Brushes — Selection Tips for Car Washes
In the self-serve and automatic car wash industry, the owners and managers of each facility face a critical decision when installing the brushes that remove surface dirt and debris.
Whether selecting a foaming brush for self-serve, or wheel brushes for automatic car washes, or even brushes for post-wash detailing, the choice is typically between installing low-cost, coarse, synthetic brushes or paying a little more for higher-end brushes that are more gentle and stand up to prolonged use.
When it comes to brushes, it is unwise to pay too much, but it can be more unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money. When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything, because the item you bought is incapable of doing the job it was bought to do.
With so much on the line, many operators are paying more attention to the choice of brush to keep customers satisfied, earn repeat business, generate positive word-of-mouth, and at the same time save money and time on frequent replacement.
Foaming brushes are designed for maximum suds coverage as well as durability. They are typically constructed in oblong or round heads, using everything from hog’s hair to nylon, polyester, polypropylene, foam, and cloth. The handles are usually made of wood or hollow aluminum, plastic, fiberglass, or steel.
Foaming brushes are the single most important item the customer sees and touches when entering a self-serve wash, essentially serving as a calling card for the business and speaking directly to the care and attention to detail the customer will receive.
Car wash owners are recognizing that a satisfying foaming brush experience can be key to self-serve customers judging car wash quality.
“Since the foaming brush is in the customers’ hands while they wash their car, you need to make sure it feels good,” says Dave DuGoff, owner of College Park Car Wash in College Park, MD, a high-volume location with five self-service bays and three automatic bays.
Less expensive nylon, polyester, and polypropylene options save a few dollars on the front end, but if they scratch the vehicle’s paint, that is a sure-fire way to lose a customer for life, and even generate negative word-of-mouth. Because they are constructed of fewer, shorter, and coarser filaments per brush head, they wear out quickly, bend out of shape, and require frequent replacement.
The other choice comes from a surprising, but natural, source — hogs. Hog’s hair, it turns out, is the perfect material when made into a brush. Hog’s hair is very soft and gentle. Since the hairs are tapered, they are much softer at the tips for gentle washing, yet retain stiffness for washing up close if scrubbing is needed.
Hog’s-hair brushes also have the ability to quickly recover their natural shape even when bent 90-degrees. In contrast, once traditional brushes are bent, they remain out of shape and at some point have to be replaced.
As such, one hog’s-hair brush can outlive three to four less expensive options.
“I decided years ago that I’d use hog’s-hair foaming brushes because their longer, denser bristles are more inviting to
customers,” concludes DuGoff. “While they cost a bit more than standard brushes, they’ve helped us earn a reputation for quality that’s brought us repeat business and allowed us to remain a high-volume operation.”
Another tip is to avoid foaming brushes that offer only two to three foam holes per brush, which may not provide proper lubrication between brush and car, or between the brush hairs themselves. Freddie Seniw, owner of Easy Clean Car Wash with seven locations in the greater Chicago area, has as a consequence relied on a foaming brush that has six foam holes on a 9-inch brush.
“With more foam holes per brush, there’s better lubrication between brush and car surface,” says Seniw. “The continuous flow of soap foam helps to cleanse dirt, sand, and foreign objects off the brush, keeping the brush head cleaner so it won’t scratch.”
At one point in time, automobile wheels were little more than an afterthought in conveyor, rollover, and drive-through washes. Today, wheels are one of — if not the most — important items that need to be cleaned.
For this, a variety of car wash brushes with names like the Wheel Wonder and the Poodle Brush — so named because it resembles an ostentatiously trimmed poodle — are popular.
Wheel brushes are available in a variety of materials including PEX, nylon, polypropylene, cloth, and foam. Brushes can be standard or custom built to specifications such as length, diameter, filament type, shaft mount, and even color.
As with foaming brushes, the higher the quality of the construction the longer a wheel brush can remain in service without replacement. High-density wheel brushes that use quality filaments such as PEX will last longer. A strong, dynamically balanced steel shaft with the strongest possible solid wound core also prevents bending and denting.
Once a car has passed through a conveyorized car wash, it’s time for a soft, safe detailing touch-up of tough-to-reach
spots such as around headlights, license plates, or around rear wiper arms.
There is a vast number of premium quality detailing brushes available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors made of nylon, Tampico, plastic, styrene, and polypropylene in non-feather-tipped and feather-tipped styles.
Hog’s hair is again the high-end option. Tom Hoffman Jr., CEO of Hoffman Car Wash, an operation with 19 car washes throughout upstate New York, has purchased hog’s-hair brushes for supplementary washing at 13 conveyorized car washes in addition to 58 self-service bays.
“A small investment in hog’s-hair brushes can pay off big in the long run,” says Hoffman. “The hog’s-hair brushes have helped us grow from our beginning to 19 car washes today.”
Dan Pecora is the owner of Erie Brush and Manufacturing Corporation. Since 1948, he has provided car and truck lovers with brushes and auto detailing supplies. Erie can be found on the web at www.eriebrush.com.