Mobile Auto Detailing and Mobile On-Site Car Washing – How Much Water Do They Use?

Having built the largest mobile car wash business on the Planet and the most efficient systems in the industry over a 27-year period before retiring, folks still to this day email me and ask me questions about the industry. Not long ago someone emailed me claiming to be interested in setting up a mobile car wash business and he asked the following questions:

  1. “How many gallons of water does one wash use?”

  2. “How many gallons a day does a mobile car wash use?”

  3. “How many cars can you do in an 8 hour day?”

Well, for our systems, a really dirty SUV might use 7-10 gallons max, once you get good at it 5-6. Cars between 3-5 gallons, and once you get good about 2.3 gallons per car. This is because pressure washers only put out about (5.5 hp at 1800 psi) 2.3 gallons per minute (20-seconds spray down, 40 seconds of rinse). How many gallons per day, figure a crew of two on a busy day 60-car washes, or 80-100 if you do NO Wax jobs, which hardly ever happens.

A 200-gallon loaf tank is plenty, I recommend that you use a 110-gallon loaf tank if you have a pickup and put it in the back, if that truck is less than a 1-ton. Also this requires a little more patience when driving.

You need to know that this business is not an 8-hour yuppie business day type of industry. You work when the customer needs you. You might get up early one day for rental cars, work late another day cleaning school buses up until 10 PM (BusWash.com) and some customers will demand weekends, fleets mostly, including Sunday if you want to get it all done on time.

If you are a wimp about working more than 8-hours, get a job, join the union, and forget this industry all together. Sorry, for being blunt, but if you don’t have what it takes you have no business being in this industry, it will eat you alive, take all your money too.

It’s like an Ocean Wave; you can surf it, turn your back on it, but it is coming and doesn’t care what’s there. It will bring you a fish or knock you on your butt and drown you, see that point? Again, sorry if you are the academia type, government worker or were a sheltered child all your life, but that’s the way it is.

Mobile Auto Detailing Public Relations and Promotional Events

Many times small business mobile auto detailing companies fall short in their promotions and public relations. Generally one could attribute this to the fact that business is always good and cars in the United States are quite plentiful, even more than people. In fact there are 1.2 cars for every man, woman and child in this country, including all the school buses, postal jeeps, delivery vans and police cars. Think about it; all the boats, motorcycles, trailers, motor homes, SUVs, mini-vans and cars? Sure there is a lot of business to be had indeed. But certainly since it is a cash business for the most part, there is no reason you cannot run it like a real business and grow it to a large endeavor. Here are some promotional ideas:

Call up a radio station.

Find out when their next event will be. Offer to wash everyone’s car who shows up. Tell them you will even wash the radio station van. They will announce on the radio all week that “Joe’s Mobile detailing and Car Wash” are washing cars at location X for free. Show up and bring the whole family.” Yes, you will be working your little rear end off all day, but the referrals and good will and future customers will be enough to add a second or third unit to your little company.

Blood Drive.

Offer to wash anyone’s car that shows up for a blood drive providing it will be a big turn out. Challenge your local car wash and any other competitors to a competition, who can get the most people under 25 to donate blood. ‘Alert the media’ to the event. Use a public official – the mayor, etc. – to judge the contest. Don’t charge customers. Make it a real big event. Go for quality and number of units washed in one hour or in thirty minutes. Even if you lose, it’s great publicity.

Look if you want to win the promotional game, you must think out side the box, so what are you waiting for anyway? Embossment on an invite; please that is ridiculous. Get out there and kick butt.

Water Softener Use In Mobile Auto Detailing

What is considered hard water and what are the degrees of hardness? Well very hard water would be 10.5 grains per gallon and 180 parts per million and above. But you need to realize that even moderately hard water of 3.5 to 7 grains per gallon and 60-120 parts per million will leave hard water spots. Slightly hard water such as 1 to 3.5 grains per gallon and 17.1 to 60 part per million will not leave noticeably hard water spots that you cannot cure with a chamois. But really as a professional auto detailer you are really looking for soft water of less than 1 grain per gallon and 17 parts per million.

What Makes The Water Hard?

Hardness in water is caused calcium and magnesium ions that form insoluble compounds; sometimes iron and even aluminum. There are many ways to soften water. Some are more complicated than others; Aeration, De-Ionization or ion-exchange, Distillation, Reverse Osmosis or Softening.

Softening by use of a water softener is the simplest concept used today; water softeners replace hardness ions like calcium and magnesium with sodium or non-scaling ions. The ion exchange resin used in the process is recharged periodically with salt drawn from a storage tank. Many water treatment experts agree and Lance Winslow concurs that softening can be most cost effective when the water has as few as one to five grains per gallon of hardness. Most mobile operators will be happy with one to three grains per gallon of hardness and probably won’t even purchase a softening unit until the hardness is five plus grains per gallon. Their theory is well taken because, if the total dissolved solids (TDS) is that low, there will be little water spotting on cars anyway.

One reason to put in a water softener even if your water is 5 gpg or less is because you wish to prevent scaling in the coils of your steam cleaner or save your pressure washing pump on your auto detailing rig. On a cold water machine, this is not as important because 5 gpg or less won’t ruin a pump. More than five can over time.

Hardness also hinders soap from doing its job. You may notice that your soaps are not cleaning properly. That’s because they are cleaning the water first and combining with the compounds in the water rather than the dirt on the car. You see, the hardness in the water has a tendency to neutralize those cleaning compounds and you have to actually use more soap to offset the neutralizing effect of the hardness minerals.

With hard water, you will use more soap and the cars still aren’t clean. I encourage you to talk to your soap vendors for helpful advice on water chemistry and treatment requirements. Your soap strategy should be custom tailored to your city and the hardness of the water you put in your tank.

Most independent auto detailing professionals agree that areas with hard water will also cause a film on cars that are washed when no softener is used. They also agreed at the annual conference that the decision to purchase a softener should be based on a real water test. You might wish to contact a water treatment dealer such as: Rain Soft, Culligan, Apollo, Calgon, Rayne water Systems or the Water Man in your area. They can help you by having the local water tested or ask city water authority for information on their supply. Once your decision is made to purchase a softener, selecting the proper equipment is easy. Softener sizes should be based upon two factors: Flow Rate (GPM) and Grains Per Gallon (GPG).

Flow rate would typically be six to eight gpm (gallons per minute) with your hose at your residence. We recommend you change your pressure regulator to 90-110 PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch). This would give you approximately ten gpm. So you need a water softener that is a little bigger than the basic model.

Water softeners are basically like refrigerators; says Car Wash Guys Founder Lance Winslow;

“They could last two years or twenty years…and a lot depends on how much goes in and how often it comes out.”

This is why you should monitor softening equipment. You can test the hardness with a testing kit or just pay attention when you’re washing cars. Steel softening tanks last for years. Fiberglass units last well also. Plastic units crack. You may need to change resin every couple of years.

Chances are you will choose to rent softeners for $30 per month and let the exchange company recharge them for you. Be careful when hiring water softener vendors. Ask us for help. You may even be able to trade services for water softening rental plus make money on the account because water softener rental companies have lots of delivery trucks. In any case think on these issues when considering a water softening strategy for your mobile car wash or auto detailing business.