The time has come. You are an established wash, have acquired an existing site or are building new and you have to decide whether or not you want to install, repair, or replace your reclaim system.

Let’s get the easy question answered first. If you are building new, it is beneficial to put the reclaim tanks in place for a couple reasons, even if you aren’t planning to utilize reclaim at this time.

First, with water and sewer costs across the nation rising and extended drought conditions in other areas it makes sense to have the foundation of the reclaim system in place. If your local municipality and/or state initiate laws that require reclaim use or the cost of the water becomes so inflated that reclaim is your only option to maintain or increase revenue, having the infrastructure already in place will be huge advantage.

Second, your wash’s resale value will increase. If you have the infrastructure to install a system, it could give you a leg up on the other sites the purchasing party is considering. Even if you don’t want to use it, the next owner may.

Is It Time?

Now, onto the more difficult question: Is it time to replace/upgrade my existing reclaim system, or can I just complete some repairs?  This question is a little more difficult to answer, but we can begin by breaking it down into several questions that need to be answered.

Do I have a complete reclaim system that is currently operational? If so, am I happy with the product?

If your answer to this is yes, contact the manufacturer to ensure the reclaim system operates within specifications and ask yourself if you are happy with the reclaim product. This entails taking a sample of the reclaimed water and inspecting it for solid debris, odors, and discoloration. Reclaim water will take on the color of your primary soap dye (or combination of dyes) but should never be black and unable to be seen through. A properly functioning reclaim system will provide you with a clear/opaque product that can vary in color.

Your answer to this will help steer your decision to replace or service your equipment. If you are dissatisfied with the current setup and it has already paid for itself several times, then why not try something different?

Contact your distributor or reclaim manufacturer directly for an assessment and pricing. If you are satisfied overall, you may simply need to upgrade some worn-down components to get the system operating like new again.

I have a complete reclaim system, but it is not operational. What do I do?

If your system is not operational, ask questions such as: How long has it been shut off? Why was it shut off in the first place? Was your distributor or the manufacturer notified of the issue?

A frequent comment from wash operators is that the system has been declining for several weeks or months and has just stopped working. My first response is, why did you wait until it failed to reach out to find solutions?

Ignoring the symptoms of an improperly functioning reclaim system only compounds the issues that must be addressed moving forward. A little bit of preventative and repair maintenance will extend the health and life of the reclaim system, allowing it to continue to provide a positive return on investment.

Water retains the color of the primary soap dye but should never be black.

Contact your equipment manufacturer to determine if the solution to your non-operational system is just a little cleaning and upkeep or if it requires something more intensive.

Restarting a reclaim system can be an investment, depending on why it was shut down. Reclaim tank cleaning and pressure testing of various suction and discharge lines can be easy to perform, or they may require pumping, pressure washing, jetting, or cutting concrete to perform required maintenance/repairs. Each site will be different, but do not let this dissuade you from exploring the potential revenue benefits of having a functioning quality reclaim system.

It is better to replace an inoperable and stripped reclaim
system rather than trying to fix it.

I have a reclaim system, but it’s been off for years. We have also pulled parts and pieces for other aspects of our wash. Can it be saved?

This is the simplest one to answer. It is time to purchase a new system. The cost of an on-site rebuild would easily match or exceed the purchase of a new system and its related installation expenses.


The advantage of having a functioning reclaim system is simple math. If you have one or can have one installed, the system will eventually pay for itself. The return on investment (ROI) will depend on your actual water and sewer costs and how much reclaimed water you are willing to use throughout your wash.

A typical wash can see the full ROI on equipment purchases within the first 12-18 months. This will be drastically extended if you exclusively utilize reclaim water on the underbody blast and nowhere else in a region with very low water and sewer costs. Similarly, ROI will be realized much sooner if you use reclaimed water in every recommended application in a region with extremely high water costs.

With this in mind, do you know what your actual water cost per car is? If not, use this simple formula to determine a loose estimate of your cost per car:
1. Total gallons of water used in a set timeframe ÷ the number of cars washed in that timeframe = total gallons per car
2. Refer to your water bill and determine the cost of each gallon of water 
3. Total gallons per car X cost per gallon = water cost per car

The above is intended to be a rough estimate and not an exact calculation and can assist in determining your average costs. If you have a single water meter on your building, the irrigation and sanitary needs will be included in this number.

Over the years, advances in reclaim processing and odor control technology have improved the ability to create clean, odor-free water for reuse in ever-expanding applications at a car wash.

Do you want to be left behind? Or do you want to live on the cutting edge? 

Karl Hermann is a sales representative with SoBrite Technologies, a leader in water treatment solutions for more than 30 years. Karl has been with SoBrite since May of 2022, after having spent the last 21 years in Alaska working in a variety of industries including sales, corrections, and most recently law enforcement. If you have any questions regarding this article, water treatment solutions, and/or reclaim systems, please reach out to: or contact SoBrite Technologies main office at (309) 467-2335.