The State of the Car Wash Industry and How Dispensers Help

By: Scott Campbell, Global Product Manager, Hydro Systems

The car wash industry has exploded in recent years, growing at a rate of between 3 and 4% each year in North America. Today, there are 62,668 car wash locations across the country that service the 77% of drivers who prefer a professional car wash to washing their vehicle at home. This number is up from 48% of drivers who preferred car washes in 1994.

Car washes have several benefits compared to washing a car at home. They are more sustainable, as they use less water and leave less room for chemical runoff into the environment. Some states, including California, even fine people for washing their cars at home because it wastes so much water. Car washes are also quicker, more efficient and are less likely to damage a vehicle’s paint job than a home wash.


The Chemistry Behind Car Washing

As the industry grows, car washes have looked to enhance their chemical efficiency. Some operations change the types of chemicals used based on the season. For example, Chicago car washes will use a different pre-soak chemical in the winter than they do in the summer when salt removal is not a concern. Other car wash businesses use different acid-based, neutral or alkaline-based chemistries depending on their preference.

Car washes have also started transitioning to superconcentrates, which are designed to lift dirt and grime from car surfaces more effectively. Depending on the chosen chemical, the cost per wash ranges from as low as $0.30 per wash to upwards of $1.25 per wash. By increasing the intensities of chemicals used, this reduces the volume of chemical used per car wash.

The Role of Chemical Dispensers

Chemical dispensers help car wash facilities keep up with increasing demand and the call for increased efficiency and results. Dispensers provide more accurate dilutions, reduce the amount of water needed per wash and help get vehicles through the wash even faster.

When looking to invest in a chemical dispenser, consider the following features:

  • Accurate dilution. Especially with the move toward superconcentrates, chemical dispensers ensure that chemicals are mixed at the proper dilutions in order to clean cars effectively. It’s important to seek out systems that allow operators to easily set flow rates and dilution rates, thereby providing predictable performance and peace of mind.
  • Streamlined dispensing. Some dispensers require two or more pumps to be compatible with a wide range of chemicals. Products like Hydro Systems’ HydroMinder WDP simplifies the process by providing one pump that can handle alkaline-based, neutral and acid-based chemicals. This will allow car wash owners to spend more time running their business and less time worrying about mixing chemicals.
  • Long life expectancy. Before choosing a dispenser, research the different types of dispensing systems and find out which brands have proven track records within the industry and won’t require replacement for several years. Dispensers that have a long lifespan improve efficiency and reduce costs over the long term.
  • Ease of use. The HydroMinder WDP from Hydro Systems features an adjustable lower end that controls the ratio of chemical that is mixed with water prior to being delivered to the car wash equipment. Most car wash chemicals exhibit different dilution ratios that need to be achieved to be most effective. Also, chemicals are rotated depending on the time of year, or may be completely changed in the case of using a new vendor. As chemicals are changed, the HydroMinder WDP can adapt as well. The chemical dilution is explicitly printed on the lower end, and the lower end can be twisted accordingly to match-up with the required dilution ratio. There is no need to experiment with new tips and/or eductors.

Delivering Cleaner Cars

The bottom line of the car wash industry is that customers will keep coming back if their cars are cleaned quickly and effectively. Similar to choosing the proper air dryers and tunnel controllers, it’s essential to install and maintain the right dispensing equipment at your car wash. As technology evolves, it’s essential to choose a chemical dispenser that can keep up with modern industry demands.

For more information on this topic, read our white paper: Chemical Dispensers: The Driving Force behind Car Washing Success.

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