The effectiveness of a car wash’s chemistry determines the performance of the wash equipment and the quality of the end wash provided to customers. Understanding this chemistry, the function of the products in use, and the various factors that influence this function is key for proper car wash performance—as is partnership and service from a reputable chemical vendor.

However, despite the central importance chemistry plays, wash operators and managers frequently neglect cultivating the expertise necessary for close inspection and fine-tuning of the chemical action at their own wash, instead passing the responsibility of chemical management and service to outside vendors or salespeople. With wash quality as a critical hedge against any local competition, it is up to each car wash operator and their team—and only them and their team—to protect and guarantee that quality.


In-House Chemical Management Benefits

Any quality chemical vendor and their representatives should be able to not only evaluate the overall cleaning and drying performance of a wash and perform routine chemical services, but train the wash’s staff to do the very same, giving local car wash teams the ability to closely monitor their own wash performance, respond to changes, and jointly manage chemical services in the future.

In particular, this training should cover:

  • When and why a product should be adjusted
  • What compromises the product line makes (there will be several)
  • At what dilution each product starts and stops performing
  • How the various services may interact
  • What proper chemical performance looks like vs. subpar performance
  • All safety procedures are necessary for chemical management tasks
  • What stock levels must be maintained to guarantee that services are never unavailable

.Carwash chemical management isn’t magic. The backroom knowledge and procedures involved typically require less than a day of training for staff members to learn, and keeping chemical management in-house can often save local washes over $5,000 annually when compared to the exact same services provided by a chemical vendor or salesperson. Savings may be even greater given that direct freight from a vendor is more efficient and costs significantly less than distributor warehousing fees.


The Right Approach to Chemical Adjustments

“Manage wash quality by micro, and manage costs by macro.”

Small adjustments to car wash chemistry and detergent application are important and should be made by staff on a regular basis. However, these small, regular adjustments must come from the mindset that the quality of the wash provided to customers is paramount—even over costs. Operators should never attempt to minimize chemical overhead by metering application levels over short-term intervals, as variations in small sample sizes (a higher than average number of long vehicles, for instance) can distort results, leading to subpar performance and customer dissatisfaction once settings have been changed.

Instead, wash operators—with assistance from their chemical providers—must take a long-view and simultaneously monitor both car-to-car wash quality and the monthly cost and chemical usage (per car). This longer-term, high-sample-size approach allows trends to even out and costs to stabilize, so that operators can make better and more informed strategic chemical choices without sacrificing wash quality.

 Regional and Seasonal Challenges

In addition to small changes made for wash quality or strategic adjustments made to manage costs, it will be necessary to adapt various chemical applications in order to meet the different and changing challenges posed by various climates and regions. These challenges can be diverse, with bugs, mud, sand, road salt, water hardness, or even high-demand conditions all requiring changes to the dilution of a wash’s product, how much product is applied, or even what product lines are used for various services—and there are no true one-size-fits-all solutions.

Remember, all local car washes in an area will struggle with the exact same conditions, so consider how you can solve those challenges and by doing so set your wash apart from the competition. This very opportunity is why so many top operators spend significant time at the exit of their wash, monitoring wash quality and taking the time to carefully optimize wash production on a regular basis.

Choosing Chemical Vendors and Products

With chemistry as the cornerstone of your wash’s quality/value proposition, trusting a chemical salesperson exclusively to make all decisions regarding your wash’s chemistry is rarely the best option. Instead, select a provider willing to work with you as a partner, prioritizing your success, training your staff, and providing support for the long haul.

Start by asking potential providers if you can visit another paying customer’s tunnel to see their products in action, or invite the vendor to set up a free test of one thousand vehicles. If your provider has no regional customers who are using their products with great results, or if they are not willing to let a prospect run a trial before being trusted with that wash’s future, then that provider should be treated as suspect. The same is true of a vendor who refuses to train local staff for in-house chemical management, as it means the provider either:

  • Isn’t invested in their client’s success
  • Doesn’t understand their product well enough to train others, and cannot be relied upon
  • Is worried that once clients become familiar with the products they will no longer feel that the chemical line provides good value or performance.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with arranging chemical contracts to improve a wash’s service, but direct control and independence should never be sacrificed in favor of an exclusive contract. The wash quality delivered by an establishment is its future, and any vendor you work with must have a deep understanding that that quality—and your wash’s independence—should never be endangered for a short term cost-savings or because a piece of paper requires it.


Detergents by Tommy Car Wash Systems

After half a century in the car wash industry Tommy Car Wash Systems understands what it takes to be successful as a high volume car wash, and in-house chemical management is one of those factors. Committed to our clients’ and partners’ success, we offer necessary chemical management training along with a full line of proven and reliable car wash chemicals, efficient bulk-storage hardware, and Fill-A-Skid free freight shipping.

We’ll help you optimize your services and strike the right balance between quality and cost. To learn more, visit our Detergents Information page and Car Wash Detergents webstore, or contact us directly at (616) 494-0411 /


.Tommy Car Wash Systems.