Water reclaim systems are becoming a must have in the car wash industry. One way to generate more profit is to use reclaim water in the washing process. Reclaim water can be used in the high-pressure functions of the wash, excluding the final rinse. This is generally over 50 percent of the water used when washing a car. Most new sites are built with reclaim reservoirs and are reclaim-ready. Older sites may have not considered the use of reclaim and are prime candidates for a retrofit. To many owners the process seems like too much trouble, but in actuality most sites can easily be transformed for reclaim use with just a few changes.

Aboveground reservoir.


All reclaim systems need a reservoir to operate. These reservoirs are placed underground at the onset of construction and plumbed to the equipment room where the water reclaim system will be installed. Many times it is not feasible to install underground tanks in a retrofit scenario. The option for a reclaim reservoir would be aboveground tanks. All that is needed is a place where water can be pumped from the outgoing plumbing lines to the aboveground tank system. Most washes have an oil/water separator that the water will collect in before heading to the sewer system or drain field. This will become the collection point for the reclaim system. By placing a sump pump in the oil/water separation tank, the water can be moved to the aboveground tank system. Usually the water is passed through a coarse strainer and possibly another method of basic filtration to keep the tanking system from collecting too much debris. The aboveground tank system is now the reservoir needed to utilize a reclaim system in the wash.

One of the questions asked is how much water storage is required for a water-reclaim system to operate? This depends on the type of wash and the volume of water used in the wash process. It can best be determined by speaking with your distributor and coming up with the quantity of water the reclaim system will need to provide for use in the process. This can range from 4,500 gallons of aboveground storage at the top end to much less for a smaller site. After being involved with many retrofitted sites, we’ve noticed that 1,600 to 3,000 gallons is usually enough for the system to operate without troubles. For example if 3,000 gallons of water were suggested, two 1,500-gallon tanks would be suggested for the reservoir.

Plumbing diagram.

It is suggested that colored tanks with UV protection be used for reclaim-water storage.

Plumbing the aboveground tanks for reclaim use is not difficult (see the diagram and picture, on page 53). A drain is needed for each tank as well as the connections to tie them together. Inlet and outlet lines as well as the circulating line will be needed also. One company provides pre-plumbed aboveground systems that only require the end user to attach the necessary PVC plumbing lines to the bulkheads already installed in the tank system. This will remove any guesswork on the user’s end and make the installation much quicker and simpler in the field.

Once the tank system is in place, the reclaim system now has the water supply needed to provide water for use in the wash.

Plumbing detail.

Maintenance on the system will be similar to maintenance for underground tank systems. The coarse strainer will need to be cleared several times per week and the tanks must be flushed of debris periodically. The coarse strainer and inlet separator will keep the sediment from building up too quickly and lengthen the time between tank cleaning.


If you had the foresight to install an underground tanking system, but did not install a reclaim, there are several things to consider. The layout of the tanking systems from various reclaim-system manufacturers may seem similar, but some of them have subtle differences. When you go to purchase your reclaim setup make sure that your tanking system meets the criteria of the unit you are considering. For instance, some units require a larger suction line or backwash/purge line than others. It is important that your plumbing schedule matches the reclaim or you can experience poor performance from your unit.

Take the time to get the plumbing right before you install your unit. If you would prefer to go with a unit that may not perfectly match your plumbing, don’t throw in the towel and settle for one that will. Contact the manufacturer with a clear picture, preferably plumbing plans, of what you have and discuss your options. Installing inlet and outlet lines to the wrong size plumbing can cause a nightmare that no one can troubleshoot. Most manufacturers suggest that all underground plumbing be schedule 80 PVC. Check with your manufacturer because now is the time to replace the plumbing before the whole system is installed.

Once you have checked your plumbing layout, you need to check your tanks and the plumbing itself. Many times these tanks have sat for years with no pit treatment and very little maintenance. Clean your tanks. Drain the tanks, clean them out, check for leaks, and make repairs to the plumbing. This will ensure that your new reclaim system has a chance to provide you with the quality wash water that you are looking for. Bottles, rags, and trash of all types will clog suction lines and impede the flow through your tanks. Many operators blame the reclaim unit for not performing to its fullest potential when 99 percent of the time it is due to poor plumbing and tanking-system set up.

Checking for leaks in plumbing is a must. Pressure testing lines is fine for any lines that are output lines. However, suction lines (lines that pumps draw water through) should be vacuum tested. When pressure testing a line, joints can swell, giving the perception of a tight seal. A vacuum test will show any leaks that may allow air into the suction line, which will eventually cause pump cavitations and prime loss. Don’t skimp on this step. Spending a few extra dollars upfront can save you thousands in the future. Keep in mind that the reclaim system is the only system in your whole wash that saves you money. It is worth the effort to give this unit a fighting chance.

Check the electrical service panel.


One final suggestion that is often overlooked, even in the building of new washes, is the electrical service. Make sure that your service panel is capable of supplying the proper power to the addition of any new equipment, not just a reclaim. The single most detrimental issue that car washes face electrically is not enough power. Voltage sags due to improper service will wreak havoc on all of your electrical equipment and shorten the life of motors, VFDs, and power supplies.

Often the reclaim suffers the effects of this more than other equipment. Here are the reasons why: The reclaim runs all of the time and for the most part has the smallest horsepower motor in your whole three-phase service. When big motors, such as blower motors, kick on and sag down the line, the smaller motors starve for voltage and begin to draw excessive amperage. This will cause nuisance overload trips and eventual damage to the motors. Get with your electrical service provider and a real electrician to make sure that your service panel and feed can handle the load. Once again, spending a little upfront will save you thousands in the future. 

Retrofitting for a reclaim system is not a daunting prospect. Adding a few pieces to the wash process and preparing upfront can wind up being a profitable venture over time. As stated earlier, a reclaim system is the only piece of equipment you can install in your car wash that is going to save you money. Spend a little time in doing it right in order to save 50-plus percent on your water bill. You will also be a good steward of our fragile environment.


Dwight Royal is CEO, vice president of operations at Con-Serv Manufacturing. You can visit the company on the web at www.con-servwater.com.