Recently, I witnessed the use of one product that was so blatantly misused, in the wrong application, that it posed a potentially dangerous, if not life threatening, risk to people’s health.

 

This is the reason this article was written. It addresses the inappropriate misuse of this product and others like it.  It also examines other issues car wash owners/operators need to consider in their choice regarding car wash chemistry.  This information is to help educate and inform YOU, the CAR WASH owner, on how to make effective intelligent, and profitable decisions about car wash cleaning products.

It will also explore the too often ignored and often puzzling “real costs” of “cheap-corrosive chemistry”. This chemistry is rarely explained and often neglected by many suppliers, distributors, and compounders and frequently hidden from you, the owner/operator.

Having been involved in the car wash cleaning and protectant compounding business for over three decades, AND previously to that, as an owner operator and builder of a wash, it always amazes me how operators still equate value of cleaning products ONLY to price per product or wash cost per car.

Our company, founded in 1896, (yep, over 120 years) has been involved in the Laundry, Ware Wash and Vehicle Wash businesses. We have and are still active in the evolution of these markets and specialize in the “HIGH END” vehicle wash and protectant category.

In the early stages of vehicle cleaning, “burn it off corrosive chemistry”, appeared to be effective and was used extensively. “Burn it off corrosive chemisty” is no longer the only choice available to the car wash owner. Unfortunately, many companies still make, provide, supply and promote the “old school” burn it off “corrosive-car wash chemistry” today!

Please be aware, the decisions to use “cheap-corrosive chemistry” will have dramatic, important and lasting consequences on the:

  • health and safety of employees, customers and technicians (some life threatening)
  • vehicles you are washing
  • equipment your are using
  • building, ceilings, walls and floors in your wash bay
  • residual damage to numerous too mention
  • profits of your wash
  • AND, of course, the potential liabilities and possible lawsuits!

BEWARE . . . all of these above issues create a perfect storm for the money hungry lawyers, that are so prevalent in our society today! Don’t be uniformed . . . read on!

With today’s advancements and developments in new chemistry and cleaning methods, “cheap corrosive chemistry” has become less of a factor in the cleaning process. These damaging products have been effectively replaced with “safer-gentler car wash chemistry”. This new chemistry provides brighter and shinier vehicles, without the “negative and lasting downsides” of the outdated “cheap corrosive car wash chemistry”.

There are really ONLY two main choices in your cleaning chemistry . . .
  • “cheap-corrosive burn it off chemistry”, or
  • “safer, gentler, non-corrosive chemistry”
This new “safer, gentler non-corrosive technology” initially APPEARS to come at a higher cost, but does it really? We don’t think so!

After reading this Article, car wash owners and operators will have a better understanding and appreciation of the TRUE COST OF “CHEAP-CORROSIVE CAR WASH CHEMISTRY”. With this information owners/operators can make knowledgeable AND intelligent choices about their car wash chemistry which are best for their:

  • customers’ vehicles
  • customers’ safety
  • repair technicians
  • employees
  • equipment
  • property
  • business
  • AND of course, long term BIG PROFITS!

Let us examine:

  1. pH CHEMICAL STRENGTH
  2. “CHEAP CORROSIVE CHEMISTRY”
  3. PRICE VS TRUE VALUE OR COST
  4. HIDDEN DANGERS
  5. DANGERS OF UNINFORMED DISTRIBUTORS AND SUPPLIERS
  6. And most importantly, THE BENEFITS AND PROFITS FROM INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS

1.  pH CHEMICAL STRENGTH

The pH of any cleaning product is referenced on a scale ranging from 0 to 14.

  • 0 is extremely acidic and is extremely corrosive 7 is neutral and is usually used as a baseline
  • 14 is extremely basic or alkaline and is extremely corrosive

The VERY IMPORTANT thing to remember about pH is, for example, that when the pH rises from a 7 to an 8, the chemical strength (alkalinity) increases NOT BY ONE, BUT BY A FACTOR OF 10.

Increasing a pH of 7 to a pH of 14, increases the alkalinity by 10,000,000. RECAPPING:

  • pH 7 to pH 8 (x10), or 10X
  • pH 8 to pH 9 (x10) or 100X,
  • pH 9 to pH 10 (x10) or 1,000X,
  • pH 10 to pH 11 (x10) or 10,000X,
  • pH 11 to pH 12 (x 10) or 100,000X
  • pH 12 to pH 13 (x10) or 1,000,000X
  • pH 13 to pH 14 (x10) or 10,000,000X

a pH of 14 is chemically 10,000,000X stronger (on the alkaline side) than a pH 7

Conversely, on the acidic side of the pH scale:

  • pH 7 to pH 6 (x10), or 10X
  • pH 6 to pH 5 (x10) or 100X
  • pH 5 to pH 4 (x10) or 1,000X
  • pH 4 to pH 3 (x10) or 10,000X
  • pH 3 to pH 2 (x 10) or 100,000X
  • pH 2 to pH 1 (x10) or 1,000,000X
  • pH 1 to pH 0 (x10) or 10,000,000X

a pH of O is chemically 10,000,000X stronger (on the acidic side) than a pH 7

An extreme increase (very high pH alkaline) or decrease (very low pH – acidic) is what we describe as “cheap corrosive chemistry”.

Couple, an increase in chemical strength, hot vehicle surfaces, lack of humidity and dwell time before products are neutralized or washed off, equipment break down (leaving aggressive- corrosive products on the vehicle), and you have created the potential for a huge number of problems. This can certainly include, but are not limited, to:

  • dissatisfied customers
  • vehicle damage due to fading, bluing or flashing of the vehicle’s surface
  • vehicle damage from un-neutralized chemicals left in vehicle cracks and crevices
  • customers and children hurt or put at risk
  • lawsuits and loss of business, or worse your life

2.  CHEAP- CORROSIVE CHEMISTRY

As the history of vehicle cleaning progressed, circa 1900 to present, the typical cleaning product included the “hotter-corrosive chemistry” (extreme high or low pH). This was considered the most effective way of cleaning vehicles. However, that type of cleaning product produced and continues to produce some very severe and negative consequences: to vehicles, humans, equipment and to the environment.

With today’s new technology, coupled with the advancements and developments of new chemistry and understanding of the cleaning methods involved, a new “SAFER, GENTLER, and NON CORROSIVE CHEMISTRY” has emerged. This new chemistry replaces the much more dangerous “cheap corrosive chemistry”. These new products , provide BRIGHTER, SHINIER VEHICLES. At first glance, these new products may appear to have an initial higher cost.

Actually, these products are less expensive to use and create significant advantages advantages (protection to humans, environment and vehicles) over “cheap corrosive chemistry”. Unfortunately, “cheap corrosive chemistry” is still advertised as the most effective means of cleaning vehicles.

In the following two examples, we will explore the hidden cost of “cheap-corrosive chemistry”.

We should all be able to all relate to, the following two examples with, this “hotter, burn it off” chemistry:

  1. The appearance of a new US postal service vehicle, bright and shiny
  2. The appearance of a new School Bus, bright and shiny

Over time, with extended periods of washing, both types of vehicles become dull, faded, blued, flashed and perhaps even rusted.

Ever consider why this damage happens to these type vehicles? Perhaps the most significant reason, is that in most cases, if not all, wash products are purchased on a bid basis. The lowest bid gets awarded the contract. Using “cheap corrosive chemistry,” in order to lower costs, usually secures the contract, but it also produces a number of severe and costly problems both in the short and long term.

Consider the vehicle gets pseudo-cleaned with the “old time burn it off technology” with cheap-corrosive products. While it appears the products are cleaning the vehicles (as time goes by) these products are dulling, damaging and rusting the vehicles finishes, plus causing a myriad of associated problems in other areas as well.

Let’s look at a few other potential problems, including but not limited to:

  • dissatisfied customers
  • vehicle damage
  • fading of vehicle finishes
  • bluing or flashing of trim around windows
  • equipment damage
  • customers and children hurt or at risk
  • employees hurt or at risk
  • maintenance and repair workers hurt or at risk
  • lawsuits and loss of business or the
  • property damage
  • down time repairing damaged equipment
  • lost revenue when you sell your wash

Any operator knows that several factors exist in order to maximize vehicle washing: temperature of the vehicle surface; humidity; dwell time before products are washed off and/or neutralized, water quality, pressure, impact, chemistry, etc. Combine these factors with a wash product that has extremely high or low pH (please refer to the pH CHEMICAL STRENGTH section of this article) and, as you can see, the outcome(s) are consequentially a nightmare.

So exactly why do chemical companies utilize the wrong products, chemicals and chemistry, in the vehicle wash business, rather than the safer, gentler, non-corrosive chemistry?

Some major reasons are as follows:

  • they are lacking the labs and facilities for formulating and testing products
  • they have no or limited resources or money to fund development of new products
  • they have no commitment to Research and Development
  • they are uniformed or misinformed compounders and distributors of “old school, burn the dirt off technology”
  • they have little or no expertise, knowledge, or belief in the new “safer, gentler, effective chemistry” and technology

BOTTOM LINE: “Cheap corrosive chemistry” in vehicle washing is not cost beneficial in the short or long term. It is NOT beneficial in either the short term or long term for the safety of human beings, the environment, or the protection of vehicles.

 

“Safer-gentler car wash chemistry” doesn’t cost you money, it actually saves you money in the long term. Plus, these products can increases revenue and profits from new products, in new wash packages.

 

3. PRICE VS TRUE VALUE OR TRUE COST

 

“Burn the dirt off (products with very high or very low pH “cheap corrosive-chemistry”) may appear to be a great value. This old technology may be suitable for vehicle washes that have little regard for customers and their vehicles or in fleet washing where quality and human safety are of little or no concern.

Remember, there will always be, these “cheaper-corrosive chemicals” you will be able to find and more often than not, they will be touted as less expensive to use.

We have outlined above the dangers of “cheap corrosive chemistry” (e.g. vehicle, equipment, human, revenue loss). To help find the TRUE COST/VALUE OF “cheap corrosive chemistry” let’s explore, through two examples, what happens when the wrong chemicals are placed in applications by uneducated or uncaring suppliers and distributors.

We have witnessed, in the past few years, these two “stand out” examples which are quite concerning and should never have happened.

EXAMPLE ONE:

An attendant at a long time customer of ours bought into the idea of “cheap-corrosive chemistry”. The attendant replaced our “safer-gentler, effective non-corrosive chemistry” products with products supplied by a repair and equipment distributor that contained “cheap corrosive chemistry.” Saved a lot of money, right? Stay with us . . .

The attendant was convinced that the “new” products worked so well that the “FUMES” from these products were actually cleaning the touch-free automatic machines!! We informed him that fumes from any cleaning products were never a good thing and potentially hazardous: the risk of injury to employees, technicians, customers, buildings, equipment and vehicles was considerable.

After a few weeks, the attendant called back to say the owner had closed the facilities and refused to reopen the washes until we replaced the “cheap corrosive chemistry” products with our “safer-gentler, effective non-corrosive chemistry” products. Why? Turns out an employee had been injured, from the corrosive products that sprayed on him, while working on one of the machines. SAVED A LOT OF MONEY, RIGHT??? We did indeed replace the car wash cleaning chemicals, but here is the thing . . . those FUMES and the chemicals that caused them did extensive damage to the concrete, the machine, the garage door bearing, the injury to the employee and other future unseen damage had already been done. And at what cost? Future extensive damage for months in the future, (caused by the corrosive chemicals) continued to appear resulting in even more costly repairs and loss of income.

Damage to property and equipment can be fixed or replaced, but at a COST! BUT, what is more disturbing is the potential damage to the injured employee. What if that employee had been blinded, seriously injured or severely chemically burned? What if a child or customer had been exposed or accidentally sprayed by such “cheap corrosive chemistry” by accidentally rolling down a window in the wash process? What is the true cost of such an event? Using “safer- gentler, effective, non-corrosive chemistry” products would have prevented all of this, and this owner would have saved money, added revenue (from his washes not being repaired) and eliminated headaches that could have easily been avoided.

EXAMPLE TWO:

Another long time customer, of ours, decided to switch to the “cheap-corrosive chemistry.” His claim: these products worked just as well and were half the cost of our “safer-gentler, effective non-corrosive chemistry” products. Saved a lot of money right? Let’s examine this claim a little further . . .

He suggested we take samples and analyze them to see if we could duplicate them.

Because we have the capability of conducting extensive chemical testing and analysis, (in our in-house lab) we were able to examine and analyze these “cheap corrosive chemistry” products.

LAB RESULTS:

Result #1: The In Bay Touch-free Automatic application of these diluted products, on the vehicles surface, were in the extreme high or extreme low pH range. pH’s so high and so low that long and short term damage will be inflicted to the vehicles surfaces. Plus, all the added

problems, expenses, safety and health concerns previously mentioned in this article.:

  • dissatisfied customers
  • vehicle damage
  • fading of vehicle finishes
  • bluing or flashing of trim around windows
  • equipment damage
  • customers and children hurt or at risk
  • employees hurt or at risk
  • maintenance and repair workers hurt or at risk
  • lawsuits and loss of business
  • property damage
  • down time repairing damaged equipment
  • lost revenue when you sell your carwash

Result #2: It was also discovered that a product containing HF (hydrofluoric acid) was being used in a Self-Serve wheel and tire cleaning application. An application where an unsuspecting adult or child would be exposed to what many believe is one of, if not the worst product used in vehicle cleaning formulations. An extremely hazardous ingredient that in the hands of the inexperienced, uniformed, or unaware car wash owner or customer (including children) is extremely dangerous and life threatening. This instance of “cheap corrosive chemistry” SHOULD NEVER OCCUR.

Half the cost . . . really? There are “hidden” costs that must always be factored in when determining the “real” or “true” value and the “true” cost of a vehicle wash product. Residual damage is usually never accounted for and is often expensive and extensive.

DON’T BUY INTO AND MAKE THE EXPENSIVE “CHEAP CORROSIVE CHEMISTRY” mistake.

The damage begins when the products go on. Of course, the repair technicians stand to profit from repairs made by the chemicals they provided. Seems like a rather odd relationship to me!

4.  THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF CHEAP

Imagine a car wash owner who has just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their location, building, equipment and marketing for their customers. Our imaginary owner did all this to provide their potential customer the very best experience: a cleaner, brighter and shinier vehicle, in a car wash, which is reliable, safe and second to none. That owner could easily choose to ignore price and its relationship to true value and true cost. HOW?

  • using “cheap corrosive” chemistry products
  • using less water (downsizing nozzle tips) to wash a vehicle
  • decreasing or marginalizing the use of soft water
  • decreasing water pressure at delivery point
  • decreasing water wash and rinse temperature

There are other ways, of course, to “cut” costs. Save a lot of money, right? We don’t think so. Trying to save money at the expense of customer satisfaction will, in the long run, force that customer to seek a facility that does provide that satisfaction: your competition. A lost customer rarely, if ever, returns. That lost customer will, however, inform others of the bad experience they had and those others will also inform others and . . . ALL LOST REVENUE.

A First Class Car Wash, as our imaginary owner first envisioned, is easily and effectively derailed with substandard products, processes and policies. Couple that with bad advice from suppliers promoting “cheap corrosive chemistry” and it doesn’t end well. A “no win” for both the car wash owner and their (now previous) customer.

Please remember, your first class car wash is easily and effectively ruined, with substandard products, suppliers, processes and policies and it is actually driving people away from using it, rather than driving people to it.

There are really only TWO choices in vehicle wash chemistry:

  • income reducing “cheap corrosive chemistry”
  • income enhancing “safer-gentler non-corrosive chemistry”

5. DANGERS OF UNIFORMED CHEMICAL DISTRIBUTORS/SUPPLIERS
Developing an excellent relationship with knowledgeable and educated chemical suppliers and distributors is crucial for a car wash operators’ success. Distributors and chemical suppliers who lack the knowledge and expertise in the critical areas of effective cleaning will produce the “no win” scenario listed above. Regrettably, there are those suppliers and distributors who place their success well above their customers. Uniformed distributors will:

    1. Put in products that are not used for their intended purpose
    2. Cause significant short and long term problems for the car wash owner and their customers with extreme low and extreme high pH products being applied to vehicles. (see about “Cheap Corrosive Chemistry” section of this article}

Protecting Yourself and Your Customers

Check your chemicals

  • Are these the right products for the right applications?
  • Are the mandatory and current SDS sheets provided? Do they clearly list the potential hazard?
  • Are the chemical containers labeled correctly?
    • Do they have the correct corrosive and warning labels that are mandatory?
    • Do they state the hazardous chemicals, if they contain them?
  • Can you determine whether the product(s) contain “cheap corrosive” chemistry or “safer-gentler non-corrosive chemistry”?

Check your chemical distributors and suppliers

  • Are they properly trained in the proper applications of chemicals? Are they knowledgeable in the correct use of the product in those applications?
  • Do they know the pH of the chemistry being applied to the vehicle surface? And do they provide that to you?
  • Are they willing to provide the pro’s and con’s of each product? Are they willing to provide alternatives and explain reasoning behind those alternatives, the benefits and drawbacks?
  • Are the distributors/suppliers benefiting from profits from their service personnel that are caused by the “corrosive” products they are providing?

Check what the chemicals are doing?

  • On the surface of the customer’s vehicle? Windows and window trim?
  • The pH of the product applied on the surface?
  • Any short or long term affects to the vehicles, equipment, building, walls, floors, ?
  • Any potential or harmful effects to employees, customers, maintenance persons?

Check out anything and everything about your chemical suppliers and programs.

 

6. THE BENEFITS AND PROFITS FROM INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS

Remember, it is never about the cost per car . . . it’s about the revenue per car!

Many operators are so concerned about and concentrated on the cost per car they forget about looking at the new and innovative ways of increasing per car revenue and profit.

We know of one operator that refused to look at any new products because he thinks there are no advantages to them. After 10 years, he still has a Top Wash Package of $12. His competition, that has incorporated some innovative products and equipment modifications, are experiencing a Top Wash Package of $15 to 18 dollars.

Who do you think is making the right decision about the right products? Always your choice, please choose wisely.

Check out your suppliers and see if they have any new innovative and profitable products that might add profit to your operation.

IN SUMMARY

As an owner, you have a tremendous investment, time and energy in your car wash.

  • location and construction
  • building and design
  • equipment
  • marketing
  • employees
  • cleaning products

You have done all this to ensure a successful and profitable business.

What this article is proposing is that YOUR INVESTMENT, (in time and energy) should never be short-changed by substituting “cheap corrosive chemistry.”

The decision to embrace the “safer-gentler, non-corrosive chemistry” produces not only BRIGHTER, SHINIER VEHICLES, it provides a BRIGHTER, SHINIER FUTURE for you,

your business and your customers!

The choice is yours, CHOOSE WISELY!

Thank you for taking time and attention in reading this article!

Copyright LSC 2019