In the full service carwash business, quality is nonnegotiable. It starts with that first customer interaction and includes all the pieces along the way: water, soaps, brushes, etc. Any one of those components could cause a stumble in quality. Still, all those elements could combine to deliver a top-notch wash, and one small cloth could void all of it.

Wipe-down towels are the icing on the cake. Think about it this way: You could have baked the best cake, but if the icing looks sloppy, customers are likely to perceive the final product as substandard. That same idea holds true in carwashing. Your operation could produce a great wash result, but if the wipe-down process leaves streaky windows, spots or lint/fibers on vehicles, customers are not going see your business as having delivered on its quality promise.

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Towels matter, and how they are laundered impacts not only that finishing touch of a quality wash but also how long it lasts.

Quality starts at the beginning

Don’t make the mistake of running to the appliance store and throwing a homestyle washer and dryer set in your carwash. As we all know, the carwash is a rough environment. A commercial-quality washer is mandatory. This is why it is important to work with a well-established commercial laundry equipment distributor to ensure the best possible results.

Eric Higgins, vice president of sales for UniMac distributor Bestway Laundry Systems, recommends owners not underestimate how important it is to select durable equipment. “For a busy carwash, the need for clean wipe-down towels doesn’t stop; equipment downtime is not an option,” Higgins says. “Owners have to have peace of mind that their equipment is not only up to the production level of the business but also rugged enough to stand up to these heavy demands.”

While a distributor will help guide clients toward the right solution, the goals for a laundry system’s abilities are simple:

  • Rugged/reliable
  • Able to meet production and keep up with towel demand
  • Easy to operate
  • Fast cycle times.

“Because you want equipment close to where employees need it, your washer needs to be able to operate in damp environments. This often rules out many options. Stick with a product that has a reputation and is proven to perform in this environment,” Higgins notes, adding that it’s always a good idea to ask a distributor for references in the carwash industry. Chat with owners about the models they’ve installed, how they’re performing and how the distributors have supported them after installation.

Ease of installation is another factor to consider. Hardmount washer-extractors, washers that need to be bolted to the floor, often are not an option for carwashes.

“We’ve found that carwashes generally do not have thick enough concrete to accommodate hardmount units. As a result, going this route requires a reinforced pad to be poured,” Higgins states.

However, a key element for any carwash laundry is a super-high g-force extraction. Units that can spin and exert more than 500 g-force will remove significantly more water and eliminate the need for a tumble dryer (unless a detail shop is part of the operation). This not only returns towels to service faster, but it also reduces expenses by not having to purchase a tumble dryer or a larger supply of towels (since they are returned to service faster, fewer are needed).

The right process

With the right piece of equipment selected, it’s now time to look at the laundering process.

As discussed above, you want the washer installed close to where staff goes to get fresh towels. Anything you can do to limit the amount of steps to the towels is not only more efficient for a busy carwash, but it also ensures that staff members are changing towels out often to deliver quality results.

While you hopefully choose a washer that is easy to use, not everyone needs to operate it. Train a couple staff members and put them in charge of washing loads. This helps to ensure consistency, accountability and safety.

In selecting towels for the operation, microfiber cloths are preferable to cotton and will have a longer life span; however, they are more expensive. Whatever your operation chooses, make sure to use different colors for window towels and body towels. This simplifies things for staff, ensuring they use the correct linen. The two items also will have different wash formulas.

Related: How to maintain microfiber towels

“It’s important not to mix loads; you want to wash body towels and window towels separately. Nobody wants streaky windows,” Higgins says, adding that window towels have no soap on them, so the wash is simple.

For body towels, Higgins recommends working with your carwash chemical vendor for recommendations that match the towel supplier’s wash directions. Make sure the chemical works well with cold water (unless your carwash is in a colder climate and uses warm water). The addition of hydrogen peroxide also can work well to prevent any mold from developing, since towels will be left out and not dried.

In addition to sorting by color (using matching bin colors), it’s also a good idea to keep a separate bin for heavily soiled towels with grease and other substances. These can be accumulated and washed at the end of the day using a more aggressive formula and degreasing agent, if necessary.

Final thoughts

The secret to a quality full service carwash operation is no secret at all. Quality people, quality chemicals and quality tunnel equipment all contribute to great results and satisfied customers, who will be eager to join your loyalty program and return often. But, don’t forget a quality approach to laundering wipe-down towels.

Just imagine the impression a customer would have if he or she saw a dirty or stained towel being wiped against his or her car’s finish or windows. However, with the right equipment and processes in place, your carwash can have a streamlined approach to laundering these important tools and ensure customers always drive away 100 percent satisfied. That’s the icing on the perfect carwash cake.


Randy F. Radtke is global public relations manager at Alliance Laundry Systems, the global leader in providing laundry solutions. He is an award-winning journalist who also has more than 10 years of laundry experience, having written on the topic around the world for industries such as hospitality, long-term care, fire service and others. He can be reached at [email protected].