cleaned car quickly and economically. Functionally drying agents make vehicle surfaces hydrophobic so water will run off quickly, but they don’t provide any other benefits.
Drying agents are generally added via a medium pressure rinse pass after rinsing to remove the detergents. In most equipment this is the same pass that applies the sealant and the equipment controls which product is applied. I have also seen drying agents injected into the spot-free rinse to eliminate adding another pass of the machine.
Sealants are normally part of the higher-priced package options. They also help shed water from the vehicle to assist in the drying process, but also include benefits that drying agents do not. True sealants are designed to provide a layer of protection that lasts well after the customer leaves the wash. A sealant should provide extra benefits such as ultra-violet light protection, improved shine, and extended life for painted surfaces. Sealants are often available in scented versions.
The new “super sealants” that have appeared in the past couple years bring some new technology that can improve shine and are longer lasting than traditional sealants. They also provide the operator with a reason to offer greater benefits in an even higher end package and thus generate additional revenue and profits. It is wise to take advantage of extra marketing materials frequently available from the supplier that help sell this added service.
One other product that is worth mentioning is one that is not applied to the customer’s car, and that is a cleaner for the bay itself. This is a very tough cleaning job and the products tend to be strong and require careful use. Again, I recommend that acidic fluoride products be avoided as there is high risk of contact with the user. Alternatives are available that may take a little more work but with significantly less risk.
Your chemical distributor is your best resource for information on products that are designed to work best in your equipment and for maintaining your wash. Keeping the wash clean and dressed with attractive signage, along with using high quality and performance chemical products are all part of managing a successful in-bay automatic wash.
Rick Martens is a senior chemist for Cleaning Systems, Inc. (CSI) and its Lustra™ brand of professional carwash chemicals.
Rick has been working for CSI for nearly 20 years and can be contacted at: rmartens@lustrabear
. com, or by phone at 1-800-225-2231.