In many areas, carwash doors are a necessity to keep out freezing winds and cold temperatures. For other locations, doors are depended on to provide security for customers and equipment. In both instances, if doors malfunction, they can literally lock down the tunnels and bays of an active carwash business.

To keep a wash operational and regulate customer traffic moving through a tunnel or bay, an owner must work to make sure all doors and their hardware are well-maintained and functional. This includes performing scheduled maintenance as well as regular inspections to prevent unexpected downtime. In this article, we’ll look at the updated materials used for door and hardware construction and learn the best tips to ensure dependable door operation.

Modern door materials

Today, carwash doors are made of materials that are corrosion- and chemical-resistant, according to William Stokes, senior sales representative at Ultimate Supplies LLC. The most common doors in the carwash market currently are polycarbonate doors framed in aluminum. The door accessories are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), stainless steel or aluminum. Polycarbonate doors are traditionally operated by pneumatic air operators or new generations of waterproof electric operators.

“There are also doors designed for flexibility and speed that are made from a high-quality vinyl material that is combined with stainless steel accessories and commonly waterproof electric operators,” Stokes continues.

These door construction materials are required to prevent the normal wear and tear and corrosion that can occur on a standard metal, commercial or residential type overhead door in the carwash environment, Stokes states. Further, the aluminum door frames and tracks are popular because they provide lighter weight, offer longer operational life and are easier to install than traditional galvanized or stainless steel options. Finally, rust-proof hardware reduces maintenance costs and upkeep requirements for an overhead door.

Modern construction materials like vinyl curtains, anodized aluminum, polycarbonate sections, plastic track and hinges, stainless steel hardware and pneumatic openers are just a few of the key components for modern carwash doors, notes Martin Castro, sales representative with Airlift Doors Inc. These new materials have not only contributed to the longevity of the product by preventing rust and premature wear, but they have also allowed door manufacturers to be creative and resourceful when addressing common problems in the industry.

One example problem: How do you prevent the cables from coming off the drums on a polycarbonate style door? Use a direct-drive opener rather than a jackshaft style opener, Castro states. By attaching directly to the door rather than turning the shaft to open and close the door, the two components are always in sync and therefore cannot jump cables.

Another example: How do you eliminate downtime from a damaged panel if your door is struck by a vehicle? Castro suggests installing a vinyl roll-up door instead that will automatically reset after impact, causing little or no damage to the door.

Breaking down door options

Any carwash owner can testify to how harsh and aggressive the carwash environment can be on equipment. Therefore, if an operator chooses corrosion-resistant door hardware, he or she will have a better outlook when it comes to carwash door longevity. Even so, when choosing the right door with the right hardware, owners should take into consideration the type of application that the wash is running, Castro notes. Consult with a manufacturer or door provider for a recommendation on the best option for each application, as the options can vary for in-bay automatic, tunnel and self-serve operations.

Also, Castro lists a few key questions to ask when considering a door package:

  • Is additional site security needed?
  • Are vehicle impacts to the doors a concern?
  • Is speed a main factor in the operation of the wash’s doors?

“Discussing these questions with your door provider when considering a door package is always the best first step,” Castro says. “I know that all this can sound a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that there are only two clear choices when it comes to carwash doors: polycarbonate doors and vinyl roll-up doors.”

Polycarbonate doors are a lightweight option that will be a solid choice if an operator needs security in a facility, according to Castro. Doors with anodized aluminum rails and five-wall polycarbonate sections can withstand 200 times the impact of glass. A large variety of hardware options are available on this door type, going from galvanized to plastic to stainless steel.

Vinyl roll-up doors offer little security, but they are a great choice when vehicle collisions are a concern, Castro states. Vinyl options typically operate at speeds faster than overhead doors and have the breakaway ability on impact, which have made them popular for many applications.

Warm-weather options

Even when temperatures are warm, there are reasons to call on carwash doors during the typical wash cycle. One reason Stokes recommends operating doors during the warmer seasons is to encourage standard maintenance of the overhead doors. Regular use helps keep the doors clean and in top working condition. Also, many carwashes can benefit from the operation of the doors to control traffic and prevent wind from blowing chemicals out of the carwash bay.

Castro points out that there are multiple warm-weather functions doors can provide for a carwash. The first is traffic control. Customers can be confused on the proper time to enter a wash based on the equipment cycle. In this instance, closing doors between washes keeps customers out of the bay until the equipment is ready for the next vehicle. Movement is signaled by the opening of the door that provides access to the bay.

Related: Weather’s impact on carwashing

Next up is noise reduction. As many washes are located in high-traffic or residential areas, keeping doors closed during the wash cycle can reduce noise pollution in the community and help keep neighbors happy, according to Castro.

With carwash doors on both sides open, a location can run the risk of creating a wind tunnel scenario. In automatic bays, this can affect the application of the chemical and result in a poor finished product, Castro reveals. In self-serve applications, blocking the wind will give customers a controlled environment in which to wash a vehicle and encourage them to spend more time and money inside the bay.

Finally, runoff can be another result of the wind tunnel effect, Castro states. Many cities require that the chemicals and water used to wash a vehicle stay contained in the facility and out of the surrounding environment. Keeping one or both doors closed during the wash process can ensure this takes place.

Important maintenance

Stokes reminds operators that regular maintenance is required on all carwash equipment, and doors are no different. Though companies have designed doors to be lower maintenance in the carwash environment than a standard door system, companies still want owners to include doors in a wash’s normal bimonthly or monthly maintenance program.

Typical maintenance steps on polycarbonate doors include keeping the door panels clean via regular washing or cleaning with a polycarbonate cleaning solution or soap that does not contain ammonia. Next, inspection of the hinges, rollers, bearings and other hardware should be done on a regular basis. If hardware needs maintenance, Stokes states that the replacement should be made immediately to prevent failure of operation and possible further damage to the overhead door.

Another important maintenance step: All pneumatic air operators require clean, dry air from the compressor, so it is recommended that compressors are drained on a daily basis when possible to prevent water and debris from building up inside the operator cylinder, according to Stokes. Finally, all operator belts, chains or drives should also be inspected and lubricated when needed to extend their operational life expectancy.

For vinyl curtain doors, regular cleaning using any poly cleaner or non-ammonia-based solution or product will prevent dirt, soap and chemical buildup on the vinyl, Stokes notes. Inspection of the track and repair of any damage is important to prevent further damage to the curtain door. Also, it is vital that a curtain-style door is clean and dry if it is out of operation for any length of time. This must be done to prevent mold and chemical buildup on the vinyl.

Castro agrees proper maintenance of doors is important and endorses following the instructions in the door owner’s manual and the recommendations given by the manufacturer. Based on volume of usage and specific wash conditions, an operator will have to determine a maintenance schedule that works best for the application. However, in all instances, Castro recommends basic quarterly maintenance and following the manufacturer’s provided guidelines.

Castro’s list of important maintenance steps includes instructions for both carwash doors and their pneumatic operators.

For doors, Castro recommends:

  • Perform a visual inspection of the weather seal and all moving parts, including bearings, hinges, rollers, pulleys, drums, cables, etc., to determine if any show signs of wear. If a part shows signs of wear, it may need to be replaced.
  • Clean all sections of the door to eliminate chemical buildup, water spots, mold and mildew. To clean, spray the entire door with a mild soap or manufacturer-specific cleaner and rinse.
  • Grease zerk bearings and lubricate all rollers and hinges with a spray-type lube. Depending on the type of system, operators should also lubricate counterweight pulleys or springs with the same type of lube.

For the pneumatic openers, Castro suggests:

  • Clean the operator with water, mild soap and a soft cloth. Rinse with water and dry with a non-abrasive towel or cloth.
  • Lubricate openers and carriages (if applied) internally and externally using the manufacturer’s instructions. The recommended oil is 10 weight/non-detergent.
  • Test and inspect control boxes. Make sure that all buttons work and that there is no water getting inside the control box.
  • Test and inspect all safety eyes.

Remember, doors can be a great asset to your carwash operations, but only if you choose the proper type and maintain them well.


Jonathan Abrams is a freelance contributor.