The Holy Grail of the car wash industry has long been to deliver the cleanest possible vehicles to demanding customers in the gentlest, fastest, most profitable way. Touchless washes, one recent attempt to achieve that aim, have produced mixed results. Now car wash supply manufacturers are offering a variety of softer, more-efficient brush, cloth, and foam options that make reaching this Holy Grail much more achievable for car wash owne

Car wash owners have a variety of softer,
more-efficient options available, from softer cloth,
foam, and brushes to specially designed wheel cleaners.

While automated car washes have long relied on brushes and cloth, the industry moved toward touchless washes years ago for customers suspicious of anything “harsh” touching their vehicles.

Though touchless washes have earned praise for convenience, they have, due to a lack of physical contact with the vehicle, not always been effective in removing layers of dirt or grime. More recently, in-bay washes have taken a page from the top tunnel washes to add gentle friction for a faster, more effective, less costly process.


Despite the fact that touchless washes use treated, high-pressure, high-temperature water mixed with chemicals, a thin layer ofdirt or a filmy residue of road debris can still cling to the vehicle after a wash.

“You need some gentle friction to get the residue off,” says David Smith, owner of two locations of Smith Brother’s Car Wash in Nashville, TN. “Sometimes, even after a wash, you can rub your finger down a car and there’s residue or grime. That filmy residue can stick even tighter after a rain.”

The per-vehicle cost of touchless washing can also rise once the total cost of water treating, heating, pressurizing, as well as soaps and chemical costs are calculated.

Plus, touchless washes require some extra time for the soap and chemicals to soak in — known as dwell time — which slows the rate of car washing.

Given these added costs, Smith estimates that it can cost about 25 percent to 50 percent more to wash each car via a touchless method than with gentle friction.

In each of his tunnel car washes, Smith uses eight rotating cloth-fill wraparound brushes, two soft-cloth curtains, and one set of wheel brushes.

Car wash supply manufacturers are now offering the car wash industry a variety of softer, more efficient options for vehicle cleaning ranging from softer cloth, foam, and brushes to specially designed wheel cleaners.

Manufacturers are now offering soft, fleecy cashmere cloth materials to safely clean vehicle surfaces for use with wraps, curtains, and other applications. It offers gentle foam and hog’s hair brush materials for a variety of equipment. Hog’s hair is very soft and gentle. Since the hairs are tapered, they are much softer at the tips for gentle washing, yet retain stiffness for washing up close if scrubbing is needed.

“The gentle friction with softer cloth breaks up the dirt faster and gets rid of the film,” says Smith. “It polishes the cars too, leaving them cleaner and shinier.”

For gentle yet thorough cleaning of wheels and tires, Smith uses a specially designed automated brush, which he says cleans vehicles’ larger diameter wheels better with its gradually varied bristle length. The choice of materials — from gentle foam and cloth to polypropylene and polyethylene — can provide the right balance between softness and aggressiveness for such cleaning.

Smith feels he’s going the extra mile when cleaning customers’ vehicles with enough gentle friction to ensure that their vehicles are safely and properly cleaned. But such a strategy also has the benefit of getting more cars through the wash more quickly and more cost effectively than a touchless process.

Since touchless washes require more water treating, heating, pressure, chemicals, and dwell time than do conventional washes, it is not surprising that many operators are turning to gentle-friction add-on or replacement equipment to cost-effectively break up dirt and speed their process.

“With more car owners looking for cleaner cars, it makes sense for more car wash owners, particularly in-bays, toadd gentle friction to their process,” concludes Smith.

Finally, with softer, more-efficient brush and material options at their disposal, car wash owners can clean their customers’ vehicles more softly than ever, while cleaning up all the way to the bank.

Dan Pecora is the owner of Erie Brush, a Chicago, IL-based manufacturer of car wash brushes and detailing supplies for more than 65 years. You can contact the company via e-mail at or go to on the web.