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Car wash chemistry moves to a gentler eco-footprint

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Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 10.36.33 AMToday’s car wash operation is a much ‘greener’ environment than it was in the not too distant past when harsh chemicals were the staple of the industry. Now, manufacturers have softened the touch of detergent chemicals and enhanced their efficacy in a one-two punch of commitment to creating wash operations that are much kinder to the environment than in the past.

 Car wash customers approve of this change. For example market researcher Nielsen discovered groups such as Generation Z (72%+) Millennials (73%+) and Baby Boomers (51%+) will pay extra for products they see as having a reputation for environmental stewardship.

 Tony Heembrock operates Okotoks, Alberta-based Dreams Eco Xpress Car Wash. He reports that over his 35 years in the industry he has seen major changes from the highly corrosive chemicals that used to be the norm. “Workers would get rashes and burns and inside staff would have coughs and lung irritation from the products in use back in the day. Now there is so much more choice and new products are far less toxic as well as much more effective in creating a great clean,” he says mentioning the AHS line from Zep as an example.

Another Alberta operator that is seeing the value of going green is Sylvain Blouin. Sylvain is building a new site in Sherwood Park and mentions that he sees the marketing power of a positive environmental statement. “ We stay away from any chemicals with phosphate and we work closely with our chemical suppliers to ensure all of our chemicals are biodegradable,” he says, adding that they have also turned to a Danish supplier for cleansing UV Light technology in their water recycling treatment system instead of using harsh chemicals.

Paul Romaniuk of Transchem agrees regarding the changing face of wash products. Today, Paul sells products like Turtle Wax Pro and AutoLux, but a few years ago he too was an operator just like Tony and Sylvain. “Caustics such as Ammonium Bifluoride (ABF) or Hydrofluoric acid (HF) would be very aggressive on your brass parts in the pump room. Having to change these parts to stainless steel made the operation much more costly. I have seen how aggressive the chemicals were in the bays first hand with my old wash. The metal structures and galvanized trusses would corrode from the effects of some of these items,” he says, adding that they were also hard on the overall environment with challenges to the soil and water table as well as the air with nasty vapours leaking into the atmosphere.

“The new eco-friendly products that we are manufacturing today are cost-effective, safe all around and work very well. Chemistry and technology have come a long way in today’s car wash world,” he says noting that Transchem is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified and does not use any alkylphenol or nonylphenol ethoxylated surfactants in any formulations.

At Dreams Eco Xpress, everything they do has to be ‘greener’ in scope because they reclaim all their water. According to Heembrock his PurClean system uses 100 gallons of water a minute and he is pleased with less corrosive chemistry that does not contribute to a chemical slush or slurry that clogs applicators.

To further enhance effectiveness in the wash he modified his Lava Arch to accommodate more application to vehicle sides and also uses softer touch products on pre-soak. “One thing that our customers have noticed is how effective these products are at keeping vehicles clean longer. It’s also a benefit when they come back because the chemistry makes it easier to clean them the next time around.”

For this reason, Heembrock suggests operators consider not buying chemicals based on price, but consider how well they get the job done. “Today with tunnels being more compact this means less drip space. Operators need better drying agents. Current eco-sensitive products work to break surface tension and vehicles dry better. This means less blowing at the end, a feature that saves power.

“We also save water. From the onset, our costs were higher until we added check valves in the tunnel. Using less water means you also use less chemicals and this has saved us money.”

At Ontario’s Valet Car Wash chain, operator Mike Black has turned to products like Simoniz to help his staff stay on top of greener detailing solutions. Simoniz offers a full range of EPA approved car wash products. “We purchase wash products based on their safety and effectiveness and use technology to help us make sure mix rates are accurate,” he says pointing to blend centres that proportionate solutions to make it fast, easy and safe for staff.

Black’s view is that when it comes to detailing (a big part of his business) if products are harmful to staff they are likely not good for sensitive interior surfaces either. “We are also very strict on labelling. All products our staff utilize must have full instructions intact on packaging so that crews are fully aware of application and any hazard.

“The days of acids for car washing are finished. The only use for these harsh chemicals might be for cleaning the tunnel itself during a major maintenance cycle,” he says, concluding that with all the greener options currently available, operators should pay attention to this trend.