Water is the single most important component of the car wash. When using water in the vehicle washing industry, one must consider the source of the water andwhat will need to be done to make it usable. There are several sources of water that could be available at the site. Learning about the various types of water and where they can be used is extremely important. One thing most people do not consider is that the main source of water, whether it be municipal feed or well water, has a huge bearing on all of the water that will be used in the wash. If your initial source of water is of poor quality, it will affect the whole wash if not treated properly. And yes, it will greatly affect your reclaim water as well. We can take a look at a few of the most common sources and what you can do to utilize them efficiently.


Municipal Supply

Let’s start with water supplied from the municipality or local utility. Generally, this water has been filtered and disinfected to satisfy drinking water standards. You can get pertinent information about what is in your municipal feed from your local utility. Even so, today’s municipal water feeds are stressed in trying to keep up with demand.

Processes and additives that are used may be safe for human consumption, but they can prove to be a burden when trying to get a spot-free car. Keep in mind that these processes may change seasonally. For instance, there may be more chlorine in the water in summertime to combat bacteria growth. This water may still need further treatment if you plan on using it in the wash process. If the hardness is high in the feed, a softener or water conditioner may be needed to prevent scale build up in equipment and nozzles. If the municipality uses a flocculant to drop sediments out of the water supply, filtration may be needed toYou wantyour backup water to be the best quality that it can be.remove the excess flocculant. This is important to note if feeding a reverse osmosis system as both the hardness and excess flocculant may shorten the life of the reverse osmosis system and cause nozzles to be replaced more often.

Well Water

If the main source of water is a well, there are several things that need to be taken into account before introducing it to the wash process. For instance, some people see a well as an opportunity to save money. Many times, this is not the case. Wells oftentimes must be treated for removal of iron, hydrogen sulfide, silica, and other minerals so the water can be used effectively within the wash. Not removing these items upfront can cause staining, scaling, and equipment erosion. Chlorinators, specialized media filters, softeners, and reverse osmosis units can help with this, but they must be spec’d out properly and used in the correct order.

First, the well water will need to be tested by a local lab. If possible, tests should be performed on site and as close to the point of use as possible. If you are mailing a sample, make sure to obtain the test kit from the lab you are using and follow the directions. Send the sample immediately for best results. This test will tell the user what must be done to get the water ready to use in the wash. Well water can contain many things that can affect the wash quality and site maintenance if not addressed. The treatment equipment needed will depend on the results of the testing. Many metals in the water will discolor wash bays if not removed before use. Hard water can damage equipment by scaling and clogging nozzles and plumbing. Sulfur can leave a pungent smell as well as damage equipment due to the off gassing in the equipment room. These issues can all be addressed by treating the well water before use.

We have run across instances where the well water is as good or better than the municipal feed, but that is a rare occurrence. Keep in mind that many municipalities have stringent guidelines for well usages that may also contribute to an uneconomical solution. You must also remember that in many parts of the country wells change over time, so you must continually monitor your incoming water. If you are planning on using well water for your wash, it may end up being more costly than using the already treated municipal feed. That is why water testing is important if a well is to be the main source of water.


If using a reverse osmosis (RO) system in the wash, it is often beneficial to save the concentrate water and use it in the wash process. If the feed water to the reverse osmosis unit is properly pre-treated, the quality of the concentrate water will be better. If the concentrate water is deemed usable after testing, one cou

A fouled RO system pre-filter.

capture this water in a holding tank and have a new source of water to use in the wash. This can help immensely at sites where there are water pressure issues; using the concentrate water can help keep the site running on busy days. This water can be supplied to the wash by a pump stand that delivers a constant pressure and flow to the equipment without taxing the incoming water line. This can free up the water to run systems that depend on a constant pressure and flow, such as chemical delivery systems or RO systems.


Another way to increase the available water and pressure besides saving the RO concentrate is to incorporate reclaim water at the site. A reclaim can be used on many of the high-pressure functions in the wash process. Using reclaim water instead of the main source can cut down consumption by 50 percent or more depending on where you incorporate it in the process. Say one uses 75 GPM of reclaim water in the wash. That is giving you back 75 GPM of water from the feed source to use in another part of the wash. This could be the difference in keeping the RO unit running on a busy day or having it sit idle due to lack of water supply.


Another point to ponder is this: Will the water supply provided by the utility be enough to keep the equipment running at its peak? Much of today’s equipment relies on steady water pressure to operate the way it is intended. It is advisable, when laying out the wash, to get a solid idea of the volume and pressure of the water that you will be getting from the supplier. For instance, if you do not reclaim or have a secondary source of water, the equipment will rely solely on this source for operation. If you have 100 GPM at 50 psi to operate and your equipment calls for 150 GPM at 50 psi, something will have to give.

One reason that so many forms of water are used in the wash is for backup. The wash is no good if it can’t run. All the more reason to test your feed sources and pre-treat properly. You want your backup water to be the best quality that it can be so you can use it in as many places as possible. Don’t get hung up on sending treated well water to the reclaim line. In the long run it will only help matters. As mentioned before, everything that is in the untreated well now adds to the reclaim soup. There are only two reasons that you would need backup water to a municipal feed. Either the water is shut off, or you do not have enough flow/pressure. This being the case, don’t skimp on the size water line from the municipality. Size it to run the whole wash, even the reclaim. Don’t cut it in half because you have backup. Chances are that your well will go down before the municipal feed.


All of the above leads us to an important matter that should be considered when laying out the wash. Every one of the sources of water we have discussed comes from the original feed water, whether it be straight from the municipality or backed up by a well. The reclaim water will consist of whatever mixture of these waters you use, all of your chemicals, and grease and grime from cars. If you do not test your original source(s) of water and pre- treat them properly upfront before they feed any equipment, you can wreak havoc on your car wash equipment. Let’s say you pre-treat your municipal feed and backup well before it goes into your RO unit. This doesn’t mean it is a good idea to supplement the RO concentrate water and the reclaim with untreated backup well water. Spend the money upfront to pre-treat your original feed water and only use the treated source in the wash. It will save on maintenance for all of the wash equipment and help to maintain a higher-quality, more manageable reclaim water.

Dwight Royal is CEO/co-owner of Lakeland, FL-based Con-Serv Manufacturing. You can visit the company on the web at www.con-servwater.com.