Tunnel washes need to do a great job cleaning the wheels and rims of cars, trucks, and SUVs — particularly “decked out” ones — to keep customers coming back. But too often standard-length wheel brushes simply scrub the flat surfaces and “ride over” the interior detail, leaving tightly adhered dirt and road grime largely intact.

For tunnel wash owners who cannot afford excess labor or unhappy customers, the key to providing superior cleaning of wheels and rims is to utilize wheel brushes with filaments of varied length. This provides necessary friction to clean both flat surfaces and intricate detail far better than typical spray washing or cylindrical brushes with single-length filaments.


In the past, it was relatively common for tunnel washes to get wheels clean by some form of having employees stand at the entrance with high-pressure spray guns, and/or touching them up at the end with hand brushes.

Wheel brushes with filaments of varied length providenecessary friction to clean both flat surfaces andintricate interior detail far better than typicaloptions.

However, today eliminating manual labor from the wash process is essential to control costs as well as improve consistency and throughput. However, relying on automated sprayers, even with high- or low-pH chemicals plus heated water is not sufficient because dirt and road grime will continue to adhere to the wheel without physical agitation.

“The fact is that scrubbing and friction with a soft brush ofvaried filament length is often needed to break the bond between well-adhered dirt and the various surfaces, nooks, and crannies of the wheel, rim, and tire,” says Dan Pecora, owner of Chicago, IL-based Erie Brush and Manufacturing Corporation, one of the largest manufacturers of brush and vehicle detailing supplies to the international car wash industry.

Tunnel washes have traditionally utilized rotating, pencil-type tire/wheel brushes to provide physical agitation. While this works for flat surfaces, this approachsimply cannot reach the irregular surfaces of wheels and rims,failing to clean them properly.

“A typical pencil-type wheel brush, with a flat cylindrical surface, will miss cleaning recessed areas or nooks and crannies in wheels,” says Pecora. “To really get into and clean all the contours of wheels and rims, you need a wheel brush with a contoured surface of varied length filaments.”

In order to fill this need, the industry has responded by developing innovative automated wheel brushes, with varied configurations of size and shape. These brushes are characterized by filaments that are gradually varied in length between fourto six inches to create a wave-like pattern.

As a vehicle travels through the automated car wash, the longer filaments reach deep into wheel crevices while the shorter filaments clean the surface. In terms of longevity, wheel brushes can survive many thousands of vehicles with very little maintenance due to the special core that prevents bending or denting.

According to Pecora, these uniquely shaped, automated wheel brushes can be used on the smallest cars to the largest vehicles without adjustment, and are gentle on all typesof wheel surfaces, whether steelor aluminum.

These wave-like wheel brushesdo a consistently better job than methods involving manual labor, which inevitably varies in quality depending on the employee, workload, and fatigue.

Of course, automating the wheel cleaning process with these types of brushes also significantly reduces operational cost. Eliminating the manual labor involved with cleaning wheels and rims can save tunnel wash operators tens of thousandsof dollars a year in labor costs.

Additional savings are possible as well by reducing or eliminating expenses related to operating and maintaining high-pressure sprayers, which require heating and pressurizing the water/cleaning solution.

Tunnel wash operators who have not looked into such contoured wheel brushes will benefit from the savings and efficiencies it brings to their operations.

Jeff Elliott is a Torrance, CA-based technical writer. He has researched and written about industrial technologies and issues forthepast 20 years.