Where do I start? What do I need? It’s a big investment, how much should I be spending? There is a lot to decide when configuring your vehicle wash system. The vision is easy — a perfectly clean car that is completely dry all for under let’s say $10K. Well, here’s the hard truth without a lot of hot air (pun intended): it will take a lot of doing and cost a little more.

The drying system is but one part of the equipment lineup and, coming at the end of the tunnel, provides the final opportunity to send customers away happy. You’ll want to exploit this opportunity, so read on and decide if your customers are getting the best possible dry.


There are several types of car wash drying systems to choose from.

Centrifugal Fan Systems

The traditional car wash dryers date back to the 1940s. They are much like the majority of blowers still used today. These fans were invented in 1832 by a Russian military engineer. The fans were designed to move air radially (the outward airflow direction is changed by 90 degrees from the direction of incoming air.) They require a high power output by today’s energy standards.

They remain the industry standard and are often used as a “throw-in” item by some manufacturers to incentivize customers to purchase equipment packages. A typical dryer provides three producer units. You can add as many producers as your electrical budget can stand. Herein lies the problem. These types of dryers are not energy efficient. They are not designed to utilize air efficiently. Express washes can use in excess of 190 HP to dry a single car. In addition, many manufacturers offer oscillators that can break, while some are designed with air gates that can cause structural failure.

There can be nothing worse than a fan breaking apart or blowing up during usage. Nonetheless, if you are extremely budget minded, or if your wash has very low volume, a centrifugal dryer can certainly work. Make sure the manufacturer you choose has perfected these fans for better air volume and flow. Make sure they guarantee the fan will not blow up due to an oscillator.

Axial Fan Dryers

The axial fan was invented in 1840 and it actually creates a higher airflow at a lower power requirement. This design was perfected in 1963 with the invention of the vaneaxial fan, which provides a more efficient airflow. This type of dryer is the precursor of certain newer cost-efficient systems of today.

If you desire longevity, energy efficiency, and a step into 21st century car wash drying, consider going to an axial fan drying system. You will get more than twice the airflow with half the HP. Energy consumption will be 30 percent to 40 percent less than with centrifugal fan systems and the equipment life is more than double that of a typical centrifugal system. Floor space is typically less and fan failure is non-existent. The downside is that these units can be (check your manufacturers carefully) more costly, but as a means to an end, these types of dryers provide the most efficient dry.

Shammy/Top-Wheel Dryers

Shammy or top-wheel drying systems utilize drying curtains, shammy top, or top wheel and side wheels that essentially drag cloth across the vehicle surface to absorb the remaining moisture. These have been around the industry in one form or another for about 40 years. The concept is basic: touching the car and wiping it to dry.

These systems will provide a dry vehicle, but they have a downside. Because they are mechanical, they require regular maintenance. They take as much as 32 feet of floor space in addition to your regular drying system. You cannot use this type of system as a sole source of drying, especially if you have any substantial volume. The cloth retains water and dirt.

Units that have self-rinsing systems have to add enough water to clean debris, which reduces the number of cars they can actually dry. They also have wearable parts such as motors, gearboxes, and bearings, as well as the cloth material itself. In addition, the obvious negative is that the dryer contacts the vehicle. This can cause a serious disruption if any mechanical failure occurs because it can damage the vehicle. As a drying system, it’s not ideal but, if you have the space, you might utilize it for buff-and-shine purposes.


Once you’ve settled on a primary drying system for your car wash there are other issues to consider.

Flash Dryers

Flash drying is a concept from an early part of the 21st century whereby centrifugal drying and the wet environment meet to make the most of drying systems. A single or dual 15-HP unit with wet-environment motor and epoxy coated fan is mounted three to five feet past the final applicator arch to accelerate the rinse process. This type of unit/system can reduce the amount of water on a vehicle by up to 50 percent so that a centrifugal dryer can be more efficient.

Back Blasters

These are systems designed to remove the water from the rear of SUVs, minivans, and station wagons where the back window is essentially vertical and often blocked by a wing or spoiler on the top. Here you need to have high-volume air to be effective as the vehicle is typically moving away from the blower.

Heat Assist

This is a plus option — the “next step” to get a really dry car. On-demand, heat-adding units super heat the air for drying. It can be added to either centrifugal or axial drying systems and is ideal when proper drying space is available.

Quiet Drying Systems

Noise, Noise, Noise! Do you desire a safe environment for your employees and neighbors? Do you hope to comply with OSHA regulations? Axial-fan systems are offered with sound-control engineering to meet these needs. These dryers are energy and sound efficient. They are the next generation and a cut above the dryers of the past.

Manufacturers of drying systems have been perfecting the use of air and energy in a quiet method over the last 20 or so years. Quiet drying systems are not all alike (again, check the specs with each manufacturer), but they have the commonality of trying to achieve efficient airflow quietly. These systems can be costly, but they are the best in drying.

Before the Dryer

Keep in mind, to achieve effective drying, it is essential to get the vehicle clean by using proper chemistry before it gets to any blower system. A good drying agent is a must, while getting the proper pH level on the surface of the vehicle goes a long way in getting it dry.

The last item that often is misunderstood is drip space. While drip space is nice to have, most facilities these days have very little as the flash blower is extremely effective in getting the swell off the vehicle. But use caution when spacing the blowers after the flash blower: if the water stops moving you have too much space. You always want the water moving.

Arthur Stephens is the president and founder of International Drying Corporation based in Cary, IL and has served the car wash industry as an installer, operator, distributor, and manufacturer since 1981. He developed the patented Stealth Quiet Drying System, the Illuminator lighted drying system, the Back Blaster rear window drying system, the Spyder drying system, and the all-new Back Widow drying system. He can be reached at (815) 477-4911 (office) and (815) 814-2199 (cell), Art@Internationaldrying.com, or see his products at www.Internationaldrying.com.