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Auditing carwash chemistry

Carwashes can improve practices already in place to keep their businesses successful.


Many carwash owners and operators know that additional profit options like vending, pet washes, merchandise including greeting cards and air fresheners, and more can contribute to a higher bottom line. Operators need to weigh the pros and cons of each product to figure out what fits their businesses best.

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Often a business can become more profitable by simply doing better the things it already has put into practice. Paying attention to carwash chemistry is one of these instances. Chemicals are absolutely necessary to a wash, and using them correctly can be a simple way to ensure more revenue is earned. Operators should have enough chemistry knowledge to positively contribute to a carwash’s bottom line.

Tony Vertin, CEO of Ver-Tech Labs, says the more knowledgeable an operator is of any process in the wash, the better the wash will be managed.

“I think that general knowledge of what chemicals are being used in the wash and how they affect the cleaning or drying of a car is necessary,” notes Vertin.


Steve Arnovick, national sales manager for Blendco Systems, says that though it may not be deemed absolutely necessary for a manager to have in-depth knowledge of the chemistry process, “many operators want to learn these things … even if they don’t plan on applying their use on a regular basis.”

Arnovick explains that a carwash’s chemical supplier can provide a simple training session for employees. Assigning a lead person to make decisions on any chemical changes can help to “control wash quality and costs and avoid confusion,” he says. Suppliers should also regularly visit operators who desire self-reliance “to verify that they are on track and up-to-date with all the latest and greatest.”


Monitor with titration procedures

Wasted chemicals can greatly affect a carwash’s revenue stream. Vertin believes the best way to monitor chemical use is with titration procedures.

According to Vertin, titration procedures are “designed to measure the chemical concentration of all products except the various heavily-colored foamers, along with standard draw or scale tests which also measure the volume of titratable product used along with the amount of non-titratable colored products used.”

Vertin states that titration should be done at least weekly. He also says that although it is rarely done, titrations should be done on drying agents and waxes as well.


An added benefit of titration is that is a great aid for diagnosing problems in the wash, shares Vertin. Chemical suppliers can also provide employees training on these procedures.

Know proper usage with flow testing

Using the appropriate amount of chemical on each vehicle ensures a carwash is not wasting chemical or money spent on these products. Arnovick stresses that in the event of a drop in wash quality or the appearance of a chemical abnormality, operators should perform these tests before adjusting chemicals.

“Many times, the problem is elsewhere and just 'upping the usage' as a default solution won’t fix the problem but will raise costs,” Arnovick explains. “If you were turning out a quality wash and usages and titrations haven’t changed yet wash quality has diminished, what else may have changed?”


Arnovick prefers flow testing to establish the actual usage per car. “A flow test is a 'snapshot' of per wash cycle use of chemicals,” he says.

“It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on all application equipment and chemical inventory as leaks can cause unnecessary waste,” he states. “If you know you are hitting per vehicle usage and titration targets and a quick ‘car count vs. inventory’ calculation doesn’t make sense, where is the product going?”

“The supplier should provide information on recommended dosing and strengths (titrations) of chemical products based upon performance/cost targets established through discussions with the operator,” shares Arnovick.


He notes that going by manufacturer recommended tips is an appropriate starting point, but since the dilution ratios can be flawed because of differences in product viscosity and water pressure, flow testing should be used to verify usage.

Arnovick also says a titration test of each applicable product should be performed. He states it is not uncommon for operators to titrate daily and flow test weekly.

“Timing is up to the individual, but at a bare minimum I would recommend titrating weekly and flow testing quarterly,” he explains.

Add-on services by format

Once the chemistry process is properly managed, additional services can be added on to contribute positively to a wash’s bottom line. This can be especially beneficial to profits during a tougher business environment.


According to Arnovick, “Proactive operators who keep their finger on the pulse of the industry and aren’t afraid of experimenting with and wisely investing in new services at their wash have, in many cases, been able to either recapture revenue lost due to a slower economy or other factors, or, where sales have remained steady, see an increase in their revenue.”

“The business mantra, ‘it’s easier to extract additional dollars from existing customers than it is to add new ones,’ applies here,” he continues.

Different wash formats have unique add-on services. For conveyor washes, hot wax arches continue to be most popular because of the significant additional revenue they can generate, shares Arnovick.


The arches can be used to increase wash counts by drawing attention to the wash from the street, he says. They are also “being used as a way to apply additional products thus adding value and encouraging upselling of products such as foaming conditioners, total car protectants, etc.,” he continues.

Arnovick has seen in-bay automatics also use hot wax arches, especially from manufacturers and distributors. He says to expect more of this in the future.

Self-serve washes are also adding more services. “Some washes are adding in-bay handheld dryers, in-bay vacuums and, where applicable, boat motor flushing,” he explains.


Train on reclaim chemistry

Vertin believes there needs to be more training when it comes to how chemistry affects reclaim systems. For him, there are two schools of thought on the subject.

“One [school of thought] suggests that if you use all ‘green’ chemical products that you create a reclaim compatible system,” says Vertin.

“The second school details a more sophisticated approach based on the compatibility of the detergents with the specialty products [at the] end of the wash to eliminate foul odors like the rotten egg hydrogen sulfide, reduce the use of auxiliary odor control chemicals like chlorine, peroxide, ozone, etcetera, while reducing sludge formation and extending sludge disposal time,” Vertin explains.


He says the choice is left up to the operator.

Arnovick adds that as long as chemical manufacturers’ “recommendations are followed and the system itself is being operated as per the manufacturer’s guidelines, you shouldn’t see any adverse effects.”

Business sense

Arnovick says that owners in general are becoming smarter because of a tougher business environment. They often need to set themselves apart from the competition in a tough market, or they may need to try new things to increase revenues.

“They are keeping a much keener eye on all aspects of their business, including the use of chemicals,” he notes.

“When they are faced with these challenges, they tend to look to their trusted vendor for help,” adds Arnovick. “In most cases, a good vendor/customer relationship in today’s marketplace is viewed as a ‘partnership.’”


While many owners and operators may have a strong working knowledge of the chemistry process, some do rely on suppliers to ensure the process is efficient.

"In some cases, operators rely completely on their supplier to monitor and service their chemical systems, and they have no interest in learning about or being involved in their chemistry,” Arnovick shares. “In these cases, their systems should be checked and serviced frequently by their supplier.”

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