When considering carwash doors, you might struggle with several questions. Primarily, do you need them? What type should you get? How much security do they provide? Are they easy to maintain? Depending on what type of carwash you own or operate, you might be wondering any of the above. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers because every carwash has different needs. But here, we can lay out some basic facts to help answer some of the more fundamental questions.

Do you really need carwash doors?

Think about it: Why does any facility have doors? To keep weather and other unwanted natural elements outside. To insulate a building. To provide security. The list goes on. It is for these very same reasons that carwashes can benefit from installing doors on their tunnels or bays.

One of the primary reasons an owner will install doors is something that affects all carwashes: winter. Carwashes in colder climates especially need to use doors. According to Josh Hart, president of Airlift Doors Inc., “If you operate in cold climates, doors are a necessity to keep your equipment from freezing during the winter months.”

William Stokes, senior sales representative at Ultimate Supplies LLC, adds that while overhead doors are most often used for tunnels and in-bay automatics (IBAs), some self-serves have outfitted their wand bays with doors to protect customers from the cold weather.    

However, even if you are in a warmer climate, there are still plenty of reasons to get carwash doors, particularly, Hart says, as they can solve the following problems:

  • Noise. Especially for carwashes in high-density residential areas, doors are important for reducing noise and may even be required by a municipality.
  • Traffic flow. While there are normally signs or lights instructing a driver when to enter a carwash bay, inattentive drivers may miss these signals and drive in at the wrong time. Doors that open and close between cycles make it obvious when to enter the bay.
  • Wind tunnel effect. Carwashes can often become wind tunnels, and when there’s too much wind, chemical can spray anywhere, thus affecting your wash quality.
  • Water runoff. In addition to keeping chemicals from spraying wildly, carwash doors can keep wind from pushing water runoff outside the bay and keep it flowing into the drains, as it should.

Remember, though, that no two carwashes are alike, and what may be a problem for one may not have any bearing on another.

“We have found that almost every carwash situation is unique due to the type of wash, the climate they are in, bay size, location, directional orientation, type of wash process, amount and type of chemical used, the amount of usage, etc.,” Kevin Baumgartner, president of American Garage Door Supply Inc., notes. “Almost every type of carwash will benefit from the installation of a door that is well-suited for the specific exposures and situations they are subjected to.”

Polycarbonate or vinyl?

Like carwashes, doors come in different types as well and, depending on your needs, one style might fit better for your wash than another. “The harsh conditions of a carwash require materials that can withstand constant attack of high moisture and harsh chemicals. Typical overhead doors are not built for this type of environment,” Baumgartner notes.

Stokes agrees, adding that putting in cheap metal or fiberglass doors is not wise, as they will ultimately deteriorate visually, fall apart, rust or fail mechanically. “It is not uncommon to have your doors 10 or 20 years if you chose the right package and maintain the door and operators properly,” he adds.

As such, over the course of the most recent decades, note the experts, two clear winners in the carwash door market have emerged: polycarbonate and vinyl doors. Depending on your wash’s needs, one style may fit better than the other; however, both are constructed of corrosion-resistant hardware that can survive the carwash environment.

For instance, polycarbonate doors offer the best security option when operated by pneumatic or electric operators. Not only are they shatterproof, unlike a glass and metal door, but they have an impact resistance that’s 200 times greater than a glass panel, making these doors durable to impacts comparable to that of a steel door but without denting. “Paired with a pneumatic opener that holds pressure from the operator on the door in the closed position, it is very difficult to break through or lift up this style door,” Hart notes. Vinyl doors, on the other hand, are easily lifted and cut through.

However, if door speed is more of a concern, then a vinyl door might be the better choice. Vinyl doors can roll up at 34 inches per second, whereas a polycarbonate door with a pneumatic opener can only reach speeds of up to 18 inches per second.

But, if retaining heat in winter is your biggest concern, both will provide insulation, although a polycarbonate door will provide more. However, the vinyl door’s speed helps to make up for its lower thermal resistance since less heat will escape when you open and close the doors.

If car impacts worry you, vinyl doors have the edge, since they are designed to break out of their tracks upon impact and pull back onto the track on the next opening cycle. “The polycarbonate doors will most likely suffer damage on impact and will require replacement panels to fix the door,” Hart explains. “Therefore, with roll up doors you suffer less downtime if your door is impacted and avoid the repair costs to replace the door panels with overhead doors.”

Finally, there’s the appearance factor, which is simply a matter of preference. The most insulated polycarbonate doors come in five, 5/8-inch thick, clear polycarbonate walls framed in an anodized aluminum extrusion. Vinyl doors, on the other hand, are curtain doors that have only one layer; but, excepting the solid top panel, they come with the ability to mix and match either clear or colored vinyl on the intermediate panels, and these colored panels come in almost any hue. Whichever you choose, both will allow natural light into the tunnel or bay.

Polycarbonate door, Ultimate Supplies LLC

Vinyl door, Airlift Doors Inc.

How do I maintain doors?

Like all carwash equipment, doors require maintenance as well, although choosing the proper corrosion-resistant door package can reduce the amount of maintenance needed. As Stokes says, “The most common service to any door, whether polycarbonate or vinyl, is to keep the door clean. This will also show your carwash as more inviting and appealing to your customers.”

As such, Stokes provides the following recommendations for door maintenance:

  • Use a soft cloth or non-abrasive medium and a plastic polish or vinyl cleaner
  • Clean at least every two weeks (and as needed), even during off-seasons when carwash doors are left open a majority of the time
  • Regularly check for misalignment, and service and inspect all components (belts, chains, cables, hinges and rollers), replacing any worn or broken ones immediately
  • Do not leave doors open and unused during the year (mostly during summer months), but keep them on regular cycles to ensure working components stay lubricated.

Baumgartner adds that in colder climates, carwash doors need to be cleared of ice buildup.

“A well-maintained door is necessary to your business to be successful. If an overhead door is nonfunctional, your wash bay may not be operational, costing lost revenue and added expenses,” educates Stokes. “The overhead doors are the first major piece of carwash equipment that the customer will see, and it is important that the first impression is a positive one. A clean, well-maintained carwash door is going to invite your customer back or send them to a competitor next time.”    

Even if your carwash already has doors, improvements are constantly being made to these pieces of equipment. For instance, Baumgartner notes, “The recent introduction of the DC drive electric operator has offered carwash owners the ability to get high-speed movement with electric operators instead of air operators. In the past, only air operators offered the speeds that carwashes require. [However,] the verdict is still out whether these operators will have the durability to withstand the harsh conditions of the carwash environment.”

These and other improvements to tracks, torsion springs and other door components may be available from your carwash door’s manufacturer; therefore, it is recommended to check with the manufacturer on a regular basis for such updates.

Remember, doors are your carwash’s gatekeepers. They can both let in customers (at the proper times) and keep chemicals, water and heat from escaping. They can shield against the wind, and some can even keep out vandals. They are the barriers to unruly cars. Carwash doors serve in an abundance of capacities, as long as you find the proper fit for your wash.