The drying system is considered by many to be one of the most vital parts of any successful car wash. When customers exit the wash, they not only expect to see a clean vehicle, but one that is also dried thoroughly. On the other hand, operators need to keep costs down while still fulfilling customer expectations. The majority of energy consumption in most car wash operations will be through the use of this vital drying system. Between the horsepower of the blower motors, constant starts and stops, and even the age of the dryer system there are many issues that factor into the energy cost. Making use of the right dryer system now, will keep customers coming back and can help save you money for years to come.

Drying al fresco:A freestanding dryer combined with
an out-of-bay in-bay automatic.


With the technological, mechanical, and structural advances in today’s automotive industry, car washes have to adapt by supplying drying systems which are capable of managing a large array of vehicles. Reducing labor costs and lowering utilities in conjunction with safety, quality, performance, and manufacturer’s support, are also great incentives for operators to consider newer products.


Traditionally, when comparing drying systems, most tend to use the cubic feet per minute (CFM) produced by a dryer as a measurement of dryer capability. CFM describes the volume of the air that is being moved by the dryer. However, just because a larger volume of air is being moved does not necessarily mean a dryer vehicle. The key to an effective drying system is the velocity of air delivered to the car’s surface. Most dryers move a lot of air, but without the pressure behind it. The result is the air disperses and doesn’t reach the car effectively. Consequently, this method of drying also requires greater horsepower in order to try to achieve favorable results. When designed properly, a dryer can deliver air harder, faster, and with pinpoint accuracy to actually strip the water off the vehicle. This actually can require less horsepower and provide an overall dryer vehicle surfa

The key to an effective drying system is the velocity
of air delivered to the car’s surface.


There are a number of variables to the wash process that need to be considered before a vehicle reaches the dryer. These events that occur prior to a vehicle reaching the dryer may affect the overall performance regardless of the dryer’s engineering. Drip space, reverse osmosis (RO) water, and drying agents are just a few of the variables to consider.

Less drip space makes dryer efficiency especially crucial, where it relies more on good water separation to dry vehicles properly. RO or spot-free water has a tendency to bond to the vehicle’s surface. This water on the vehicle’s surface is now much more difficult for the dryer to remove. Prior to RO water, car wash operators were able to apply a cold wax to the surface to create the break in the water, making it much easier to be stripped from the vehicle’s surface.

Today, higher-quality drying agents are used to achieve the break in the water. Dryer manufacturers also have created much more sophisticated and powerful machines to do the job properly. It’s important to find a manufacturer that has designed its products around combating these obstacles and one who will work closely with you to offer the right solution for your particular car wash nee

A properly designed dryer can strip the water
off the vehicle with pinpoint accuracy.

When comparing dryer models it is key to look at diversity. There really is no one-size-fits-all, when it comes to a dryer system. Each car wash is different having its own unique size constraints, floor space, environment, and electrical availability. Looking for dryer products that allow for adjustments to air direction, flexible blower motor placement, and manufacturers that can customize their products will help ensure success when choosing a drying system.


Constantly moving this large amount of air is going to create some noise. Customers, the surrounding community, and employees will all be subjected to this noise. The majority of commercial car wash dryers will produce noise levels anywhere from 75 to 100 decibels. Any levels at or above 85 decibels can become an issue depending on the location of the car wash. Only a few manufacturers offer reliable product options to reduce the noise of their drying systems. It’s important to work closely with a manufacturer that can help you keep your drying system noise levels within specific city requirements.


It’s no secret that car wash equipment — including the dryer system — consumes large amounts of energy. Fortunately, some manufacturers have designed sophisticated product options that can greatly reduce horsepower without sacrificing dryer performance. Products such as gate systems, variable frequency drives (VFDs), and soft starts are available.

A gate system can be installed that significantly reduces the demand rate by shortening the ramp-up time on the initial startup. It also eliminates the demand rate between vehicles, ultimately reducing electricity usage without affecting dryer performance. A few manufacturers offer gate systems that can be optionally purchased along with new dryers as well as easily installed on some older existing units.

Another option is a VFD. In some instances a VFD can reduce electricity usage by bringing the motor’s operating speed up slowly. A VFD should be considered carefully. Work with your manufacturer to make sure the cost of a VFD will be beneficial to your operation.


As with any piece of car wash equipment, proper maintenance and periodic inspection will greatly reduce chances of downtime due to mechanical failure. An area to pay particular attention to is the inlet region, which, when blocked, can create many adverse effects on the dryer’s operation. To keep the dryer running at peak performance, it is important to clean this area often and inspect the impellor(s) in the blower. Look for any wax build-up or dirt that could be impacting the impellors movement.

Vibrations are another valuable gauge in the detection of dryer problems. All blowers produce minimal vibrations during normal operation. Nevertheless, when the vibrations become greater, it is usually an indication of a potential problem. Worn motor bearings, foreign objects in the blower, or a missing balance weight will all cause abnormal vibrations. If left unchecked, this type of situation could lead to motor or impellor damage that can be very expensive to repair. The owner’s manual can usually provide information on proper maintenance procedures regarding the motor and blower.


Being aware of maintenance, noise, energy usage, and water quality can help you make an educated decision about your drying needs. Working closely with your manufacturer to implement a dryer system will not only help your operation run at peak performance, but can actually save you money.

With his uncle, George Grabenhorst, being one of the founders of the self-serve car wash format in 1962, J.R. Klemmer is no stranger to the car wash industry. After serving in the United States Air Force from 1981 to 1985, J.R. began his career in the car washing business in Detroit, where he worked his way up from employee to owner. From 1987 to present, J.R. has been associated with Proto-Vest Inc., where he currently serves as vice president and general manager in the company’s Glendale, AZ office.