As the age old adage asks, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” we too can beg the question, “which is more important, chemical or equipment?” Present this question to 10 people in the industry and, chances are, you’ll get 10 different answers. The truth of the matter is this: without good equipment, chemistry is just a waste of the water it’s mixed with. Conversely it can be said, without good chemistry, equipment is just a pile of metal and fabric. That may be over simplifying things, but I think it gets my point across that both components play an equal role in getting a clean, dry, shiny car that makes customers loyal to your wash. So, with The Car Wash Show in Las Vegas foremost in mind, I thought it good to bring this up as a backdrop to making the best decisions at the show. Let’s take a look.


Why not just dive head first into one of the greatest challenges of our industry. Delivering consistently clean and shiny wheels using safe chemistry practices is a struggle for many operators and a competitive advantage for others. What’s the trick? As you might have guessed from the introduction to this article, it’s a careful balance between detergent science, friction brushes, and high-pressure blasters. There are two schools of thought related to chemistry that I’ll address in a minute, but the best practice of applying detergent twice, from two separate chemical tire applicators, positioned 40 inches apart, is seldom argued. It’s not rocket science. This configuration captures the first half of the wheel as it rolls by before the second applicator fires, picking up the second half for complete coverage. No amount of equipment will deliver a consistently clean wheel if you don’t first cover every square inch in detergent. Skimp on wheel application and you’ll never remove all brake dust from complicated rims.

That said, what type of detergent should you use? Everything comes down to the pH of the detergents you’re applying. High pH will release brake dust. Low pH will enhance shine. If your market has particularly tough brake dust to remove you’ll want both applications to be high pH. Otherwise, I prefer the first application to be high pH and the second to be a low pH detergent. Water quality also plays a role and your detergent supplier’s experience combined with some trial and error will be required to dial in the perfect balance. Now, with wheels completely covered in the perfect blend of detergent, you’re 33 percent done with the battle.

Next up is friction. Immediately following application you must use a tire brush with elongated reach or a rocker brush — and ideally both — to agitate the detergent into the wheel. Fail to use friction to clean wheels and it’s unlikely you’ll ever win customer loyalty for your wheel-cleaning service. After friction you’re 66 percent done. Finally, it’s time to look at your high-pressure wheel blasters to ensure you have sufficient impact, impingement, and contact time to get you to 99 percent. That’s it. Complete detergent application plus friction agitation and sufficient high-pressure will get you a perfect wheel most of the time. That last 1 percent requires the experience of balancing dwell time, water quality, and environmental conditions specific to your particular tunnel.


The first secret of successful tire dressing starts with a clean tire, which should result from the previous step. Nothing turns customers away faster than paying a premium for a tire dressing service that leaves a ring of black sludge around the edge of their rim. Few will tell you, and few will come back. Don’t let that happen to you. Clean the tire first, and only then look for the latest technology to dress tires on line. You’ll find numerous machines available that are up to the task. The newer rotating designs deliver better coverage while consuming less dressing than older fixed position sponges and are a recommended upgrade for any wash looking to elevate this service. Once you have a clean tire and an online applicator up to doing the job, the question turns to dressing. There are many great options, but I recommend staying with a quality silicone-based dressing from a national manufacturer.


Getting clean surfaces is going to sound an awful lot like the steps to getting clean wheels. If you fail to cover every square inch, front and back, including grooves, with a high-quality high-pH pre-soak detergent, at the fastest chain speed you run, you will never get a consistently clean car no matter how much equipment you throw at it. Multi-directional applicators mounted at different positions at thetunnel entrance are a whole lot cheaper than manually prepping cars, not to mention a lot more consistent. Provided that base is covered, definitely explore the latest trend to apply a sheet of foam to top-package customers as they enter the wash. Keep in mind that this foam is simply a supplemental high-pH pre-soak to make doubly sure every surface is covered, combined with a customer-pleasing show. Application is followed by sufficient friction agitation and dwell time to aid the detergent in loosening grime from the vehicle surface at the chain speed you’re running. That’s it. High-pH detergent, combined with enough friction to clean the car. All subsequent applications will be a combination of low-pH detergents and pay waxes to prepare the surface for rinsing, drying, and, of course, surface shining, which is what I’ll talk about next.


Survey customers at any successful wash with the single question of “why do you wash here?” and you will likely hear a significant number of responses along the lines of “my car is shinier than when I wash at home.” That’s the Holy Grail that brings customers out of the driveway, into your wash, and eventually into your monthly memberships. Today’s customer must look at their car at the end of the tunnel and say, “Wow, it’s never this shiny when I wash it myself.” The technology to deliver that shine is readily available, but it’s not just chemistry. Nor is it just equipment. It’s the marriage of high-pH pre-soaks with the right combination of ultra-low pH detergents, high-pressure wash, supplemental friction, and neutral to low pH pay waxes and synthetic sealants, that make painted surfaces, glass, and chrome sparkle. Cutting corners kills the final product, and operators embracing the latest technology are carving out a competitive advantage in their markets. So to answer the question “which is more important, chemical or equipment?” Let’s just say it takes a chicken to make an egg, but it takes an egg to make a chicken and leave it at that. Once again, everything is changing in our industry, which is what makes it so much fun.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the show.

Good luck and good washing.

Washing cars for over 30 years, Anthony Analetto serves as president of SONNY’S The CarWash Factory, creator of the Original Xtreme-Xpress Mini-Tunnel, and the largest manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies in the world. He can be reached at or at (800) 327-8723 ext. 104.