Optimizing the Five Factors of Cleaning for Your Car Wash Process Can Produce Superlative Results

Feb 6, 2023




by Patrick Flynn, Territory Sales Manager-Chemicals, Howco Inc.

Regardless of what you’re cleaning -- be it dishes, floors, sidewalks, dogs, and most certainly vehicles – understanding and incorporating the five factors of cleaning are essential to obtaining satisfactory results. A superlative car wash is an orchestration of many elements working properly and cohesively. When calculated and applied properly, these cleaning factors coalesce for the desired outcome.

1. Time – The old phrase “time is of the essence” holds true in cleaning vehicles, as time is material to the performance of several factors. The time that chemicals stay on the vehicle and the time it takes the vehicle to reach the next procedure, i.e., brushes, pressurized water spray, additional chemistry applications, drying, etc., are both critical to achieving ideal performance.

“Dwell time,” or how long various chemicals are allowed to stay on the vehicle’s surface before the next wash component, is vital to optimizing efficacy of the chemistry. Optimal dwell time, crucial in all car wash chemical applications, could come down to just seconds, which can translate to feet or even inches of spacing between equipment or procedures in a conveyorized tunnel. A longer dwell time allows for better chemistry performance, and conveyor chain speed can be slowed to increase dwell time if necessary.  

2. Temperature – Just as rinsing residue off dirty dishes is typically more effective with hot water than cold, the temperature of all car wash liquids can dictate how they perform. The warmer the liquids, the better the performance. Howco does offer equipment that heats liquids, but the other factors can be adjusted to compensate for liquids that are not temperature-controlled.

3. Chemicals – Proper car wash chemical application is imperative to obtaining a desirable finished product. Every chemical has recommended mixing ratios and application amounts for maximum performance. Using too much or too little of these chemicals can produce unsatisfactory results and have a negative or even damaging impact.  

4. Pressure – The pressure factor includes the force (or PSI – pounds per square inch) from all liquid sources (chemicals and water), and the direct friction from any brushes used in the wash process. There are several considerations for determining the proper pressure needed, including the number and function of applicators, and the type of car wash. Touchless washes, for example, require more PSI because the brush friction is absent. Conversely, tunnel conveyor washes can have multiple direct friction components, which requires less liquid pressure.

5. Procedure – Procedure establishes the proper order of the other factors, including the use of high- and low-pH chemical products. In a typical conveyor tunnel, the wash starts with higher pH products (alkaline) and transitions to lower pH products (acidic) as the wash process progresses. This is because high-pH products break down and remove organic substances such as road film, brine, bird droppings, and bugs from a vehicle’s surface. Low-pH products help clean and shine the car’s windows, wheels, and glass, and remove inorganic substances that include road tar and clay.  

An effective car washing formula combining these five factors is a purposeful balancing act that will vary depending on the length of a car wash tunnel; amount, type, and spacing of tunnel equipment; temperature of the water, air, vehicle, and tunnel; amount and pressure of water and chemicals applied; and any other process used.

A Howco chemical representative can provide expertise in orchestrating the five factors of ideal cleaning for your car wash to conduct a beautiful symphony every time.