It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. For the car wash industry, the constant drive to provide a better wash, while reducing operating costs, has spurred ongoing equipment innovations designed to increase revenues and decrease expenses.
With this in mind, manufacturers are constantly improving on design, helping the industry evolve into a largely automated, labor-saving business with thousands of brush, cloth, and foam options ranging in length, width, color, and texture.
Although many of these innovations are eventually copied by competitors and often adopted as “standard” options in the market, the improvements are allowing those who keep up with the latest and greatest innovations to turn casual customers into regulars.
THE EARLY EVOLUTION OF SELF SERVE
For the self-serve business, the quality of the wash is all about how customers interact with the brush, foam, and water, and how cost effectively these clean their cars.
Early on, nylon brushes were used, but their bristles were not soft enough for the car owner. In addition, the early brush designs did not allow for the even distribution of foaming soap over the entire head of the brush, further aggravating the problem with nylon.
A move to softer hog’s hair brushes with relatively short filament lengths offered some improvement. Even though short filaments tend to make brushes stiffer, the hog’s hair (actual hair that comes from hogs) has the smallest diameter tapered filament and is feathered at the ends, which helps to make it the softest.
“The shorter hog’s hair brushes still tended to be a little too stiff, and didn’t allow customers to lather up much because the foam fell out too quickly,” says Dan Pecora, an expert on car wash supplies and CEO of Erie Brush & Manufacturing Corp. in Chicago, IL, a supplier to the car wash industry since 1948. “Those early foam brushes also typically had only two or three feed holes in the middle of the brush, so the foam didn’t spread around very well.”
The next improvement occurred when Pecora began using longer hog’s hair filaments 4” and beyond. The longer hog’s hair is not only much softer to the touch, but when properly fed and lubricated, it releases grit and debris.
“The longer hog’s hair with tapered tips feel soft to the touch so car owners know it will be soft on their vehicle, and the longer hair lets the soap accumulate much better in the brush,” says Pecora.
Pecora also combined the hog’s hair with foaming brushes that featured more feed holes along the brush head for more complete lubrication.
“Foam brushes that offer at least six feed holes across the entire brush allow the soap to spread more evenly,” adds Pecora. “When used together with the hog’s hair, they provide vehicles with a better wash with less soap, saving car wash owners on material cost.”
A GENTLER APPROACH
For conveyor car washes, the industry has shuffled through an assortment of different brush and cloth materials, but for years owners were unable to resolve an underlying issue.
“It is important to keep grit off the cleaning instruments,” says Pecora. “It can become a big problem when it accumulates in re-circulated water. To produce shinier cars, only clean water should be used.”
To further address these issues, as well as reduce complaints, a uniquely soft type of foam material, called gentle foam, was invented and perfected for car washes.
Unlike typical foam, which is usually offered at standard levels of firmness, gentle foam significantly increases the level of softness. In fact, its softness enables it to clean difficult to reach areas, which also helps to optimize the wash while reducing claims.
In addition, because of its composition, it provides a better polish without the risk of snagging or damaging any portion of the car. It has also alleviated the problem with grit.
“Gentle foam does not hold the grit that traditional materials can, and because it is so soft it shines the car,” says Pecora.
THE WHEEL REVOLUTION
Even the cleaning of wheels, rims, and tires has come a long way. For decades, tire brushes were used to scrub just the rubber, and the wheels were typically left untouched or washed by hand.
However, as wheels and rims became an integral part of the cars’ overall look, the need to increase their shine without increasing the budget required further innovations.
High-pressure sprayer systems were tried, but they lacked the ability to remove all of the accumulated dirt and debris. It also raised costs, so a better idea had to be found.
Fortunately, one brush maker chose to create a larger diameter brush with both longer and shorter bristles.
“Previously, full service washes required a lot of help to wash tires and wheels, and other washes tended to let them go out dirty,” says Pecora. “High-pressure sprayer systems had mixed results since they lack the ability to scrub tough-to-remove dirt and grime as well as add a shine. The creation of wheel brushes with varied filament lengths essentially eliminates the need for labor and costly high-pressure sprayer systems to clean wheels.”
Beginning with unique names like the “poodle brush,” which Pecora coined because it resembles a well-manicured poodle, and the “wheel wonder” these brush filaments vary in size between three to seven inches in a wave-like pattern. As vehicles travel through the conveyor car wash, the longer bristles reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter bristles clean the tire and wheel surface.
Such brushes are now helping to save money and bring more return business, as labor is saved and tires and wheels emerge from conveyor washes cleaner and shinier.
While the demand for cleaner vehicles will rise with customer expectations, car wash owners can be sure that changes in vehicle designs and customer preferences will present future challenges to overcome.
As such, it can be a mistake for car wash owners to use just the brush types and methods they are familiar with. Instead, they owe it to themselves and their customers to become familiarized with the latest innovations the industry has developed to improve their operation and profitability along with customer satisfaction.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, CA.