When Goldilocks tried to find the perfect car wash she discovered that some had water that was too hard, others used water that was too soft and some were just right. A fairy tale? Not so much. While Goldilocks likely never drove to the Three Bears’ house, there’s an important lesson here for car wash operators. Your customers are just as picky, and many drivers have come to see the difference the right water makes on a clean car shine.
The reality is it’s not the water, it’s the dissolved solids found in the water that result in spotting and cause customer dissatisfaction. Once a vehicle is washed and the water evaporates, what can be left are mineral deposits that can be hard to remove. The industry looks at these total dissolved solids (TDS) such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bicarbonates, chlorides, and sulfates as a challenge.
“TDS come from a variety of places,” says Denise Wight, Director of Corporate Accounts New Wave Industries (PurClean, PurWater). “Sometimes rock bits are dissolved into water; others come from run-off rain water, leaves, silt, or plankton. Chemicals from sewage treatment, pesticides, and road salts, and/or fertilizers can also be dissolved in water, and contaminate both drinking supplies and bodies of water.” She reports that TDS is one of the five parameters that they consider prior to installing a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. The others are hardness, chlorine, pH, and Iron.
“Total dissolved solids connect to hardness. Hardness is a measure of the mineral content of water,” she says, adding that the more dissolved solids in the water, the higher the hardness. “Another element that ‘total dissolved solids’ connect to is the ‘turbidity’ of the water. Turbidity is a measure of water clarity. Unlike ‘hardness’, the greater the content of total dissolved solids, the lower the turbidity of the water.
The challenge with hard water is also found in how it works with chemicals and detergents. Not only does hard water leave mineral deposits on your new car shine, but also it inhibits detergents and other agents from doing a good job. For example, foaming agents are hampered by high levels of TDS in water. This has manufacturers enhancing formulas with conditioners and other things to help operators deliver on their wash promises.
“The range of water quality is so variable in Canada that the first thing I would advise anyone about water is to get a water softener,” says David Van Camp, owner of AccuChem, an Edmonton-based manufacturer of specialty cleaning chemicals for the car wash sector as well as transportation, oil field servicing, and general manufacturing. He reports that operators have to pay attention to the strength of chemical and the water temperature, but the level of TDS must be kept low to maximize effectiveness. Helping this process along, he tells that their AccuTerge Tech 70 comes with conditioners that work even when water is harder than it should be. Indeed, AccuTerge Tech-70 is effective as a presoak and detergent in ‘touchless’ carwash applications. And, it works well in both hard and soft water areas, and is suitable for use in recycled water systems. “This is important because it can be tough to get things like soils, oily residues, and road calcium off vehicle surfaces. Having the right water and the right chemical is the right mix,” he says, reminding operators that a great wash starts with water, but finishes with the help of a lot of other considerations.
Hard water can react with common neutral and low pH foam detergents reducing foam levels and limiting wash effectiveness. However, when it comes to waxes and drying agents hard water is not a major concern. In fact, hard water with the highest surface tension of the three water types produces the roundest droplet for ease of removal. With no adhesion to the vehicle surface the droplet is easy to just blow off. This said, the spots left behind by the hard water are not so easy to remove.
As mentioned, soft water is the best place to start and finish for a great vehicle wash. Here, systems take the hard water from municipal sources and treat it via an ion exchange membrane where minerals such as iron and magnesium are replaced with sodium ions. These salts work well with pre-soaks and detergents up front before high pressure washes and rinses. Some operators suggest that softening for high pressure is pointless because hard water works well with waxes and drying agents. Other operators such as John Scheerhoorn who runs four Hosers Car Wash sites in the Belleville, ON area see things differently. Scheerhoorn uses Autotrol softener systems at his automatic and self-service locations.
“We soften 100% of our water. We find that we get better foaming and a better overall clean. It’s all about consistency. Why run your wash with two types of water. This method is one that asks for trouble,” he says.
For car wash operators trouble often comes in the form of spots on what should be a perfect shine. Here, companies such as PurClean have stepped up with products that remove dissolved solids in water to make spots history. In fact, PurClean created its industry leading Spot-Free Vehicle Cleaning System specifically for auto dealerships where they were seeing hand drying as a costly and time consuming exercise. The PurClean Portable Spot-Free Inventory Cleaning system allows personnel to wash upwards of 45 vehicles per hour without the need of a water softener to get rid of spots.
The PurClean system utilizes the process of reverse osmosis to eliminate the mineral content in the water. Manufactured with a patent-pending (Water Stabilizer™) pre-treatment system, the PurClean Spot-Free Rinse addresses water hardness, operates efficiently and cost effectively while eliminating the need and upfront cost of a water softener as well as the ongoing expense of softener salt. The PurClean system’s effective use of pure mineral-free water delivered to the vehicle as a final rinse allows the entire vehicle to dry perfectly spot-free eliminating the need to costly and time-consuming hand drying.
“The PurClean system and its effective use of spot-free water has become the professional car wash operator’s competitive edge and has proven to increase the customer’s perception of the quality of service received,” says Denise Wight.
Wight suggests that for a great car wash experience it all comes down to properly balanced H2O. “What’s in your water?” she asks concluding that no matter what type of conditioning system you have in use, operators must have the right type of water to get the job done.