While a multitude of books, learning sessions and events for new business owners promise to reveal the secrets of success, experienced operators realize that there aren’t many hidden factors. In the carwash world, the businesses that succeed and grow generally do so due to one thing: They produce superior results. Obviously, striving to create the best wash results and the highest levels of customer satisfaction aren’t secrets, but they contribute to an operation’s success mightily.

Even so, figuring out how to create the best results can be a trying process, especially for new owners. Every carwash location comes with its own set of problems and opportunities. Even for established washes building a new site, repeating the same business steps at a new location and succeeding can be a momentous challenge.

In a competitive industry like car care, if a carwash doesn’t provide a clean vehicle in a convenient time frame, there is always another carwash down the road that will. The recent boom of new washes has led to a dog-eat-dog market for many operators. Because of this, one of the most important spots in a bay or tunnel is where the wash materials meet the surface of customers’ vehicles. With tunnels, in-bay automatics (IBAs) and self-serve locations, a huge part of a wash’s success is based on the quality of brushes and equipment. Thus, owners and operators should pay close attention to the quality and performance of brushes regardless of a business’ wash format.

Popular brush materials

Today, there are many different materials that carwash brushes can be made from. Each has proven popular because of the basic physics of that material, according to Dan Pecora, owner of Erie Brush & Manufacturing. Another important factor is the material/brush construction in relation to the job that is to be done with that particular brush.

In other words, the type of brush that an owner should install depends on how the specific brush will be used. Brush materials can be matched to their use in the carwash. Here, Pecora provides a list of brush types and how they are frequently used in a wash:

  • Tire cleaning: nylon or polypropylene
  • Tire dressing: polyethylene or cloth or hog’s hair
  • Wheels and lower detail: polyethylene or cloth or foam
  • Compartmentalization: cloth or clear plastic
  • Self-serve: hog’s hair
  • Prepping cars: hog’s hair or cotton
  • Mat washers: nylon or polypropylene
  • Rocker panels: filaments or cloth
  • Top rotation: foam or cloth
  • Top curtains: polyester, polypropylene or cashmere
  • Wraparounds: heavily packed in the right places with cloth, foam or filaments
  • Grill brushes: heavily packed in the right places with cloth, foam or filaments
  • Side brushes: soft cloth or foam.

More on foam brushes

Serko Kirikian with Kirikian Industries says many carwash brush materials in 2016 are made with closed cell foams. In a closed cell foam, the microscopic bubbles in the foam are not connected. This prevents liquid or dirt from penetrating the brush. Over the years, carwash manufacturers have developed carwash equipment to maximize the benefits of these closed cell foams.

“I most often recommend closed cell foam for the washing material,” Kirikian explains. “They come in different thicknesses and densities, but all are more ‘forgiving’ and gentler on the vehicle due to their lack of water absorption and weight reduction.”

Kirikian notes that today’s vehicle clear coats are softer due to environmental regulations and are often more susceptible to paint marking. Even so, closed cell foam brushes do not disturb a vehicle finish. This results in a polishing effect to the clear coat surface and provides a shinier finish. As closed cell foams are also lighter, they are less likely to pull or break the vehicle exterior molding as well.

Brush considerations

When a carwash operator decides to invest in new brushes, he or she can ensure a smart choice by fully researching the brushes they are going to purchase, Kirikian states. This may include inquiring with an equipment manufacturer and/or distributor to get a recommendation for the carwash brushes.

Another resource can be fellow carwash owners. “Talk to other operators who are using the brushes to get their opinion and their experience with [them],” Kirikian recommends.

Kirikian’s company helps its clients with their brush needs by making a brush that properly fits modern equipment. In today’s carwash industry, each carwash manufacturer’s equipment has different requirements to maximize the wash benefits. With 20 years of experience making brushes, Kirikian’s company can create the brush that the customer requires built to suit the equipment’s needs.

When selecting carwash brushes, Pecora suggests getting the highest quality option every single time. The highest quality selection will be more reliable, will always perform its job better and will last longer. Due to the extended use, it will be cheaper to use on a per car basis. Over time, the highest quality brush will generate more money for a car care business compared to cheaper options.

“Why would anyone buy ordinary quality?” Pecora asks. “Does it mean that the satisfaction of their customers is not very important to them? Why would anyone buy less than the highest quality, much less cheap brushes? Does it mean that they think they are saving money and the bottom line of their P&L will be bigger by a few dollars?”

Upgrade and update

Another important consideration when a carwash owner looks to upgrade their brushes should be the paying customer. An operator should choose the material that produces the best quality wash for their customers while utilizing every carwash technological advancement to his or her advantage, Kirikian notes. Simply put, the brushes selected should always produce a cleaner, shinier car.

But brushes are only part of the equation. Improved results are achieved by combining the carwash equipment, carwash brush material and chemicals, and each plays a critical role in producing a clean, shiny vehicle. When properly utilized, recent technological advancements with carwash equipment, materials and chemicals allow a carwash operator to achieve a shiner, cleaner car with less labor and prepping, according to Kirikian.

Pecora returns to the idea of always using the highest quality. “Upgrade everything that you can upgrade in your business with the highest quality that you can find.” This step will allow new or experienced owners to develop their operation into a permanent profitable business — not just another semi-success or semi-failure.

“If all carwash owners/operators in the U.S. did this, it would improve our industry tremendously and everyone would benefit,” Pecora continues.

Improved technology, less labor

Two of the main factors when it comes to advancement in the automated car care industry are new technology and the desire to reduce labor. Technology improvements reduce the time it takes a wash to complete and remove site bottlenecks due to prep stations or manual labor. And labor reduction will continue to increase in importance as politicians look to raise the minimum wage in many areas of the country. Thankfully, carwash equipment continues to become more efficient in producing a cleaner vehicle with minimal labor.

“Top brushes, as well as wrap arounds, have probably benefited the most with the closed cell material,” Kirikian states. The new technological equipment designs maximize the benefits of these closed cell brushes.

Further, closed cell foam rim cleaner brushes are offered by some manufacturers, and they are both labor savers and safe for rims, according to Kirikian. In another effort to reduce labor, drying materials show some of the most recent advancements in the carwash industry. These drying materials are installed for top brushes and side wheels after the dryer, and they wipe off the remaining droplets resulting in a dryer vehicle.

“Top brushes made a strong resurgence due to the use of closed cell foams, and closed cell foam carwash brushes, when run properly, require less prepping of the vehicle which results in a reduction of labor,” Kirikian notes. “Every major carwash manufacturer produces an equipment line with closed cell foam for wrap arounds, rockers, van wheels, top brushes and rim cleaners.”

This upgraded brush material also contributed to in-bay automatics adding brushes back to their equipment. The use of brushes with IBAs has “defiantly increased” over the past decade, and in-bay automatic manufacturers have maximized the benefits of closed cell foams to provide a cleaner vehicle with less damage, Kirikian says. The main benefit of the touchless in-bay automatics was the lower instances of vehicle damage, but the use of foam reduced these damage claims. This change made the brushes more appealing to the carwash operator while resulting in a cleaner vehicle.

As a new owner thinks about updating a wash’s brushes, he or she must decide on their priorities. Pecora asks why a business owner would think more money could be made using cheap brushes. Why would customers choose to come back to a carwash again and again where the owner only uses the cheapest technology and materials?

Pecora concludes, “What makes you think that you can provide an average or below average experience to your customers and they will still come back?”