Lighting for car washes has always been important. A well illuminated car wash attracts potential customers’ eyes, promotes a safe environment, and allows customers to see dirty spots on their vehicles at night. Historically, the decision on the amount of light needed was balanced with the perceived nighttime washing activity in each location. The first LED light conversions usually matched the light output of metal halide lights, keeping light levels the same. Today, operators are dramatically increasing the light provided to attract more customers, keep customers on the site longer, and improve the overall wash experience.

Wall color and material affect lighting.

Given this trend, operators are faced with the question of how much lighting is enough lighting? The short answer is: it depends.

While multiple factors need to be considered when increasing light coverage of a property, the most common criteria include:
• Providing adequate light for the tasks being performed
• Providing uniform light across work spaces for a cleaner, safer feel
• Making the car wash look as bright or brighter than neighboring businesses (less light needed for car washes in the middle of residential areas, more light needed if the car wash is next to a gas station or car dealership)

While lighting situations vary based at least in part upon the above factors, a plan can be developed to determine the amount of light needed to ensure your LED light upgrade meets your needs and objectives.


To help people understand and compare different lighting solutions, the lighting industry uses terms such as lumens and foot-candles.

• A lumen (lm) is a unit of light emitted per second from a light source. The amount of light an LED light fixture produces is measured by lumens. Lumen levels are disclosed on LED light manufacturer spec sheets.

• A foot-candle (fc) is how a lumen impacts an area. One foot-candle equals one lumen of light density per square foot.

In short, think of lumens as how bright a light is and foot-candles as the output of light you have in a room or space.

Self-service wand bays.

As a point of reference, full daylight typically equals about 1,000 foot-candles, while an overcast day would be around 100 foot-candles of light. Twilight produces just 1 foot-candle, while a night with a full moon has 0.01 foot-candle. Typical offices and classrooms have 20-30 foot-candles. Showrooms will need brighter lighting: around 50 to 100 foot-candles. Very intricate, exacting and detailed work may require 1,000+ foot-candles.

For car washes, the general rule is to err on the side of providing too much light vs. too little light. Table 1 outlines the recommended foot-candles for car wash areas. This is the measure of light needed in given car wash spaces. The “Minimal” level of foot-candles is recommended for locations in a lower populated area with low light levels in the neighboring areas (e.g., if the car wash is in the middle of a residential area). Conversely, use the “Brighter” guideline if your car wash is in a busy area with multiple competing light sources from other businesses (e.g., next to a gas station or grocery store), or to create a premium feeling due to the light provided. Table 2 shows an average amount of lumens needed to achieve the foot-candles required from Table 1 in the spaces provided. Keep in mind that the amount of foot candles in an area is directly impacted by the lumens delivered to the area in addition to other factors such as room size, wall colors, objects within the room, and light fixture mount height. So, this table is a guide, and actual results may vary based on your unique situation.


To determine if the light system you are considering will deliver the lumens needed, multiply the lumens produced (listed on fixture spec sheet) by the number of fixtures being considered. Then, you can match the total lumens delivered to Table 2 to achieve the foot-candles needed (Table 1). Keep in mind, more fixtures are typically better as you’ll end up with more even light distribution. Evenly distributed mounting locations for fixtures will also maximize and smooth the foot-candle coverage.

For example, Mile High LED System’s LEDTUBE-8 product produces 11,500 lm. Four of these fixtures would be 46,000 lm (4 x 11,500). That would provide more than 55 foot-candles to a standard 16’ x 30’ wash bay and result in a “brighter” result in light output.

Using four fixtures from a different fixture that produces 8,000 lm per fixture would result in 32,000 lm, or “standard” levels of light for a car wash bay.

Some LED systems suppliers offer complimentary photometric planning for their customersThe information in these tables was compiled based on historical averages and aggregate customer feedback. These are guidelines and results can be expected to be materially consistent for most car wash environments. However, larger remodels and new builds often require a more detailed photometric plan. A photometric plan incorporates other factors (such as mount height, wall color, etc), and where each fixture should be mounted. Some LED systems suppliers offer complimentary photometric planning for their customers, when and where needed.

Conveyor application.

Certainly, lighting upgrades can be confusing. However, through some basic math and the use of the tables provided, the task of determining the amount of light needed can be easily accomplished. Contact your LED systems supplier for a comprehensive evaluation of your specific needs.

Michael Call is vice president, sales and marketing at Mile High LED Systems. You can visit the company on the web at, or, for a free consultation, lighting design, or advice contact Michael at (303) 257-1195.