The balance of chemistry applied to vehicle surfaces is extremely vital in today’s active express tunnels. The importance of proper chemistry application was recently highlighted in a story that Professional Carwashing & Detailing covered. In this instance, a customer’s white truck came out of the exit stained pink due to chemical issues inside the carwash.

Regarding the science of carwashing, if chemical titrations or mixtures are even slightly off, it can affect not only the wash quality and chemical costs, but it can also damage customers’ vehicles. Thankfully, there are steps operators can follow to prevent worst-case scenarios involving carwash chemistry. Often, these same best practices will keep chemical delivery equipment operating effectively, and technology updates will also drive a business to new levels of profitability.

Inspect and adjust

Today, there are similar best practices shared among many carwash chemistry experts. The “KIM” concept is a good starting point when an operator is talking about chemical metering and application, according to Doug Marquis, vice president of business development with Cleaning Systems Inc. (CSI) – Lustra. KIM is an acronym for “know it, inspect it and maintain it.”

“Some operators overlook the importance of completely understanding the mechanical functions of the chemical dispensing and application systems in their facilities,” Marquis says. “They may know the chain speed of the conveyor and how to adjust wrap speeds and tension, but when it comes to chemical equipment, they rarely look at it or give it a second thought.”

Marquis states that operators need to:

  • Know the equipment: Learn how the equipment functions and how adjustments are to be made. Know what different pressures and flows do to chemical performance as well as generally how the equipment functions.
  • Inspect the equipment: Perform inspections regularly. Regular will mean something different to most washes, and business volume is certainly a key aspect to consider. But, the metering and application equipment should be inspected at least a few times a week to ensure there are no major issues.
  • Maintain the equipment: Rem- ember to perform the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance. Like any other mechanical system in a carwash, if it is not maintained, it will eventually have problems.

Kipp Kofsky, president of Arcadian Services LLC, notes that an owner should inspect and adjust, if necessary, the chemical application equipment on a monthly basis. That said, this timing should be subject to any applicable issues that may arise in the carwash.

Kofsky’s general checklist of what should be inspected includes:

  • Check for water leaks on a daily walkthrough. Addressing leaks reduces the amount of water used as well as chemical usage.
  • Make sure chemical containers have covers on them to avoid potential contamination.
  • Check and clean nozzles to maintain chemical consistency and wash performance.
  • Maintain high-pressure pumps according to manufacturer recommendations. The pumps should be inspected on a regular maintenance program; the oil and pressure need to be checked regularly; and belts should be inspected for wear and replaced if necessary.
  • Test the check valves and foot valves on the chemical pumps on a routine maintenance schedule. If these are not functioning properly, it will lead to erratic chemical usage and poor cleaning results.
  • Check titrations for all acidic and alkaline chemicals on a scheduled basis. If a change is seen in the appearance of the chemicals on the vehicle, this is the first sign of a potential issue in the chemical system.
  • Visually check all mixing tanks and clean when necessary. When cleaning the tank, it is beneficial to also flush all lines associated with
    that tank.
  • Maintain the water softener equipment on a routine basis and test the water quality. A well-operating water softener can save significant chemical costs, but if it is not working properly, it will degrade cleaning quality and increase chemical costs.
  • Maintain the spot-free system, including changing out the membranes, as per the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • Perform a volumetrics analysis to check the amount of chemical being applied to each car, and produce a chemical cost per vehicle washed analysis.

“A simple way to test for chemical usage is to mark each of the containers weekly. Next, check your wash counts by package type and compute the quantity of each chemical consumed to wash an average vehicle,” Kofsky explains.

Performance best practices

With an issue as technical as chemistry application, there are even more best practices that operators should consider. Brian Chipman and Kent Nygren with Ver-Tech Labs state that a wash should ensure it uses properly sized chemical suction lines from the product drum, proper check valves for the type of chemicals being used and proper pumps with the best seals for specific chemical applications. Next, the most efficient nozzles or application process should be called upon for best coverage and performance at the best cost.

Pete Denissoff, president of Synergy Solutions, also reinforces the importance of maintaining chemistry equipment’s pick-up lines. The line from the drum to the equipment should be regularly inspected and cleaned. Frequently, owners do not change those hoses often enough, and they can get stiff or brittle after a certain length of time. This makes the chemical application system work less efficiently.

In addition, these hoses can curl inside the drum. To prevent this, some operators may add another tube or a conduit over the hose to keep it straight and avert the curling, Denissoff notes. Another best practice is adding a weighted foot valve to the bottom of the tube, so it sinks to the barrel’s bottom. That said, these foot valves are another piece that should be inspected and replaced on a regular basis. A foot valve that does not sit well on the pick-up line will cause air pockets and negatively affect the chemistry draw.

“If an owner/operator is not comfortable or simply does not have the personnel to keep up on maintenance items, it can be helpful to work with a chemical company whose employees are trained to help in these areas as well,” Kofsky says.

Documenting use

“Developing and following a system of chemical measurement, documentation and regular evaluation is very important to be sure you are both efficient and effective with your chemistry and its application,” Marquis states.

Historically speaking, measurement and documentation have been handled via hands-on chemical use evaluations completed on-site. Written or emailed summary reports are sent afterwards to communicate the current chemical use per vehicle. In some situations, operators have performed this function on their own, but in many cases washes have relied on a chemical supply partner to do this for them. Marquis recommends a combination of the two in order to create checks and balances that the chemistry is providing maximum value — not using too much and not using too little.

While there will always be a place for some hands-on volumetric analysis, the need to manage this important cost and performance aspect of a carwash has grown to the point where it needs automated technology in order to keep up with demand, Marquis notes. When a busy wash is pushing 1,000 cars a day, the slightest issue can add up to significant dollar costs quickly.

Chipman and Nygren state that chemical log books or consumption charts are great tools. Once they are kept, an operator can refer to chemical logs or charts to ensure costs are in line and meeting the appearance and performance goals that were originally set up when the equipment was installed.

According to Denissoff, volumetric metering is a little more time-consuming to complete, but it’s more accurate in some cases than traditional titration. Because titration is measured by increments of droplets, volumetrics measures the physical amount of product being used.

“But also, what’s new on the market — and I think just about everybody uses now — are scales,” according to Denissoff. “They use a scale to find out exactly how much product is being pulled for each car. So, you can get a good cost per car that’s very accurate, and it’s almost instantaneous. To get the right dilution, you still have to find out how much product and how much water are going out per car to determine exactly what your ratio is.”

Application issues

To avoid application issues like in the example of the unfortunate pink truck, Marquis again suggests an operator inspect the equipment several times a week. Even so, he cautions to only adjust application when the performance or use measurements are clearly outside of the acceptable range that has been defined. “More is not always better, and less is not always cheaper. Carwash chemistry today is a cutting-edge technology, not a commodity.”

Chipman and Nygren remind operators that, due to the ever-changing weather as well as the frequency of washing, chemistry variables in a busy carwash remain constant. Application equipment should be inspected daily with a test vehicle, and use should be adjusted as often as it takes to maintain the desired cleaning quality and appearance results that the operator desires.

In addition, there are important application factors that involve carwash water usage, according to Chipman and Nygren. Three water tips an operator should strive to remember are having consistent and adequate water pressure with chemical dispensing equipment, proper water quality and appropriate water temperature per application.

“When dispensing chemicals in a tunnel, it is almost equally important to think about putting on a great show,” Kofsky concludes. “Choosing the right mix of chemical and application style
will greatly increase the experience and generate repeat business. The right
chemical and equipment that produce large volumes of foam or make the color pop or fill the air with aromatic fragrances should all be taken into account.”


Michael Rose is a freelance contributor.