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March 19, 2012

Becoming a Car Wash Chemist

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Remember when you were sitting in your High School chemistry class thinking, “I’m never going to need to know about chemistry in the real world”? Now, as a car wash professional you wish you had paid a little more attention. However, with some basic knowledge and enough trial and error anyone can become a great car wash chemist.

The first thing any car wash operator needs to get past is the intimidation factor. Nothing in the car wash business can be as daunting as trying to wrap your head around chemistry. The key is to ask plenty of dumb questions and not let your chemical sales rep leave without explaining what they are doing. Talk to other operators and read as much as you can. Before long things will start to make sense.

Here are a few chemistry 101 facts every operator should know:

The Role of The Surfactant

The surfactant is a type of molecule that is present in just about every soap in the world. It is a tadpole looking molecule that has a head that loves water and a tail that loves oil. When the soap is introduced to a surface, the surfactants in the soap find the oil deposits and their oil-loving tails attach. Then when a rinse of water comes along, the water loving head goes along for a ride. The cool part is that the tail is still attached to the oil and that oil goes along for that ride. That is how soap works

Wax, Conditioners & Static Cling

When you used to tell people that you were in the car wash business, one of the first questions they used to ask is, “Are they REALLY putting “hot wax” on the car? How could you wax a wet car?” However, the reality is that the waxes or conditioners we put on in a car wash actually do work. The reason we can apply them to a wet car is because the molecules will statically cling to the car.

Before we described a surfactant as a tadpole shaped molecule. Well the surfactant in soap is ANIONIC, meaning the head is NEGATIVELY charged. So is the vehicles surface. That means the soap hits the car and rolls right off once the rinse comes along. However, true waxes and conditioners are CATIONIC, meaning the head of the surfactant is POSITIVELY charged. That means when it hits the cars surface it is statically attracted to the negatively charged surface. So the wax or conditioner stays there. Pretty cool. So if you looked at it really close you would see millions of these tadpole shaped surfactants with their heads stuck to the cars surface and their tails sticking up in the air. Those tails are coated with some type of polymer or carnuba. Dirt doesn’t like to stick to those coated tails and rolls right off.

That’s why it is important to specify to the customer if it is truly a wax, conditioner or soap. “Triple Foam” is a popular add-on, however, if you are using a anionic soap it is doing nothing to the car but adding colored soap. On the other hand, cationic triple foam is actually doing something extra for that vehicle.

Water Quality

Water plays a major role in the results of your chemistry. There are two important factors to your water quality: hardness and temperature.

Hardness has to do with the mineral content in the water, particularly calcium and magnesium.  To check that you have to know how to do a titration and water hardness test.  And that hardness has a major impact on the ability for the soap to work.

Temperature of the cars surface has a major impact on the ability of your chemistry to work. Most city water is between 40 and 60 degrees. However, in the summer sun, a car’s surface could be as high as 150 degrees. In the winter it could be close to freezing. Also, a hot surface could significantly increase certain chemicals aggressiveness.

Start with these basics and before you know it you’ll be a chemical expert able to put High School students to sleep in a matter of minutes.

 






 
 

 
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