When considering the proper light sources for a car wash site, it’s practically a given at this point that LED is the best solution, but that decision is only the beginning. With so many different types of LEDs and preferred applications for them, pinpointing the right product isn’t always as clear as light. Parking-lot lighting is much different than what would be appropriate in an office, which is vastly different than what is needed inside the tunnel. So, how do you choose? Read on as we take inventory of a full car wash site and shine a light on what is right for each application’s needs.

As a customer pulls into the parking lot of a car wash, it’s important to consider not only the aesthetic appeal that proper light lends to a wash but also the security component of bright, crisp illumination. Most sites will include several high-mast light sources with dusk to dawn photocell sensors that trigger the lights to power up during the night-time hours. These lights are high output, typically around 35,000 lumens, with a color temperature of 5,000 Kelvin to ensure the lots are lit for safety and productivity.

Examples of vacuum-canopy and vacuum-arch lighting.


Also commonly found in the parking lot is the lighting for vacuum arches and canopies. While a vapor tight fixture is typically a great solution to withstand the outdoor environment, many sites will include linear, bendable LED fixtures that affix directly to the curvature of the boom itself. Due to the exposed nature of the application, these fixtures will need to be outdoor rated to withstand the elements of the weather, along with constant UV from the sun. You’ll want to use a light that produces around 3,500 lumens in 5,000 Kelvin to provide adequate lighting for customers to see while vacuuming their vehicles at night.

Building illumination enhances curb appeal.


Moving on from the parking lot, another piece of the lighting matrix that is essential for curb appeal is the lighting of the exterior of the building. Whether it’s architectural perimeter lighting, wall packs for security, signage, flood, or landscape lighting, it’s important to factor in how the illumination of a site speaks volumes to your car wash’s brand, visibility, marketing, and safety. There are unlimited possibilities when it comes to designing the lighting of the exterior of your car wash and the impact it can make on your business.


Once inside the building, the quality of the lighting is essential and its ability to withstand the harsh environment of a car wash tunnel cannot be emphasized enough. The atmosphere of a car wash is notoriously brutal on LED lighting — from the direct spray and constant humidity to the caustic chemicals used during the wash process — it is imperative to select a lighting product that is rated for and warrantied to last in such an application. It is recommended to use lighting that is IP68 waterproof rated, permanently sealed and chemical resistant inside a car wash tunnel. If the light is to be mounted on an arch, for process highlighting for example, another level of IP69K protection is suggested as the fixture has then been tested to withstand high-temperature, high-pressure direct spray as seen during a wash. Because these electronics are being utilized around water, a UL Wet Location rating is also imperative to ensure safety. Whether you are looking for bright white lighting or RGB color effects, the safety and water and chemical resistant aspects of an LED fixture cannot be overlooked.

White vs. color.


Another big decision wash owners are faced with today is whether to stick with clean, white lighting or to incorporate colored lighting effects into their wash tunnel. Many owners prefer the simplistic look of crisp, bright lights that provide adequate illumination for both customer visibility and worker productivity, especially during cleaning and maintenance. However, an increasingly large percentage of car wash owners are realizing the value of including colored LED lighting into their car wash and the benefits it provides to their bottom line. As LED technology advances and new innovations are introduced, there is now a range of colored lighting options for the car wash. These include single, static colors to highlight wash processes, arch effect lighting with simple animations that create rainbow-colored sequences, all the way to fully immersive RGB light shows that can be controlled by custom apps on a phone.

A light show adds to the customer experience.

Not only does the inclusion of color create an ambiance of fun for the customer, but it has the power of increasing the perceived value of a wash, serves as a method of active site marketing, and allows car washes to support their brands and general inclusion within the community via special event and holiday recognition through custom light shows. Car wash owners are able to use colored LED lighting to create an unforgettable customer experience which not only attracts new business, but also ensures customer retention and, in turn, increases profitability. The possibilities are truly endless with regard to what color can do for a car wash.

Lighting is a not only a basic necessity for a car wash but also a powerful tool that, when used correctly, can have a drastic effect on the overall success of a business. Careful consideration should always be given to the quality of light, quality of product, and the quality of the experience that lighting is able to provide. Whether you are retrofitting an existing site with a lighting upgrade or starting from scratch with a new build, be sure to keep in mind the impact that lighting can have on a car wash.

Erin Noonan is director of marketing for Clifton Park, NY-based G&G Industrial Lighting. You can visit the company on the web at www.ggled.net/carwash.